Home Open Thread: The Internet Is Hard

Open Thread: The Internet Is Hard

Earlier today, we had a runaway hit of a post that went viral within a few hours, getting unbelievable pageviews and hundreds of retweets and comments.

The trouble was, it wasn’t because of the post’s content. Due to some interesting SEO magic, the post was one of the first search results for the term “Facebook login.” As a result, hundreds of confused readers bombed us with angry comments about how much they hated the “new Facebook,” a.k.a. our Facebook Connect comment login. We could laugh (and we did), but we could also consider that these are our customers and users – the people we make the Web for.

How can we balance making the Web simple enough for all users while still creating tech cool enough to satisfy geeks like us? And who says either group – nerds or users – is “normal,” anyway?

Here are some valuable lessons we were taught today by the commenters on the thread. We’ll employ the term “user” here to indicate the non-geeky, average person who uses the Web primarily as a way to navigate his or her real life. Feel free to disagree with this terminology or suggest new nomenclature in the comments.

1. Users don’t care about what you care about.

This quote from another RWW post pretty much sums it up:

“Especially in Silicon Valley, where it’s easy for entrepreneurs to isolate themselves in circles with like-minded techies and fellow entrepreneurs, I feel that a huge amount of startup CEOs and designers… make product decisions that appeal to their own interaction behaviour with such applications or what they think their friends will find cool.

“Building for geeks makes for great customer immersion if you’re building something like (the wonderfully useful) GitHub, but that same process doesn’t work so hot if you’re building a site for middle-aged moms.”

You and your geek friends != middle aged moms. And your users are often statistically more likely to be middle-aged moms.

2. Users don’t read your copy or look at your branding.

Banners, logos, carefully crafted wordsmithery – this is all filler, we’ve found out. Users have been calloused by 15 or so years of surfing through bad ads and marketing babble, and they are unconsciously tuning out everything but the one thing they came to find.

For example, none of the 200 or so confused Facebook users who commented on our earlier post read the post itself, the huge logo at the top of the page, the many links to non-Facebook-related content or the huge, all-bold paragraph about how ReadWriteWeb is not, in fact, some ill-conceived redesign of Facebook. They simply searched for “Facebook login” and, upon navigating to our site, scrolled until they found the one button they wanted to click. Which brings us to our third assertion.

3. Users gravitate toward the simple and the familiar.

A ton of the confused commenters scrolled down far enough to find the Facebook Connect button for logging into the comments section – as evinced by the fact that their Facebook profiles were then linked to their comments.

I’ve often criticized the ripped-off look of social media UIs, but once a UI becomes familiar, is it not a service to certain types of end users to continue in that vein? Two hackneyed expressions will back me up, one about reinventing wheels and the other about not needing to fix things that aren’t broken.

As a tech geek of the 12-hours-a-day-online variety, I appreciate innovative and intuitive web interfaces. But a lot of users don’t. Even if it’s simple, it needs to be familiar. Why do you suppose some of our current, deeply entrenched web design elements – from buttons to text blocks – even exist?

4. Users rule the Internet.

Finally, this is the reason we’ve stopped mocking the poor folks who left those comments long enough to write this post.

400 million people now use Facebook, and they don’t all have CS Master’s degrees from Stanford. But if you work in the IT/tech/Internet/online media industries, they do manage to pay your bills. They’re the ones who open emails, click ads, make purchases, sign up for subscriptions and generally take the majority of actions that make our whole ecosystem work.

And most of them have no idea what a web browser is or how it differs from a search engine or a social network. They’ve chosen to be smart about other things, like building cars or making art or raising families. I’ll bet some of them are terrific dancers. We have to build the Web for them, too.

As a user, a developer, a designer, a marketer, a startup dude or lady, whatever you happen to be, how do you balance the need to find or create cool tech and apps with the need to build with these kinds of users in mind? Do you get frustrated? Do you get feedback? Do you kill features and make buttons bigger?

What have been your successes and failures, or where have you learned lessons? We’d love to know, so please tell us in the comments.

About ReadWrite’s Editorial Process

The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

Get the biggest tech headlines of the day delivered to your inbox

    By signing up, you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy. Unsubscribe anytime.

    Tech News

    Explore the latest in tech with our Tech News. We cut through the noise for concise, relevant updates, keeping you informed about the rapidly evolving tech landscape with curated content that separates signal from noise.

    In-Depth Tech Stories

    Explore tech impact in In-Depth Stories. Narrative data journalism offers comprehensive analyses, revealing stories behind data. Understand industry trends for a deeper perspective on tech's intricate relationships with society.

    Expert Reviews

    Empower decisions with Expert Reviews, merging industry expertise and insightful analysis. Delve into tech intricacies, get the best deals, and stay ahead with our trustworthy guide to navigating the ever-changing tech market.