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THE FIFTH GENERATION WEB SITE: Custom designed web solutions with integrated Content Management Systems (CMSs) promise to revolutionize the way organizations manage their Web assets and strengthen their brand.

By Shannon Zastrow
Generations One thru Four: A brief history of Web site evolution

Since the infancy of the Web back in the mid-nineties, Web sites have evolved in appearance, technology and purpose. David Siegel, author of the famous book Creating Killer Web Sites, defines First Generation sites as linear, plain-HTML pages with limited layout options that were primarily a tool by which scientists shared information. Second Generation sites, describes Siegel, introduced icons, buttons with beveled edges, bulleted lists, and (hold on to your hat) tiled background images. Though very crude by today’s standards, Second Generation sites still remain the most common. Third Generation sites, concludes Siegel, are more visually sophisticated and aim to attract and communicate to an audience in accordance with specific branding and marketing objectives.

Many shots have been taken at defining a fourth generation. Some say it includes database dynamism, others say personalization, still others contend it has to do with the viability of rich media. One Web strategy that infatuated the business world until early 2000 relied on the notion that the web represented a revolutionary new way for companies to sell products. This turned out to be the reality for only a small percentage of dotcoms.

A few things are clear today:

1. The Web is especially good at purveying information
2. The Web is rarely effective as an isolated medium, rather it is effective as an integrated component of a mixed-media marketing strategy
3. The Web is unique because it is the only modern marketing tool that is two-way (interactive). Advertising, PR, and Branding, are traditonally one-way mechanisms.
4. Because the Web is interactive, and because it is highly visual and dynamic, it can be an effective branding tool. As with all forms of marketing and advertising, a site’s level of reliability, attractiveness, intuitiveness, and professionalism all form the mental constructs that produce brand identity…whether positive or negative.

Why the Web still hasn’t delivered for many organizations
The problem is that beneath the fancy exterior of many third and fourth generation sites is the red-headed-step-child of the marketing world: CODE.

When IT staff members are required to make content updates for an organization’s web site, a workflow nightmare is so often the result. This process inhibits regular content updates, which leads to stagnancy, and that leads to no hits. Your Web site becomes ineffectual.

When marketing or department staff attempt to update their own content via HTML Code (even using tools such as Dreamweaver), you introduce a nightmare of formatting, style and organizational inconsistencies. This usually leads to a messy, unprofessional looking site that reflects poorly on the organization and the quality of its products or services.

Such problems can quickly sandbag the effectiveness of your web site strategy and limit ROI. So what’s the answer?

Content Management Systems

Enter Content Management Systems (CMSs). The market has already produced a myriad of stand-alone CMS products that serve to streamline the process of content management. These are typically shrinkwrapped, client-side products that, for the most part, function by tagging individual pieces of content and automating its integration, workflow, and publishing.

Unfortunately some stand-alone CMSs fail to bridge Content Management and Design (Brand, Tone and User Interface). Until these two aspects can be efffectively merged into one integrated solution, a CMS will fall short of its potential.

Pie in the Sky, or Bird in the Hand?

The great news is that more effective and versatile Fifth generation CMS solutions are becoming available as a result of technologies like Microsoft .Net and the ingenuity of independent shops like Luminous, an Everett-based creative firm that just released a Fifth Generation Web solution called Orchestrate™.

Even better news is that a Fifth Generation site today should ultimately cost less than the professionally-developed Third Generation (static) site of yesteryear, making this solution accessible to medium-sized and many small-sized businesses. This is crucial for smaller businesses and start-ups who must capitalize on their ability to be responsive, personal and community-centered, while at the same time not appearing less capable.

The implications are also profound for larger, highly departmentalized organizations. They can begin to manage the complex organizational web of information and knowledge by putting ‘experts’ directly in control of the content they manage. This can be accomplished without compromising the integrity of the brand or wasting time educating dozens of employees on site design rules and methods.

There’s little question that the Web can be one of the biggest drivers of brand identity and product preference for your organization. Fortunately, with the coming of age of Web technologies as well as an understanding of the Web’s strengths and weaknesses, small and large businesses alike can expect more cost-effective and manageable options with more tangible results. [24×7]

Shannon Zastrow is a Web Strategist for Luminous, an award-winning creative marketing firm in Everett, Washington. He can be reached at: shannon@luminouscorp.com

Luminous is an award-winning creative marketing firm located just north of Seattle in Everett, Washington. Core competencies include: advertising, graphic design, strategic branding, collateral, packaging, data-driven web sites and intranets, interactive media, user interface and industrial design. To learn more about Orchestrate, the Fifth Generation Web Solution by Luminous, please visit orchestrate.luminouscorp.com.