Monday, May 14, 2007

Web usability - for community, creativity, or commerce?

On the BBC today is a story, "Web 2.0 Distracts from good design" . "Web usability guru" Jakob Nielson's point is that web 2.0 dynamic content is so trendy today that many sites are overlooking good design. Sites are adding too many tools for enabling community and content creation, and cluttering themselves. Since the vast majority of users are not content creators (90% of users), sites shouldn't cater to them. Mr. Nielson says, "Most people just want to get in, get it and get out." Instead of catering to the minority, sites should focus on quickly giving the information users are seeking.

I think Mr. Nielson (or at least this story) misses the point of web 2.0. The potential of dynamic sites and web applications that enable community-building and content creation is not that this is something that everyone already knows how to use and looks to the web to do. The potential of web 2.0 is to CHANGE how people use the web. Transform it from a place people go only to find information. Web 2.0 design should focus on helping users learn to create content - helping people feel comfortable with the idea of publishing their work online or with the tools for doing that.

Given this goal, Mr. Nielson does have a point. Too many bells and whistles are intimidating, and could drive users away, or back to their old web habits of simply consuming information. Web interfaces should be simple (see Google and Twitter for good examples). But they should be simple not because they should make it easy for people NOT to get involved in content creation and online community.

Today's web sites should draw users into community and online creation, and teach them skills to make online community a positive part of their lives. 90% of people do not have to be shut out of web 2.0 because they don't already like to use it.


hiteshmehta said...

I totally disagree with Jacob Nielsen on Web2.0 “Distracts Good Design”.

WHY? Read my detailed blog post on this link:

Bruce Mason said...

I disagree with his specific comments though I agree that good design - whatever that is - is important. What's more, design has a subtle effect of telling you "who this site is for." For example, look at vs StumbleUpon. Both are social bookmarking sites but has "this is for computer programmers" written all over it while StumbleUpon has the obligatory profile photos, embedding and so on which indicate something quite different. Choosing appropriate design and making collaborative sites properly accessible is important. Finally, maybe only 1/10 people contribute but they're the people the site has to work for because if it doesn't work for them then no one contributes.