Monday, June 25, 2012

New Digital Collections at the Hagley

The Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, DE, calls itself the nation's leading business history library and archive. It's a fair self-assessment. LLC is proud to be a corporate sponsor, albeit on a small scale--and I hope to visit in person this week during a visit to the nearby University of Delaware at Newark for a Teaching American History presentation.

Last year the Hagley added 13 significant collections and uploaded 70,000 pages to its digital archives (linked below), among them extensive materials from Avon (the cosmetics folks), Nation's Business magazine and photos from 1912 to 1999 (we're hungering to use some of those in our books!), and the Enron Board Records Collection (because business history is not all good news). Well done, Hagley librarians and archivists.

Monday, June 18, 2012

“About Us” Evaluation: 37Signals Gets a C Plus

37Signals, founded by three young entrepreneurs in 1999 and based in Chicago, is a privately held company that develops web applications. Its first and still most popular product is Basecamp, which allows collaborative project management over the Internet. The 37Signals About Us page (“Our Story”) is here.

37Signals has a single About Us page with an elegantly laid out timeline, followed by the bios of company leaders and then a list of services offered. These are all good choices for an About Us page, but when the page opens, we have no idea that so much is there. We’d like to see the timeline, bios, and services all appear “above the fold” -- on the opening screen. Subway’s About Us page is a good example.

Accessibility: A
On the Contact Us page we’re given a snail-mail address and an email address, which we greatly prefer to an online email form, since it allows us to keep a copy. The company also offers answers to quick queries via Twitter: a welcome new option.

Products/Services: C
The timeline is elegant, but doesn’t focus enough on the company’s products. Dates in gray mark major innovations on the Net or in technology. The connection between those events and the company milestones, in red, aren’t always obvious. We have seen timelines and company histories that brilliantly tie a company’s past to events on the world scene. This one doesn’t.

In the list of services at the end on this page, we’d like to have teasers that would encourage us to click on the links. If we could see the headings on the Basecamp page we’d be more interested in visiting it, and a direct link to the page that offers a free trial might entice us even more.

Personality: C
The leadership team of 37Signals is Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, plus Jeff Bezos of Amazon, the company’s sole investor. Since Fried is a co-founder of the company, why not quote him on how the company was conceived, what principles it runs on, what services it offers, and what books he’s written? Also worth mentioning is the fact that MIT’s Technology Review named him one of the top 35 innovators in the world under age 35. (We repeat: the Wikipedia article on your company should not be a better source of information than your own About Us page.)

We are fans of breathing space in page layout, but there is too much white space and too little information on this About Us page.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). Contact us if you’d like to have your site evaluated—there’s no charge and no obligation.
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hometown History from Auburn, NY

It was a delight to be on hand yesterday in "History's Hometown" -- Auburn, New York -- for the dedication of the newly refurbished Emerson Park Pavilion. This community asset has been a meeting place for Auburnians for more than 100 years. In 1944 industrialist Fred L. Emerson donated the land, which he had owned and operated as a park for his employees, to Cayuga County "for the perpetual and free use of Cayuga's citizens for outings and leisurely wholesome enjoyment." The park and pavilion are just a few of Fred Emerson's legacies; he also founded the Fred L. Emerson Foundation, Inc., which celebrates 80 years of "Quiet Philanthropy" this month. is proud to have chronicled that history.

For more on the ceremony, here's a link to the local daily newspaper:

Monday, June 4, 2012

Branding Report from the Disney Institute

Delighted to share a report from writer and fellow ASJA member Rodney J. Moore on his experiences at the Disney Institute. From the very first day I delved into corporate history, I’ve contended that all organizations bear the DNA of their founder. Rod's story confirms my instinct:

“One of my first takeaways was how much Disney believes in storytelling. I knew that going in, but it permeates everything they do. Walt is the foundation of the Disney brand and so we started our course with details about his story. It was fascinating to hear that Walt was influenced by one main person and experience in his childhood. It wasn't his parents. It was his uncle. Walt clearly was an artist at heart so his creativity was boundless. But he had no outlet for it after his family moved to a farm when he was 5. His uncle gave him that outlet by allowing Walt to ride with him on his train. Walt's uncle Mike was an engineer. So Walt had a different adventure every time he rode that train. I think it inspired him to dream and those dreams are what birthed the brand we know today.”

More to come here! Meantime, check out Rod’s blog for additional insights: