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The advertising
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fragments due to
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There are no
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over the entire
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Michael Strangelove


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Keep it fun.
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John Gall



The System
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If you can't
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scale back
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John Sumser


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January 16, 1997

It's Local!

In line with the trend towards "localization" of W3 content comes the ComputerJobs Store.

This clean and well-designed site is solely focused on information technology jobs in particular geographic regions

The company does this through regional Web sites called "ComputerJobs Stores." These online job "stores" contain employment, job opportunity and informative career content specifically geared toward information technology professionals.

There are ComputerJobs Stores in Atlanta, Chicago, Texas and the Carolinas. Each "store" has the same basic layout with the same corporate logo, but is distinguished by being color-coded.

What we like about the site - apart, of course, from its exemplary design - is that the content is locally-oriented. For example, clicking on the "Career Help" button in the Texas "store" leads to a link to "Texas User Groups", a list of groups providing discussion and education for computing professionals.

The site is refreshingly gimmick-free and is a snap to navigate.

--John Blower

January 15, 1998

Dodgy Data?

In a recent edition of his newsletter, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch waxed lyrical and enthusiastic about a gizmo called Alexa.

Alexa is a stand alone application which sits on your desktop. It displays who owns the site you are currently visiting and how well it is rated, in terms of overall traffic.

The ownership information is pulled from InterNIC records, so only .com, .org, .edu and .net sites are reported. Efforts are being made to expand this to international registries. Traffic data is determined by analyzing requests found from key Internet caches.

Click next to the window, you're shown even more information in a drop down box. The site ownership data is expanded, to provide a street address and phone number, if listed. You're also shown how Alexa users have voted for the site, plus a Yahoo Internet Life review rating and a RSAC rating, if either is available.

To get a sample without installing the application, simply enter:

http://widener.alexa.com/sitedata/SITE

where you replace SITE with the web address of the site. Don't include the http://, and keep in mind that at the moment, sites may be listed with or without www.

Which we duly did.

Unfortunately, the data for interbiznet.com proclaimed that the site was last updated in July 1997. Worse yet, data on one associate's site displayed an out-of-date address, while data on another incorrectly attributed ownership of the domain to an organization in Green Bay, WI...

Obviously, the type of data Alexa is trying to collect are extremely interesting and would be a boon to marketers. But if the data is incorrect, then it's worse than useless.

--John Blower

January 14, 1998

Elementary?

The Press Release sounded almost too good to be true:

"Tritium Network announces its plans to begin a five-city launch for free Internet access beginning in January 1998. The company will be offering free memberships to potential users in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC and San Francisco..."

(Tritium, it turns out, is "a radioactive isotope of Hydrogen".)

We duly pointed our browser to the site. And found ourselves confounded.

The site as a whole is a great example of the triumph of form over function. The "homepage" features a logo and some attractively animated text which finally settles down to the words "extraordinary" and "enter". Hitting "enter" presents the user with a demand for a username and password.

The homepage sets the tone for the rest of the site, which is long on "kewl"design elements, but low on information and comprehensible navigation aids. All in all, a good example of a self-consciously "hip" second-generation site.

Now, we have no problem with black backgrounds, strangely labeled links and esoteric nomenclature. But we've been around the block a few times (in Web terms).

1998 will doubtless see a slew of naive users flocking to the Web (don't try logging on between Christmas and New Year), most of whom will find the "place" confusing in the extreme, will not understand link conventions, and will probably not be using the latest and greatest browser.

We're afraid that site designs like Tritium's will simply confirm to newcomers that the Web is full of weirdoes, and that, as a medium, it is all but incomprehensible to "outsiders".

We checked out Tritium's Employment Opportunities page. It was updated on July 11, 1997...

--John Blower

January 13, 1998

Novices

Worldwide, there are around 90 million users of the Internet (Nua Internet Surveys, 12/8/97), of whom about 56 million are in the USA and Canada.

Lots o' people - and about double the number compared to the beginning of the year. But still a drop in the ocean in a world of six billion souls.

However, at this rate of increase, the proportion of "sophisticated" Web users will shrink relative to both the absolute number of users and the ever-increasing proportion on "novices".

And it's amazing how naive novice users can be (but we were all ones once weren't we?)!

 Jakob Nielsen in his article "Tech-Support Tales" offers real-life examples of calls to a net-users' tech-support line studied by Sara Kiesler and colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University as part of their HomeNet project (Internet home use in Pittsburgh).

(We would thoroughly recommend a visit to Jakob's site, which is full of trenchant analysis written in a straightforward way.)

 
User's question to tech support What really was wrong Jakob's comments
I can't log in CAPS LOCK active while typing in password, but this was not noticed because the characters typed by the user were not echoed Classic usability problem caused by lack of feedback. For security reasons, it is probably good to deviate from this general user interface heuristic for a password dialog, but it is not acceptable to violate one of the other heuristics: constructive error messages. In producing the error message, the system should have checked whether the entry was in ALL CAPS and it should have told the user that CAPS LOCK was a likely reason for the error.
Netscape has disappeared from my system The user had reformatted the harddisk after advice from the hardware vendor's tech support line

 

The user probably thought that doing what the hardware vendor recommended would make the entire system good again and not just fix the system-level features. Novice users don't understand the difference between different classes of software and that Web browsing would involve installing additional software. This specific problem also highlights the risks in having the user call multiple help desks and getting advice that does not match the user's complete situation because each desk only knows about part of the user's environment.

My eMail freezes The user had never installed the modem (didn't know that it was part of the computer)

 

Reveals a fundamental flaw in the user's conceptual model of the system. To be fair to the user, have you ever seen a TV commercial from a computer vendor that shows the happy buyer installing a modem?

Modem won't dial Someone else was using the telephone

 

One more problem caused by a fundamental error in the user's conceptual model of the system: the user would probably not have complained about not being able to use one of the telephones in the house while another member of the household was on the phone elsewhere in the house, but the user doesn't understand that using the modem is equivalent to making a telephone call. After all, a modem is a computer thing; also it doesn't make any sounds while it is operating so it "clearly" can't have anything to do with telephony.

Application does not launch when icon is double-clicked User had never quit the application in the first place but simply closed its windows; the program does not open a new window if it is already running when double-clicked

 

This is a classic usability problem and should have been fixed in the design of the general system: when an already running application is double-clicked, it should be brought to the foreground, and if it doesn't have any open windows, a new blank document should be opened. Doesn't have anything to do with the Web as such, but can still be enough to make the user think that "the Web doesn't work".

Remember, these are true stories! They serve to point up how difficult it is to become Web-competent, and how disoriented newcomers are - things the sophisticated user tends to forget (how many times have you delivered "Internet 101" to friends and relatives?).

The key, then, to attracting and keeping the growing legions of new users on your site is to keep it simple. This means abiding by the "link conventions" (links = blue, visited links = purple), making your site easily navigable, avoiding "Webtalk" and an emphasis on technology and gew-gaws (Steve Case came to the same conclusion......).

KISS.....(Keep It Simple, Stupid) --John Blower

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Take a look at the Archives. We've indexed all the past issues with topic pointers.



Check out the Archives....160 Weeks of Back issues including:


Jan 19, 1998
  • It's Local
  • Dodgy Data
  • Elementary?
  • Novices
Jan 12, 1998
  • Communities
  • Is It Worth It?
  • Luncheon Meat
  • Web Rings
  • Marketing With Titles
Jan 05, 1998
  • Holiday Greetings
  • Website Garage
  • AArgh!
  • Year End Forecasts
Dec 21, 1997
  • Surveys
  • Communications Arts
  • Daily Brief
  • Click Trade
Dec 14, 1997
  • Whose Eyeballs?
  • NPR
  • Cool Tools
  • Hamsters?
Dec 07, 1997
  • Color Of Money
  • Resources
  • Search Engine Tuneup
  • Nice Makeover
  • European Design
Nov 30, 1997
  • Site Design
  • Statistics
  • Semi Free
  • Thanksgiving
  • Visitors
Nov 23, 1997
  • Easy Shopping
  • Great Content Wins
  • "Skinny" Graphics
  • Site Design
  • Net Mailer
Complete Indexed Archives(36 months of marketing and design) Complete Indexed Archives(36 months of marketing and design)

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