WWW vs STARTREK.COMBy Fred Shedian
Posted at May 27, 2000 - 7:40 PM GMT
Since I first started to visit this technological giant we call the World Wide Web, I started to pick something up very quickly. The advertising and management team of the Star Trek websites appear to be completely out of touch with what web viewers are looking for. And even after four years of trying to get it right, they have yet to produce a quality product that one could call the "Home of Star Trek on the web."
In the beginning, Star Trek did not even have a solid presence on the Internet. Looking back to 1995, there were tons of quality and productive fan operated sites which provided information about the franchise, upcoming episodes and more. Then, Bill Gates entered the picture and created "The Microsoft Network." This very expensive, totally web gateway based service, attempted to copy what America Online Inc. does with dedicated software. In an attempt to "draw" people away from current ISP's, several contracts were established. One was for Paramount Pictures to have "Star Trek: Continuum," an MSN User Only site. This plan backfired.
When it first launched, I did toss out the MSN free trial for three days to see what the site looked like. However, I soon left the service because it simply didn't offer what I needed or wanted. This was a pattern many people fell into. Star Trek: Continuum was an excellent example of web site development at it's best. With everything from Online Role Playing Games (in an attempt to steal the light from the many private groups online), to historical databases, to even a 3D "Quark's Bar" chat room...the site had definite potential. However, like many things with our franchise recently, it never lived up to them.
Using one example I am very familiar with, the role-playing game for Continuum was a copy off of an America Online sponsored Star Trek role-playing game setup. Without doing any research, MSN found their eighteen weekly sims (with paid hosts) full in a matter of two weeks. Yet, not generating enough profit to make new ones, people quickly stopped trying to join these sims after the seeing "New ones starting soon" for six months.
The historical database quickly became a what I consider a joke, with less information in it than the first edition of the Star Trek: Encyclopedia. Many people started to turn to other databases for their information, like an excellent site I still use called Daystrom Institute Technical Library...an excellent site I recommend all consider bookmarking.
Finally, the chat room setup quickly found itself always on overload...with response times to commands at one point taking up to twenty minutes. Personally, I don't think I could stand waiting that long just to get my 3D identity to turn and face the other side of the room.
These factors, mixed with one sided reports about Star Trek, started to turn off many people. Soon, attendance and use of the site fell to the point that Paramount Pictures canceled it's contract with MSN and turned the site into a banner run product. Yet, even with this dramatic setup and now free access to the information, no other real improvements were made.
A realistic image of Star Trek was not provided for it's fans, a group of people who are known in the entertainment world to be some of the most critical. Never on Star Trek: Continuum were direct questions asked of the stars or writers, like "Why do you say you didn't bring Jeri Ryan aboard for ratings, yet memos smuggled out of Paramount show otherwise?" Never were complaints raised by writers of columns about the continuity problems of Voyager or DS9. And although I can understand this to a certain degree, taking the step of shutting down message boards to keep "negative feelings" from showing up? Why was Ron Moore using AOL's "Star Trek Club" to have interaction with fans? Although this was managed very well by those hosts at the club, no effort was ever made to try and start a similar idea on the official site.
The use, trust and reliance of Star Trek fans on startrek.com has never taken off. With tons of suggestions coming left and right, no serious improvements have been made to try and produce what fans want...a realistic site.
Even now, STARTREK.COM still provides many of the same issues fans have been seeing for over four years. The only use of the site, for real "above the age of 10" fans, are the promotion videos each week. The columnist area is a complete joke, with me questioning why serious volunteer writers aren't brought in. This is an official site without a BBS service? All kidding aside, even a movie website has this...and their fame only lasts six months. Not even the news section is reliable, with (for example) no mention of Patrick Stewart's feud with play producers even mentioned...and I won't even talk about Series V. A newsletter which is so unreliable I forgot it existed after two months acts as the "official Internet guide to Star Trek?" Graphical and text information on ship classes, individual characters, episodes and more cannot be found. This in itself might not be a problem if an outside resource for fans was mentioned, but no links exist for the site.
For once, I will make a comparison between Star Trek and Star Wars. Liking both shows, I have often visited the Official Star Wars website. Here, information is provided...links to "big fan sites" are listed. The webmasters realize they can't do it all, so have setup this site so they act as the central hub...leading visitors off to either areas of their own site or outside areas. A good relationship even exists between TheForce.Net and StarWars.Com....a setup that has done nothing but increase both site's use and popularity.
With some people saying they visit startrek.com every day, I have to ask...why? I personally visit once a week...and sometimes find nothing has changed. TrekNation itself provides more information these days then STARTREK.COM. Between TrekNation, resources I use on AOL, one or two other sites, and the Daystrom Institute for Trek research...I (and I'm sure many others with their own list) can't find a good reasons to visit the official World Wide Web version of Star Trek.
Poor writing and Series V rumors aside, Rick Berman and Paramount Digital Entertainment need to step up to the plate. Perhaps instead of spending a year attacking non-copyright violating fan sites (although there were some who should have indeed been shut down), maybe it would have been better to look at these popular Internet hubs and learn from them. Regretfully, I doubt www.startrek.com will ever be as full and productive a site for five TV shows and nearly ten movies as www.starwars.com is for a huge six movies.
Your comments and remarks are always welcome. With a new mailbag on the horizon, feel free to send them to email@example.com.
Until next time...
Fred Shedian writes a weekly 'A Take On Trek' column for the Trek Nation.