Yesterday I attended the Love @ First Website seminar, in downtown Portland. Basically, it was a case study on three different websites, showing what they looked like before, explaining why they made the changes they did, and showing what they looked like upon completion too.

The first website was, and the presenter was Kara Imai. She reviewed Hawaii’s tourist industry a bit, and explained how they were refocusing their target market.

With 7 million visitors to Hawaii in 2006, the hotels were nearing capacity, and they were no longer looking for ways to attract anyone and everyone to visit Hawaii. Instead, they were targeting avid travelers, particularly in the areas of romance, golf, arts and culture, and outdoor recreation, like whale watching.

They were trying to ensure that people came to Hawaii and participated in local activities, and contributed to the economy, instead of just being what they call “plop and drop” visitors.

She reviewed how they engaged visitors in site surveys, photo contests, schedule and local event planners, to really bring the website up to a more “2.0” standard.

This not only helped them target specific types of visitors, but also created a lot of user generated content. The end result was pretty spectacular, and after viewing the website, I certainly want to go to Hawaii.

The second website reviewed was the Farm Aid website. The presenter was Jeff Cram of Isite design, who was the event sponsor.

He showed the original website layout, then explained the entire process from start to finish for how they upgraded the site.

He showed a flowchart / mind map schematic of what they were trying to accomplish, and explained their use of a wiki for internal collaboration on the project.

He demonstrated their use of the blog, as well as their use of video to send powerful messages to their visitors.

This site is truly engaged in “Web 2.0” with a powerful explosion of tools. My biggest take away from this session was Jeff’s statement about the “Distributed Web”. He explained that your website is no longer the sole way that people will see and find you. Things like podcasts, RSS feeds, and multiple communities offer users a way to get to know you and your business while never even visiting your site.

He talked about their use of “Ning” which is a sort of white label social networking tool set that sounds very cool and well worth checking out. They used Ning to create a contest for submitting photographs and biographies of people who were then able to vote on who should get to go to the concert for free.

He also talked about branding videos, and I found this session to be the most informative eye opener of the day concerning social networking communities.

The final presentation was from a company called Crushpad, and the presenter was one of the owners, Michael Brill.

Crush pad is an urban winery in San Francisco. He told the story of how he started making wine in his garage and pretty soon had a whole host of neighbors volunteering to help in exchange for a little bit of wine.

Over three years, they have grown into an enormous business, and he gave a full demonstration of their front-end, and they’re back end, utilizing some open source tools like Drupal, as well as some custom development as well.

As opposed to being educational about web 2.0 in general, this was much more of a case study of this particular company, and I confess that what they have accomplished is remarkable.

Not only have they identified a new niche in the wine industry, but they have taken full advantage of all the tools available to create a winemaking community called Crushnet, that has the potential to change the wine industry.

Crushnet offers an amazing amount of information about wine, and the wine industry, and also handles all of their customers accounts, payments, wine trading, wine sales, and even shipping. This empowers their clients to actually become a winery themselves, if they so desire.

His mantra was that “The customer is dead – Long live the community” and he has certainly lived up to that with all of the user generated content. This is truly a company to watch, and when they expand to Portland, and you can bet I’ll have to check them out.

All in all It was an interesting way to spend 4 1/2 hours, and I’m glad I attended.

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