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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Apr. 16, 2008

Why Rivets, Not Icebergs, Sink Websites

By Robert Gorell
April 16th, 2008

image of Titanic buildYesterday, exactly 96 years after she sank, it was revealed that the people who built the Titanic had used cheap iron rivets where — as fate would have it — the notorious iceberg hit.

The real tragedy is that all of this could have been avoided. (Imagine that, Kate and Leo fans! Your two love birds could have lived happily ever after.)

Harlan and Wolff, the shipbuilder that continues to deny that their choice of rivets was to blame for Titanic, must have known better — and, in fact, it seems they did. While their competitors relied exclusively on steel rivets for a ship’s bow, stern and hull, Harlan and Wolff used low-grade iron rivets for the bow and stern of their ships.

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, they were building the three largest ships in the world — Britannic, Olympic, and Titanic — at the same time! But when a relatively common iceberg gouged Titanic’s bow, Harlan and Wolff’s riveting scheme proved disastrous.

Jennifer Hooper McCarthy, co-author of a new book on Titanic, exposes the pre-launch jitters:

The board was in crisis mode … It was constant stress. Every meeting it was, ‘There’s problems with the rivets and we need to hire more people.’ ”

But before we judge Harlan and Wolff for cutting costs, or The White Star Line for apparently financing Titanic on the cheap, we should ask ourselves: Has the conventional wisdom really changed in the past 96 years?

Each day, CMO’s and small business owners are forced to make decisions that cause dangerous leaks in the websites they manage. Maybe they didn’t have enough time or budget to make sure it was built right. Maybe they compromised. Maybe they decided not to hire a good copywriter. Maybe they paid an agency to plan, build and write the entire website for them, just because a one-stop-shop scenario seemed easier to explain to the board. And when the site launched without sinking, it was considered a success because it was built with cafes, squash courts, a swimming pool, Turkish baths, a barbershop, three libraries and cheap iron rivets.

With that mentality, is it any wonder why — year after year — the average conversion rate is between 2-3%?

It doesn’t have to be this way.

If your web strategy is more focused on bells and whistles than nuts and bolts (or rivets), maybe it’s time to stop shuffling the deck chairs.

. .

Already launched? FutureNow can help you test the rivets on your site.

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Comments (12)

  1. For the record, I like the rivets/website analogy. But what, then, do the icebergs symbolize? The end user(s)?

  2. @Michael – I would suggest google penalties ;) . Imagine you went for a unreliable SEO team cause they were cheap (iron rivets) if they sed shady practices an tanked your sites from the SERPs, you would end up wishing you had a steel rive (good SEO team) in place.

    @Robert – excellent article.

  3. Michael,

    Lots of things are icebergs. An iceberg is some external danger that executives consider to be a danger to other people’s websites, but not their own. Not until they actually hit one.

    A recession market is one type of iceberg. Most of the time, the ship’s crew can see trouble looming ahead, but other times — especially if they’re operating a big ship that’s not very agile — the captain must be sure that the vessel can withstand a direct hit. Even seemingly docile icebergs move unpredictably. Unfortunately, though, a lot of captains out there have been told they’re steering an unsinkable ship — usually by the same firm that built it.

    So, no, the visitors themselves aren’t icebergs, but testing the site from their point of view is the surest way to know where the website needs to be strengthened.

    There’s a saying (I believe it’s Finnish) that,”There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” That’s basically what I mean.

  4. Great analogy. I got my history lesson for the day too :)

  5. Love the analogy, you hit the nail right on the head. What will it take for website owners to wake up? Will these compromised websites eventually sink? Or how will they ever learn this important lesson?

  6. I want to hire the salesman who sold them the iron rivets. they didn’t but them thinking it would allow their ship to sink. They bought them because they were convinced they were good enough, even if they were not. Think what the salesman could have done with a great line of steel rivets.

  7. Winston Churchill said, “Never, Never, Never……Give Up!”
    As a student of “Business Leadership,” I’ve learned, “NEVER, NEVER, NEVER…….Forget The Fundamentals/BASICS! In over 40 years of business ownership/leadership I’ve learned, EVERY mistake, failure, disaster (and sub-par performance) can always be traced back to “someone ignoring” fundamental/elementary principles! (ie: “America’s Mortagage Disaster” was caused by Bankers who thought that “basic banking principles” (and basic integrity/ethics) no longer applied and could be ignored. I know, I used to be in the business more than a decade ago and identified problems back then!)
    “Foundational Truths/fundamentals” of any business can be built upon as technology progresses, but they will always remain “the bed-rock of success!”

  8. I LOVE YOU!

  9. For the record, I like the rivets/website analogy. But what, then, do the icebergs symbolize? The end user(s)?

  10. You have to have style and substance. It’s a balance of the two that make a good website.

  11. agile — the Bankers who thought big ship that’s not very that Will these compromised websites eventually sink? “basic banking captain must be sure that the vessel can principles” (and basic integrity/ethics)

  12. Your comment…

    “If your web strategy is more focused on bells and whistles than nuts and bolts (or rivets), maybe it’s time to stop shuffling the deck chairs.” …is excellent.

    We forget that we must continuously improve how we build our websites.

    It’s too bad that some haven’t learned that yet.

    Maybe they will when something harsh happens.

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