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Saturday, December 31, 2005

10 Web Trends That Should Die in 2006

Here’s a new years resolution for the web at large: stop doing silly things to users. Following are top trends that I just hope will not see 2007.

1. “Our article is too long, let’s split it up into many pages.”

You know, I like the Wired site, but they really shouldn’t split up articles into two different pages. First of all, the “continue” button isn’t user-friendly. While you might say “it speeds up loading of the page”, the truth is, when you’re finished reading through half the article, the other half could have been quietly finished loading in the background. In other words, by splicing up the page in halves, Wired actually increased loading time. But maybe they’re not doing it for the user, but to get better stats and show off more ads?

What might be even more annoying about split articles is the fact that you can’t link to them in any meaningful way. If I pull a quote from article page 2, where should I link to as a blogger? To both articles? To the article beginning, which would make more sense to the reader who doesn’t know the article... but which doesn’t contain the quote? I guess that’s why many bloggers link straight to the print version of some of these articles (they are less cluttered, too).

Last not least, an article that’s spread out on different pages doesn’t bode well with visitors coming from search engines. Not only will the Google not show the article if the user searched for 1 word appearing only in the first half, and 1 word which appeared only in the second half; readers may also directly stumble upon page 2, and then don’t understand the context well and leave.

2. “We have art content, so let’s create an artistic navigation.”

You know, sometimes the navigation is the content, for example when you’re playing an (online or offline) adventure game. Then, a player wants to have a hard time defeating barriers.

An art website, however, is not an adventure game, and artful navigation (yeah, we get the point, the website is part of the artwork) can really hurt the experience. Even when you have drastic, challenging, and unusual content to show off... there’s nothing that says you can’t simply link to a well-made web video or similar content.

Not long ago, I came across a specific Japanese artist website. There was so much neon blinking and movement, at first I didn’t even understand that it was completely broken and not showing as intended. Then I switched to Internet Explorer, and the blinking and movement started to make a little sense... but still gave me a hard time trying to locate the contact info.

3. “Let’s ignore the rest of the world.”

There are so many web applications that only work in the US, at times the web can be a boring place if you sit in Germany (or anywhere else outside the US). If I could get a dime for every web 2.0 release that wasn’t localized in 2005, I... well, you know the story.

If small-time developers don’t have the resources to localize, that’s understandable – but the big ones like Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Apple? And often, it’s not even an issue of resources; sometimes, there’s intentional copyright protection to prevent non-US users (e.g. the iTunes music store, DVD region codes of course, and many more), or country-specific censorship (e.g. the Google results, which, by the way, are very much spammed for German search queries).

Even when the sites are localized, translations are often shabby. Just for fun I read through the German Gmail page yesterday, and one of the sentences was complete grammar garbage. Would this happen to the English Gmail front-page as well? I doubt it.

4. “Let’s spam everything (blog comments, email accounts, referrer stats, discussion groups etc.)!”

I don’t think spammers will ever give up, not in 2006 or 2060... but hope dies last.

5. “Let’s treat the mobile web as a separate entity.”

It’s kind of sad. First, there was the world wide web and HTML. One of the reasons Tim Berners-Lee created HTML the way he did (next to making it be based on SGML, which pleased the SGML crowd, of course) was to have a platform and media independent format to prevent having to have a certain computer to open a certain document. That’s why on the web’s client-side we have the separation of content, functionality and layout into HTML, JS, and CSS respectively. I can create a single media-neutral HTML, and offer the browser (or user agent, as the W3C calls it) different media-specific style sheets to choose from... and let the browser ignore the style sheet if nothing fitting can be found (which results in the naked content), which is enough in certain situations.

Now, that being said, you may wonder: why did people ever invent WML, an additional format to serve mobile browsers? And I guess the rest of the world asked the same question when WML came out, which is probably why it’s dead today. Plain HTML can serve mobile browsers fine already (at least those mobile browsers that get the web)! And yet, many websites (including Google) treat the mobile web as a whole different beast. It’s great Gmail has a dozen inline frames to speed up loading of the page, but I would give all that back if I could use their service on my Nokia 6600 (I can’t). There are ways to use less JavaScript than many online tools do, and to find compatible ways to make the page work even without JavaScript.

You don’t want to read long texts on a mobile browser? Well, you don’t have to, if you don’t want to (actually, you could, if the display is crisp). You don’t want to have Text to Speech technology read you a link blog? Of course not. We are using the web in a variety of different contexts in our life, and we go to different websites for that. We might read a news site in the train, we might watch a movie site on our desktop computer, or we might listen to a novel site while jogging. This all can only be achieved by going back to Tim’s original version, and creating platform neutral websites (ideally, with platform neutral media types attached to it).

6. “Let’s do a traditional homepage for our company.”

A stock photo of a smiling phone support lady, surefire way to spot a “traditional homepage.”

A traditional homepage typically consists of:

I hope in 2006, major companies who are still on the web 1.0 train will upgrade to the world of blogs, podcasts, RSS, etc., and replace their “homepages” with it. The most important part of all of this, next to the technical buzzwords, is really about direct communication from people within the company to the people reading along on the web. This has all been put down years ago in the Cluetrain Manifesto, which should be on the desk of everyone working at a web agency.

7. “Let’s care about low bandwidth!”

You know, it’s nice when sites like iFilm offer you three different choices to continue playing their videos. But who wants to see those tiny blurred low-bandwidth videos anyway? What I want are even bigger video sizes – I’ll promise to wait longer for better quality, and maybe those with low bandwidths should stop wanting to download videos all day. As soon as iFilm and others give me something I can enjoy looking at – and maybe link straight to the video instead of embedding it, so I can download it in the background – I’ll be back. Maybe in 2006?

8. “Let’s read out loud the URL on TV.”

I don’t know, I always think it’s funny when someone on TV says, “To find out more about this news magazine go to” Duh, I could also enter the name of the magazine into a search engine instead, that works without you telling me.

9. “Let’s tell everyone Firefox is the better browser.”

I’m a user of Firefox. I like Firefox. What I don’t like is hubris. And the Firefox promotion at times sure shows signs of it. Firefox is more secure? I don’t know, but I do know that those writing malicious website code have reason to target the one browser with the largest installed user base (Internet Explorer). If Firefox ever gets to be in that position, let’s see if it’s more secure.

Instead of telling people Firefox is better, I hope people more truthfully put the spotlight onto Firefox’s many bugs... some of which have been newly introduced in upgrades, and some of which are serious enough to become a daily annoyance. (The last bug report I filed was before the 1.0 final release, and it has been ignored to this day, so I’m not very eager to report more bugs.) Some of the bugs introduced in Firefox 1.5 are so serious, I have to restart the browser to enter a single quote character into form fields (great feature for a blogger). The better browser?

10. “Let’s have a tiny font that looks better.”

I guess that issue needs to be repeated until it’s solved (I think Nielsen talks about it once a year)... don’t use tiny fonts, web developers, it’s the #1 reason hurting readability of your content!

Also see: 15 search predictions for 2006.


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