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Pretty Smart: Our Cisco.com Home Page

January 17, 2009 at 12:00 pm PST

There’s a strange tendency companies have to create more web sites than they really should. The idea of creating little “microsites” certainly sounds logical: If I had a really special product, or message, or promotional campaign, I’d probably want my own web site for it. Sometimes this is perfect, because I’d just be looking for a very small, self-contained experience. But after I got done drawing up the main landing page, often I’d realize that I needed 15 or 20 (or 100) other pages or scrolling text in flash modules (ugh) to provide information on my product… and these would need to link to other places (like support content or commerce or online services)… and pretty soon my small self-contained web site would balloon into a giant duplication of part of my main company’s web sites. In these common cases, the microsite wouldn’t be a win; instead it would be an expensive albatross that’s confusing for customers to use and expensive to maintain. This is why at almost every company I know, microsites are the bane of the web teams’ existence.At Cisco, we certainly do some small, targeted microsites and landing pages for specific purposes. But we’ve also adopted a strategy of looking at the whole experience a visitor will have on the site during the session. If the experience involves the user exploring any of the rest of Cisco.com, or ties into related content that exists on the main site, we won’t create a microsite. Instead, we produce something within the context of our regular site so that customers gets an integrated experience as they’re reading, watching, and navigating. In my experience, this is the right recipe 98% of the time.An interesting adaption of this strategy is our new home page, where we wanted to create immersive experiences but also make sure that visitors could link to supporting information without getting lost or disoriented. We also wanted to make sure we could support traffic from ads we might be running, whose visitors we wanted to integrate into the same experience.What we came up with was a notion of a “microsite within a site” that can serve as a landing area, but is also part of the home page structure. Here is an example of how it works. Say you’re browsing the web, and you see this ad that talks about meeting “face to face without traveling place to place.” image This ad actually leads to a page with a delightful video about an Italian businessman who using Cisco Telepresence in one morning to meet with people around the globe. And here’s what’s special: The page is a actually a “microsite” within the Cisco.com home page — as the visitor, you’re brought into an immersive experience featuring produced videos. While the visual focus is the video for the ad campaign, visitors can navigate throughout Cisco.com because this “microsite” landing area is really part of the home page and features all Cisco’s navigation and product showcases. image If you click the “Reduce Window” button, the page morphs itself into to the normal Cisco.com home page layout:imageBy the way, as you’ve noticed if you’ve visited our home page directly (not from an ad), you’ll see an animated splash that showcases the stories, and can often “expand to learn more” to get the full experience that you would see when coming from the ad. (Expanding the button makes the picture and animation expand down to reveal the same experience that an ad would point to.)An Outside Analysts’ ViewWeb analysts SiteIQ, who produce hard-nosed and comprehensive reviews of web sites as their core business, recently put together a video explaining their view of Cisco.com’s new home page, which they’ve graciously allowed us to include in this blog. Marty Gruhn of SiteIQ calls the home page “an interesting new best practice worth a very close second look” which “ups the ante on the static banners and inline videos that are staples across the web,” and goes on to make some of the same points that I do above about microsites. (Note that she’s an expert at analyzing marketing and sales sites, so some of the descriptive language may sound strange to your ears if you’re a technology person… but it’s a great video demo of the home page capabilities):Source: Marty Gruhn (narrator), SiteIQBy the way, I should point out that SiteIQ’s Inside Track blog is an pretty interesting read that covers enterprise IT web sites.Enjoy!

Our really interesting entertainment subsite (and product)

January 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm PST

Blended into all of the excitement from last week’s MacWorld and CES events was an interesting new area of Cisco.com we launched for our Cisco Eos product. Eos is a platform that allows media companies to scale a community-based entertainment experience across a large portfolio of sites without incurring the cost and complexity of custom building each site. You can think of Eos as a “white-label” solution for media companies to build and define their own online communities. A couple of examples are Warner Music Group’s lauraizibor.com and allseanpaul.com — different presentation layers and experiences even though they’re running on the same Eos product backend. Since Eos is an abstracted platform (presentation layer separate from the data objects separate from the content assets), media companies can continue to experiment and tweak with the web experience without interrupting the day-to-day operations of the live web site. Anyway, this in an interesting business is for Cisco — hosted-software model, focused on media companies, all for delivering an end-consumer experience (a B2B2C approach), and so we worked to define a subsited web experience that conveyed something of that idea: new, while being a strong part of the Cisco brand, like so: imageimage One lesson is that new styles and subsites can pay off in terms of interactive and visual aesthetic, but are definitely a ton of work to create and deploy, so they should be approached with both eyes open. Stay tuned for some interesting navigational treatments we’re planning for these subsite. A good place to keep up with these media-related topics, including Eos, is Cisco’s DigMediaRev blog.Enjoy!

If you can spend gaziliions on icons

January 12, 2009 at 12:00 pm PST

elance.comguru.com

Web templates on the cheap

January 12, 2009 at 12:00 pm PST

Here are the two sites that I’ve used in the past along with some notes about them: TemplateWorld.comThis site is subscription based with subscriptions going for $49.95 for six months or $69.95 for one year. Once you’re a member you can download as many templates as you like (up to 25 a day). My experience with this site was that the templates look nice but were typically hard to customize and many had some severe usability issues. The HTML coding that the template used was messy and hard to work with. I ended up downloading a bunch of templates but only used one for a clients site. I did not renew my subscription to this site. Site I created using a TemplateWorld.com template: www.harborlitelodge.com TemplateMonster.comThis site sells templates on an individual basis, typically for $60 to $70. They also tell you how many times a template has been purchased and give you the ability to make a template unique by purchasing it outright for significantly more money (around $3000), they will then take the template off their site and will not sell it anymore. That means that if no one purchased it before you, your site should be the only one using it (assuming you trust them to never sell that template again). Since I always modified templates anyway I was never concerned about having a “unique” template. I found that while the TemplateMonster templates can be seen as more expensive then TemplateWorld’s templates they are much easier to use and much better constructed. Site I started creating using a TemplateMonster.com template (development stopped because client stopped providing content): http://thelunchbox.biz/dev/ Take aways:These types of services are a great way to get a professional looking template for next to nothing in terms of what it would typically cost to hire a design firm Saves time over traditional web design Not all templates are created equal, some look great but can be hard to modify or have usability issues

My 2008 Virtual Highlights and 2009 Quick Picks

January 10, 2009 at 12:00 pm PST

OK I know a bit late for this kind of post but here are my top highlights as relates to virtual news and happenings in 2008.1) Google’s Lively -- Came, went and was re-born as NewLivelya. Many folks saw the announcement to shutter Lively as unfortunate and a bit short sighted, read one opinion.b. Fans rallied though and NewLively was born from the ashes.2) PlayStation Home -- Finely launched but will it be in Beta forever?a. Everyone greatly anticipated this release which seemed to take forever to finally get here.b. Some folks think Home is just scratching the surface of what it can do while others (including Home Director, Jack Buser) think it will be in beta forever.3) Warhammer -- Darn fine game, raising the bar…but not the death of WoW; imo.a. Warhammer Online released this year. Woot!b. The game garnered a lot of well deserved praise but some folks are cautious to cry victory as regards the games long term success..4) Virtual Meetings and Events -- The current state of the economy and corporate ‘green’ initiatives help the format explode off the chartsa. Read a couple of opinions from some of the folks on the vendor side of the industry: Unisfair talks about the future of virtual events and this blog ponders the future of MacWorld and CES.image5) OpenSim -- Not ready for prime time yet but when it is, watch out y’all.a. OpenSim is the open source alternative to Second Life. Some say it is as important to virtual worlds as Apache is to web site, read for yourself. b. Many folks say that there are definitely good things going on and to come in 2009, but not a large audience at this time. However, they always follow-up with while it may not be ready for public consumption now…it will be industry changing when it is. So what am I looking forward to right now in 2009? Many things but at this moment… Read More »