Screens, Research and Hypertext

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Destination Sites

A destination site—as the name implies—is a website or app that users visit directly. Most people have very few of these. I make my living working online, yet my list of destination sites is quite short: Twitter, Medium, Vox, Sports Illustrated, Stratechery, and the Washington Post. Everything else I read is surfaced by one of my other destinations—usually Twitter. Some of you may have slightly longer lists. A lot of people have fewer. For many, it’s pretty much just Facebook.

The point is that it’s really hard to become a destination. In general, to become a destination site, you must either provide highly differentiated content or an exceptional user experience (or, ideally, both).

To differentiate a product is to add some feature that distinguishes your product from all of its competitors in a way that makes the product more attractive to its users. The iOS operating system on an iPhone differentiates it from other high-end smartphones with similar hardware specifications. The same principle applies to content, where differentiation generally requires high-quality editorial content with a unique "voice."

Providing truly exceptional user experience isn't magic, nor does it require any sort of particular genius. What it does require is an ongoing commitment of time and resources—a constant testing and optimizing of every element, every button, every user journey across the entire site.

Research organizations are typically going to struggle on both fronts. Developing a consistent, unique voice would require training tens or even hundreds of independent researchers to adopt a similar writing style. Building the sort of user experience that can put you on par with destination sites like Facebook or Twitter would require millions of dollars in annual website costs.

Aiming for destination status as a research organization is setting the entire communications team up for guaranteed failure.

If you're not sitting on billions in start-up capital, you probably won't be a destination.

Referenced in

Aggregation Theory

(That's why most publishers are doomed in the long run. Those that provide differentiated content may be able to survive via subscriptions. Everyone else is selling hydrogen to the sun.)

Content Everywhere

Your website is not going to become a destination. There just aren’t that many of those, and the ones that do exist either provide content you can’t get anywhere else, offer a truly exceptional user experience, or both. You lack the organizational culture for the first and the budget for the second.