I recently got done reading Dave Winer's post on complexity and the web and it was fitting that it came not too long after the fiasco over at Read/Write Web. If you missed what happened over there the story goes like this. Read/Write Web posted a blog entry on Facebook Connect. Somehow, this became the top result in Google for 'Facebook login' so hundreds of people went to the site expecting to be able to log into Facebook, especially since RW/W has a Facebook Connect button on their site. Check out the comments and you will see.
Much of the blogosphere laughed at these people and called them idiots. How could they possibly mistake a blog for Facebook and why didn't they just type 'facebook.com' in their browser? Little do web geeks know that a large amount of the web's population use the web in this way. Google or another search engine is their address bar and that is how they navigate around the web. Instead of insulting them, we need to understand that these people make up a large portion of the audience we are trying to make money from.
How many times do we get upset when we see a simple website or service become popular and think that we could've done that ourselves? There is a reason that often times you find me and others preaching the benefits of simplifying things. Although the iPad isn't out yet, there is great debate about whether it is powerful or complex enough for regular users. Most people don't want complex, they just want to get tasks done.
How easy do you make it for people to get stuff done?
I'm going to look into the steps that we all have to go through to complete many of the daily tasks we do online. To kill any repetition I am going to assume these steps will apply to everything (italics mean the step might be optional):
How many of you that own websites where people can comment have wondered why people just don't leave comments on your site? It can't be that hard can it? If someone asked you to do a simple task that might require 7-11 steps would you quickly jump on board?
Most of us have been on the web so long that seeing a RSS icon is nothing new to us. However, can you imagine the people who see those orange icons everywhere and still have no idea what they mean?
We are looking at 6-7 steps just to send an email and those were the minimum steps. Imagine if you have to go through an address book and search for the emails of the people you are writing.
No doubt you are reading these examples and shaking your head at how silly they seem. Sending an email isn't hard and neither is commenting on a site. You just go out and do it. Driving a car isn't that hard either, but very few of us jumped right in and headed to the nearest traffic jam. We take our knowledge for granted and assume that everyone else in the world knows what we know or at least can accomplish the same tasks that we can.
This doesn't mean that everything you develop online should be dumbed down to the lowest denominator, but you need to look at the audience you are trying to reach and the goals of the site. Drawar's audience is a little more aware technically than the general web audience so I take a few more liberties with how things are being done than I should.
I've talked about some of the principles behind making things easy in Simplicity Is Mandatory, but that was more from a design angle. Here I want you to think about the steps required to complete a task on your site. You want people to use your site? Make it one step. The web isn't about the brainiacs that create it, it's about the people that you tend to laugh at for their inability to do a site specific search on Google in Hebrew.
One of the hottest sites this month is Chat Roulette. The only purpose it seems to serve is that you get to talk to a complete stranger via webcam. Why is this successful besides the fact people like to clown around? All you have to do is press 'Play' and you are talking. One step. One step is why there are over 31,000 people on the site as I write this.
The world outside of you (yes, you) doesn't like a lot of steps. They aren't as intellectually curious as you are and therefore don't wish to explore the ins and outs of Atom feeds or tagging. They come online to get things done and more than likely you are preventing them from doing so. Stop it. Help them out and you will find they will help you out in return.
The web doesn't need to be dumbed down, it just needs to make more sense with a lot less steps.
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