Modernista!: Web 2.0h!

Patrick Burgoyne on how ad agency Modernista! turned to the web’s most popular sites to create its own online presence

For advertising agencies and design studios alike there are few more troublesome tasks than designing the company’s own website. While happy to design any number of sites for clients, when it comes to their own digital front door, many are seemingly paralysed. Some notable firms abdicate responsibility entirely by putting up holding pages which promise a site at some unspecified future date but never seem to get around to delivering one.

In the face of such indecision, genuine innovation is rare, which is one of the reasons that the new site by Boston-based ad agency Modernista! (yes, it does have an exclamation mark in its name) has attracted so much attention. In fact, it’s not really a website at all, but rather a dhtml menu which sits on top of an inline frame. What this means in English is that, if you go to, you will see a red menu in the top left-hand corner featuring the agency’s logo and the terms ab.ou.t, wrk, n3wz and cont@ct. Next to this comes a red rectangle saying “Do not be alarmed. You are viewing Modernista! through the eyes of the Web. The menu on the left is our homepage. Everything behind it is beyond our control.”

Behind it is, in fact, Modernista!’s Wikipedia entry which serves as the about (sorry, ab.ou.t) section. Click on the work (wrk) tab and in order to see print you are transported to a Flickr page. Video is served up via YouTube and news (or n3wz) is hosted by a Google News page of posts about the agency on other sites. And all the time, the red menu remains in its corner. When other sites link to Modernista (if you’ll forgive me I’m going to stop using that annoying exclamation mark now), clicking on the link brings up the menu top left but the linking page remains in the rest of the screen.

“The menu is really the only thing we host ourselves,” Modernista co-founder Gary Koepke explained in an email to cr. “The rest is out there live on the web – we just link to it.”

Which is rather clever. Here is an agency that is attempting to tell potential clients that it really gets all this web 2.0 stuff and to do so it is demonstrating how to use some of the most popular sites. It’s certainly a lot more interesting than the overblown Flash-fests that are typical of so many of Modernista’s competitors.

Critics have questioned just how committed the agency is to the brave new web world when its senior staff seems fairly invisible – there’s not much blogging or regular Facebook posting from the execs who don’t seem to be particularly active netizens. A more serious criticism has come from the Wikipedia community, many of whom have objected to their site being co-opted in this way. There have been allegations that Modernista’s activities are against the spirit of Wikipedia and demands for the page to be taken down or amended, all of which seems slightly at odds with the agency’s implied claim to understand the workings of such communities. And, of course, there were claims that some­one else had done it first – a Minneapolis marketing agency called Zeus Jones.

But it’s still a very worthy attempt to find an original and appropriate solution to a perennial problem. I just wish they’d resisted the temptation to use all that ‘down with the kidz’ language on the menus. It’s r3@lly


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