Editorial

IX.3 May 2002
Page: 4
Digital Citation

Editorial


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Usability is the second most important property of a web site. Have I said that before? Well, I’ve said it again. It’s worth saying over and over again until everyone knows it. Forrester Research did a study of more than 8,500 people (user testing in the small? Hah!) on why those people chose to go to one Web site rather than another that offered the same thing. They found that after "good content," usability was the most important property (there were only two other important properties: download speed and freshness of content; those four properties each scored more than 50 percent, all other properties scored lower than 14 percent).

So of course, after Forrester published this, Web design companies started employing usability engineers by the truckload, there was a world run on them, and they became very scarce and hard to find. What’s that you say? They didn’t? Oh. Strange.

Well, in this issue John Meads explores the issue of why companies aren’t beating our doors down, and what we need to do to get the message across.

I have a theory that Forrester’s research translates easily to software too. That if you translate "good content" to "functionality" that people would prefer software that has good functionality and usability above other software that does the same thing. I say "would" because the problem with comparing Web sites with software is that all Web sites are equal: There really is nothing preventing you from going to one Web site rather than the other. Software on the other hand costs money, and effort and disk space to install, and learning curve mountaineering to use, so that we have less chance to compare. Many people use software that you and I know has ghastly usability, but they use it because of market economics, or company policy, or a multitude of other reasons. Reasons such as: It’s already installed. Web browser software is free, but typically pre-installed. Therefore (apparently), few people get to compare brands to see which they really prefer.

The Web browser is intimately bound to your usability experience of the Web, so it is important that it not impose itself. In this issue is an article by three people deeply involved with the development of the Web, who have identified typical errors in browser behavior, and how they could be improved. While not all the errors they report are usability errors, the whole combines to make a better experience for the user.

Steven Pemberton
interactions@acm.org

©2002 ACM  1072-5220/02/0300  $5.00

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