Time for the Millennium Awards

Seems like this time of year, every journalist worth his salt puts down a list of the best and worst of the millennium. These articles always annoy me because they’re inevitably skewed to stuff that happened over the last few years, ignoring the really big stuff like the Magna Carta and the invention of Shredded Wheat.

That said, it’s my turn – and because I’m going to single out the best and worst of the Internet millennium, I’ve got a great excuse for being current.

Here are my top picks:

• The Worst Market Research Technique of the Millennium Award goes to the otherwise wonderful fine-art site that hired an old-fashioned market research firm to call me at home on a Saturday to ask how I liked the site. Hello?

Old-fashioned market research is great when you don’t have free, instant e-mail at your disposal. If the company wants to know how to make the site better, why not just have the vice president of site development write me a personal note? It would only take each of us a few seconds and avoid the cost, time and hassle of having some droid memorize a bunch of irrelevant questions.

In addition, calling a customer at home who doesn’t expect to hear from you and probably doesn’t want to hear from you is a sure way to squander permission, don’t you think?

• The Hey! We’re a Brand Award is presented to all the old-fashioned brands that have decided they need a Web presence, whether or not that means making a meaningful offer to the consumer. Visit some of these sites (here’s two: Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks) and while it’s clear what’s in it for the brand, it’s hard to understand how a direct marketing/direct response model can ever make these sites pay for themselves.

• The Significant Millennial Achievement in Customer Service Award goes to all the sites bending over backwards to keep customers once they’ve got them. This includes the big guys who will instantly send you a personal note (and probably a gift certificate) if you point out where and how they’ve screwed up, all the way to the tiny sites where individual proprietors actually read their e-mail and take the time to write back.

• The Bandwagon Award goes to all the sites now understanding that privacy is an asset, not an enemy. Protecting the privacy of people who interact with you helps us and them. And the sites that are busy renting or selling this data will lose.

• I give the We Lost It Just as the Calendar Flips Over Award to all the idiots who cram our mailboxes with spam, which is becoming increasingly acceptable, if not correct. They believe that repeating magic phrases such as, “this is a one time only mailing” somehow ameliorate the time they’re wasting. Fortunately, new filtering techniques are now coming onto the market that may stop the scourge of spam in its tracks.

• There are too many candidates to select a winner for the Buzzword of the Next Millennium Award, but Mark Hurst and his colleagues at Creative Good in New York are doing a terrific job of teaching people about the user experience. It’s just astonishing how many roadblocks you have to go through to interact with some sites. Did you know, for example, that you must register by phone with the New York Times before you can use its Web site to send them a note about failures in your home delivery?

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