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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Naivety of the Web

I have a friend with whom we use to discuss different areas of technology world. Last time it happened to be the web. One of great insights I learned from the discussion was:

The web is naive. In mid-nineties, with viruses and spam, the web learned that there are actually bad people there, who don’t share high ideas of the founders of the web. Around year 2000, with the crash of the internet bubble, the web learned that businesses should bring profits. Now, with hype on the social networks, the web learned that communities are important. Wow. Great lessons. Average people from medieval village have known all of that.

Wow. I mean I’m impressed how naive the web is. When I try to guess what will be next I think it’ll be belief that the web software have to by crappy. We accept websites which look like a vomit. We accept websites with very offensive adverts. Popup windows are already the past, but we still see lots and lots of sites where it’s hard to find content among the ads. We accept buggy web software because “we know that it’s only software, so it has to have bugs.” And at last we accept unintuitive, poorly designed, user-unfriendly software which should bring a lot of frustration, but in some way we don’t care, because we don’t know that there’s an alternative.

My guess is that usability is the next naive thing that the web will learn. In vast majority of cases people choose things which are easier to use. It’s because people are lazy. People don’t want to wash the dishes, so they buy dishwasher. People don’t want to bother where the nearest telephone booth is and when someone could call them, so they replace fixed lines with cell phones. People don’t have the time to shop so they buy in eBay or Amazon. The list is countless. But wait, I can hear you saying: “hey, it’s not about usability.” Oh, really?

Couples mentioned above have major differences, but it works everywhere. People actually pay for features like cup holders or reading lights when buying a car. Guess what would happen if those options were for free – everyone would take them. While buying a mouse people check how it lays in the hand. They think how comfortable it’ll be in use. Even when people buy clothes they look not only on fashion but also on usefulness. Given two shirts looking similarly and with no big difference in price, the usability will be a deal-maker. People are using fingerprint sensors instead of typing passwords. This list is countless too.

However with the web, generally with the software, things look a bit different. It is expected that almost no one will look at usability. We’re forced to click 3 times where it would be enough to click once. We’re forced to copy and paste where it would be so natural just to pass the information automatically between two windows. We’re forced to use a mouse where keyboard would be faster. Why? I have no answer here.

Usability is already (slowly) waking up. There are some sites where it’s as important as design (equivalent of fashion in clothes). If the website looks sexy but works crappy, it’ll be hard to earn loyal users there. I believe that in a few years we’ll see hype on highly-usable sites, probably aggregating data from different services we use now. They’ll be focused on delivering user interface, which can be used effectively at 3 am, just a second after being awoken from a deep sleep. The web levels others factors like availability (you can access the internet from anywhere), price (with the web market is global) or even design (which can easily be copied). And having anything else equal people will migrate to the “usable world.”

Sounds obvious, but with the naivety of the web I still think it’ll take some time to have it implemented.

in: software business, user experience

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