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Tue, 30 Sep 1997 11:41:54 +1200
To: avror@7am.com
From: Sherman Simpson
Subject:Ad-nausea

I read with interest your review of the Toyota NZ web site. While every critic has his/her own view as to what constitutes good design, there were a number of statements in your article that warrant a rebuttal.

The Toyota NZ web site is not meant to be a collection of static HTML pages against which you appear to judge it. Indeed, it is a complete database application that until last week was only available to the Toyota NZ dealer network. The "do-nothing" front page is a continuation of the Toyota "Welcome to our world" theme and is the entry point for web users. Since this is a real database application that is accessible from both the internet and Toyota's own intranet, this page lets the application know if the user is accessing the site from the web or from Toyota's intranet, and as all the pages in the application are dynamically created, it will determine what information and functions will be presented to the user.

Since the data or the user selections can change, the subsequent pages have an automatic cache expiry, to ensure that all data presented is current and is based on the current user selections. The fact that the Netscape browser handles expired cache pages by presenting the user an error message is the fault of the browser and not the application. Try it with MS Internet Explorer, and you will see that this browser simply redraws the page. Netscape on the other hand expires the form data, will not redraw the page and does not automatically repost it. The "resize bug" is in fact a Netscape "feature". If you have a problem with that, I suggest you direct your complaints to Netscape and not assume it is due to lack of testing. I can assure you that this application was rigourously tested both prior to delivery to Toyota, and then again by Toyota prior to making it publicly accessible.

Your "accepted industry norm" of having information no more than 3-4 mouse clicks away from the front page might well be a valid criteria when dealing with static data. Indeed the dealer site you mention can present you with pretty pictures and general highlights of a Camry, but that information is already out of date as the information provided is not on the current year model. Also, the information presented is what that particular page author decided the user would/should see. The Solutions Infobase, however, was designed to provide the user with multiple levels of detail on those aspects of a vehicle in which he/she is interested. While this approach requires more input from the user, it gives the user back the information he/she is looking for. Somehow, I don't think this falls under the heading "ergonomic disaster".

"What's wrong with a simple search engine on the front page so that users can just type in the model...?", you ask. Not all users know all of the models, and even within a specific model there are sufficient variations that a "point and click" approach makes more sense than a string search. The standard marketing info pages are not adequate for "petrol heads", dealers, or even just prospective customers comparing vehicles on specific features . The Solutions Infobase covers all the current models, in detail, at the Toyota site, and not just general product range marketing fluff.

Yes, Bruce we are "listening" and we can all say "interactivity". This interactivity is also what separates this particular application from the realm of static HTML pages. The dealer site you mention might well give you information on an old model Camry with one mouse click, but is it the information you want, or what the dealer thinks you want? The Solutions Infobase lets the user determine what particular model and what particular specifications he/she wishes to see. It allows the user to print a formatted Infosheet or complete Brochure IF requested. All vehicle pictures and specifications are drawn directly from Toyota's corporate vehicle database, and presented to the user in the Information Desktop or in Infosheets, as requested by the user. This provides current data based on the user's specific interest and at the level of detail specified by the user. I submit that this offers a higher level of interactivity than most applications. .

You seem to take great offence that the Adobe Acrobat Reader is required for viewing some of the information. The infosheets are created based on the type and level of detail of information that an individual user requests. The same technical information on current models that is available to a dealer, is now available online to any visiting user. Not all users want or need the same level of detail, and the application actually builds a custom infosheet based on user selection. All the data is available without creating an infosheet, but should a user wish to print a personalized infosheet, the PDF format allows full page layout control of the user requested data. No one is expecting a Net user to get a plug-in just to visit the site and get access to the information, but if you want the full capability of the site, the Acrobat reader is required (which a growing number of users have installed anyway). It is not a "stupid" expectation, but rather the tool required to get delivered certain information IF the user requests it.

In your suggestions, you recommend we shift our focus "to one of connecting the prospective customer with the information they seek in the most effective manner". By letting the user determine the type and detail level of the information presented, we feel we have indeed accomplished this.

I agree with your recommendation to provide a method in the current application to automatically contact a specific dealer. Toyota NZ does not wish to direct all users to any one dealer and hence the Dealer Locator function. The data you see when you select a general map area is also pulled directly from Toyota's database. This information will soon include home pages and email addresses for those dealers providing this information.

In summary, if you are looking for a flash site that provides standardized information on predetermined models, then perhaps this not the site for you. However if you are looking for a web application providing access to up-to-date information that is presented on web pages dynamically created, based on user selections and available in user determined formats, then perhaps this site is not so much "techno-overkill" as it is an example of the next generation of web applications.

Respectfully submitted,

Sherman Simpson
Email: sherm@csarc.otago.ac.nz
Manager, The Black Albatross
Computer Science Applied Research Centre
University of Otago
PO Box 56
Dunedin, New Zealand
http://www.csarc.otago.ac.nz


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