The welcome message is for websites that exist for no other purpose than to say hello to the world. They're extremely personal and truly amateur pages where holiday photos, a CV, free wallpaper collections, recipes, links to "other great cat sites" and "The History of Status Quo" form a pile of mixed up information.
Although it's supposed to be just a welcoming message, for experienced users it's a warning that the rest of the website will be of the same informational value.
My surfing experience shows that there's no real correlation between a welcome message and the quality of a site. In fact, the greeting appears on both useless sites and the very rich. Though I will agree that a lack of structure and higgledy-piggledy content is a characteristic feature of amateur websites.
But in no way is this a negative feature; especially in today's web. Instead, it shows that a real person created the site and not some marketing department or a content management system. This gives the information authenticity and value and the experience of ten web years has proved that the devotion of one amateur can be worth a dozen specialists on the payroll. For example: fan sites are richer and more up to date than the official sites of stars ( and when a stars is not really big, fans' sites are the only hope to get to know anything). Technical manuals, (with how-to's or tips), made and published by actual users are often more helpful and free of marketing blather.
And there are instances when you would certainly prefer to deal with real people online: local shops, small businesses and hotels.
When you see a site made by the hotel owner, where she writes about her hobbies as well as the hotel facilities and also makes a portrait gallery of local cats and dogs, you think about the high level of personal service at this hotel and -what really makes a difference- you expect that your online order will go directly to the hotel and not to a travel agent (you'll find out if this assumption is true when you arrive). Don't forget the ingredients for amateur productions are not a secret and they can be imitated and faked so don't trust every amateurish looking site.
The "Welcome to my home page" style is attractive and there are situations when it works the best, occasionally there are no alternatives even if the project isn't a personal home page.
A few examples:
The promo site of BIFI, the producers of a popular German snack, is one of the greatest imitations ever. To really appreciate it you should know the BIBI tv spots; they're a series of episodes about an undefinable factory with bizarre employees. Zomtec.com is the factory's homepage, obviously made by the guys from the tv spots, obviously in their free time. They describe how they make mouth wash, they proudly present their private homepages, publish news that's rarely connected to BIFI and hoist the BIFI banner. This is a site for crazy folk by crazy folk. To stress this fact the designer used clumsy framesets, buttons, backgrounds and animated flags. Everything that's fun on the web. The site's constantly updated and a little while ago they made a Flash version. It really looks like somebody's first attempt. It ridicules itself.
The site of Wise County Sheriff's Department in Texas is developed and maintained by Lieutenant Joy and Sergeant Huffman. It's made in Front Page 2000. There's a picture of the Sheriff on the home page that connects to his email address. There are a lot of funny graphics on the page and plenty of important information for the county's citizens. Although the Sheriff's site looks very unserious and has all the common illnesses associated with amateur sites -like a navigation system copied from another site and adapted to the needs of the police department- it puts across its message in the best possible way: your Sheriff is here, among you and for you and he knows there are better ways to spend taxpayers money than giving it away to a design agency.
The county has a young, new Sheriff this month and I hope he won't try to reorganize and professionalize the site.
This is an invitation for young, informal activist groups to get active online and publicize their activity. Here the touch of a design agency would really be wrong and it's right to appeal to the native language of the web using a design that looks like the first draft of a student's multimedia project as young designers M. Stolz and D. Gestricht proposed in their draft.
Ebay's another good example because it lets the user play around with html tags within the auction descriptions. People start to improvise and the improvisations look unprofessional and casual. It adds an important, spontaneous flavor and generates a flea market atmosphere.
Another case, though not really from the web. In January 2005 Cory Archangel, an artist from New York, opened his show called "Welcome to my Homepage Artshow". It's a good name for an exhibition of computer work made at home without a team of programmers, designers and managers. It sounds naive but stresses an opposition to complex and expensive media art market productions. The "Welcome to my Homepage Artshow" has a good DIY meaning.
There's another reason why I'd like to foreground the "Welcome to my Home Page" style, and the vernacular web on the whole, as a web design tactic for today: it hasn't discredited itself in the dotcom years and the broadband boom so it's not associated with fleeting transience, superficiality and an absence of humour.
In 2004 the art.teleportacia gallery organized a 1000$ Page Aaward to attract attention to nonprofessional web making, to motivate people to do their own pages and honestly -above all- to see some pages we hadn't seen before.
And there were some nice surprises. Among the portfolios, blogs and web art pieces we found some "welcoming" pages. One of them really charmed us.
Pierre Ysewijn, a Doctor of Psychological and Educational Sciences from Belgium, (living in Switzerland at the moment), put a lot of effort into the welcome message on his personal home page. Mr. Ysewijn welcomes guests with a video clip in either English, German or French. The greeting's spoken by a real person, directly addressing the visitor. It's a very honest start to communication. You can see what Mr. Ysewijn looks like, how old he is, how he sounds, how he presents. The video puts across a lot of personal information and it upgrades the "Welcome to my home page" into the broadband age. And! For the first time it becomes more than welcoming. Finally, without a doubt, this is a welcome message that became content.