"The new forums on the website are too impersonal," one of my regular contributors tells me. He's been saying that for months. I've been ignoring him for almost that long. Website layout change can get really complicated.
"What do you mean 'impersonal'?" I finally asked. "Is it the color scheme? The layout? The features? The discussions themselves? What?"
"I dunno. They're just like everyone else's now."
Right. This guy happens to be a creative and technical genius, plus I take the feedback from my regular contributors seriously. Even if it makes me want to throttle them. So I went to my technical support guy and told him we needed to overhaul the forums.
"What's wrong with em?" he asked.
"They're just like everyone else's."
So we set to work figuring out how to make our forums "less impersonal". Between the two of us, Tech Guy and I browsed hundreds of websites, comparing colors, designs, layouts, acquiring and picking through source code, compiling a list of features and ideas to use for our own site. I spent days coming up with original art. Tech Guy spent days figuring out what we needed and showing me how to load it in. We tried dozens of different layouts.
"Do you think this looks more personal?"
"Those colors give me a headache. What about this?"
"I'd have to come up with all new art."
"Can you get a picture of that contributor? Make a graphic with his name and a mug shot and use that for the website's background. Toss in his underwear size and social security number."
"That's about as personal as it gets," I had to agree. "What do you think about the fonts I used?"
Tech Guy sounded non-committal. "The words look the same to me."
I frown at the flowery letters flowing across my screen. "Uh. No, they're really different."
"No they aren't. My computer must not have those fonts. You should stick to common ones."
I frown. I'm too cheap to have ever purchased a special font. "Papyrus is pretty standard issue."
"I'll look it up," he says and changes the subject. "Think you could get a web-cam in the guy's refrigerator? We could put a live feed onto the site."
The next day, Tech Guy sent me an email: "I'm getting annoyed. I was lookin around for more of the fonts that you used and WTH! [what the heck] I found a list of the programs all these fonts ship with, and I have some of them! So where are my fonts?! Argh. Must be some extra you have to select during install. So annoyed. :P"
I sent him a note back: "I don't think they're extras, because I don't know enough about software to install anything other than the default 'recommended' options. Could you have done a custom install because you have the mad computer skillz and just have forgotten to add them? In which case you could write to Bill Gates and complain that he is rewarding 'in the box' thinking because stupid people get all the cool fonts. :)"
Then I got to thinking and decided that Tech Guy should send Microsoft an email like that anyway. I love the thought of Bill Gates having breakfast on the verandah, sitting in his robe with coffee and toast, puzzling over an email that says, "WTH!! U R giving st00pid people all teh cool fonts!!" I can just see him leaning over to ask the intern he uses as a footstool, "What do you think this means?"
I found myself envisioning a world where stupid people got all the cool fonts. Inside a second grade classroom, a teacher might be heard saying, "Susie, you got all your spelling words right. You get a star. Billy, you got all your spelling words wrong. You get a Rockwell Extra Bold."
In my mind's eye the changes trickled even to our judicial system, where a courtroom drama unfolded, a judge in a powdered wig banging the gavel down and announcing, "I am sentencing the defendant with punitive damages. Fifty thousand words..."
"Times New Roman?" the defense lawyer quakes.
"No. Century Gothic. Sans serif."
The Tech Guy called again today. "I found my fonts and loaded them. Loved the new fonts, but I saw you changed them back! Why?"
"Um," I said, looking at the website but not referring to it, "They just made everything look too weird."
Comments that just sound like everyone else's to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.
This article first appeared in the June 26, 2005 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.