Showing posts with label ux. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ux. Show all posts

29 November 2012

Web-design HowNotTo

Seen recently on a mailing-list I receive:

> These guys stock 29mm Crown Caps

Went off to take a look at their website...

"You have to be logged in to view our products"

They have to be joking! I can only assume that they actively hate it when people want to buy their stuff. Needless to say, I bounced.

Do people really still misunderstand the nature of the web that badly when we're already more than 10% of the way through the 21st Century?

05 November 2012

Google Groups: The Orphan Child

It's been quite a while, now, since Google rearranged the menus providing links to their various sites and tools. And right from the start Google Groups has been Missing In Action. At first I thought it might just be a small oversight, but evidently it's a deliberate design decision.
Google Groups: Nowhere to be found.

I wonder why... I find Google Groups to be one of the most useful tools they offer, especially when I am working with people who are not very net-savvy -- those who are not as comfortable with web-based tools as I am. The only rationale I can come up with is that Google would like us all to migrate over to g+ and abandon the somewhat old-school "forum" style that is Groups. Ain't gonna happen!

Unless they force the issue by killing-off Groups, in which case I will hazard a guess that existing fora using Google Groups as their carrier will simply hike on over to elsewhere that does provide a forum-style interface.

I'm not a huge fan of forum-style UX, and I avoid it as far as possible, but it is something simple and familiar to many people, and so sweetly occupies a place where it is the best thing to use because it is the simplest thing for the largest number of users. I do hope it's not going to vanish completely in a stupid attempt to force everyone over to g+... (Like what Microsoft seem to be trying to do to their user-base.) That would be,... well, not quite Evil, I guess,... but certainly quite an unfriendly move.

23 May 2011

Web Site Passwords

"Signing up" for yet another something-social-facebook-wannabe website, I was struck by a random Thought Particle.

Why do all these websites ask me to enter a password twice?

No, seriously! I know the stock answers. Hell, I've written such web-signup forms myself, more times than I care to think about.

Am I that likely to misspell a password? And who would care, when all I have to do is click a link that says something like, "I forgot my password!" to get a new password sent to me. Or a reminder. Or my original password. Or some other way of recovering from my "spelling error".

So, tell me again, why are we typing these things twice inthe first place?

21 June 2010

Nedbank Service Fail

<span style="font-style: italic;">Rant ahead. Feel free to leave now.<br /><br />No, really! This is just whining in public about the unbelievably crapulatious service Nedbank dishes out to its customers.</span><br /><br />A service I recurringly buy, and have repeatedly bought for... oh, probably more than 5 years, now... using the self-same <span style="font-weight: bold;">Nedbank</span> credit-card... came up for renewal yesterday. Mysteriously the transaction failed, so the vendor sent me an email to let me know. Very odd! As I say, it has worked fine for years. The card has not expired - the only reason transactions have failed before now.<br /><br />Oh well, off to pay the invoice manually. Using the same card, naturally. (It's the Business card, you see, so simpler for tax and accounting than using a personal card.)<br /><br />Next thing, I find my browser redirected to some foreign website "" for "verification". <span style="font-style: italic;">Oh yeah?!</span> There's a crappy, pixelated copy of a Nedbank logo at the top. <span style="font-style: italic;">That sure looks convincing!</span> And they're asking me for all sorts of account details, including my CVV number, ID number, and some arbitrary and mysterious field labeled only "Personal".<br /><br /><span style="font-style: italic;">What sort of phishing operation is this?</span><br /><br />Actually it turns out to be an alleged "Fraud Prevention" thing called 3-D Secure. I've only heard of it because I know people who have had the pain of implementing payment solutions that use it.<br /><ul><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Why did Nedbank not <span style="font-style: italic;">bother</span> to communicate to their customers that they would be requiring this much-changed payment process?</li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Why do Nedbank not do it on <span style="font-style: italic;">their own website</span>, instead sending me to some website who's identity is a complete unknown to me?</li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Is this not the most incredibly stupid thing to do in a web where phishing and identity theft is rife?</li></ul>Later, a call to Nedbank's unbelievably crappy customer "service" centre illuminated a whole lot of these details. The bottom line is that:<br /><ol><li>Nedbank <span style="font-style: italic;">absolutely require</span> us to use this 3-D Secure thingie.</li><li>The shitty 3-D "secure" thingie absolutely requires that I enter my cellphone number to complete their process. Unfortunately, where I live, cellphone reception simply does not exist, so <span style="font-style: italic;">not an option</span>.<br /></li><li>So: I have no way to complete their crappy process, and</li><li>Nedbank has no other process.</li></ol><span style="font-weight: bold;">Fail!</span><br /><br />The 3-D Secure form did not even have a field labeled "Cellphone number". How is anyone supposed to guess at this?<br /><br />Then, too, there is no way to opt out. They claim that the 3-D Secure process is to "verify my
identity". This despite the fact that they have all my FICA docs on
record. They have my other business account details on record (because
that's how they get paid every month) and they manage to successfully
send me statements every month, and a new card every couple of years.<br /><br />And the process <span style="font-style: italic;">absolutely requires</span> that I be reachable by cellphone. What if I don't have or want one? What if I have one but can't get reception? Has anybody pointed out to the shit-heads at Nedbank that <span style="font-weight: bold;">SMS is not a secure nor reliable channel of communication</span>?<br /><br /><ul><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Why would I <span style="font-style: italic;">jump through all these hoops</span>, put up with really shitty service and all this pain from Nedbank when Standard Bank (my other, other bank) have been trying to give me a business credit-card for years, only to be turned down (because why would I want <span style="font-style: italic;">another</span> credit card?)</li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: <span style="font-style: italic;">How quickly can I close this Nedbank account?</span></li><li><span style="font-weight: bold;">Question</span>: Did anybody at Nedbank <span style="font-style: italic;">bother to turn their brains on</span> when thinking about this process, or were they - as usual - operating with their heads stuck so far up their own arse that they could see out their own throat?</li></ul><br />Oh! I paid the invoice using my personal credit-card (Standard Bank.) Payment went through flawlessly, painlessly and instantly with no hoops to jump through.

24 February 2010

Invalid Field Feedback Failure

Random musing on UI misdesign

A particular egregious error (seen in websites too numerous to list) is to validate a form, rejecting some field's value as invalid input, and then not telling the user the correct or acceptable values/formats. In other words, leaving the poor user in the dark over what they did wrong.

Only the most motivated and perseverant user will try more than once or twice before simply giving up and going away. And you will fail to capture some information/data the presumably would have been of some value. (Otherwise why would you have constructed a form in the first place?)

Example: Dzone user-profile editing rejects phone numbers entered in a format identical with the example displayed below the phone-number input field, and never provides and explanation of why. Just "Invalid input" over and over again. Result: users do not (cannot) provide valid registration information.

Somehow this failure is even worse when your form absolutely refuses to accept an entry that is perfectly valid in the user's world, but, through your own ignorance or provincialism, you reject as invalid in your own part of the world. A classic example of this crops up on websites requiring a postal-code (zip-code) as part of their input, but insist that postal codes contain exactly 5 or 9 digits. This might be a requirement for valid postal-codes in some parts of the world, but it is patently false for the vast majority of global users. Admittedly this problem has abated some over the past 10 years, but not enough, yet.

So: When you reject a user's input, please tell them how to provide something you will accept. Even better, use input mechanisms that only produce valid values in the first place, and both you and your users will be happier. e.g. Clicking on a map to indicate a position is inherently easier and more error-proof than typing in a latitude and longitude into a textbox.

[Repost from]

18 February 2010

MIA: Google News Upgrades

When is Google going to upgrade Google News?

I don't mean anything too radical... I really, really don't want people clicking news articles straight through to Buzz on the assumption that this somehow substitutes for real communication. I have enough noise in my life already!

But I would like to see a way to promote/demote articles that the News software decides to feed me. I'm sick to death of seeing articles for the latest car models released. Let's leave aside the fact that the articles are hideously misclassified... Helloooo, Google! It's over 100 years since cars were bleeding edge Sci/Tech! At least a promote/demote system would allow their software to learn over time that I'm never going to read articles about cars or cricket... that "How Green is Your Valentine", apart from being a bit dated at this point in time, is definitely not climate-change news...

Then, too, it would be so nice to have a way to say to Google News, "Please never show me news from source X ever again." Certain news sites are so tediously flashy that they're not worth the bother of clicking through. I'd rather just make them vanish - at least from my view of the world.

Does this mean I would only get biased, half-arsed, partial news? Of course. But that's what any of us are seeing anyway!

Ah well, its pretty unlikely that Google are paying any attention to this anyway. ;-) My real point is about software adapting to the way I work, play, communicate and view the world. I'll elaborate in another post.

11 February 2010

User Interface Redesigns

I love this quote by E. A. Vander Veer in "Why Does Facebook Keep Redesigning?"

typically users aren't considered at all when it comes to software redesigns. I wouldn't have believed this if I hadn't seen it in action on countless projects in several different companies! The attitude is, "We're the experts, we know what you want and need, our redesign is making it better, and it won't take more than a few minutes for you to get up to speed."

This is more true than I care to think about! Case in point: the SA Weather Service's abomination of a website. They went from a site that, while it had its faults, was uncluttered, easy to navigate, and pretty useful to an astonishingly broad range of audiences whose weather-and-climate-information needs are wildly different: from farmers to firefighters, airline pilots to town-planners. The new site provoked such a backlash when it was first released that the Weather Service website developers were forced to put in links back to the old site in order to provide the vast swathes of information that was missing from the new one.1

Rather than ragging any further on the shitty Weather Service website, allow me to point out one fundamental driver of user-interface redesigns that E A Vander Veer seems to have missed... a reason that goes, in fact, far further than UI redesigns, but is all too often a well concealed motivation for many, many software rewrites and redesigns: We redesign and rewrite because the developers want to play around with a bunch of flavour-of-the-day, oooh-shiny-new-toy technologies.

Not knocking E A's basic insight, though... The motivation seldom comes from the users (or their legitimate representatives) themselves, but almost always from the technical insiders who want change for change's sake.

Like those who thought that adding autoboxing and varargs to the Java language was a value-add...

[1] At the same time the SAWS web designers tried to do the whole "Social Weather 2.0" thing. Sadly they missed the point completely. Any negative comments on the forums regarding the new site were silently deleted. Way to build trust, guys!

03 July 2008

Power to the Purple

A week of power-supply problems. Not Eskom's fault, this time, but more localised failures.

First the power-supply for the network server had a fan stop turning. I could have taken the chance on the unit working without cooling, since it is relatively lightly loaded -- no graphics cards, only a single disk -- but, since I had a spare power-supply unit handy it was a task of mere minutes to swap the faulty unit out and get the server back into action. It is a fairly key piece of our little home network, being a web-cache, local domain-name server and cache, Subversion repository and file-share space, so we miss it badly when it is down.

Then the power supply on my desktop machine decided to follow suit. Also a fan failure. I hate those crappy little fans! There's absolutely nothing wrong with the basic electronics of the power supply itself, but the ball bearings in the fan have died. Pricing for a new power-supply runs from a little over R100 if I were in Cape Town with easy access to wholesalers, through R200 from a web-shop, all the way to R300 from the local PC shops! This is for the most basic 350W PSU -- none of that fancy gaming-machine stuff for me. (Though I will confess to being tempted by a unit costing around R800, simply because it is alleged to be completely quiet! I'm a self-confessed anti-noise-maniac.)

My guess is I'm going to spend an hour messing about with the soldering iron, installing new fans (I have a couple just lying about) in the "faulty" power-supplies.

At the same time, several warnings from my server-supplier in London telling the story of a week-long tail-of-woe about power-supply into the datacentre. Apparently a failover switch failed to work correctly during a power-outage last Sunday, causing the battery-based UPS to take the entire load for about 10 minutes before the batteries were totally drained. All servers in the DC went down hard. It has taken them until Thursday to isolate the problem and replace the parts (electrical and mechanical) that were at fault.

During the whole affair, all server owners have been kept fully informed via RSS feeds and emails at every step of the way, since there is a risk (however slight) that servers might go down if there is a power-grid outage again and the on-site staff -- now fully briefed on managing a manual switch from grid power to the backup generator -- should get taken-up at just the wrong moment.

This is exactly the sort of thing I expect from server providers and datacentre operators. Everybody understand that, despite the best-laid plans, sometimes shit happens. It is how they respond, and how transparent and communicative they are in responding to the crisis that truly matters.

This is in very sharp contrast to Verizon's datacentre in Durban, where my other client's servers are housed. About 10 days ago they had some electrical work going on in the DC, which in turn made some server-moves necessary. They did all this without warning their clients that there might be some risk to their operations. Needless to say, my client's servers went down without warning in the wee hours of Sunday morning. No heartbeat monitoring in place, so it was Monday before anybody knew that something was wrong. No peep from Verizon to their customers. Half-arsed, I call it.

There's a lesson in all this about Single Points of Failure. I've been warning for over 8 months that having all the servers housed in a single DC, or even in a single city, is a risk. Maybe now the business will take some action, but, given the general lack of respect or attention to the fact that, like it or not, they are a technology business, I have my doubts.

03 June 2008

UI Design Encourages Mistakes, Boosts Profits

Having just finished my banking and tax admin for the month, I fire up the bank's online system to fork the money over to the various landsharks, fatcats and leeches.

Bank payment UITo make the various tax payments I first have to select which of my accounts to use for paying.  Then I select who I want to pay.  (For some value of "want".) The system insists that you click the "Search" button to check that you have entered the corect payee account details, but, of course, it only tells you this after you navigate away to the next page, and, when you return to the payment details form, it throws away all the details you have already captured.

I also have to enter a 19-digit reference number and, guess what, if I get it wrong (as I am likely to do with such a long number) it only tells me on the next page, and, again, throws away all the work I have done to fill in the form, forcing me to redo it from scratch.  Including forcing me to redo the payee "Search", despite the fact that my browser has captured the field details perfectly.

The real kicker is that it also ditches the account-number from which I want to make payment, substituting the "default" account (which happens to be my personal account and not the business account)  Of course, the account number is metres away up at the top of the web-page, so I don't notice that I'm making payment from the wrong account.

As a result I pay business taxes out of my personal account.  When I eventually discover my mistake, I have to transfer the money over from my business account to fix things.  And I am going to get hit with the withdrawal fees again.  To add insult to injury, the payment pushes my personal account into overdraft.  Bam!  Overdraft fees!

This UI is so wrong, in so many way, you would think that the bank  would have "inspired" and "motivated" to fix this monstrosity years ago.  Do you wonder why Standard Bank can't be "bothered" to fix their broken user-interface?  Do you wonder why they make incredible profits?

Did you think the two facts are unrelated?

26 March 2008

SABC's website sucks

Email to
"Why does SABC's website suck so badly when viewed in Firefox?

"Not to mention that it is completely unusable with Javascript disabled, which renders it inaccessible to people using Braille readers or text-based browsers of any kind; this violates the constitutions provisions against discrimination."
BTW: if you leave off the "www." prefix, you get to see exaclty what software they're using to drive their (very b0rked) portal.  Now I'm not suggesting that this might render them susceptible to getting the portal cracked, but anybody who has set up a portal server that incompetently has quite possibly left some default logins/passwords in place.  Maybe?

Not that I'm suggesting anything, mind...

23 February 2008

As BAD as Some can be, Others can be GREAT

We interrupt the on-going diatribe between my self and Datapro/Vox Telecom[1] to bring you Good News for Modern Persons.

In the supermortal words of Hubert Farnsworth, "Good News, Everyone!".

Last eve some mishap caused my DSL model/router to disconnect.  For some while it failed to reconnect: AUTH_FAIL, it said.

Now, my ISP, WebAfrica, whom I hold in very high regard, has been having an occasional little trouble in recent times with their authentication servers.  So: patience is the order of the day.  It was quite late in the day, so my bed called, nothing in my little local network really needed Internet access overnight, so I left matters until the morning, in the hopes that the problems would be resolved without any input on my part.

They were not.

So... Onto the phone this morning.  Less than two rings!  (Contrast this with giving up after an hour on hold last week with Telkom!)  Spoke to a chap who was remarkably candid: "Yes, we have had a problem, and a few accounts seem (for reasons we don't fully understand, yet) to have been stuck in an "inactive" queue.  We're terribly sorry.  I am sorting it out right now [clickety clickety clickety click]; would you like to hold?"

I declined to hold.  The pain of being on hold to Telkom being too fresh in my psyche, I suppose.  After suitable pleasantries I hung up.

A couple minutes later the phone rang.  Same chap from WebAfrica.  " I see that your modem seems to be having some trouble connecting.  Could we please confirm the password it is using to connect...?"

Well, Bugger Me Sideways With A Spoon!  Not only did WebAfrica's support guy sort the problem out instantly, with an ordinary, human-to-human acknowledgment that something had, indeed, gone wrong, but, after I had explicitly said "Ticket closed; I'll call you if there is any further problem." had monitored the situation to make sure that I -- The Lowly Customer -- had been properly sorted out, and called me back to make sure of it!

What am I saying, here?
  • I could have raved about not being kept on hold in some support-queue for an hour or longer.
  • I could have raved about the great service I received during the handling of my support call.
  • I could have raved all night in San Fransisco with the hot chick on her way to Hawaii (but that's another story!)
This guy -- unasked for -- stayed attentive to my little problem until he was as sure as he could be, that it had been solved to my satisfaction.  Not his.  Not Webafrica's.  Mine.

Here's a significant point: None of us (modulo the Absolutely Bloody Minded) is so stupid as to believe that everything Works Flawlessly All the Time.  Shit Happens.  We know this.  When it does, please don't lie to us and use phrasing designed to imply that we, the Customer, are Stupid, Insane and/or Lying!  Please don't pretend that it is Somebody Else's Fault or an Act Of (somebody's) God. (Hello, Telkom!)  If you've fucked up, admit it, apologise, and move on. Nobody will hold it against you.  In fact, given the current climate of Assumed Corporate Infalibilty, we'll sympathise and likely offer to help you fix it!

Just say "Yes.  We Had a problem.  We've fixed it. (OR: Here's what we're busy doing to Fix It.)  We're sorry."

If it is a significant proportion of the working day, offer a credit for the lost service time.  Not difficult, is it?  Not Rocket Science!
I cannot think of a way to praise this enough!

This most recent incident is the perfect exemplar of the sort of brilliant, attentive, honest service  I have unfailingly received from WebAfrica!  I have had a friend[2] phone me up especially to say, "Thank you for putting me on to WebAfrica as a service provider!  I've since recommended them to at least 15 other people!".

I kid you not!

If anyone in South Africa wants or needs ADSL service, Internet access or web-hosting, do yourself a favour:

Their rates are amongst the lowest around.  Their service is out of all proportion to what you pay!  (i.e. It's brilliant!) If they ever get bought out by Vox Telecom I shall probably have to leave the country -- and even then I won't find an ISP as good!

[1] A "keyboard/finger" interaction nearly made that "Pox Telecom", whIch would have been appropriate...

[2] We've known each other over 35 years, now... I think that qualifies as friendship, no?

29 April 2007

5 Trust Points for Website Usability

For a while now I've been working (slowly) on a new web application; the details are unimportant; I'll talk about the specifics in a couple of months when I'm ready to show something.  I have about 60% of the backend written, and am just starting in on the web frontend.

I am far from being a good "web designer", having the graphic-design and artistic skills of a newt.  The best I can hope for is creative imitation.  It worked for the Japanese car manufacturers, didn't it?  Consequently, I am paying close attention to what works and what irks on other websites, particularly the flow around initial engagement and user sign-up.  Here are the most irritating and unnecessary five things I've figured out.  These are all prompted by stuff I see over, and over, and over again on website after website.  It's getting old.

1. Don't Make Me Jump Through Premature Hoops

Allow me to explore the website. I am entitled to poke about and get some reasonable idea of what the site does, the why and how, before you ask me (or require me) to create an account.

I grant its really not a big deal creating an account, especially since most/all of the details I'll give you initially will be bogus because I have no reason to trust you at first. IBM still, about ten years after filling in a webform on their site, send junk mail (the paper kind) to "Lord Mike" :-)  But there's still some small effort involved in entering a Login-ID, email address and whatever other bits and pieces you require me to fabricate before you allow me into your walled garden.

If I cannot fathom enough detail about the site, if it does not help me to figure out the value proposition it offers me, I will just walk (well, click) away to somewhere else.  The Web is, for all intents and purposes, infinite.  For me to have stumbled across your tiny patch of virtuality was nearly a miracle in the first instance.  Don't block me from finding out whether I want to actually give you my time and attention.

2.  Don't Assume a Trust You Haven't Earned Yet

When I actually do sign up for an account, don't ask me for my whole life history, food preferences, sexual orientation and DNA samples.  I'll just lie, anyway.  I don't really trust you yet.  I only think that your site may have something I want.  This ties into the previous point: The more information I am able to glean before signing-up, the less likely I am to lie to you about myself, the more trust you will have created between us.

For the site I am building, I will be asking for:
  1. Your choice of Login ID
  2. Your email address.
Nothing else.  I don't need to know anything more about you yet; why would I assume that you're willing to give me any more?  I will generate a password and send it to you; I need to confirm that your email address works anyway, and, since I want to be able to send you email, I need you to confirm that you're OK with that, so I may as well send you a password at the same time.  You can always change it to that standard password you use everywhere later, if your browser doesn't remember it for you, anyway.

Incidentally, I just made the sign-up process as quick and painless as it can possibly get, didn't I?  There's only one way to make the process shorter.  Do you really, really need people to sign-up?  I know its an attractive proposition to a certain mindset, but is it really, truly necessary?

As I gain confidence in the site, I may go back to my profile page and fill in missing details, and correct some of the more egregious inventions.  This may take months or even years.  This brings me to my next point:

3. I Am Human, Ergo I Forget.

OK, so you don't burden me by asking for too many personal preferences and details early on.  Well done!  On the downside of that, I will repay your consideration by almost instantly forgetting that I left out details, lied about my birthdate or typed jarblewarblefarble into that form-field.  I know that you can actually make your site more useful and usable to me if I do give you those details, I just was not ready yet.

I suggest that you remind me occasionally.  Perhaps every second or third time I sign in, put a little reminder message on my landing-page, and ask me to fill in one specific piece of missing data.  And make it dead easy for me to do so, either by linking to my profile-management page, or by placing a relevant edit-field right there on the page.  Don't get tiresome by nagging me every time.

And while we're talking about reminders, if you're running any kind of email service, do remind me that I am subscribed, together with my subscription details and your unsub-algorithm periodically -- not more than once a month, but not less than quarterly.  Perhaps in the form of a newsletter.  (You did get my explicit permission to send me email, didn't you?)

4.  Don't Make Me Sign In Again

I'm talking about the phase immediately after initial-sign-up.  I've made the emotional commitment (however small!) to sign-up with your site.  Don't immediately demand that I do more work by signing-in.  I've just told you all that stuff -- login-id, password (twice, no doubt) -- don't make me type it all in again.  You're just being tiresome.

What?  Did you think somebody may have hijacked my IP address in the intervening two second?  That some malware may have sucked your session cookie out of my browser for nefarious unpredictable purposes?  Get over it: you already know who I am (for some value of "know".)

And then, once I am "signed in", don't forget it. (Hello, Feedburner!)

5. Reciprocate My Trust

  1. signed-up for an account, possibly
  2. jumping through the confirmation email hoop, and then
  3. signed-in to that new account
Don't pretend you don't know me!  Don't present me with a page that says

Get an Account with Us!
Here is how:
Step #1: Create an account at
Step #2: Blah, blah, blah.
Step #3: Blah, blah, blah.

That's it!! What are you waiting for? Get major benefits, make money, win friends, influence millions! Create your account now!
Didn't I just do this?  Who are these idiots?
You just trashed my tentative trust in you.  Goodbye.

10 March 2007

Great Tools, Great Times

Just as much as some software is a pain in the arse to work with (even though it may be totally essential) on the other side of the coin we discover things like the CSS editor in the Firefox/Web-Developer Toolbar!

Working on a significant look&feel upgrade for the farm website, I tripped across this thing today.  "Oh!" says Jason, "I've known about it for ages -- can't work without it.  I thought you knew..."  Well, call me Mr Slow...

Despite its few quirks and oddities, the ability to fiddle with CSS -- especially the somewhat complex CSS I'm working with, where there is a cascade of CSS files, each one overriding another -- and see the results as you type...

That rocks!

06 March 2007

Software That Makes You Angry

Isn't it peculiar?  Some pieces of software are actually an almost physical pleasure to use.  Others make one actively angry.  Or is that just me?

I will refrain from mentioning a specific piece of software, here -- it would just be a distraction.  The software in question has been pissing me off the whole afternoon.  All I want is to make a simple change to some templates.  But it turns into a huge bloody performance: hoop jumping, contortions, hystrionics and hysterics, all resulting in a Resort to Strong Drink.

The software itself is not such a terrible piece of work.  In some places it is excellent, and the rest of it certainly gets the job done.  But the thing taken as a whole just makes me angry.  Microsoft Windows has much the same effect on me.

On the other side of the fence are pieces of software that just slide effortlessly into your life.  When you stop and bother to notice them, they're just... effortlessly there for you.  No muss, no fuss.  They just get out of your way and work.

So what's the key?  I would certainly only like to write the latter kind of software and avoid foisting the former on the world.  I think it boils down to "Do things my way or else" vs. "Let me serve you; here's what I do... I'll stay out of your face, now."

What software pisses you off?  What software do you love?

15 July 2006

Goodbye (again!) to Flash

Finally I got pissed-off enough to remove Flash from all my PCs.  For a long, long time I resisted installing Flash, because all I had ever seen was annoying animated ads that bypassed my Adblock and Image-download restrictions through the use of Flash.  Then, along came broadband, and a few things worth watching on YouTube and a couple of other places.

So having had Flash installed and enabled in my browsers for a couple of months, now, I have come full circle back to my original position: It is just not worth it.  For the one or two worthwhile videos or whatever that I want to watch I can manually re-enable Flash.  For the rest I say , "Away with You, Worthless Rubbish."

22 May 2006

Front Door Syndrome

Ever on the lookout for god and bad ideas in software user-interface design, here is one on LinkedIn really blows me away. Its a classic case of what I term Front Door Syndrome.

Front Door Syndrome is a website misfeature most often designed-in by web designers who come from the conventional advertising or conventional media world - a world where there really is a Front Door - a single point of entry.  Somehow they try to keep hold of this idea in the web, where it really doesn't apply at all.  They forget, or never absorbed the fact, that every page in a website is a Front Door.  And, in a world of such abundance that the only realistic way to navigate to content we seek is through search, every page is guaranteed to be used as a Front Door: A First Point of Entry into a website.

We've all seen those sites; if you're lucky its just a big page saying "Welcome to  Click <here> to enter."  If you're less lucky it is a great ugly Flash animation.  Personally I never get further - my mouse finger has reflexively clicked me away to somewhere safer and more pleasant in the 'net.

So what has this to do with LinkedIn?  I searched for the name of someone I knew long ago, and their name turned up on LinkedIn.  I clicked the link from the search-results page to take a look whether this page really belongs to the person I was looking for.  Something like (I'll use my brother's LinkedIn page to illustrate, firstly to protect the unwary, and secondly because I know he won't mind some publicity). 

Go ahead - click the link.  I'll wait here for you....

...Good!  You're back.  If you're using a decent browser you can have both pages open on different tabs so you can see exactly what I'm about to tell you about.  But I digress...

On the destination LinkedIn page, there are a couple of links enabling non-members of the LinkedIn network to Join Now.  Very good.  Very viral.  But I am already a LinkedIn user.

Where is the link allowing me to log in?  Where is a link to a login page?  Nowhere.

No wonder LinkedIn is seen by geeks as a tool purely for spammers and fools.
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