Thursday, April 17, 2008

How Online News Services (and Other Web Sources) Can Aggravate Their Readers

Are you an online news service? Do you want to get your readers really upset at you? Here are some simple steps that you can take:

  1. Make it hard for people to link to your content.

  2. Once they actually get to the link, put up a preceding page that they have to read before they can see the content.

  3. Once they actually get to the content itself, make sure that you have a lot of individual items that have to be loaded. Bonus points if you use very large items that take a while to load on slow connections. Extra bonus points if most of these items are not viewable on older computers or mobile phones.

  4. Right when your reader is getting ready to view the content, throw up a dialog box to invite the reader to take a survey.
If these measures are successful, then perhaps your potential readers will be so frustrated that they'll think twice before viewing content at your site again.

And no, the Forbes article that Mike Reynolds shared in his FriendFeed wasn't guilty of all of these items, but it was guilty of enough of them to prompt this post.

And what about the stupid retro places that aren't using every whiz-bang tool in the book? Perhaps I'll spent more time going to sites such as Far West Web Design. I like their philosophy:

Far West is concentrating on Agriculture and the livestock industry. Margaret Branam (designer) was raised in agriculture and understands the needs of agriculture. Breeder connections come from Rural America. Most ranches, because of their locations, do not have the advantage of DSL or Cable connections to the internet and must rely on notoriously slow telephone connections. Our pages are designed with this slow connection in mind. All graphics and photos are optimized for fast loading. Java and Flash programming (eye catching, but slow loading) are kept to a minimum.

And check the philosophy of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute:

This is an information site. Our primary goal here is accessibility for those with any browser or connection speed. We optimize our page design for that. We do not use graphical pages, Java and the enhanced html functions on our site unless we can confirm that the design will not be slower and will still look reasonable on a variety of browsers. We browse other sites with scripts, Java, Flash and Active-X turned off for malwear protection, and assume our viewers may as well. Some even have graphics turned off for quicker downloads when they use slow connections. And some browse from limited platforms like cell phones.
We can't understand why some sites tell you what resolution they are optimized for as if you should reconfigure your video to see their page as they designed it.

In short, we refuse to write off anybody who wants helmet info!

Since many people who want helmet info have slow connections, we keep our pages lean by using a very plain html style and letting your browser do the formatting work. (Saving our pages in Front Page would increase the file size by 260 percent.) We keep our graphics intentionally lean to make our pages load faster, and total graphic load is only about 4 per cent of the bytes our server sends. Each of our pages sets up the locations of the graphics files when the initial text file downloads so that you can read text immediately on a slow link while the graphics are still filling in. Nothing on this site will ever blink, scroll, flash or jump, and we will never use popups. We never use cookies. We don't disable any browser function to keep you from backing out when you want to. If we move or remove a page we ensure a persistent link by providing a referral page like this one, so if you want to link to our pages you can be sure the link will still work years from now.

And yes, I realize that I'm being terribly inconsistent, inasmuch as I just wrote a post three hours ago about a site that, as Steven Hodson noted, has some loading problems of its own:

The only drawback I see with [] is that every time you change between the available pages of news feeds (currently 3 pages of US News feeds) you have to wait for all the video images to reload.

Frankly, in some cases you don't have a choice, and the only place where you can get a certain type of information is one of these heavy-trinket-loaded websites. But obviously if I have a choice between two sites, and one of them will load on my mobile phone and the other one won't, guess where I'm going to go?

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