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Tag Archive: Usability

This new fangled internet thing

July 10, 2010

I was going to post this on our business blog but it’s a little too negative, although still interesting and amusing (to me anyway).

I have a minor pet hate/OCD issue: people using tools incorrectly. I’m aware that this is often a bad stance and misuse of tools and techniques in certain areas can create new concepts and push boundaries, but often it just makes life difficult. I have a very specific pet hate which I’ve given up slapping people over because it seems utterly endemic. My hate is the use of Google’s search box as your location/address bar. I have witnessed many many people who when supplied with a url to enter into their browser will go straight to the Google search box (toolbar or homepage), type the url into the search box, hit search then click the first link that comes up. Google is not (yet) the internet. I can just about bear elderly relatives doing this (just) but I have witnessed peers and colleagues (who shall remain nameless) who also carry out this horrific crime. My complaint to peers has always been that it’s a bad practice they may well pass onto their friends, clients, relatives and pets (much like herpes). Apparently it makes no difference, you end up at the same place in the end anyway.

  1. You’re increasing the number of keystrokes/interactions to get to your destination. Ok, so it may help if you suck balls at spelling but is that really an excuse for things such as bbc.co.uk? You know who you are.
  2. Waste of bandwidth. Yeah yeah, it’s a teeny tiny teeny bit of extra bandwidth being used. It adds up.

Recently I have been vindicated in my slightly twitchy obsession with this. We had a bit of a crisis with a client due to users complete lack of awareness of this basic issue.

A client sent out over 50,000 printed letters to it’s members (they are a charitable organisation). In the letter they included a URL for a document their members needed to download and print. Unfortunately, they didn’t inform us of this in advance. They just added a file to the server and sent out the physical letters. The URL was not massively complex, but a bit tricky, it was mixed case with a subdirectory. Something like http://www.mysite.co.uk/ourfiles/ThisDocumentV2.doc. Due to the nature of the document it was not linked from anywhere on the website itself and it was not sent out by email, private enough to not directly link from anywhere but not private enough to actually protect it.

So letters sent, we were completely in the dark about both the letters and the file, until we started to get bombarded with complaints from the client that the server was down, files were missing, we had broken something somewhere. After some very confusing communication we found out about the letters and the file. The letters had arrived that morning and the client had suddenly been inundated with complaints from users who couldn’t access the file. I requested the client forward the complaints to myself and I’d investigate.

I knocked up a standard apology email including a link to direct download the file but also asking the users if they could try doing whatever they had been doing before and supply us with a screenshot and their browser version – we supplied links to two helpful pages (I have temporarily mislaid) one which explained in very simple steps how to email a screenshot the other which displays your system info in an easy cut-n-paste format. We had a fairly minimal response including one very angry chap who informed me he wasn’t a computer expert and had no intention of sending a screenshot. From the responses we did receive it became very apparent that a lot of people* have no clue where you are supposed to type a URL. Seriously, they were sticking it literally anywhere but the location bar, anything that looked vaguely like a search box was being used to try and access this document, their search bar, Google’s homepage, the Yahoo homepage, in one case the search box in their email client.

The lesson we learned here is to, erm, make sure clients warn us before sending out 50,000 letters with a URL in. We do push for more integration with our clients and with those that want our involvement we make sure we always know what they are up to so we can assist and advise where appropriate, not everyone wants (or can afford) this level of attention and so sometimes these things happen.

We also learned that people can get really angry if you ask them to send you a screenshot.

* An awful lot of people in this client’s target market anyway.

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I am Bob. This is my blog. It is an outlet and a substitute for real life. It contains my art, photography, illustration and thoughts on mental health (I deal with anxiety on a pretty much constant basis).

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