New media. A couple hundred years ago, new media consisted of a town crier running up and down the streets ringing his handbell and yelling “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” After a while though, his arm got tired. Fortunately for him – and for the rest of us - significant advances in printing technology allowed for mass production and distribution of newspapers, magazines, and more. Now, someone could check the classified ads for used horseshoes rather than going door to door. Or horse to horse.
Zip forward another hundred or so years and along comes the internet. Before long, websites are all the rage. Anything to be communicated can be done so quickly, cheaply, and easily… it can even save a few billion trees in the process. Out paper… in web pages.
Today, the internet is what we mean when we refer to new media. It’s as new as it gets, until someone figures out a way to convey information telepathically with anyone they wish in any corner of the globe. We can’t say we’re necessarily excited about such a possibility.
Anyway, those in charge of managing this new (okay, not so new anymore) technology are called Web Product Managers.
First off – do not confuse them with Web Designers. Totally different animals. Web Designers are whizzes on the ol’ computer machine… and they are also artists, in a sense. It is their job to actually program each… program… so that each button does what it’s supposed to do when clicked upon, and that it achieves the visual effect that’s desired. They are the nuts and bolts guys and gals – the behind-the-scenes worker bees who physically fit together the pieces and make sure it gets a nice wax and shine, so it looks presentable to the public.
The Web Product Manager, on the other hand, is just that – a manager. A Designer creates the look, feel, vibe and functionality of a site; the Manager manages the look, feel, vibe and functionality of a site. In other words, the Manager barks out the orders and the Designer dutifully follows. Or else they get tossed overboard. (Hm… that last bit may not be exactly true – it’s possible we’re thinking of pirate captains and deckhands. We’ll have to swab the poop deck, er… check our notes.)
There is one word that every Web Product Manager must know forwards, backwards, inside and out. It is the golden word – the secret password to success. No, it’s not “plastics.” Although that’s a good one, too. No, we’re talking about… HTML5.
Okay, so HTML5 may not technically be a word, per se, as much as it is an abbreviation for a type of computer language – in fact, the “HTML” part stands for HyperText Markup Language. The “5” being the current iteration. Unless HTML6 has come along by the time you read this unit.
Now, because the Designer is the one who does the actual coding, they are the ones who have to be the real experts when it comes to HTLM5. But a Product Manager needs to have a pretty firm grasp on it themselves. They need to understand the capabilities, how difficult it would be to overhaul a large portion of coding, and roughly how to go about it. Basically, they won’t have to get their hands dirty, but they’ll have to know how one gets crud beneath their fingernails.
You see plenty of code on a daily basis, even if you never realized it. You know that stuff that shows up in your web browser? That jumble of letters, numbers and so many punctuation marks it appears as if they’re trying to censor a vulgar outburst? That “junk” is code. It’s like the personal home address of whatever website you’re attempting to reach, and your computer can read that code and whisk you away to your intended destination. The internet cannot (at least not yet) read your mind. So be careful when typing in a URL, or you might wind up here instead of at Google. Give our regards to good old Barnabe Googe.
One of your duties as a Web Product Manager is to know how best to optimize your web site when it comes to user searches. If your company sells lug nuts, but when you type in “lug nuts” your website doesn’t pop up until page 7 (even the acting website for Hollywood stuntman Johnny “Lug Nut” Pearson has you beat), then you have a problem. Understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and knowing the ways to use it to your advantage are essential to promoting and expanding your business… or whatever business has contracted you to manage their site.
You should also understand how databases work so that a web page renders quickly (people tune out pretty quick these days if they have to look at that “Buffering…” thing for more than a few seconds), how to quickly and efficiently tap into your database (if managing an auto comparison website, for example, you must know the node on your database referring to tire size so it can be accessed immediately), and how to steer your team of coders to best tap into the potential creative design.
As a Web Product Manager, you are where the world of geeky coders wearing horn-rimmed glasses and pocket protectors meets the world of stuffy businesspeople in pinstripe suits. Yeah, you’re a computer guy, but you’re also the professional face of a website – the liaison between the president or owner of a company and the guys who can “speak the language.”
These computer things are going to be around a while. Not a bad idea to cozy up to them.