Site Seeing: Thorough site planning is essential

Greg Skinner ( is a communications consultant for Mina Research and a marketing columnist who specializes in the kids market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked Skinner to do some browsing on...
October 1, 1996

Greg Skinner ( is a communications consultant for Mina Research and a marketing columnist who specializes in the kids market. He also admits to having an unhealthy obsession with the World Wide Web. KidScreen asked Skinner to do some browsing on our behalf and report on some of the interesting kids sites as seen from the eye of a near-kid himself.

As new sites appear daily on the Net, fighting for attention is becoming increasingly difficult. And while having all the bells and whistles helps in attracting visitors, those won’t keep them around for long if that’s all there is to offer. That’s why thorough site planning is essential.

It all seems simple enough: A little bit of forethought so that nothing is an afterthought. But it’s a step so often overlooked. And the worst part is that there’s no hiding it.

The fallout from a lack of Boy Scout preparedness includes: poor navigation, choppy data flows with graphics and content, poor linking and boring visuals.

Setting up a site on the Net for the sole reason of establishing a market presence is not a good enough reason for being there. To really nail it means practising a bit of existentialism: questioning why the site exists in the first place and its purpose in the virtual realm. A product not fully thought out is usually the wrong thing to have your name on. Super-tight content, excellent communication, and establishing that vibe between the site and the user are keys to success.

Usually it’s only when there’s a lack of planning that you get chaos, confusion and ultimately, boredom happening. And nobody wants a site that’s labeled as rubbish. Avoiding that fate requires truly understanding the corporate entity, and most importantly, who the site speaks to.

Beakman’s World

Beakman is wonky and his Web world is more of the same-in truckloads. This is the official Web site for the super-scientific Beakman’s World.

‘Yo user,’ says Beakman, in his intro, ‘Welcome to my site!’ ‘Geez,’ says the visitor, ‘this is going to be freaky.’

Beakman’s World, the TV show, is all about science. It’s very funny, very cool and downright intelligent. But before Beakmanites get all excited, they should be warned. This is less of a Beakman’s site than the future location of one. They’ve got a good start, but there’s still a lot of work to be done.

We teleported straight in and were greeted with an electric, lime green-colored background-awesome, but a bit of variety would be nice. Cruising around could not have been more straightforward with the help of fat, LEGO-like buttons that made navigation really easy. The teeny little video is great. It catches your attention and then boom, it stops! You’ve lost it until you flip the page and it runs again. Marvelous.

The three full-on experiments offer a good taste of what the show has to offer (‘Making Paper’ is excellent, but shouldn’t you tell kids to get a grown-up before they put lint and newspaper into the household blender?). Each one comes with bonus facts, a positive message and puts brains and hands into action. Sometimes this site is simply superlative.

Unfortunately though, more often it isn’t. Non-existent paths back to the home page, poor highlighting of links (they need to be way more conspicuous), no library, and even crucial elements like the time and date of the show are troublesome.

The Topics section is missing the obvious list of topics, as well as a vehicle to e-mail the show. Excellent merchandise from the show is missing the seemingly important detail of where to get it. Missed opportunities abound! And where’s the fan club? Mickey d’es it, and so should Beakman.

Back on the positive side, probably one of the strongest hidden elements is the dialogue. The site, like the show, treats kids as intelligent individuals, establishing excellent rapport. It’s cocky and kooky all at once, and that helps make it unique.

Goodies include a screensaver that’s a cinch to acquire (unfortunately, it’s kind of boring), a 3-D view of the Beakman set and his lab and Beakman factoids (your brain is 80 percent water). This is the stuff that keeps kids busy and happy.

Users can find out that Beakman’s lab is comprised of lava lamps, toasters and a small rainforest in the Fact section, but once again, the info suffers from hiddenitous. They are all in the wrong spots. Ditto for links that connect you the Smithsonian and the Florida Aquarium.

There’s so much potential here that the site is trembling with anxiety. Where it should bowl you over, all wired and manic, all you get is an interaction vacuum. It needs to be checked out and soon, before some crafty young fan saunters over and sets up his or her own location. Feed it more beans and off it’ll scream into the Web site hall of fame. With a TV show that good, fanatics deserve it.

Overall rating: needs gas (6.5 out of 10).

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