Week of April 10, 2000
  Editor's Choice Web Pick
   of the Week

Fast Company: Rich Content with a Broad-Screen View

"Fast" is what any company with half a brain wants - in fact, has - to be. And that's where the online site for "Fast Company" magazine (www.fastcompany.com) rises to the top ranks of content providers.

The online version of "Fast Company" is almost totally a straight-out replication of the magazine's hardcopy incarnation. That, though, is a compliment. The hardcopy "Fast Company" does one of the best jobs we've seen in limning what it takes to attain today's "fast/fluid/flexible" trilogy.

Mind you, the content here isn't only about real estate - which, we're well aware, is a big part of the world for many of the users who access this site.

But from this corner's perspective, for this site, the broadness is a decided virtue. In fact, it's exactly why this reviewer considers "Fast Company" such a valued informational source. Stated most simply, this site is squarely focused on the issues that are shaping the new economy - and it's well aware that workplace strategies are a major element in that mix.

April Issue Looks at Workplace Strategies
From Herman Miller, Regus Business Centres

The online April issue of "Fast Company," for example, contains two articles sure to prick up a lot of ears in the real estate community:

  • "Designed to Work," which looks into Herman Miller's "Resolve" design line, which the article describes as "a radical new office environment."

  • "The Office of Future," which features Regus Business Centres Founder and Chairman Mark Dixon tackling thorny questions such as, "What role do physical offices play in a virtual world?" and, "If people can work anywhere, then where can they do their best work?"

Those two pieces fit under "New Ways of Working " one of the 12 themes that constitute "Fast Company's" self-proclaimed focus. Other themes with obvious real estate hooks are "Design" and "The Digital Domain."

Themes Underscore Expansive Slant

Those themes, though, are only part of the "Fast Company" formula. Other content themes are far more focused on the broader business-environment context -- which actually adds to the richness of the directly real estate-related content.

For example, the other parts of "Fast Company's" thematic focus are centered on:

  • "Careers,"
  • "The New Logic of Competition,"
  • "Learning,"
  • "Change,"
  • "Leadership,"
  • "Social Justice,"
  • "Innovation and Creativity,"
  • "Coping," and
  • "Neoleisure."
That full list should clue you to a lot of this site's drift. Sure, some of those listed terms could legitimately be called buzzwords; and that, in turn, could suggest faddish superficiality. Buzzwords, however, are like cliches: Something had to be happening in the first place, or those buzzwords and cliches wouldn't have become part of our common vocabulary in discussing experiences.

Moreover, the substance behind those buzzwords is what's shaping a lot of real estate industry - even though they're not about real estate per se.

From our experience, though, there is a distinct real estate synergy in "Fast Company's" positioning of workplace issues within a broader strategic framework: That is, it very closely resembles the approach taken by the real estate pros we've seen who've added the most corporate value. Going the other route -- segmenting real estate into its own hermetic little world -- seems a perspective practically preordained for irrelevance. This, it seems, is not a business era that's likely to be remembered as being kind to insulated specialists.

Solid Writing, Free Newsletter
Also Part of the Site Mix

"Fast Company," then, has substance to spare. To get across, though, substance requires style. "Fast Company" ably meets that requirement. And accomplishing that is not as easy as it reads on the screen. In the wrong hands, this kind of expansive approach could produce the sort of bloated, tedious content that's the print equivalent of narcolepsy. "Fast Company," though, goes at its broad topics through a wealth of case studies, which gives the issues flesh and blood. And most of the writing is at once informative and lively.

Users can also subscribe onsite to "Fast Take," a free weekly e-mail newsletter that's quite good. In addition, the newsletter provides quick-scan cues to potentially useful content from "Fast Company's" latest issues (and the whole hardcopy shebang almost immediately goes up onsite).

In addition, this site gets high marks for making newsletter subscription about as easy as is humanly possible. All you have to do is enter your e-mail address. That's it.

Click 'Search,' Not 'Archive'

We do have a bit of advice, though, for users who like this site (and a lot of you will).

You'll likely want to search the "Fast Company" site for insights on specific issues. The best way to do that is by clicking on "Search Fast Company." That works swimmingly, as you might expect. What you might not expect, though, is something we inadvertently discovered during our test drive. Clicking on the far more prominently displayed "Archives" link takes you to an issue-by-issue listing that catalogs only part of the content and isn't searchable.

You may still find some content gems by going that route; or perhaps browsing is simply more your style. But if your search has a specific focus, click that "Search Fast Company" option (in the left-side menu) and save some major time.

For Web site junkies, "Fast Company" also points out a lot of interesting online content through an interesting tack. Each issue contains one of two installments of "My Favorite Bookmarks," where prominent business folks offer capsule reviews of their fave sites.

(During our test drive, for example, we checked out the bookmarks of choice for Terri Lonier, fournder of Working Solo Inc.) If your experience is anything like ours, you'll probably find some sites in these columns that tingle your brain cells.

Another feature of the site is its online polls, the one online content item we found that isn't in the hardcopy "Fast Company." Those polls can be both amusing and thought provoking. One, for example, asked whether job applicants at users' companies "[were given] a sugarcoated, unrepresentative vision of the office" or "a true picture of day-to-day life."

(In case you're wondering - and aren't we all? -- 52 percent said applicants got the "sugarcoated version," which will start up familiar music in a lot of folks' heads.)

Fast Company, Slow Web Site

Finally, the site is cleanly designed. Nothing fancy, but clean - which is invariably preferable in the small-screen world of cyberspace.

With that note, though, comes our only misgiving. In essence, that misgiving boils down to this: "Fast Company," slow Web site.

We've used this site for background research perhaps a dozen times. And each time -- for most, if not all, of our visit -- it's run at agonizingly slow speeds between clicks. (In fact, during our last visit, we tried to speed-click our way through, only to trigger the dreaded "illegal operation" message, which promptly crashed our Net connection.) On the other hand, click-throughs to other sites linked to the online "Fast Company" usually process quickly and smoothly.

Given the publication's name, the site's sluggishness almost seems like some sort of ruefully ironic joke. But don't count on it. And if these guys are anywhere near as savvy as they seem, the site's tortoise-like navigability will disappear.

Even with the current sludge-like loading, though, there's good news. And that good news is the content. It's good enough, in fact, that you're inclined to suffer through the waits.



©2000 Conway Data, Inc. All rights reserved. Data is from many sources and is not warranted to be accurate or current.