Sturgeon’s Law and Websites

“ninety percent of everything is crap”

–Sturgeon’s Revelation

A recent thread on Reddit asked why so many new marketing managers start by redesigning the website. The person asking the question implied that it was mostly a big splash activity that disrupted perfectly functional activities and rarely led to a good result.

Considering that the website is often the primary platform for a company’s branding and communications strategy, there are some obvious explanations. These may include:

  • The new marketing manager will often have a different focus and set of priorities
  • Companies evolve, and websites need to change with the company
  • The Web is evolving. Technology and user expectations change over time, and an older website can look really dated

But here’s another reason: 90% of websites are total crap.

Theodore Sturgeon, a classic science writer formulated what is now called Sturgeon’s Law—though he preferred Sturgeon’s Revelation—as a defense of the science fiction genre. Instead of claiming that most of the writing was good, he went out and admitted that:

I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of SF is crud.[1]

Using the same standards that categorize 90% of science fiction as trash, crud, or crap, it can be argued that 90% of film, literature, consumer goods, etc. are crap. In other words, the claim (or fact) that 90% of science fiction is crap is ultimately uninformative, because science fiction conforms to the same trends of quality as all other artforms.

If you are a new marketing manager, there’s a pretty good chance that the website you are going to have to work with is in that 90%. And if you want to do your job well, that’s going to be high on your list of things to change.

But here’s the problem: 90% of web redesign projects end up producing crap.

That’s the frustrating thing, and problem what started the original Reddit thread. Of course every new marketing manager is going to think their project is part of that 10%. In much the same fashion, even though over 50% of marriages end in divorce, 100% of couples getting married believe they won’t get divorced.

There are ways to climb into that top 10%, though. We’ll get back to that.