The masters of the internet get confused

Cisco used to have the best service for journalists we knew. It doesn't any more. David Bowen wonders what has happened

When the first Bowen Craggs Index came out 10 years ago, one of the stars we identified was Cisco, and specifically the sophisticated way its served the media. I wrote this in the Financial Times: ‘The Cisco Newsroom goes well beyond information provision: podcasts, videos and blogs are used to engage the company’s media audience. It would not be right for all companies, but if your audience is high tech, serve it in a high tech way.’

As Cisco and the internet have fed each other like symbiotic lovers, it is not surprising that it knew how to use it so well. It also knew its journalistic audience – unlike other trade journalists, those in in IT are often as expert as the companies they cover. So it was that in our 2014 review of the site we gave it 11 out of 12 for its press release service, calling it ‘an exceptional and powerful resource’.

We’ve been looking at it again, to update our database. And oh dear, what has happened? Cisco’s online newsroom has, in brief, lost it. It still has mass of useful and well-written material,but if it had taken a decision to make it as hard to use as possible, it could hardly have done a better job. It's strange because, well Cisco is Cisco and should know better.

Like most US sites – and all the US IT sites we know of – Cisco.com is not one site: it's a collection of many sites with light (to put it mildly) central control. For which you could read ‘governance hard to detect, even with a microscope’.

But it has always been like that and, as long as you don’t mind scrolling to the bottom of the home page, you will find your way to the Newsroom site, which is called ‘the network’.

The best way of seeing why we used to like the Newsroom so much is to go to a bit of it that hasn’t changed. Mouse over ‘regions’ in the main menu and select one of the choices – networks from the three regions (it uses acronyms, but essentially these are America, Europe Middle East, and Asia Pacific).  Take the EMEAR one (Europe, Middle East and Russia). This includes 1,900 ‘recent announcements’, with a menu across the top allowing filter by media type (press releases, featured stories, blogs, videos etc), and a left menu that allows filtering by topic (corporate news, social media, internet of everything etc), industry, and solutions (cloud, security etc).

There are weaknesses – most particularly a lack of date filters – but it makes it very easy to find what you want - for example press releases on digitization, or features on healthcare.

Now, come back to the main network by clicking ‘Corporate network’. Instead of all those  options, there are now seven links across the top, including digitization, innovation, press releases, and corporate.  Most have sub-links, with digitization having nine topics. This causes a problem by mixing apples and pears. You can find press releases or digitization, but not press releases on digitization. After some experimentaion I discovered it’s possible to select media types – videos and blogs etc – by clicking labels on the home page, but again you can’t use them to filter. So no videos on ‘video’ (a sub-section of digitization), which would be pleasing. Nor can you can filter by industry or solution, as you can on the regional sites.

But this is just the start of the strangeness. Journalists do not want to see only new news. They want to see old news too, because that is how they get background. Yet if you click press releases, you see only the last 25; click any of the topics under ‘digitization’, and you see the last 10. What do you do if you want to see anything older? Well, I found two possibilities – one is to go to a regional site, the other is to do a search, which does have an archive and also allows you to choose by media type; but it doesn’t cover regional items, and is not great for browsing topics. 

Coming back to the (lack of) governance thing, the different experiences you get as you click around make the site a box of surprises. That could be fun, but if you're a journalist in a hurry, it might not be. For example:

  • While most links under ‘digitization’ lead to a simple list of stories, ‘country digitization’ leads to a rather flashy microsite. Lovely, but confusing. 
  • Click ‘corporate’, scroll to click Investor relations, and you are in a quite different site, rather old-fashioned. Now click Corporate governance, Executive officers, then John T Chambers - and you will find yourself back on the Newsroom site. Just confusing. 

More worrying, some excellent material is not where it should be. By chance we found a really interesting piece on ‘How Internet of Things and technology are shaping homes of the future’. It was written less than a month ago, on 26 January, but it isn’t in the list under Internet of Things (part of 'digitization'). 

I have no idea why Cisco has decided to make its news service so much worse – perhaps it's all to do with the rush to minimalism, as so much is. What it needs is for someone to look at the newsroom, and indeed the whole of Cisco.com, and to ask themselves 'Now, what do we need to do to make this work properly?’ But I doubt that someone exists – and it's hard to do governance without a governor. 

- David Bowen