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Behind FedEx's new site, a tiny Cambridge design firm

Posted by Scott Kirsner  January 14, 2011 05:12 PM

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Here's a sneak preview of the Web site FedEx will be launching over the weekend, designed by the hotshots over at Tank, a tiny 30-person firm located in the shadow of MIT.

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FedEx executive Charlie Ciaramitaro tells me this is about the sixth time the heavily-trafficked site has been redesigned since it originally launched in 1994; those of you with a little gray hair will remember that the very first FedEx site included one of the first functional, form-based applications the Web had seen: you could enter a tracking number and actually find out where your package was. It was so miraculous for the time, I'm pretty sure people sent packages just to see it in action. These days, the site gets about 30 million visitors a month, and eight million packages are tracked on it daily. (The record this past holiday season was 14 million packages tracked on a single day.)

As FedEx bought and integrated companies like Kinko's and Parcel Direct (the business that became FedEx Ground), the Web site started to seem a little confusing, Ciaramitaro says. "We reorganized the site based on what customers want to do with us, rather than which of our companies they wanted to work with," he says. "There's now quick access to getting a rate or scheduling a pick-up." There are also prominent links to FedEx's profiles on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Coincidentally, Tank was founded in 1994, but didn't start working with FedEx until around 2001. Another local agency, Boston-based Digitas, had been handling most of FedEx's work in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But when a few Digitas employees moved over to Tank, they soon began doing small projects for FedEx. The relationship grew over time, to the point where Ciaramitaro now describes Tank as essentially the company's "agency of record" for its Web site. (Tank also does print work for FedEx, too.) The Memphis-based shipping giant is now Tank's biggest customer, though the firm has also worked with well-known brands like Sony, RueLaLa, Puma, and Cole Haan.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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