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Friday, August 26, 2005

Blogpulse Too Talkative

I like blog search engine Blogpulse, but their tools are way to wordy (no, they’re not alone in making this error). And it’s not that people don’t read online, it’s that people don’t read tools. (Or the manuals of those tools, in particular if the task at hand is fairly self-explanatory.) So you could say it’s a modal error; instead of writing the shortest possible text to guide the user through the tool, Blogpulse feels talkative. They should have these kind of texts in their blog, but not attached to their tools.

As an example, I want to pick the Conversation Tracker (it’s sorted into the “Tools” category in the navigation, which is unnecessary; the whole site is a tool). Basically, it lets you see conversation in the blogosphere in thread-view, and you can seed it with a URL. Clearly, someone was given the job to write an interesting-sounding help text, ending up at nearly 300 words; this someone might have succeeded at the job. Unfortunately, this verbose help text is completely unnecessary in the context of the tool. At best, it won’t be read; at worst, it will confuse the user or add to an overall feeling of frustration. To illustrate:

You may agree the tool didn’t lose any of its key features, and it isn’t harder to understand. In fact, what little help text is left may now be read more closely by users, and the feedback link is now more prominent. Of course, a “Help” link could be added, leading to the original explanation that was omitted in the second screen. On the other hand, you could also delete the “Please be patient” warning and replace it with a more intuitive loading bar in the result screen.

Google didn’t invent the concept of simplicity, but they are leading with a shiny example of usability as the simplest tools possible (every word counts – and yes, Google is counting the words on their homepage). Looking at Google’s success, this makes it even more astounding people at times still don’t get this. Just think of the highly annoying Windows Explorer search functionality when compared to Google web search. Maybe we need usability expert Joel Spolsky to repeat this more often: nobody reads long help texts.


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