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Types of Web Sites

by Doug Lipman

(This article appeared in Storytelling World magazine. Copyright Doug Lipman)


This time, Doug addresses the question:
"What should I include on a web page about my storytelling?"

For most of us, the large-scale computer network called the Internet is still a dazzling wonder. Even those who have learned our way around several forms of Internet-based communication - such as using email and browsing the World Wide Web - are at a loss when it comes to designing a web site of our own.

Whether your web site will promote your storytelling, your storytelling group, or some aspect of the cause of storytelling, it will need a clear purpose.

But what kind of purposes can a web site serve? In other words, what kind of value can a web site offer, that will cause people to use it and even return to it again and again?

I know of six approaches.

1. The Brand Name Web Site.

This kind of site offers specific information about an identifiable topic. If you want to know which of a particular storyteller's tapes includes a particular story, for example, you'll go to the teller's site and be glad. But you won't necessarily return until another specific question pops up.

Most current storytellers' web pages use this strategy. If someone

  1. knows you are a storyteller and
  2. suspects you have a web site and
  3. wants to learn more about you,
they'll at least try to go to your site, in order to get the specific information they want.

"Brand name" web sites need, above all, to be clearly organized. If people can't easily find the information they want, they'll quit. They have no other reason to keep exploring.

2. The Information Storehouse.

A storehouse of information is of lasting value. A large number of articles, bibliographies, etc. can make a site worth revisiting.

To provide such a storehouse, however, you need to

  • have a lot of information to offer
  • take the time to format it for the web.

Providing information on the web, by the way, is much easier than providing it in print or on tape, because the web lets you add information to your site gradually - and revise it easily.

An information storehouse requires clear organization. Beyond helping people find a specific piece of information, this kind of site also needs to make it easy to browse, to uncover the breadth of information that is available there.

3. The Links Page

Since the web is so decentralized, we need ways to find what is available. Some web pages, therefore, specialize in providing links to other pages, such as Jim Maroon's Storytelling Home Page and the Norwegian Storyteller Association's page.

Such a page is worth returning to again and again. People who care about a particular subject (such as storytelling in the classroom, or storytelling in therapy, etc.) will eagerly visit a site that offers the most complete set of links about that topic.

On the every-changing web, such a site requires frequent updating.

4. The Do-An-Activity Page

Some pages let you do something. For example, some non-storytelling sites allow a user to interactively create a postcard. You can choose a graphic, enter a message and an email address, and send it on the spot. Other sites have games, simulations, calculators for mortgage payments, etc.

Not many storytelling sites pursue this strategy yet, in part because of the fancy programming required. To be sure, a few sites allow you to order recordings or books interactively, or to type in your own stories. But you can expect eventually to see on-line storytelling games, interactive story-creation, and on-line forms for storytelling grants and membership applications - as well as activities I can't even imagine.

5. The Point-of-View Site

Some people prefer visiting a web site that creates a sense of a personality or a world. Miriam Nadel's site is like that; it gives lots of good information (including articles, bibliography, links, and a calendar), but in the end it conveys a sense of getting to know a person. Another is the site called Tall Tales on the Web. It gives the feeling of a particular event - a monthly story-swap at a British inn.

This kind of site requires a unified "tone" or point of view. Quirkiness can be a virtue here, as can strong opinions, whimsy or passion. Such a site can be idiosyncratic in content, but must be consistent in style.

6. The Community Gathering-Place

Some sites function as electronic gathering-places for people with a shared interest. Of course, an on-line community can cover either a narrow or a wide geographic area.

This kind of site requires either frequent updates (an always up-to-date schedule of local or regional storytelling events, for example) or opportunities for user interaction (such as a place where people can post their own events or opinions).

A good example in the non-storytelling world is the Berkeley Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which is centered around 22 different user-entry areas.

What matters here is not the exact kind of information or activity, but the felt presence of other community members. To make this kind of site work, you need the participation of many voices, and a sense of timeliness and belonging.

Next Steps

Now you are ready to look at your own goals, then choose a strategy (or mix of strategies) that seems likely to help you achieve what you want.

Then comes the long-term, exciting work of trying out a web site, building an audience for it, evaluating, and revising. These steps are common to all forms of publication. The special qualities of the web, though, allow for ongoing user-participation, as well as for frequent and inexpensive revision. Not only are you creating a web site, you are helping to adapt a new medium to fit the needs of our ancient art.

Looking for a low-cost way to host your professional web site? I have space on my server for a limited number of people. See the description of this Low-Cost Professional Web Server.


Copyright © Doug Lipman

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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003
Copyright©2003 Doug Lipman