Ah, the Web, what would we do without it. It allows us instant access to information and instant communication with anyone else with access. But aside from the dark corners where viruses aplenty lurk, there’s another downside: sloppy content writers and coders.
When the web was new it appealed to just the computer savvy programmers, scientists and the bleeding edge. These people in general were very literate and very concerned with doing things right (they spell checked, lurked until they knew how others interacted and consciously learned the ropes of how things worked). Netiquette was born, and newbies were instructed to learn it or face derision. But like all societies, a second wave, came in (bleeding edge computer users and technical people) and were also taught netiquette. It was the third wave of people (the average computer user) that discovered the web that came in and changed all of that. Netiquette was an unknown term, and people didn’t know what to say and what not to say, nor how to say it. Seldom learning to use their programs (Thus “RTFM” became common response to newbies) or the ways of the culture, ignorance reared its ugly head and has never put it down since.
People who held fast to Netiquette were suddenly the ones to make fun of, their attempts to clue in people were derided. Top posting email replies, all caps, massive amounts of typos and plain old misspellings (even after browsers evolved to include spell check) all became accepted. So, us old timers learned to let that stuff go, ignore it or simply left those areas of the web that became overcrowded with ignorance.
Then publishing became a lot easier with things like wordpress, livejournal, myspace and facebook. Suddenly the ignorant had a way to voice their opinion easily and without fear of reprisal — and often labeled those few people that didn’t learn to tolerate their sloppiness as “spelling nazis” or “grammar nazis.” And the floodgates opened: TMI and other bad behavior became the norm among some groups. But even that is tolerable: defriending and blocking takes care of that.
What’s happened lately is that this infestation of sloppiness has hit the makers of commercial sites now: journalists, coders, etc. I can forgive the growing number of typos in commercial web publications that range from CNN to Cracked.com. But what I cannot forgive is people who don’t do their damnedest to check every link and every interface to make sure they work as intended. If I click a link that is supposed to take me to a page, make sure it works for people that don’t have an account with the site, or make sure it lands in the right place.
Worse is feedback forms. What should be a 5 second process, becomes a headache as you try to enter information on the form that has a problem or requires logging in after the fact and redirects you to a sign up sheet, thus losing the missive you spent 10-20 minutes writing. What is even more unforgivable is the tone the copy on sites have taken (from polite to demanding), and the user experience that has degraded over time as more and more sites go “2.0” with little testing on how people want to interact.
For instance: I use aggregate news sites like digg.com and others to see outside of my “bubble” of tech and science news. Because of this I know that the Kardashians are LA plastic women with a TV show and not Lizard Like Humanoids bent on taking over the Alpha quadrant. I also know that Monster Truck rallies, Nascar Events and their fans are everything I figured they would be. I also know the internet is not only for porn, but for cats.
But I digress: the 2.0 experience is being polluted by people making marketing and profit-making decisions that impact the usability of their sites. Now I click a link to a news story and am presented with an advertisement either on an intercepting landing page or a popover/floating window that obscures the article asking me to either subscribe or watch a flash video or chat with a rep that can answer my questions. All of these encourage me to leave the site. If I WANT to talk to an agent, put a small chat bubble icon in the upper right corner next to the search box. If I want to watch an ad. place the ad next to the content, and for pete’s sake, don’t make it a 1+ MB flash movie. If I want to sign up, place that where the login and search boxes are. Do not use a popover unless I click something which has its content in the popover.
In another vein, I go to many commercial sites a day for technical information, and I am increasingly finding it takes more and more clicks to get to the information I seek — if it is available online at all. Stop burying technical information further and further in the site or worse in PDFs or .DOCs and online manuals. Advanced users are usually people that know exactly what they want and are not being served by pages of marketing material trying to sell them something they’ve already bought. EVERY page should have a support link and a search box if you have a product you’re selling that might require tech support. Product “datasheets” should not be glossy PDF brochures, they should be labeled “product brochure” and not in PDF format in the first place (except as an optional downloadable link on said datasheet). Specsheet links with all technical specifications should be included next to the product’s sales/info page. And the specsheet should be a table or bullet list of features with hyperlinks explaining what something like “hyper-threading” is. (Note: I know what hyper-threading is.)
I kind of laughed when I heard Steve Jobs’ declaration that you should be able to get to any configuration setting or program option in three clicks. I laughed because I thought it was obvious that you want to reduce the amount of time to get to something, and that 3 could be too little for very esoteric settings. But then I thought about it and used other systems and sites for a bit. And I realized a lot of people think of sites and apps not as tools that should be designed to be used as efficiently as possible, but as either places to make more money in ads (see the broken up article with 3 paragraphs per page) or where GUI design is left up to programmers who don’t know a thing about UI design, or know the program so well they don’t look at it from the perspective of a novice.
I find myself writing sites and shareware makers who I like with feedback alerting them to this on a weekly basis. And I find myself leaving sites who’s designers screwed up or whose products I could care less about when I’m evaluating products for purchasing decisions.
Also, I’m in the middle of a job search right now, and I’m reading a lot of want ads. suffering from either too much or too little info, typos and other gaffs (such as listing 5-7 years experience with OS 10.6 or Windows 7 required, talking down to potential applicants, or technical and/or grammatical errors). And worse, I see the company’s website linked in the ad. and find typos, confusing navigation or lack of information or contact and feedback info. Needless to say, if a potential employer’s site is messed up, or a product’s UI is bad, I’m not going to apply for that job unless it involves fixing those things.
Who am I to make all these proclamations? Am I a seasoned designer or coder or marketing person? Nope. While I’ve written a bit of code in PHP, compiled applications I wrote, designed a few web sites and worked as a graphic designer, I am not an expert in any one of these topics, but I know enough about all of these things to be dangerous. While I am currently looking for work, I am constantly helping people fix their computers, recommending and evaluating products or designing systems, and keeping busy. I’ve also seen enough to know when it’s done right and when it’s done wrong. Take what you will from this rant