With memories of last month's Chelsea flower show still fresh in their minds, gardening fans looking for a virtual outlet for that rekindled enthusiasm should check out the new total gardening sites. Crocus.co.uk is the first - in true horticultural fashion - to poke its head above the soil as a consumer e-com site. Others such as Greenfingers.com are to follow.
I have had the fun of working with Crocus over the past couple of months and, as a small niche company, it offers an excellent model for many of the current concerns over web content. A distinction is often made between the service offered by a company and content. Quite frankly, customers don't give a damn for these distinctions: they just know a good idea when they see it.
So part of my role was to think like the customer - perfect for me as, when it comes to gardening, I fit into the category of keen but clueless (I never want to know the ph of my soil and love the words low maintenance).
But I have aspirations that one day I will devote more time to it and have as perfect roses as those in American Beauty.
Crocus is in part a specialist plant selector - good for those who don't really know what they want, don't know more than three Latin names and get befuddled by the numerous varieties. But it's more than that. We began by thinking about the type of gardening requirements that everyone can understand - having your garden used as a football pitch, for example, needing more privacy or hiding a hideous view. This leads into the plant selector and the database or catalogue of more than 6,000 plants.
We also knew from research that most people visiting a garden centre pick up a single plant here and there that they like the look of without really knowing which plants get on well together. So Crocus offers a range of plant combinations - groups of about five plants that all bond very nicely and produce a good-looking clustered shape. To complement this, Crocus also offers a planting service, and if the new plant isn't looking perky, you can e-mail the plant doctors, who will advise on action.
At a time when gardening has been upgraded to a groovy pastime - so holistic for over-stressed execs - this new online brand must be a dead cert. The customer can see instantly the added value in an aspiration cycle, from inspiration and advice to practical service and after-care. And it is all content, from the tone of voice throughout the site to the editorial commissioned for the magazine section.
Content management was one of the chief concerns at a conference based on web content hosted by IQPC in March. Web content is as broad a subject as, say, communication; it covers everything and everybody from large corporates to new e-com brands, from what they say and offer to how they behave online. A key issue at the conference was managing and delivering often vast amounts of content, and people debated whether one of the existing management systems, such as Vignette, is preferable to building a proprietary in-house system.
I am building a proprietary content management system for a new brand called flametree.co.uk, which will offer services, solutions and a support network for women to improve their work/life balance. I found Vignette too restrictive in comparison with the content management system built by Aspect for handbag.com and used by Crocus - which was a delight to use even at midnight. It is worth the planning time and money to end up with something proprietary; the greater flexibility can make a big difference, whether it's an in-house solution or an out-of-house solution for a range of people with different skills.
But whenever the frustrations get to me, I can always go and do a spot of virtual gardening at Crocus. Now was it fast-growing and shady aspect...?