In recent years, numerous Web 2.0 service websites targeting a variety of market segments have seen unprecedented subscribership. You may have heard of a few of them – MySpace, Flickr, Friendster, and so on. For teens to grandparents, these services offer an interconnectivity to the world and ’stuff’ via the latest and greatest in web technology and user interface design. Some of them are pretty darn cool.
I wonder about the long term viability of some of these companies, though. Will people be using Friendster in 5, 10, 15 years? Here’s the thing – it’s all well and good to be the biggest thing since Flickr, but the companies that will see usership longevity are the ones that – surprise – take care of their users. More specifically, given the nature of these application/services, the question must be asked: How easy is it for members to come back often? Today’s Web 2.0 users want applications and services that are a natural extension of their computer experience.
For example, if you’re going to offer them a replacement for instant messenging (a la Friendster chat), you had better make it as easy or easier for them to get use. Evidence the late 90’s, the secret to longevity on the Internet is not just a terrific idea or flawless execution – it requires that everything is rolled into a consistent, reliable, and efficient user experience.
User interfaces that employ all the coolest Web 2.0 razzle-dazzle have little trouble entering the market due to their ability to make a good first impression. Recent web techniques like AJAX and the advanced use of CSS, for instance, make certain user experience design concepts possible for the first time in the history of the modern web browser. Websites are behaving more and more like traditional software and should eventually replace traditionally installed software.
So why then, are so many of these websites forgetting fundamentals?
Here’s an example:
What’s the first thing any user of any website will, and sometimes must, do upon visiting the website?
Right. They login.
I visited a few of these Web 2.0 sites and examined their homepages. I was simply trying to answer one question – how easy is it for me to get to my stuff? Whether that stuff is photos, friends, or email makes no matter… I’m a busy guy and the key to getting me to use something more than once is that I am able to use it as an extension of what I’m already doing. Usually I am working on the web, tabbed-style. Therefore, I need to be able to open a tab, type a login, see my stuff, do something, logout, close the tab.
Worst offenders: Flickr and LinkedIn
Enter the Flickr homepage. The goal of this page is clearly aligned with marketing more than business. But I’m already a member… so first I have to locate the tiny portion of the page that has been allocated to current members. It’s shoved to the top right. Same thing on the LinkedIn homepage.
Already a user? Already a member? Yes, and I’d like to login now. Thanks. I haven’t logged into LinkedIn in several weeks – and generally when I use Flickr, I’m using it anonymously. I just don’t want to deal with that extra click. I want to login. Now.
Thank you, Friendster and Gmail
Just for kicks, I opened a new browsing tab, logged into Gmail, logged out, and closed the tab …. 2.2 seconds.
So please, Web 2.0 designers and businesses like – remember your users. They are lightning fast, and it’s the little things that will make them devoted long term users instead of one time curiosity quenchers.