Tag Archives: web usability

Would you go into a high street shop that if it required handing over your name and address to do so?

I’m gonna assume the answer is no. Giving info like full name, postal address, e-mail isn’t the kind of thing you expect to have to do purely to browse around.

So why do so many web sites insist on asking for exactly that?

I got a little irate earlier this week (maybe ’cause I’d been in a bad mood all day) at eMusic. I was doing a bit of research for my post about Spotify and just wanted to find out how much eMusic subscriptions were so I could compare the cost and support my argument that Spotify is too expensive when put up against the likes of eMusic.

Could I find out about the subcription plans let alone the prices though? No. I faced the same wall whatever I tried: a 13 field registration form which was just step 1 of a 3 step process.

It’s the same story with sites like Love Film which ask for your bank details just to get a free trial. They say stuff like “to make it easier for you to sign up after your trial, if you want to.” No it’s not, you just know some people are flakey and won’t be arsed to cancel. Or, like me, will cancel last minute but you’ll have already charged my account in advance for the first months subscription that I never actually said I wanted. (I got my own back, by the way.)

I had a brief conversation with eMusic on Twitter about this little phenomenon;

  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn This link should point you in the right direction:http://bit.ly/mMGrR
  • PhilipJohn: @eMusicNews That asks me to login. How is that useful if I’m not a subscriber and want to know what my choices for subscribing are?
  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn I believe there should be an option there to set up an account. If you go through that process, you should see plan options.
  • PhilipJohn: @eMusicNews Yeah but only if I give you my passport, birth certificate and god knows what else. It’s called a barrier to conversion.
  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn Hi Philip -if you fill in the first reg page, the 2nd page shows you the available plans.
  • PhilipJohn: @eMusicNews I get that but I don’t want to part with personal info just to see your prices. It’s like demanding ID to enter a high st shop!
  • eMusicNews: @philipjohn Sorry….

Know the phrase, “sorry isn’t good enough”?

You might be thinking, “why do you care so much, they’re the ones loosing out?” They probably are missing out on customers because they’re putting up a barrier to conversion.

Thing is, I’m passionate about the web and how it can be used successfully for businesses. But putting up barriers to conversion in any business is surely a bad idea (unless they’re designed as a qualifier). I hate to see examples of the web done ‘wrong’ because I want to see a web that is easy to use, free of frustration and ultimately a good experience for the user.

Yes, I’m an idealist, bit of a dreamer but it’s not impossible. It’s certainly not hard. So why not JFDI?!

I’ll make this an open letter to all on line businesses… open up. Take down your barriers. Let people in. You’ll benefit in the long run.

The Twitter settings update as a lesson in web usability

Twitter went a bit potty today over a change made to the services settings.

Yesterday, Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter, blogged the change saying,

“Based on usage patterns and feedback, we’ve learned most people want to see when someone they follow replies to another person they follow… however, receiving one-sided fragments via replies sent to folks you don’t follow… is undesirable.”

See it yet? He said most people. That means a majority. It means that some aren’t like that. That means changing it will be bad for that minority.

Consider this change from Twitter to be entered into the 101 of how to piss off your users.

It’s all about choice. Give people choice and they will reward you with their loyalty, respect and recommendations.

Take features away or make life harder and they will scream, shout, complain and generally bang your door down.

A step backwards? New service makes it hard to e-mail people

Usability is all about making things easy to use. That’s common sense though, right?

Maybe not.

I came across a new service today called Scr.im. It’s (very noble)  aim is to help prevent spammers getting hold of your e-mail address by scraping it off of web sites (such as forums) where you might have reason to post it.

The service replaces your e-mail address with a nice URL, like http://scr.im/hiphilipjohn (and you’re welcome to try that link out) that spam bots can’t get past. When you click on the link you’re asked to complete a simple test, similar to a Captcha.

However noble, though, it just makes e-mailing someone hard. Instead of one click of the e-mail address it takes 3-clicks at best; once to Scr.im, once to pass the test and once for the actual e-mail address.

I understand spam is a problem but I can’t help thinking the time and effort spent building and maintaining Scr.im, as well as signing up, would be better spent on improving spam filters, rather than something which essentially degrades the user experience.

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Reasons to use Twitter: Real life user experience feedback

This is the first of (hopefully) many posts highlighting ways in which businesses can use Twitter. I’ll be trying to use examples whereever possible.

First: Real-life user experience feedback.

Frustration at Google AdSense led @tonypiper to tweet,

Adsense has got very confusing recently.

A great opportunity for the AdSense team at Google to get instant feedback on what people are finding difficult so that they can make some improvements.

There could be lots of people talking about your product or service not just on Twitter but throughout the web. Are you finding them and addressing their concerns? The impact on your reputation either way could be dramatic.

IE8: Saviour of the Semantic Web, or Usability Nightmare?

I’ve been pushing web standards for years, so the news that Microsoft‘s Internet Explorer 8 will support W3C guidelines by default is very welcome from where I’m sitting.

There is one problem, though. They’ve announced that sites including CNN, Facebook and MySpace won’t work correctly. Users of the browser will have to choose to view these sites in “Compatibility View”. That sounds painful. It smacks of the “cancel or allow” ‘safety‘ feature in Vista.

It’s great that Microsoft are finally supporting standards. It’s long overdue and it should give the many standards ignorant web developers in the world a good kick up the arse.

Can you hear the “but” coming?

BUT… what are users going to do when, after upgrading to IE8, their favourite sites stop working? Some won’t even know there are alternative browsers and will think it’s a problem with their PC. Cue lots of restarts, calls to broadband providers and flicking through the Yellow Pages.

Though admirable, could Microsoft’s harsh line just frustrate IE users and web developers? Could this move fuel more browser-switching?

Yahoo!’s Delicious Fails at Usability

Not completely, but enough for me to blog about it.

When making changes to your site infrastructure or architecture, it’s important to consider links coming into your site.

For example, I may want to change the URL structure for my blog posts, to include the year and month in which they were posted. This post’s URL would change to;
http://philipjohn.blog/blog/2008/10/yahoos-delicious-fails-at-usability

I would need to consider that there may be some links to this post would be broken. In order to ensure my visitors (or, rather, potential visitors) have a smooth user experience I create appropriate redirects. For example, my .htaccess might include this line:
RewriteRule ^blog/yahoos-delicious-fails-at-usability$ /blog/2008/10/yahoos-delicious-fails-at-usability [R=301]

This would create a permanent redirect from the ‘old’ URL to the ‘new’ URL without the visitor noticing a thing. It really is that simple, too.

So why is it that one of the foremost web companies can’t do that? I was looking for the Delicious bookmarklet today, so I searched Google:
Screenshot

That looked good, so I clicked on it. Here’s the page that Yahoo took me to:
Screenshot of the Delicious help page

Hmm… no bookmarklets. Oh, but there’s a link to bookmarklets. TWO clicks later I got to the right page:
Screenshot of the Delicious bookmarlets page

That’s one search and three clicks which should have been one search and ONE click. -10 usability points for Yahoo. Sort it out, guys!

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I’m giving up on StumbleUpon

I wanted to do something very simple today. I wanted to look at the StumbleUpon profile of a guy I know who’s blog I was reading. He’d linked to it, so I clicked on it. And there began my frustration.

I have a general dislike of any web site/application/social network/whatever that asks you to login to do the simplest of things, because it’s not worth the effort. For example, if I just want to look at someone’s profile after they’ve actively encouraged me to do so, I’m not going to be bothered to sign up to a site just to look at that one profile, and then have to deal with what will probably be TWO sign-up e-mails (why it’s always two, I don’t know)  and then usually one more e-mail each week telling me how great the whole thing is. Breathe.

If that wasn’t enough, I then tried every combination of username and password I could possibly think of that I would have used to sign up (I do have a SU account) but all failed so on to the password reminder. When I got the e-mail with my password I noticed it was some random jumble of letters I would never in a million years use as my password. So I logged in and proceeded to change my password. Except I couldn’t. There is, seemingly, no way to change your password on SU. And then I remembered – I’d been here before. I’ve been annoyed with SU for this very same reason a couple of times.

Screenshot of the StumbleUpon homepageSo I figured, forget it – I’ll just go click on the link to that profile again and then get on with my life. If only. StumbleUpon decided that despite logging in only moments before, it wanted me to do so again. Bugger that for a bag of chips, and I went to the home page to login instead. Click on the thumbnail and look around for the login link. Don’t see it? No, nor me. I’ll give one hundred pounds* to anyone who can find the login link on that page.

In summary then, when I sign up I’m given a nonsensical password I can’t change, I can’t do anything until I log in which is hard enough with my brilliant password and that’s even if I manage to log in seeing as the only way to do that is to find a deep link and click on it. StumbleUpon, you’ve pissed me off and wasted my time – and I’m including the time taken to write this rant.

Now, where was I?

*I won’t really, I don’t have £100 to give away. Especially someone who can spot a link that’s right in front of my stupid face.