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Types of Web Sites

Before designing, building and implementing a website – whether for the World Wide Web or a corporate intranet – it may be helpful to consider what type of site you are interested in.

Of course there is no single, universally accepted taxonomy of websites. The Web is constantly evolving, hybrids of various types are common, and different authors may categorize sites in different ways for different needs and different audiences.

With all that said, however, I think the following scheme can be useful, both for WWW and intranet users, to help steer them towards appropriate choices of the most useful resources needed, based on the site’s intended purpose.

So let’s take a look at the most common types of sites found on both the World Wide Web and corporate intranets.

1. Web Presence for a Business or Organization (aka "Brochure" sites)

A brochure site is typically fairly static, and tends to be primarily a graphic design effort. Value is delivered through a visually appealing site containing basic information about the business or organization. Static Web pages built using tools like Adobe Dreamweaver are often the best fit in a case like this. As an example, see the site for Ray’s Boathouse.

2. Personal/Family Sites

A site like this allows an individual or family to post photos, travelogues and other items of personal interest to friends and family members. Visual appeal is important, but it isn’t necessary for the site’s appearance to be unique, so it can often be built from a set of pre-designed templates. A site like this is often best put together with an easy to use and inexpensive tool such as iWeb.

3. Blogs

A blog (short for “web log”) features regular entries, usually from a single author, and generally on a specific topic. A blogging site can host a single blog, or a whole host of blogs. Depending on the aspirations of the blogger, an appearance created from a template may be sufficient, or a unique look may be designed to help promote the specific site. WordPress is a popular software package used for blogging. Blogging software usually runs on the web server side of things, not on the author’s computer. Such blogging packages often support lightweight markup languages such as markdown, so that authors need not write their entries in full-blown HTML. As an example, see Daring Fireball, written by John Gruber, the developer of markdown, or The Huffington Post.

4. Social Sharing Sites

A social sharing website publishes content from a number of contributors and is updated frequently. A site may focus on a particular topic, or on a particular interest group. The identities of the contributors, and the relationships between them, are often of as much interest as the site’s informational content. Such sites may use bulletin board software or custom software that makes it easy for contributors to share content and communicate with each other. Facebook is the ultimate site of this type.

5. Community Building Sites

These sites are similar to social sharing sites in many ways, but are generally more action-oriented, and help to rally interested parties around a common cause. Drupal is a popular server-side software package for this sort of site. Go Volunteer Abroad is one example of such a site.

6. Office Sharing Sites

These sorts of sites allow coworkers to share word processing documents, spreadsheets and presentations, and to collaborate on the creation of these. Google Docs is a good example of such a site on the Public Internet. SharePoint is a popular package used to create these sorts of sites on corporate intranets.

7. Information Resource Sites

The focus here is more on the quality and accuracy of the content than on the identities of the contributors. Updates may happen frequently, but the intent is to improve the breadth, depth or accuracy of the content, not to post the latest news about the contributors. Wiki software is often a good fit for these sorts of sites, and Wikipedia is the ultimate example of an information resource site.

8. E-Commerce Sites

If customers will actually be buying products straight from a Web site, then specialized e-commerce software is needed. Amazon.com is the ultimate example in this category.

9. Portals

A portal offers an entryway into a collection of content from a diverse set of providers. Portals tend to deliver value to customers in three ways: 1) by allowing each user to customize their personal pages to feature particular content of interest to them; 2) by combining small bits of content from disparate providers into a single Web page; 3) by providing updated views of very dynamic content on a near real-time basis. Specialized portal software is generally used for this sort of site. Yahoo is the classic example of a portal on the World Wide Web; iGoogle is another example.

Note that the content appearing within a portal need not come from within the same portal, or from another site also of the portal type: typically, a portal would include content from a number of other sites, of a variety of types.

Search engines offer a different sort of entryway to disparate content, by allowing users to search for highly ranked pages on a particular topic, or containing a particular combination of words. Google is the ultimate example of this sort of site.

11. Online Applications

Some Web sites are really just application user interfaces designed for use within a Web browser. Each of these sites uses custom software developed specifically for that site. Online banking and investment sites are examples of this type.

So there they are – eleven different types of Web sites, and some general tips on resources needed for each!

One of the important considerations is the ease or difficulty of adding and maintaining content on a site. The software usually used for personal/family sites, blogs, social sharing sites, community building sites, office sharing sites and wikis all make it easy for content experts to add and update content directly. The remaining types often require the services of a Web professional to make changes to a site’s content.

I’ll talk more about wikis in a future post, but wanted to get this basic web site taxonomy defined first.

December 24, 2010

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