The Business Monitor site is aimed, as its name suggests, squarely at business. To quote from the home page, it's "a service dedicated to professionals and business people involved in international trade and investment". It covers a gamut of business issues - legislation, regulation, corporate finance, off-shore finance, market analysis, economic analysis, risk management, property consultancy and much more.
If that seems like a lot to get your ahead around, then you'll probably agree that some of the material on the site is esoteric. Will many of us, for example, be impressed that there's a new law in the Ukraine banning the advertising of alcohol and tobacco? Do you really want to bone up on privatisation in Hungary? What about management issues in Kyrgyzstan?
If you want to play, you have to pay
But joking aside, it does contain information that is likely to be useful to its target audience. Anyone interested in, say, corporate finance, might find the Business Monitor site a good primer on what's going on.
Another plus for those likely to use this site is that the articles are written by experts in their field. This is because the core information is supplied by all the major management consultancies, some 300 of them according to the site's owners. But that can have some drawbacks. The casual browser would probably not notice that these management consultancies have paid to get their information on the site. This is how Business Briefing, the company responsible for Business Monitor, finances it.
Unusual as this is in funding a Web site, it obviously compromises the objectivity of the views on offer, and those compromises often show. Take a trip to the tax and property section provided by KPMG and you'll feel the author's hand rather tightly around your throat.
A further concern over content is that it means the site reflects the interests of the contributors rather than offering the global view on business which its title would imply. This leads to some glaring absences. Opt for the consultancy option, then choose healthcare, for example, and the only geographical option on offer is for information on the US.
Similarly, work your way through the company law menu and the sole geographical option available is the Isle of Man. To state the obvious, anyone interested in healthcare would certainly want to look outside the US; similarly anyone interested in company law would want to cast their net wider than the Isle of Man.
But where the site does score big points is in its total design. Forbidding though its core content may be, that hard edge has been softened by several areas where the surfer can relax. Hot links are provided into sites on personal finance, travel, world news and general Internet issues, though clicking on a US selection may give you some obscure facts, such as the top news event on the NetGuide Gold site, which was a "state of the state address" by the governor of Indiana.
A hop, skip and a jump?
The architectural layout of the site is a blend of form and function with a coherency which takes about five minutes to understand. Significantly, the designers have opted to make navigation a series of small hops, generally everything seems to be around the 5K mark apart from the articles themselves, rather than risk users bailing out altogether with big data jumps.
The designer scores big points for resisting the pretty picture syndrome and for designing a relatively painless registration - not a data-sucking inquisition. Excite is an impressive search engine. It works by a form of non-Boolean logic, the help notes tell you. What the hell, it works well.
All in all, Business Monitor proves that oft-made observation that you don't need big bucks to design a decent site. You would be hard pushed to tell any difference in production values between it and many other sites where money has been no object. One final thing. It's free now, but the owners are looking at pay-per-view. Best then to view while stocks last.
URL: www.business monitor.co.uk
Launch: June 1995
Target Audience: Financial/Businesses/
Setup: Unix running on 166MHz Pentium with 64Kb Ram. Sits on router and runs directly into backbone
Development Cost: #20,000
Hits Per Day: 25,000 Size: 40Mb.
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