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As a electronic customer, I sometimes have to go to manufacturer's websites to find information about products, drivers/firmware update, etc. More ore less, most of these websites, IMO, are bad. They're slow, not user-friendly (some time, really ugly), and take me lots of time to do what I need to. For example, in Sony's website, I must find "Vaio laptops" in a list of dozens (may be hundreds) products, then find my specific model in a list of hundreds model. Fail! I also see that on several websites, they may be slightly better, but still not good (HP, Dell, Lenovo (somewhat better), ...)

Well, they may be have a large back-end system there, but that does not mean they can make the frond-end faster and more user-friendly. Is there an obvious reason that large corporation's website are that bad?

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More examples, Microsoft (it's been getting better lately), Oracle (holy menus!), and Yahoo (kitchen sink). –  tjameson Sep 11 '11 at 8:28
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Worst thing is that some software tool developers have bad web sites too! –  Emmad Kareem Sep 11 '11 at 9:37
    
See also my question which is not a duplicate, but is closely related to yours: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/92108/…, especially the answer by Justin Shield. –  MainMa Sep 11 '11 at 10:09
    
At best, we're going to be guessing here. I'm sorry, but questions that encourage discussion and hypothetical opinions are not within the scope of this site. –  Anna Lear Sep 11 '11 at 13:41
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@anna Maybe you'd be guessing, but I see some solid principles which apply here and would be useful for programmers to keep in mind before they jump to criticize a business. –  George Marian Sep 12 '11 at 4:20
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closed as not constructive by Walter, Glenn Nelson, Anna Lear Sep 11 '11 at 13:39

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6 Answers

One basic reason is that large corporations are, well, large. So, there are many competing demands for space on their website. They may also lack a central vision due to this or suffer from having "too many cooks in the kitchen."

Information architecture for such large sites is quite a challenge. Unless the focus of their business is their website, it stands to reason that the site may be a bit neglected. As Demian points out, most companies will focus their efforts on activities that will bring in more money. If the website is secondary to their business, the "good enough" approach will typically prevail.

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I wouldn't at all doubt that most of it is due to legacy code and design.

  • Is something slow (but functional)?
  • Could something look better?
  • Is there something that will make us more money?

Corporations will go for the 3rd choice 99.9% of the time. Why spend time and money fixing something that ain't broke (really) and 90% of their customer base don't really notice all that much anyway?

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These websites are not stellar, because they have to cater to many clients at the same time. Not only external clients, but also internal -- by this, I mean internal politics which dictate that some part of the website is organized in a particular way, because somebody feels that it strengthens their internal position. No kidding.

So the end result is, more often than not, average, because it's result of an average of efforts going in different directions.

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+1 result of an average of efforts going in different directions –  George Marian Sep 11 '11 at 9:59
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The system is user-friendly to the developers who spend 8 hours a day working with it, so they overlook things that trip up first-time visitors. I'm sure if you spent a few hours on the site, it would start to look logically organized.

The solution is to research why users come to your site in the first place(looking for drivers, products, etc.), pay an unaffiliated brand-new focus group to look over the website, give them the use cases you researched, and see how efficient the site is for them.

And then, of course, actually fix the site if something is inefficient.

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It also seems that large corporations like to put everything on the front page. It's nice, if you want to look like a big organization, but it makes it hard to find things. –  tjameson Sep 11 '11 at 8:38
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Essentially, it boils down to priorities.

I have a similar situation with my school. Their main website is okay, but some of the specific websites (like for the ITS dept, ironically) are total garbage. I spoke to a sysadmin in the school who knows the people in the various tech positions at the school and he pointed out the following:

In situations like these where you have a large hierarchy of administration things don't get done efficiently unless it's high priority.

For a board of directors, if a website "works", it doesn't need to be cutting edge. Additionally, there's a cost associated with maintaining a website. It takes man hours and thereby budget hours.

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Design (decision-making) by committee.

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