A useful way of thinking about the internet is to imagine it as a virtual city. I would even argue that the internet functions like a city that has been designed for our thoughts. It is a city that has been built not with bricks and mortar, but with software and media content.
A city is simply a place where a great many people live together, interacting on the physical plane. People work together and eat together while sharing stories, jokes and insights. They can do this because they are physically close together. Historically, in cities the overall quality of education, art and music increased because many people can be close to those who are especially good at these things. Thus, learning from them, and enjoying the quality of their work. It is important to remember that such interactions are facilitated by the design of the city – great cities are famous for their public places, for their parks and restaurants, for their tall buildings and statues.
The buildings people and companies inhabit showcase the values and the qualities they as people or as organisations hold dear. We must realise that these buildings and their relations to each other, influence interactions between people. Such an influence can be negative or positive – that is why good design is so important. A good city promotes positive interaction through its layout and choice of materials.
So too with the internet. A great many people interact there, sharing stories, ideas and doing business with each other. And just like in a city, these interactions take place somewhere. You, as a conscious being seeing the world, cannot see the conscious states of others, you cannot see into their thoughts. You have to see what they, through their bodies, do in the world. You have to hear their voices, see their faces, or touch the work they have done. Interacting with people in the city of the internet takes place on websites that are like buildings. The spaces we inhabit and the faces we wear online are built with photographs, videos, text and colours; all of this supported by a backbone made of long lines of code.
If you have high quality media, on a well-designed website, it is like having a well-designed building, it facilitates positive interaction with your visitors.
What you say in the text on your sleek website; what you show through your high-quality videos; the services or products you sell – these things are your character. Just like what you do inside your tall glass building is more your character than the building itself.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that people will only judge you by this internal character. They will not. People do judge books by their covers. They will look at our online buildings and judge us based on its quality. Therefore, we must ensure that we build well.
After all, don’t we all want the places we visit to look better after we have left?
We must treat the internet in the same way. We must not leave it without having done something to make it a better city.