Not Such a SMARTT Idea

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The Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation on November 25, 2008 launched a new web site called the SMARTT Network. SMARTT stands for Strategy for Marketing and Recruiting Top Talent. I’m sorry to say, two months on, it looks to me like this was a bad idea and unfortunately fairly poorly implemented.

So what does SMARTT do? The idea is to provide an “online network that connects talent to career, business and technology-based opportunities in western Wisconsin.” The site’s designers claim to overcome the limitations of existing services.

My first complaint is the site’s limited focus on western Wisconsin. Don’t get me wrong, I think individual regions need to work very hard to make sure the world knows about them. The site focuses on western Wisconsin, claiming to be a great resource for people wishing to move here. I don’t think such a narrowly targeted site is going to be able to compete with the likes of Monster.com, or even ChippewaValleyHelpWanted.com. I can fine-tune my searches on any of those sites to zero in on the regions where I want to live. They provide me with thousands of job listings and make my information available to thousands of recruiters.

But wait, there’s more. SMARTT doesn’t provide me a list of available jobs. Instead, I register for the site and fill in my profile, then, as the site tells me, “Wait. … Once your profile is on the SMARTT Network, you
don’t have to waste hours of your time searching through opportunities
that don’t match your individual skill set. The opportunities come to
you.” Just the recipe for job-seekers these days - don’t call us, we’ll call you! The talent profile that you fill in as a user of the site is almost laughably limited. When entering employment information, there’s no place to enter the name of companies I’ve worked for. This is no doubt because of SMARTT’s emphasis on anonymous job seeking. The site claims to allow you to put your qualifications on the internet for easy finding by employers, without allowing anyone to know you’re looking for a job, as employers can’t see your name. I’m sure there are anonymous job-seekers out there, but c’mon! At least allow me the option to brag about who I’ve worked for if I like.

While the site has been in action for a little over two months now, the list of “subscribers”, or job providers, is still limited, as far as I can tell, to those companies who contributed to the site’s development. Hopefully this will change over time. How many job seekers will take the time to complete a full profile on a web site with only 11 employers listed (and again, no actual jobs listed)?

Next up is what I find the most bizarre section of the site. Click Technologies and you can view a listing of (mostly patented) technologies that are available for licensing. The idea being that you can list your invention here and be overwhelmed with requests from western Wisconsin businesses that want to pay you big money to license your gadget. So far it would seem two companies have listed technologies, including one very busy beaver from the Delaware Economic Development Office. Is this function not already performed, much better, by other web sites? Why are we reinventing the wheel here in western Wisconsin? Worse, why do we think companies should come to our web site to offer us licensing opportunities? Can we not train our entrepreneurs here to search the US Patent and Trademark Office web site for the world of opportunities it presents?

The site offers a Relocation section as well, which is actually fairly well done and comprehensive. My only complaint is that it duplicates a fair bit of information already offered by a multitude of web sites in the area provided by Chambers of Commerce, the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and community web sites.

And the final section on the site is the Marketplace. This is an open forum where people can post questions, list businesses for sale, advertise opportunities, etc. At the moment, this section of the web site is completely empty. The open-source software Vanilla underpins this forum, and foolishly the SMARTT membership database was not integrated into this section. If I wish to make use of the forum I have to sign up for a separate account within the forum. So, to make full use of the SMARTT network, I not only have to create one new username/password combination for a limited web site, I have to create two! In these days of password overload, this is totally unacceptable for a professional web site.

Which brings me to my final overall gripe about the SMARTT web site. The overall design and execution of the site is simply “meh”. It has a distinct Web 1.0 feel to it, with none of the smooth operation of a Web 2.0 site. There is nothing on this site that jumps out at you as “wow!”. If this is the face that we in western Wisconsin are presenting to the world, we need to do better. We need to stand out, rather than be yet one more tiny site in an ocean.

Rumors abound as to the total cost of the SMARTT network to developing partners. One local newspaper article mentioned that a “$36,000 grant contributed to the cost of development.” If this is true, or frankly if the site cost anywhere near $36,000, I think it was a tremendous waste of money. Money for economic and community development is incredibly difficult to come by, even more so in these tough economic times. We need to be smart about how such money is used. Rather than developing a “me-too” web site that underperforms other sites in it’s niche, we could have used this money to put forth a full-court press on existing sites. We need to have a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook (SMARTT is on Facebook, though inexplicably linked from the Images page), Twitter, MySpace, Plaxo and dozens of other sites where people are already congregating. The walled-garden approach taken by the SMARTT web site dissuades job-seekers and companies from signing up. I hope to be proven wrong, but I really feel the SMARTT Network is the wrong online approach for our region.

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