My Flashy E-Town

I got a call this morning from Terry Allen at FutureLearning. I’ve known Terry for a while — I first met him when he was one of Don Glendenning’s disciples, and our paths cross every one in a while. He’s a good guy.

Terry was calling because he’s involved in the launch of something called E-Town this week, and he wanted to know if he could show this weblog as an example of “blogging in business.” I told him that was fine, as long as it was made clear that there was no relationship between Reinvented and E-Town or Virtual Charlottetown. He promised to do that, so I told him I was happy to have him go ahead.

Then I went to look at E-Town.

It’s not immediately clear to me what E-Town actually is. The site itself says it’s “A one-stop destination for e-business information” but it doesn’t appear to actually be that. Right now, at least, it’s a “clickable map of a pretend town with links (sort of) to e-business information elsewhere.”

Now I’m not smart enough to say whether or not we the people actually need a “one-stop destination for e-business information” created for us. But I can certainly offer some suggestions for improving E-Town as a web project.

When you “enter” E-Town, you are presented with a map that looks like this:

The “image” is not, in fact, an “image,” but rather an interactive Flash presentation.

Strike one, thus, is that all of the content in E-Town is effectively hidden from the web in a closed, proprietary world. Google won’t index it. I can’t link to it. And I won’t even start into the accessibility problems that this approach brings with it (hint: try closing your eyes and navigating the site with a screen reader).

Strike two, also Flash-related, is that E-Town doesn’t work like a normal web page: there are no hyperlinks (at least not in the normal sense), and when you hold your house over one of the “e-buildings,” a pop-up menu pops up, but you can’t click on anything in that menu (you have to click on the building itself). And then when you figure out what to click on, more pop-up windows pop up, but you can’t move them around. And then other pop-up windows pop up underneath these pop-up windows. To live in E-Town requires that you learn a new navigational metaphor, and that can’t be a Good Thing when you’re trying to teach people.

Strike three, again Flash-related, is that not everyone has the Flash player on their computer. We did some testing on and found as much as 15% of all web traffic coming to the site was not Flash-enabled. That’s almost 2 people in 10 who get automatically exiled from E-Town before they’re through the town gate.

The most noticeable organizational problem (can you have a strike four?) with E-Town is that the streets are in the wrong place. Look at the map above: in the virtual bizarro e-world, Prince St. and Grafton St. are parallel and Euston runs into Water, and Water into University. Now I’m not saying that E-Town should be a geographically perfect reflection of “R-Town,” but if you’re trying to make people comfortable with new concepts, why introduce this new layer of confusion? (And you just know, Islanders being Islanders, that this is something that everyone is going to notice).

In developing a Flash-based, non-accessible, confusingly presented site to deliver the e-business gospel, I fear that E-Town will create more confusion than clarity. The project is not unique in this regard: as I’ve mentioned here before, the CBC likes to create similar sites. And the problems with them are the same: in the name of “sizzle over steak,” these sites are not particpating in the web, but rather overlaying themselves on top of it. This isn’t an ecological approach, and that’s too bad.


Alan's picture
Alan on April 28, 2003 - 16:44 Permalink

Readin your politely restrained comments, I wonder not only what, as you point, the page does not do but what was it supposed to do. Is it an index of sites organized pictographically? How does the Technology Centre warrant an elemental icon equivalent to all financial services e-bank) or all government (Town Hall). E-wastomoney comes to my mind.

Charlie's picture
Charlie on April 28, 2003 - 19:30 Permalink

I’m guessing it’s not a good thing that when you go to the first page, with the picture link on the right and mouse over the “Disclaimer” link under it, half of the disclaimer disapears under the picture…at least that’s what it’s doing for me, anyone else? Alan, if e-town ruins my machine can I legally claim I wasn’t aware it might do that?

Also, Peter, so…are you the phone booth, or what? ;)

Alan's picture
Alan on April 28, 2003 - 19:39 Permalink

Ah, the beauty, the law of hidden or ill-referenced disclaimers. What a waft dreamy reverie your question fills my mind with. I will have to go ponder that question but I know the red hand cases of early 1900’s railway ticketing will be a quick stop on the jaunt. [Now do you see how lawyers bill?]

Craig Willson's picture
Craig Willson on April 28, 2003 - 23:21 Permalink

Cripes Alan, that sounded like you were having an erotic moment. Black shoes getting tight again?

Clark's picture
Clark on April 29, 2003 - 00:54 Permalink

In certain contexts I think this approach can have some success. But it’s terribly difficult to make it succeed and in the case of this product the resources are probably better spent on simply making a great usable directory of information.

Apples eworld and some similar attempts looked great, were fun, and in some cases within that context relatively usable. Etown is simply executed very poorly.

Justin's picture
Justin on April 29, 2003 - 02:20 Permalink

No, that’s a normal view of C-town :) The sun is e-setting in the north, as usual.

Plug-in’s! Flash et. al. have developed in me, a new type of hate to don when faced with plug-in’s. Perfectly good hatred should be reserved for respectable despicables and not sullied by the company of plug-in’s.

Ken's picture
Ken on April 29, 2003 - 03:46 Permalink

The drudge report is almost all text, the exact opposite of etown: content driven. Is that etown picture what Ozzy Osbourne sees on his remote control?
Are they trying to breakthrough to the pre-school crowd?
Remember Cowboy X from Sesame Street?

Alan's picture
Alan on April 29, 2003 - 12:08 Permalink

Its what Ozzy seek when he closes his eyes…

Alan's picture
Alan on April 29, 2003 - 12:09 Permalink

sees” — I need a coffee…

Cameraguy's picture
Cameraguy on May 2, 2003 - 11:26 Permalink

There is one strikingly realistic aspect of this C-Town.

The e-Pad, used for keeping notes of where you’ve been, what you’ve done (or how much you’ve spent) is located in the Parks & Recreation e-building.