Why do organizations build Web sites? What do they hope to achieve with a Web site? In the early days of the Web, it was considered bold to spend money on building a Web site, but over time, this evolved to the point where it was extremely important to have a Web site — even if purely for the sake of being able to say you had one, that you were seen as “keeping up with the Joneses.” Frankly, it was embarrassing not to have one! Finally, by now we have all calmed down, and there are actual, clear business objectives for Websites giving us good reasons to build and maintain them. Because of this, we can actually measure if a Web site has achieved the purpose for which it was built, that is if the Web site is successful. But what does success have to do with quality? Strictly speaking, a Web site could be successful but be considered of low quality when tested against XHTML compliance. A site could be considered to have low usability but be extremely popular and therefore successful in terms of the purpose of the site but considered low quality against industry standards.
The important point to understand is that quality isn’t objective and shouldn’t be seen as objective. Quality is contextual. A “quality” meal for someone who is suffering from malnutrition is going to be very different from a “quality” meal for a restaurant critic. If you look at the WebQual standards referred to by Eleanor in the previous article, you’ll see that even though they are set standards, their relative importance can change over time. In 2004, response time was more important than it is now; on the other hand, trustworthiness has increased in importance. When looking at the quality of a Web site, we should therefore first consider the purpose of the Website and then evaluate what quality factors are directly related to that purpose.
From the service provider point of view, I have been asked to build many, many Web sites. I have rarely been given a precise target to achieve and have never been asked to measure that target later. If I get paid for the work done, should I care? Perhaps if I have ethics or morals I might care, and, in turn, being of moral fiber, that might bring me more work. In reality, it doesn’t seem to matter. The measures of whether the end result is Successful or of high quality are extremely vague and subjective, as subjective as whether the CEO’s son liked the look of it. I don’t wish to be a doomsayer but I can’t pretend that we can even begin to consider measures of quality when we are failing to define clear and measurable targets.