Thursday, December 08, 2005

How do you describe your digital library or digital assets?

Let me tell three stories as a way of introducing this topic.

Story #1: Several years ago, I used a printing/reprographics service that was new and family owned. They did excellent work, but failed. One of the reasons I think they failed is that the one partner described their products in a technical way. According to her, they did four-color offset printing. But people didn't care about that, they wanted brochures, business cards, letterheads, etc.

Story #2: I was at an auction last night that was a fund raiser. You could view some items, while you only had descriptions of others. Some items definitely didn't raise as much money as they should perhaps because the descriptions weren't enough. So, the bag contained wine, but what kind? A gift certificate to use at a store, but what does that store sell (really)? Everything is not always obvious.

Story #3: There is a Japanese TV show called "Iron Chef" that has been shown in the U.S. for years. (I think it is also shown in other countries.) In the U.S., this has spawned a show called "Iron Chef America." In both version, an "iron chef" (a master chef) is challenged by a world-renown chef in a culinary battle where there is theme ingredient. At the end of the show, the prepared dishes are judged and a winner declared.

In the American version, I have noticed that the Iron Chefs spend time describing their dishes to the judges. They talk about the ingredients, what they were trying to achieve, and more. These verbal descriptions help the judges understand the dishes and, I think, help to influence their decisions. (Although a bad dish is always a bad dish.)

The Lessons:
  1. What we are presenting to our users in not always obvious. We need to describe the "what" in ways that make sense to them, using words and examples that they will understand.
  2. We forget how influential a description can be. It can mean the difference between someone trying "something" or not. The description can truly "sell" the product.
  3. The description can't just be plain words; it needs to paint a picture or set a mood. Only then will you draw the person in and capture his/her attention.
The Questions:
  • How do you describe your digital library or digital assets?
  • Do you describe them in ways that are inviting, that paint a picture in the user's mind, or that capture the person's imagination?
  • Do you use words/descriptions that are meaningful to your audience?
  • If you have multiple audiences, do you have multiple entries (homepages), each geared for a specific group?

1 comment:

anne beaumont said...

I agree about the difficulty of people understanding what is contained in a digital collection. That is why PictureAustralia http://www.pictureaustralia.org/
has the concept of 'Trails' which allows exploration of the content, without the need to actually know anything about it.