REALITY CHECK: Bells and whistles are fun but not always functional
Cramer: The look and feel of a site is meaningless. What matters is speed. People want to get in and get out. Until they get technology so that pictures and graphics don't delay load time, all pictures should be banned.
Eisenhardt: Fancy graphics and animation don't buy you anything. There's a minimum level of slickness you want to see when you go to a site, and people will probably add those features as broadband becomes more common, but I expect you'll see a lot of diminishing returns as well.
Hazard: Fancy front-end technology slows down the user experience. Ultimately, that will turn people off. I was shopping on toy sites from home the other night. One loaded in one second, and one loaded in 15. Guess which one I bought from?
Leonsis: There are sites out there that are just functional. Look at Yahoo. It's not fancy; it's just gray and blue. Look at us at AOL. We're pretty much a flat site. You want to make buying really fast and easy. No videos, no bells and whistles. Just get to the point.
Mooney: This has been a big myth for the last couple of years. There's a tremendous focus on the cool things you can do. Technology has gotten ahead of the concept in many cases. The more important thing is to know what people want.
Peabody: As broadband becomes more common, you'll have to have this stuff. But today it's not to your advantage to have a lot of bells and whistles. Sites like that are sort of annoying.
Rich: Stay true to what your customers value: more efficiency or a faster download.
To help us deconstruct the myths of the Web, we turned to expert observers of the Internet phenomenon. Their comments can be found after each of the case studies we presented. Here are their credentials:
Martin Anderson, management professor at Babson College, in Wellesley, Mass., advises executives who are transforming their traditional companies into "click and mortar" businesses.
James J. Cramer is the brash cofounder of and columnist at TheStreet.com. He has built successful careers as both a journalist/pundit and a hedge-fund manager.
Kathleen Eisenhardt is a professor specializing in competitive strategy at Stanford's School of Engineering. She recently coauthored Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos.
Chip Hazard is a general partner and E-commerce specialist at the venture powerhouse Greylock, in Boston. He helped launch the e-Steel exchange.
Tod Johnson, chairman and CEO of Media Metrix Inc., based in New York City, is a widely recognized expert on brand loyalty.
Ted Leonsis is president of AOL Interactive Properties Group. In his first three years at America Online (starting in 1994), it grew from about $100 million in revenues to $1.5 billion.
Kelly Mooney is director of intelligence at Resource Marketing Inc., a technology-marketing firm in Columbus, Ohio. She has helped companies such as Victoria's Secret develop their on-line strategies.
Allen Morgan is a general partner at Mayfield Fund, in Menlo Park, Calif. He has been involved in more than 350 venture-capital investments and public offerings.
Bo Peabody is a cofounder of Tripod Inc. and vice-president of network strategy at Lycos Inc. When he was still in college, Peabody founded Tripod, which helps people build their own home pages. In 1998 he sold the company to Lycos.
Scott Randall is founder and CEO of Internet-auction hosting service FairMarket Inc. Randall has been involved in E-commerce since 1995, when he launched an on-line store. He has been president of the Internet Shopping Network and Yahoo Marketplace.
David Rich is vice-president of marketing and brand guru at Bigstep.com, which provides on-line services to small businesses. He previously orchestrated brand campaigns for Walt Disney, Pepsi, and Jamba Juice.