An organization is a form of group. Groups can be elitist. Groups are always trying to define who is in and who is out. To a great many organizations, the customer is on the outside. To be a success, then, a Web site must live on the outside.

“It is understandable that management began as a concern for the inside of the organization,” Peter F. Drucker writes in Management Challenges for the 21st Century.

“When the large organizations first arose…managing the inside was the new challenge. But while the assumption that management's domain is the inside of the organization originally made sense—or at least can be explained—its continuation makes no sense at all. It is a contradiction of the very function and nature of organization.”

These are strong words from one of management's most important thinkers. But they are words that many organizations do not heed.

Many organizations simply can't stop thinking about themselves. When talking to customers, many professionals—either consciously or subconsciously—use language as a tool of exclusion.

After my last newsletter, I received an email from Nancy Speroni, a director of Web development at the Massachusetts General Hospital. She wrote, “Most health professionals (MDs, nurses, etc.) use very strong medical language both personally and professionally. It has always been a challenge for me to convince stakeholders in a Web project that it is not ‘dumbing down' to develop a Web site that patients (target users) can understand.”

I have worked with medical organizations and I have found the exact same problems. These problems are universal. The Catholic Church has stopped saying mass in Latin. Unfortunately, many Web sites might as well be written in that ancient language, for all the sense they make.

Why is this? Do organizations deliberately set out to antagonize and alienate their customers?

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern ( is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.