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Showcasing quality sites

Ron Mader

I have written about the development of Mexico-related Internet resources since the late 1980s. My introduction to the Web began as a graduate student at the University of Texas when I started researching Latin America. With a few clicks on a keyboard, the Internet would deliver headline news, newsgroups and other specialized forums. The alternative -- visit the university library and see if any of the newspapers were less than three months old.

As the Web took off, I moved to Mexico where I started to work as a professional journalist. In the past few years the medium has taken off. Websites provide a dazzling amount of content. Online forums more detailed. Best of all, the diversity of views is greater ever. There is no doubt in my mind that the Web is the single-most useful communications medium for anyone interested in Mexico and the rest of Latin America. From online newspapers and radio stations to student Websites, there's no doubt that the decade from the mid-90s to mid-00s will be considered the Golden Age of the Web.

In considering the architecture of the Web, the first step is taking an inventory of what is and is not online. What are you favorite Websites? What do you wish you could find online? The answers to these questions vary from user to user - yet they make up the virtual landscape of what we find online. One vital task was making an inventory and an evaluation. This was the beginning of my work as a Website reviewer and champion of Web culture.

Origins

For the past few years I have written "Mexico on the Web," a regular feature of the magazine Business Mexico http://www.amcham.com.mx. The columns address a different topic each month. Recent subjects have included Migration, Baseball, Insects, Baja California, Archaeology, Cable TV, Elections, Guadalajara, the Gulf of Mexico, Health, Mexico City1s environment, Virtual art galleries and the US/Mexico Borderlands.

These columns are also archived online with the popular Mexico Connect Website http://www.mexconnected.com whose Publisher David McLaughlin quickly set up an archive for the articles: http://www.mexconnected.com/mex_/travel/rmader/rmaderindex.html. An aside: in the future, I'd like to expand the collection as a reference book.

I initiated the column because few indices and search engines take the time to evaluate a site and review the content. In fact, many awards are given on the basis of what technological gadget is part of the site. The flashier, the better. This encourages high-tech wizardry. Not to knock design, but content is King.

Let me digress and wax philosophical. It is content that builds a loyalty among readers. Are new articles and resource guides added to a Website? Are old articles updated? How reliable or up-to-date is the information? Style comes and goes. If an Internet surfer does not find what he or she wants, they move on. Neither the reputation nor the promotional marketing matter -- if the content's not there, the readers won't stay either.

Readers

Who reads Mexico on the Web? From letters and emails I've received, the readership comprises a mix among Mexican nationals and foreigners. Both groups want to learn about Mexico and use the Web como una biblioteca virtual. Mexicans, in particular, want to see what the English-speaking world says about their country. There is also a good number of journalists and Webmasters who subscribe to the announcement list http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mexico-on-the-web/ for the purpose of keeping informed to what's new online.

Evaluating Websites

The "Mexico on the Web" column is intended to evaluate the quality of a Website
on a scale from 1 to 5 " s". This a subjective judgement using the following system for appraisal:

" Star" - This site is worth a visit; it may have contact information be up-to-date. The content and design need work. It's just worth checking out.
" Stars" - This site is worth a visit for anyone interested in the subject manner; the site has basic information and might be updated. The content or design needs work.
" Stars" - Visit; this is a quality site with valuable content and pleasing design.
" Stars" - Visit; this is a quality site which should be considered for bookmark. It is regularly updated and has great content.
" Stars" - Bookmark this exemplary Website; it is a regularly updated, content-rich site; it provides forums and interactive communication for the visitors.

Most reviewed sites receive a 2-4 stars rating. I do include some "1"s from time to time -- these are institutional sites with one or more of the following: obsolete information, dead links and a black hole email address. The best receive a 5/5 rating. At the end of each year, I've collected the best of the best for the year-end issue of Business Mexico.

Again, these reviews are subjective. They include a brief review of the site's highlights and shortfalls. I try to make a few suggestions of how to improve the site. The grand lesson of the Internet is that all Websites ought to be considered "under construction." Those responsible for a Website can always make improvements.

Lessons Learned

To sum up, I'd like to share seven lessons learned over the past decade:

1) The best Websites have an author. It may be an individual in charge of both design and content or it might be an institutional site with a clear voice about what the site is about. The best Websites also have a means of contacting the Webhost to report dead links or to make other connections. Without someone in charge, the navigability of the site diminishes because of dead links and the usefulness declines because the content is not updated.

2) The Internet plays by different rules than traditional media. This was proven during the elections when Mexico-based cable companies would black out the international news channels such as CNN. Savvy Web users simply headed online for results. (Read " Bypassing the Power Structure " in Forbes, July 24, 1997 -- http://www.forbes.com/tool/html/97/jul/0724/power.htm

3) Paradoxically, the Internet is always just coming into fashion. "Ya es la moda."

4) The Web constantly re-invents itself. What would have been accurate to say six months ago may no longer be true. Websites ebb and flow -- improving and declining in quality. And it all depends on who's paying attention.

5) Website readers have more individual and collective power than TV viewers or magazine or newspaper readers.

6) The focus on e-commerce has been as disappointing as it has been confusing. Flashy TV ads and press conferences have not yet helped content-empty Dot-coms survive. The magic formula for success can no longer remain "Internet ya es la moda."

7) E-culture deserves more ink.

References:

Mastering the Web
http://www.planeta.com/ecotravel/period/master/master.html

Mexico on the Web Index
http://www.mexconnected.com/mex_/travel/rmader/rmaderindex.html

Mexico on the Web - Announcements
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mexico-on-the-web

Published or Updated on: January 1, 2006 by Ron Mader © 2008
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