‘Mathematical analysis suggests that it’s an exponential decay, Sir. You can see from this graph...’
‘Graph-faff! What I want to know is what the Hell we’re going to do about it: what you’re going to do about it.’ He raised a hand. ‘And before you start, if I hear any of that heuristic-paradigm-interface crap, you’re down the road, right?’
‘Usability I can live with.’
‘Don’t push it.’
‘Will I use Power-Point, Sir? We have some projections, bullet-pointed lists, illustrations...
‘Just fucking tell me.’
‘The thing is, Sir,’ Peter managed, having been technologically thwarted, ‘our experts...’
‘Bunch of deadbeats.’
‘They say,’ Peter persisted, ‘that part of the problem is that it’s not clear what we’re selling.’
‘Not clear what we’re selling!?’
Bravely, Peter pressed on. ‘They also claim that we’ve suffered from too much sponsorship: the advertisers on our site are putting users off with their banners and animations, pop-up windoids and the like.’
‘Then get rid of them!’
‘Yes, Sir. And we have too many links to too many sites – evangelists, fundamentalists and, frankly, crackpots. Users are put off our whole paradigm...’
He raised an eyebrow.
‘I mean,’ Peter recovered, ‘our – er - concept by encountering such blatant propaganda. In short, they hate advertising and distractions, they hate buzzwords...’
‘I told you: I knew.’
‘So, get rid of them all.’
‘Yes, Sir, of course. But I’m afraid that won’t do it on its own: it’s still not clear what we’re selling – or how.’
‘Ridiculous! It’s obvious.’ He stormed around for a few moments, while Peter attended, before asking, ‘Isn’t it?’
‘It may be obvious, Sir, but perhaps it’s not attractive?’
‘The Web is a big place, Sir: users will move on quickly if we don’t instantly catch and hold their attention. In fact, most of the few who do access our site, quickly link to one of the fanatics; they’re more – um – awe-inspiring.’
‘Damnation!’ He thundered.
‘Now there, Sir, if I might make so bold, is an attention grabber! That’s exactly the sort of thing the experts have suggested as a banner.’ Peter proffered a printed list. He ignored it.
‘What else?’ He demanded. ‘I sense you’re holding out on me.’
‘Well,’ Peter gulped, ‘there’s – um – sex.’
‘Yes, Sir. You see, most people who use the web – a huge proportion – are primarily interested in sex: sex sells.’
‘Are you suggesting we turn our site into some sort of porn pedalling peep-show?’
‘Oh no, Sir,’ Peter said hastily, knowing he was on dangerous ground – so to speak. ‘What the experts have suggested is much more subtle than that. You see, the thing is, we don’t have to advocate sex – not even condone it. As long as we show – er – titillating images, we can in fact be condemning it!’
‘There’s a relief.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ Peter went on, missing the sarcasm, ‘if there’s a voyeuristic element to it, then people are even more excited; even more hooked. It’s the same psychology as people who fantasise about nuns or choirboys.’ Peter again offered a sample – which this time was accepted. ‘The images we use can indeed be entirely innocent; angelic, cherubic even.’
‘And what’s this?’ He brandished a particularly sordid graphic.
‘Punishment, Sir: scourging. I believe there is an audience for that sort of thing.’ Peter looked abashed.
He turned the page to study a chubby, red-cheeked choirboy, singing his little heart out, obviously in a state of near ecstasy. He tossed the pictures away with supreme distaste. ‘I do hope you’re not seriously advocating that we use this type of disguised paedophilia as bait for getting our message across, Peter?’
‘Everyone is a sinner, Sir,’ Peter pointed out. ‘I have this chart...’
‘Chart-fart! Sin may be ubiquitous, but we can’t be seen to be encouraging it can we, Peter?’ He waited patiently, though not expecting an answer, until Peter bowed his head in shame. He continued, speaking with the exaggerated patience of an exasperated father, a tone that was terribly familiar: ‘The point is to get people reading The Word, isn’t it?’
‘Ah,’ Peter looked up and quickly away again, ‘The Word…’
‘Yes?’ He demanded when Peter didn’t volunteer anything further.
‘Well, Sir,’ Peter squirmed, ‘I’m afraid our experts suggest that the text is the quintessence of the problem.’
‘But...’ This was a genuine shock. ‘I wrote that text, most of it anyway - commissioned and edited the rest.’
‘And, of course, it’s very good, Sir,’ Peter offered, encouraged by a withering look to elaborate. ‘I mean, not just very good, but sublime, magnificent: the business.’
‘But?’ He demanded, in a zephyr-like whisper that was all the more intimidating for its softness.
‘But it was written for another medium, Sir – and quite a while ago too. Perhaps I might venture to suggest that it needs revamping for the Internet? A book – albeit a mammoth best-seller – is one thing, writing for the Web is quite another.’
‘Revamped?’ He looked horrified. Peter rushed on.
‘The attention span of the average internet user is fifteen seconds and falling. We can’t hold them with elaborate stories or endless genealogies: our layout is all wrong. We need sound-byte style text. There is a whole new way of writing for the Web: inverted pyramids in cyberspace!’ Peter looked chuffed with himself and particularly the way the phrase reverberated. Though it wasn’t his own invention, he’d pinched it from one of the ‘deadbeat’ experts, he just loved the sound of it. Peter pressed on, taking advantage of his superior’s almost unprecedented silence. He was gob-smacked! The potential wrath had entirely evaporated; this was Peter’s big chance.
‘Start with the conclusion: state it outright, no-nonsense, blunt as you like.’
He looked vaguely interested, enticed – probably by the word blunt. He was much given to bluntness.
‘Then,’ Peter continued, ‘hit them with one or two fundamental pieces of supporting information and offer them links to more in-depth stuff – background, associated topics and so on: keep it all short, hard-hitting, very journalistic. No long pages; avoid scrolling...’
‘No scrolls?’ He was truly horrified this time.
‘Afraid not,’ Peter winced. ‘And we employ professional writers to help get the message over: to organise the information, to translate, summarise and interpret.’
‘Professional writers?’ He was hurt. ‘But it’s my message; my design.’
‘And it remains the most profound message,’ Peter offered assurance, ‘all I’m proposing is that we tweak the design, develop the layout a bit to bring it up to speed for the modern world.’
‘Tweak?’ He questioned, distracted and effete: inconsolable.
Peter thought it best at this point to move on. Maybe this was a good time to beard the lion in his den: strike while the iron was hot? ‘The gender issue has come up again,’ Peter said apologetically.
‘Next!’ He was having none of that: they’d been through it countless times since the 1960s – as if it bloody mattered! He was above and beyond all that.
Wisely, Peter relented. ‘Then there’s the site name.’
‘The site name?’ He roused himself, still trying to cope with the criticism of His Word: His Book: His Baby! He had to handle it; He was big enough, surely?
‘Market research reveals it’s a loser, I’m afraid,’ Peter explained apologetically.
He nodded, the ultimate sagely nod, taking a tactical moment to frame his response. ‘So, you not only want to use pseudo-pornography to lure people in, melodramatic banners to hook them, verbal sound-bytes to reel them in and linking trickery to land them, you even want to change the name of the game?’ He paused, recovering slightly from the acute pain of rejection; pleased with the extended fishing metaphor: He’d always been good at those.
‘People have to come to us before we can grab them,’ Peter said enthusiastically, rising to his subject and making a grab at the air to illustrate his words. His eyes gleamed – well – beatifically, of course. ‘We want them to come back to our site again and again: we want their souls!’
He raised a forestalling hand, not wanting Peter to go off on one, get too carried away and throw a fit, jerk into a transcendental frenzy and start speaking in tongues – as he was prone to do.
‘All right, Peter, all right. So what have our experts come up with?’
‘A whole list!’ Peter waved another of his papers in the air before beginning to reel off the suggestions. ‘Salvation-dot-com; Heaven-dot-com; Paradise-dot-com...’
‘Oh God,’ said God.
‘That’s it!’ cried Peter, ecstatically. ‘God-dot-com! You’ve hit the nail right on the head!’ And then, in response to a movement from His right-hand side, added hastily, ‘If you’ll pardon the expression.’