Mobile Web Like Web in 90s (Usability)

Usability is generally ignored on the web today, not because it isn’t a big deal, but because the “common” design patterns are all reasonably usable.  Users are comfortable with the interface, nobody really does remarkably stupid things.  In the late 90s and early 2000s, that wasn’t the case.

Today, the mobile web is the talk, and apparently, we have the same usability problems that we had 10 years ago…  While users have an 80% success rate attempting a task on the web on their computer, it drops to 59% on their phone.

“Observing users suffer during our  … sessions reminded us of the very first usability studies we did with traditional websites in 1994,” writes Jakob Nielson (free plug, I found this article from his website, Use It.  Indeed, the Web 2.0 “Design strategy” of two columns over 3, most common operation front and center, and large fonts show that the Web 2.0 “revolution” largely involved Flash being replaced with sensible Javascript and Designers finally listening to usability guidelines, either intentionally or accidentally.

The oddest thing about the computer/IT industry is that it doesn’t maintain institutional knowledge or learn from the past.  When basic web-forms were decried as a throwback to the 3270 Mainframe model, you would think that the old Mainframe hands would be considered experts, but in an industry where 18-25 year olds can be productive, there is no interest in expertise.  As the mobile web becomes more and more important, usability may make the difference between success and failure.  The idea that I should go to my computer to check a map seems as ludicrous as the idea that I should use the phone book!

Why 140 Characters works for Twitter

A common exercise in demonstrating the human mind is give people a broad assignment, like “write something funny,” which isn’t something that most people can do without preparation.  A set of guidelines (like write a Limerick beginning with, “There once was a boy from Kentucky”) makes writing on the spot much easier.

Similarly, Twitter’s 140 Character Limitation actually makes the site more expressive.  I love the limitation inspired by SMS, which makes it a great “on the go” tool.  However, the internal language of Retweets (RT), Mentions (@), Hashtags (#category), plus URLs somewhat makes a mockery of the system.

I’ve expressed my issue with URL shortening, it “breaks” the web which at its core is linking to valuable resources.  The redirects have always made spidering the web harder, tracking links more difficult, and otherwise interfered with common usage of the Internet.  They create the risk of link rot, and in the case of Twitter, undermine the importance of link anchor text.

If I publish the name of my blog entries on my Twitter feed, they clearly should be clickable, but instead, a shortened URL will appear in the Twitter entry to conserve “characters.”  Given the ability to encode links within hypertext, it seems rather silly to “use characters” for the link, encouraging one to use a third party “shortening” service.

However, if in the middle of a Twitter discussion, I want to express a real idea, the “hypertext” approach would be to publish it to the web and link over, creating a permanent record in an accessible manner.  In our new Web 2.0 world, we use a service like TwitLonger, which essentially lets me upload a stream of text and make it available via Twitter.  I guess it’s the same thing, but now it’s floating out there on someone else’s system, someone who may or may not figure out how to make any revenue off this service.

Limitations can encourage creativity.  When I ran an SEO shop, I gave relatively strict requirements, which let me team mass produce content, while a broader range of action would have people simply staring at the screen.