We are seeing many "new" aspects to the web, design elements on a variety of web sites that are promoted as new things. The fact is, a great many of them are not new at all, they are very old, we see them all the time, and have for years.
Example: Tabbed entries. Now, these are the "new" thing for browsers, navigation, etc.. But how new are they really ? Not at all, this same system has been used in every index card file system since day one, check the index card system in any library, or check your own file cabinet and what do you see ? Tabs, tabs that list what's in the folder or behind the subject tab. So, the idea is not new.
Another example: Column placements for
the text, as is seen in newspapers and magazines, again, it's not at all
new, it's been seen and used, since we started having newspapers, which
for the history buffs, the oldest newspaper in the USA, started in the
early 1600's. So the idea has been around for a while
Like the page your looking at, with the exception of the smaller paragraphs, it's almost identical to almost any paper letter you have ever read. If I were to indent the first word of each paragraph, it would be even more the same. So it's a format, a style of handling information, you are well familiar with and you don't have to even think about it, to handle it, which of course is why I use it. :)
Take a look at almost anything reported as new for the web, and you will find, nearly without fail, that the most successful ones, are things that have figured out a way to present on the web, a format that is commonly used to handle information on paper.
Ok, now, the question that comes to mind is of course, why ?
The why is simple, to use what works, what's known and more importantly, what's immediately understood by the viewer, even if they don't realize off hand, why they understand it. Everybody wants to create new and exciting ways, to handle information, and yes the web does present ways and means no paper could match, such as streaming video, flash, interactive panoramas, etc.. However, to use all these sexy new toys, you first have to get the viewers attention and you will do that by using the same text formats they intuitively understand.
Handling information on paper is an art form, a form that's been refined and defined by experts for 1000s of years, and never before in history is it used as much as it is today. The Web is often called, the information highway, and it is, never before on Earth has so much information been at our fingertips. With current day search engines, you can find out almost anything you want to know, at the touch of a mouse.
However, how many people have been frustrated by some format that they have to sit there and figure out what to do first, in order to get to that information ? A lot I bet, as lots of people are jumping on the band wagon of all the new ways to present data on the web. All well and good, but don't let the desire, or even need, for the new ways and means, get in the way of your first line of conveying the message, the simple text on the page and how you present it.
Your message can literally drown in all the interactive stuff, as realize, without the plain text to explain and invite them to use it, it's going to waste. Unless of course your one of those obnoxious people who forces it in the viewers face or ears the second they land on the page. Which, while it does get around the need for them to figure out how to access it, it is generally a no no, as people do NOT like having music, or videos, or even flash presentations anymore ( since they are being way over used for ads ) that are in their face the second they land on the page. They want to control the experience, of how much, when, and even IF they view your offerings ... forcing it on them is a not, for any designer.
Further, do not force the bulk of your main message onto the interactive presentation, and then add insult to that injury, by making the interactive so cutting edge you HAVE to have the latetess and the greatest to even play it.
I cannot count the number of sites I have seen of late, whose only text on the page is here, watch this video. Well, maybe I don't feel like watching a vid right now ! Maybe, just maybe, I am using an older browser, or have an older vid card, or limited memory, and I can't even open your fancy video ... so where is your message then ? Dead in the water is where it is, as you have cut off a segment of your viewer population. Now, I agree, that below a certain reasonable standard, you can and should make your presentation to X standards, and can expect it to be seen my most people.
I mean very very few people use say, a Commodore 60, with a 640 by 480 screen anymore, but don't make that standard too high either. The question becomes at that point, if you are pushing the bleeding edge, how many viewers are you willing to lose ? Know what the standards are, and what the bulk of your targeted viewer is running for equipment, before you make a choice as to where to draw the technological line.
There is a very good reason for having more Plain Jane web pages, when looking at an international market, or even a USA market. Not everybody is running the top of the line high speed broad band, so load time matters, and the general equipment, particularly in work environments, is often outdated.
Given the sheer number of machines in the work environment, this is an area where changes tend to happen slowly, as it's not just a single machine that has to be upgraded, as it is for your average home user. It can be 100's of them at a time, so changes happen only when they absolutely must, as it represents a major expense to the business.
So the blend of old and new, is the current way to go. Understanding how text information is best understood and presented, with reasonable integration of the new ways of presenting data, the videos and other moving presentations is paramount. They can live side by side, and do well, provided you understand what your viewer needs and wants, in terms of presentation.
The bottom line is, do not make your
viewer have to figure it out, make it easy to get your text message across,
in one sweep of the eyes, and let them control just how much of
the new technological goodies they want to use. Do not force your entire
message onto the interactive medium, as they may or may not be able or
even willing to view it, and don't make your medium standard too cutting
edge. If you can do all that, you will reach the largest amount of
viewers with your message.