The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'usability'

2009/4/8

We haven't had a Wayne Kerr post for a while, so one is overdue. Anyway, I am Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate... it's websites attempting to coerce you into registering.

A while ago, there was an online newspaper named the International Herald Tribune. Owned by the New York Times but published in Paris, it was quite a good paper, with fairly incisive articles not too far from Economist territory. Then someone at head office decided to kill the brand and roll it into the New York Times brand, and iht.com became global.nytimes.com. And, with that, inherited the New York Times' draconian insistence on users requiring to register and log in to view their their precious content.

The New York Times, you see, is not satisfied with the standard online news business model (make their content freely viewable and linkable and sell ads to those surfing in on web links from wherever in the world they may be); that may be good enough for rabble like their London namesake, but the NYTimes' content is worth more than that. At the start, they even tried charging for online access to it. Of course, as Clay Shirky points out, this is not a viable business model for online news (current events cannot be copyrighted or monopolised, and someone can always do it cheaper), so the NYTimes soon dropped the demands for subscription. However, they have doggedly kept the other part of the equation: the insistence on users subscribing, remembering yet another username and password, and giving a valid, verified email address, as well as some juicy demographic information. Of course, there are ways around this; the most popular site on BugMeNot, a website for sharing free usernames/passwords to such sites, is the New York Times. However, such accounts usually have a very short lifespan; either they perish when the email verification period lapses or, failing that, the Times' web admins hunt them down and kill them, like an ongoing game of Whack-a-Mole.

The New York Times, however, is not the most irritating example of coercive registration; that accolade would probably go to a site named, ironically, Get Satisfaction. This is an external tech support site, used by a number of web 2.0-ish sites, including SoundCloud and ping.fm. As a web site, it is the very model of a modern website; rounded corners, quirky retro fonts (oh so San-Francisco-via-Stockholm), pastel-hued gradients, animated fades, you name it, it ticks the box; it would be perfect, but for one fatal flaw in the human interface design.

What somebody neglected to notice is the typical use case of such a site. One doesn't go to Get Satisfaction to socialise with friends, share photos or music, find a date or a flat, or do anything one does on a typical social web site; one goes there when one has gone to such a site and found that it doesn't work properly, and wants to notify somebody to fix this. Now when that happens, the last thing one wants it to have to think up another username and password, and be cheerfully invited to fill in one's profile and choose a user icon representing one's personality. As far as support forums go, less should be more, and Get Satisfaction, for all of its pretentions to being some kind of online clubhouse, falls short.

Not everything that isn't charged for is without cost; there is a cost, in time and finite mental resources, to keeping track of usernames and passwords. (Of course, you could use the same password across all sites, but that replaces a psychological/time cost with the security risk of all one's passwords being compromised.) And sites which put registration speed bumps in their users' way could find users going elsewhere where offers a smoother ride.

design media online usability wayne kerr web 12

2004/9/20

Annoying web interface of the day: Loot.

This is a UK-based classified advertising site, offering listings of real estate, items for sale, personals and so on. Which is all very well, except that some genius had the brilliant idea of not using ordinary web links for ads, but instead doing it all in Javascript. When you click on an ad, it executes a piece of javascript which changes the current window's location for you. This means that it is impossible to open an ad in a separate window or tab; you can only view Loot in one window at a time, linearly going from ad to ad and backtracking as need be.

I have no idea why anybody could have thought that sort of user-hostile web design is a good idea. It's not to encourage people to pay (paid users get the same interface), it doesn't give the site a slick, Gmail-like interface (it's just a normal web site, except that you can't easily view more than one thing at a time), or otherwise contribute to the user experience (unless, perhaps, the user is a submissive masochist), it doesn't even seem to aim for the holy grail of Protecting Valuable Intellectual Property. The only possibilities I can think of are: (a) that they were betting that, by slowing down user browsing of their site, they could eke more time-limited ad-viewing tokens out of their users, and that no competing website would steal their customers by offering a less annoying experience, or (b) that whoever designed it just wanted to show off their web kung fu ("Look mum, Javascript!")

annoyances javascript loot usability web 2

2004/2/14

I'm Wayne Kerr, and if there's one thing I hate... it's web sites which sacrifice usability to be "arty". Such as the ACMI site. I went to book a ticket to one of the Cremaster screenings, but there's no indication of where the box office is; the only links are lower-case verbs like "experience", "learn", "play" and so on. Ooh, tres artistique! Now about that ticket I wanted to buy...

annoyances usability wayne kerr web 2

2003/8/19

An interview with Richard M. Stallman, the head of the Free Software Foundation. In it he states his opposition to the Intel/Microsoft "Trusted Computing" system (or "Treacherous Computing", as he calls it), calls for web browsers to automatically send complaints to webmasters about Flash-based web pages (which, when you think about it, is not such a bad idea), and reveals that Debian has fallen out of favour because they tolerate the existence of a ghetto of non-free software. As well as the usual broadside at the Open Source movement (who, in rms's view, have more in common ideologically with Microsoft than with the Free Software movement). (via Slashdot)

drm flash free software gnu open-source richard stallman usability 0

2001/1/4

No marks for The Designers Republic on their web design, mostly because they don't actually use HTML and just make everything embedded Flash. Having to start VMWare to access their web site (you try finding a working Flash plug-in for Linux) is annoying.

(And the Macromedia Flash plug-in for Linux is unusable. It works, but it grabs the audio device, and freezes Netscape until it gets it. Having to stop listening to your MP3s because there's a Flash ad on a page is just not acceptable, even for the leprous beggars who don't use Windows.)

Anyway, if you want to snarf it from a UNIX machine, the Designers Republic's free screen saver may be found here (for the Mac) or here (for Windows). (Cute URLs, guys...)

design flash the designers republic usability web 0

2000/12/6

Flash considered harmful:

Browsing the Macromedia Flash website, I discovered this "feature" entitled "What You Print Is Not What You See." This basically means when you print a web page, that little Flash banner ad can print out multiple pages worth of advertising drivel (if the designer wants it to). This is akin to having a unseen, secret speaker on your car radio that mysteriously blabs ads when advertisers want. Hey, thanks for thinking of the users, Macromedia!

flash usability web 0

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