FEATURE : A Conversation with Sean Carton—New-Technology Expert

Sean Carton was the founder of one of Baltimore’s first web development firms in 1995, the founding Dean of the School of Design and Media at Philadelphia University, and the co-author of one of the first books about the Web (The Mosaic Quick Tour series) in 1993. Sean has over 15 years experience designing, developing, planning, and executing interactive media. He has published eight books about the Internet, technology, business, and video games. He also writes regular columns for ClickZ.com and Publish.com as well as contributing to magazines such as Wired, Revolution, Stim, and POV. Sean is a sought-after public speaker on issues of marketing, technology, and the Internet and has delivered keynote addresses to organizations such as EduWeb, EDUCAUSE, the Florida Telecommunications Industry Association, and the American Marketing Association in the US (as well as to organizations in Italy and the UK).

What elements make a good educational website?

“The number one aspect of a good educational website is purpose. The worst thing a site can do is try to serve everyone, because then the site becomes a giant mess. When everyone can have a link on the homepage, it gets out of control very quickly. It’s self-defeating and confusing.

“Most colleges and universities have separated the IT department from website development. Now site development is in communications or advancement—which is where it belongs. A website is a communications tool, not a technology toy. It’s no longer about technology working; instead, it’s about what the technology can do for you.

“I took US News & World Report and reviewed the top 15 websites, and most schools within the universities look completely different from the homepage—especially the library. I was surprised to find that everybody’s library does this. There is very little integrated marketing.”

What role should non-electronic media play?

“Different media have different emotional impacts. I always ask people, “When is the last time a website made you cry?” Not many people can answer that. But people often cry at the movies. There is a place for film: more people go to the movies now than ever, and it’s an emotional experience. Being in the theater is part of the experience as well.

“There’s also something that print does that we can’t replicate online. There’s a physical object imparting the information. There is a place for the viewbook: maybe it’s the place for an emotional statement rather than the informational place where you cram everything. I’ve always admired the University of Baltimore viewbook. It set an emotional tone and drove students to the web for details and information.”

Where will the new craze of online communities take us?

“As more people go to college part time, online communities can help them feel some connection to the place. Through social media, the non-traditional student can find ways to connect with friends other than on campus. Facebook may be an answer, but by the time an institution sets up a Facebook page a student has usually beaten them to the punch.”

What’s “hot” and what’s not?

“Mobile applications are hot right now. Applications that can locate you are interesting. Some social media apps for the iPhone allow you to see where your friends are in the city at any time, allowing you to set up meetings or know your friend is right around the corner. Everyone is constantly available.

“Also hot in the mobile realm are augmented reality technologies where you look through your phone as it overlays data. For example, if you have a storefront, you can build a homepage where a person can point a phone and see what the specials are, what you sell, etc., overlaid with the real-world store. For tourism, these technologies allow visitors to go to historical sites, point their phones, and find out information about the location. Imagine being able to point your phone to a building on campus and learn that it holds the admissions office, as well as who is in the building and their phone numbers.”