Please note that some of these links may have suffered linkrot. They did work as of the date when they were recommended, but the Web is a highly fluid medium.
April 26, 1999
Web Style Guide is now available as a hardcopy book. I tend to
prefer more principle-based or methodology-based books, but there is also
something to be said for a long list of detailed design rules. And the
online version of the Yale styleguide has for sure proven to be a classic over the years.
April 25, 1999
Bruce Tognazzini explains why he likes
writing long Web pages. The good Tog ought to recognize that
only a brilliant writer like himself can keep users scrolling to the
bitter end. The average site is cursed with extremely impatient users who
want to get in and out and get answers or buy products fast.
Paradoxically, the average site probably has below-average writing,
since most commercial sites use repurposed print writing filled with "marketese"
which backfires in terms of lowered trust and consumer skepticism.
So, read Tog, but don't listen to him when it comes to
site number 100 has 2% (i.e., 1/50) of the traffic of the biggest site
site number 500 has 20% (i.e., 1/5) of the traffic of site number 100
The first statistic is a little off from the theory, but the second
statistic is exactly right. In general, if two sites are rank-ordered N and
M for traffic, then the ratio between their traffic is N/M, so comparing
site #100 with #500 gives a ratio of 100/500 = 1/5 = 20% (exactly as
measured). Interesting to know that the theory holds up not just for the
Internet as a whole but also when considering a subset of the net (here,
Australian users accessing Australian sites).
(I thank Eric Scheid from Ironclad
Networks for bringing this data to my
April 16, 1999
AltaVista has posted its proposed design for taking payment for search
results. Considerably better than some commentators (including myself)
had feared: the untrusted area is clearly marked as "Paid Placement."
Such honesty is the best policy for creating long-term trust and value on the Web.
The new AltaVista design still degrades the service, however. There are now
four paid links that distract the user from the actual search results:
The traditional banner ad (presumably still sold on
a keyword basis)
Whoever bought the keyword at RealNames
Books from Amazon.com (many users quickly learn not to click
this link since it rarely leads to the best books about the topic)
The new "paid placement" link
Clutter, clutter, clutter. On the sample screen, the search results are
allocated about 1/3 of the pixels - but a user with a small screen
would not see any search results above the fold. One wonders how
long a search engine that doesn't show search results can survive.
April 16, 1999
Update to earlier posting: I assumed that the difficulties in using the
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce's home page
were due to response time delays. This is probably wrong. Instead, the main
usability problem is that the active area only cover a small part of each of
the big buttons. You cannot have a button that looks like a single
interaction element but behaves differently, depending on what invisible
area the cursor is over.
During Q1, Yahoo made 0.4 cents per page view. Down slightly from 0.5
cents for Q4 of last year as reported in my Spotlight for January 13.
Since the new number is the same as my estimate for earlier in
1998, it may be that 0.4 cents is Yahoo's natural level and that the
temporary increase in Q4 was due to the holiday season.
April 7, 1999
Xerox launches a redesign that is claimed to make it easier to compare
products. It is indeed great to have links from individual
product pages to pages for similar products, though the cross-references
don't specify how these other products differ from the current one. It
would have been better to order the products along meaningful
suggest alternatives in terms that make sense to users (e.g.: faster vs.
slower, higher-resolution vs. lower-resolution, BW instead of color, etc.).
Amazon.com is restricted to viewing its products as an unstructured soup
("other relevant books"), but Xerox should know why it has
different product offerings.
Despite some design improvements, I challenge you to discover why the Xerox
WorkCentre XD100 costs $20 more than the XD102. It's there, but very well
hidden and obscured by a content error. The product
summary for both models is "Everything you want in a copier, including a printer"
which is essentially meaningless and evidence that poor mini-content often
dooms the usability of otherwise decent site design.
One more usability blooper in the new design: links don't change color
after you have visited the destination page - sure way to make users feel
more lost. I wouldn't say that Xerox completely wasted the $5M they spent on the redesign
because the site does seem better, but it's amazingly poor for the high
Forbes has a great article on
penetration of the Internet in Western Europe.
The percentage of disposable income one needs to spend to get online
from home is 2% in the U.S. and 4% averaged across
In other words, European pocketbooks are hit twice as hard, making it no
surprise that there are still more Americans online. Internet costs
and available income both vary significantly across countries.
Based on the numbers given by Forbes, I have calculated the
relative home-budget impact of Internet use in each country, using the United States
as a baseline at 100%.
Low-cost leaders are Finland 101%, Denmark 122%, and Norway 131%.
Somewhat surprisingly Italy at 157% and Belgium at 169% beat Sweden at 171%
and The Netherlands at 180%: probably because
the survey looks at after-tax income. High-cost countries are
Portugal 405%, Greece 371%, Spain 285%, Ireland 263%, and Germany 253%.