Sunday, December 09, 2007

Speaking of Usability

My Hell week was quite interesting culminating in me screwing up my Finance test and forcing me to take my Final or be stuck with an embarrassing 89. Since then I've been trying to play with my Vision final, but it's really not very fun. So I thought I'd take a break to write this post. This weekend has had its ups though, my friend has a murder mystery party last night and I highly recommend trying it out if you haven't before.

Anyhow, I don't think you guys came here to read about my weekend. For some reason, I like talking about usability. It's a gift and a curse since it's really important in today's fast-advancing society that people can keep up with technology, but at the same time I feel like a broken record player. At least one other person is with me on this one as he talks about usability problems on a professional blog. I like that he makes it a conversation, because that's really what our interactions with technology devolve to. I know it sounds silly, but don't you think you subconsciously talk to your computer? 90% of the time, you say how much you hate it and want to kill it. The rest of the time, you're praising it for those cute pictures of your brother's dog, or for answering #4 on your number theory homework, or for finding you a route to the liquor store so you can pick up some gin. When it comes down to it, we've become a little spoiled nowadays with the web when you consider how it used to be.

Back then, it was just text on white backgrounds with images that took a commercial break to load. Now, have you noticed that we're mad when pages don't load fast enough or when we can't find exactly what we want? He kind of unknowingly makes a great point: our attention spans are so much lower. When we don't find what we want, we register a bad experience and move on. We search somewhere else. First impressions really are everything, and the web has gradually shifted over the past few years to being dominated by blogs. So it's definitely important for professionals to relay to their users what their site is really all about very quickly and easily. The RSS button should be easy to find. Any ads should be unobtrusive. Basically, the opposite of this blog. I'm not much of a fan for Dvorak anyway because his opinions are almost purposely ridiculous to get a rise out of geeks, but I only know what that blog is about because I'm a nerd. Yeah, my blog could be better, but it's far from professional. I could go on and on, but I think I've made my points pretty concisely about the importance of usability on the web.

Notice anything different in that picture? No? Actually, neither did I when I first tried it. It looks just like Firefox 2.0. Surprisingly, it's Firefox 3. You can try out the early beta yourself here. What's really awesome about it is that it's a "portable edition", so it's essentially running in a sandbox and won't write anything to your machine (except for transient data during execution I'm guessing while it's running because of virtual memory usage) or screw with your current install of Firefox. It lets you just try this one out. I couldn't figure out how to get to the famed "Places", but I did like a couple of things that I stumbled upon. You can bookmark things with that star on the far side of the address bar. I like it because I never was a fan of the whole pop-up to add a bookmark. The other big thing is that when you click on the URL favicon (left of the address bar), it basically tells you if this site is really who they say they are and how Firefox knows it is, or if no information is available on it (which most sites I looked up were as such, so I don't know how this will work). Also, it'll give you the extended SSL information I showed you above, which is much easier than clicking the little lock in the corner and is much more detailed so that people other than security gurus can understand it. The verifier is who gave you the key that you're using to encrypt (i.e. hide so that eavesdroppers can't understand your messages) anything you send to Gmail, which is more important than you may immediately realize. It provides just a huge overhaul of security features though, and I'm extremely impressed. All these things make a lot of sense and go a long way in helping people browse the Web safely. If they really pull all this together, I will become a Firefox evangelist, because this really goes beyond IE's stabs at improving security.

I should really get going here, so just a few quick things. If you're looking for a free, online project management tool, consider Project2Manage. I just started playing with it tonight and I think I may use it. Netflix is going to be redesigning their mailers because the current ones are causing extra labor for Postal Service workers and, thus, costing more to ship than Netflix is paying. I wonder what they fix to make it easier? Any thoughts here? Facebook is mad at people putting up ads on their pages because they claim it'll make pages too cluttered! Isn't that the craziest thing you've heard the executive team at Facebook say? Not the applications, no no, but people trying to put up ads now. Really, they just want to be making money off their own product. That's cool: just make a first-party application to put ads on your profile and the hosts will just share in the profits. How many people will really do this anyway? You can keep banning these 3rd party things, but you don't want someone else to monetize this kind of thing before you. At worst, you decide you don't like it and you take it away later (like course listings). Apple's next man in line may be a Briton! I just found that interesting. Lastly, if you're on a Treo or another phone with wireless web but haven't been able to figure out IM (like me), check this out. it's not great, but it's not bad either.

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