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Eureka!I'm delighted to report that, after more than a decade of trying, we've finally hit on a web formula that works. First with the webcam and now with As You See It, we've added new features to MVTimes.com that patrons of the site have taken to immediately. The element each of these features has in common is that instead of preaching at you, we let you take the reins.
The webcam apparently shows people what they want to see. They can click on it, as they want to, ignore it if they like, even use it as a homepage or wallpaper, whatever that is. We have had to make rules to damp the ardor of some site visitors who have asked that we keep running up on the roof to shift the camera this way or that, but otherwise it's been an undiluted hit.
As You See It, our online invitation to visitors to post photos and videos of themselves and things they see and like in a digital Vineyard snapshot album, is likewise a hit. We yearned for a mix of news-as-it-happens images, as well as what-we-did-on-our-summer-vacation snaps, and this-is-what-I-like-about-the-Vineyard photographs. We - or rather you mvtimes.com visitors - have been right on the money, and the results have been what we hoped they would be.
We've had lots of web glitches over the years, and we've learned that we needed to improve some features and scrap some others. Years ago, with an earlier iteration of the site, the e-mail reaction ran heavily against us, less so as time went on. Thankfully, the tide - at least to judge from e-mail sent to me recently by the automatic Talkback feature on the site - has turned. The numbers reflect the way site visitors have sharpened up our performance. Years ago, if there were 10,000 visitors a week to the site, we were charmed - astonished, really. Nowadays, the site attracts 50,000 to 83,000 visitors a week. In September, for instance, mvtimes.com recorded 231,174 total visitors, 10,842,748 total hits, and 1,315,174 page views. That's way more than even the Steamship Authority site attracted.
Nowadays, most of the comments recently are generous. The questions are mostly about how to find limping features that we put up, then scrapped. The Digital Edition, which we all loved, is an example. We loved it, but nobody else did.
All the complaints of yesteryear, from folks who access the web with slower connections, generally telephone modems, have vanished. We knew that the enhanced graphics and interactivity would present problems for visitors with slow connections, but the bet was that as time went on, improved access to fast connections - i.e. cable modems from Adelphia (now Comcast) or DSL or other off-Island suppliers - would eliminate the problem for most of these visitors. It's a bet we won.
Replying to visitors who've used the Talkback feature to direct their complaints, suggestions, and often praise in our direction, I've used a couple of techniques to maintain these e-mail conversations on civil terms. One strategy I learned from the old John Cleese series "Fawlty Towers." It's been off the air for years, but we have the video collection, and whenever we need a lift we watch it. Cleese runs a boarding house with his wife, and he's a poor excuse for a human being. Whenever he screws up, he tries energetically to blame the mess on someone else, even an imaginary someone else. When a dinner guest threw up his hands in despair at the service in the Fawlty Towers dining room, Cleese, as Basil Fawlty, said more or less, If you think you've had a bad experience, well, imagine what it's been like for me.
That doesn't always work, but there's the chance it will divert some irate customer, so it's worth a try. (Pitiful, I know.)
Then there's the approach where you prostrate yourself in gratitude for any suggestion of satisfaction on the customer's part. I write in reply, Bless you, the comments I've received have not always been as kind as yours. Sometimes, these good souls write back to say, in effect, Oh, you poor thing, don't be sad. Of course I'm happy with your product. I know both of these techniques are transparent and contemptible plays for the sympathy vote, and I'm not proud of having had to resort to them.
But, the webcam, As You See It, the Reader Forum, AuctionMV, and a few other features have made these techniques less necessary for self-defense. But of course, there is that other new feature we put up, thinking it would appeal to readers and site visitors who wanted to ask us why we do things the way we do. We called it Ask the Times. You post a question or comment, and a Times reporter or editor or other staff member would post an answer. I was the first staff member on deck. I got two questions. Kind of lame. Every hopeful, we put up News Editor Nelson Sigelman as the Ask the Times answer man. He's done worse at attracting attention than I did, which is gratifying in a sense, but ultimately unsatisfactory. So far, Ask the Times is a bust. You could help with it, if you're inclined. Please do, or else Ask the Times will find its way to the web scrap heap, where other mvtimes.com web features have gone.
But really, the best part about The Times' web site development is the chance to talk - via e-mail or you're interactive participation - to visitors from all over the Island, the country and the world. (There was the person from Thailand who couldn't find the way to the Help Wanted in Classifieds.) You are all - well, not all - so nice that I'd like to hear from another hundred or so this week, although if we could change the subjects to universal admiration for the qualities of the site, that would be swell.