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Net Prophet - by Dylan Tweney

February 15, 1999

Netrepreneur of the Year is a crusader for Web site usability

Mark Hurst did more for you last year than you probably realize.

You're most likely thinking, "Mark who?" But Hurst, although not widely known outside Web-commerce design circles, had a far-reaching and beneficial effect on many Web-commerce sites in 1998. Through his usability consulting firm, Creative Good, he has done more than any other individual to make Web-commerce sites easier to use.

If you shopped at such online stores as Amazon.com, CDnow, Dell, Expedia, Schwab, and Travelocity, your life got a little easier last year thanks to Mark Hurst. And that's why Hurst is the recipient of the first annual InfoWorld Netrepreneur of the Year award, for his contributions to Internet commerce in 1998.

I first learned about Hurst in June 1998, when he and online industry pundit Robert Seidman published "In Search of E-Commerce," a report on the usability of some high-profile Web commerce sites.

The report pulled no punches. In it, Hurst and Seidman pointed out how, in many cases, these sites actively discouraged their customers from making purchases. Confusing Web-page designs, excessive graphics, and complicated order forms all served to turn customers away in droves.

It seems obvious, but you want to make it as easy as possible for your online customers to buy whatever it is you're selling.

Surprisingly, many sites don't do this. It's as if you'd walked into a town where all the stores displayed their wares on shelves seven feet off the ground, behind closed doors, and without labels or price tags.

After publishing the report, Hurst says many of the usability faults he described at these sites were quietly corrected.

Other sites became clients of Hurst's consulting practice, and undertook even more serious overhauls. For instance, Travelocity has incorporated many of Hurst's recommendations into its next redesign, making it easier to book hotels and buy plane tickets from the home page, simplifying and consolidating frequently-used site features, and renaming a form called "Flight Express" so it reads "Book Your Roundtrip Flight Now!"

While many of these changes sound subtle, taken together they add up. The result is a site that's more pleasant for the customer and more profitable for the merchant.

Hurst himself is something of a crusader for Web-site usability.

"I saw that there was a lot of power in one person focusing on and committing to the needs of the customer," Hurst told me in a recent phone conversation. "I started Creative Good with the mission to change the way the Internet industry treated its customers."

Hurst's zeal is contagious. His customers wrote to me with enthusiastic endorsements of his approach. If that attitude spreads, it won't be long before we have a usability revolution on our hands.

Honorable mentions go to Bill McKiernan, CEO and founder of CyberSource, and to Richard King, Big Planet's CEO and founder.

CyberSource is a transaction services company that offers credit card screening and processing to hundreds of major commerce sites.

Big Planet combines network marketing with high-tech savvy to create a company that sells Internetworking goods and services through independent sales representatives.

Thanks to these individuals -- McKiernan, King, and Netrepreneur of the Year Mark Hurst, as well as thousands of others -- the Internet got more friendly to commerce in 1998 than ever before. Here's to an even more successful 1999.

Dylan Tweney (dylan@infoworld.com) has been covering the Internet since 1993. He edits InfoWorld's intranet and Internet-commerce product reviews.

Previous columns by Dylan Tweney

Smart Frog will help get Internet shopping sales really jumping
February 8, 1999

Online service woes dog vendor sites and hinder Internet sales
February 1, 1999

Display technologies will change the way we look at the Web
January 25, 1999

Market's love affair with Internet stocks won't end happily
January 18, 1999

Every column since August, 1997

Please direct your comments to InfoWorld Electric.

Copyright © 1999 InfoWorld Media Group Inc.

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