February 13, 2007

Another video test

This is actually a cool little video...

Posted by MaTT at 11:20 AM

December 01, 2006

BoldMoves test

Here's my bit that uses the Ford Bold Moves 'Blog it' functionality.

And that's about it - i hope it works!

Posted by MaTT at 01:55 PM | Comments (1)

October 11, 2006

Enhancing eBay's reputation system

So I had this idea about newcomers to eBay, and how, now that eBay is a mature system, it has many sellers with very high positive ratings. Compared to these 'old timers', these newcomers can seem untrustworthy, because in modern society, we don't tend to trust people we don't know (or at least trust people that many others have trusted before). This is sensible and understandable, and there are many reasons why eBay's system works.

In Resnick et al's paper "Reputation Systems: Facilitating Trust in Internet Interactions", newcomers must undergo the long task of earning their reputation, because this is the only way of ensuring trustworthiness. But i feel that in the real world, effective business is often done using another method -- that of having connections. There's the common phrase "it's not what you know but who you know", and many business deals happen not in a board room but casually on the golf course or over dinner and drinks.

To extend this into eBay terms, one can think of a reputations network - not ratings of isolated individuals (of course one could always stay isolated) but of people who know other people. Through this network, a buyer could determine the relative trustworthiness of someone based on that person's relationship to someone else. This way, newcomers who had friends who were long-time sellers could link up with these friends and earn, via this relationship, a degree of trustworthiness (if indeed their friends have a highly positive score). This would be done in some sort of percentage fashion, such that the newcomer would get a boost, but not of course have anything close to equal that of their long-time seller friend. Likewise, the long-time seller friend would share the relationship with the newcomer, slightly increasing their score when the newcomer receives positive scores, and also decreasing when the newcomer gets negative scores. This would be the incentive and the check-and-balance mechanism to prevent long-time sellers from just teaming up with anyone -- the newcomer had better do well, or else the long-time seller's hard-earned score will start to degrade.

So, i wonder: has eBay ever considered something like this? Would this enhancement work? If i don't post this idea here, it will sit bottled up inside my head forever, because i doubt i will be able to act on anything like this in the near future. But somebody else may... if so, can you spare maybe 10% of your million-dollar deal? :)

Posted by MaTT at 09:06 PM | Comments (1)

February 18, 2006

A Lesson in Website User Interface Design

As websites become more loaded with content, and website technologies such as Flash and AJAX emulate traditional desktop application functionality (such as drag-and-drop), designing interfaces that are usable by most people is increasingly challenging.

One reason for this is the age-old mantra "if it can be done..." (and you know the rest). For some situations (like migrating popular desktop applications directly to the Web, which I believe we will see in 2006), this makes sense. If people are familar with Word on the desktop, Word on the Web may not be that different.

Secondly, websites are often designed by people who are familiar with programs which have complicated interfaces (e.g. Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Flash). These designers are, understandably, advanced computer users, and they are at risk of becoming unaware of the much more elementary level of many common web users.

Thirdly, interactivity and new technology give a sense of sophistication and perceived maturity to websites, especially corporate ones. No one wants basic HTML anymore -- even Javascript and DHTML is getting old-school. Designers want slick transitions, dynamic loading without refreshing the entire page, buttons, sliders, contextual menus, rotating 3D objects, and new interface elements still left up to the imagination.

Finally, the simple argument is "why not?" Software developers can use such advanced interface elements, so if the only bottleneck is bandwidth and technology (a problem which is increasingly disappearing), why can't web designers do it too? The goal of this post is to show not only why they shouldn't do it, but why they can't do it.

Web designers should not design sophisticated (worse yet, complicated) web interfaces because of one important aspect: interface proliferation. How many people use more than 10 desktop programs on a daily basis? How many actually use even five? At work, i use Lotus Notes, Firefox, Visio, Word, Powerpoint, Excel, and AIM. This is seven, and i'm in an IT-related field. My mother, from talks i've had with her, uses about three at work, including software customized to her area of business. My dad uses five or less. And this goes on day after day, the three of us (and millions of other people just like us) using those 10 or less programs. We become familar with them, and we learn them over time.

Now, what does it really mean to "use" a website? We talk about browsing, surfing, going to a website. In any case, know it or not, people are getting information from those sites. And they need to understand the site, at some basic level, to find that information. How many website interfaces do users use in a given day? 10, 20, 30? While we use those sites for what we want, we encounter a new interface for each site. As websites have developed over the years, layouts such as the 'inverted L' and horizontal top navigation have become popular. They have allowed users to educatedly guess that important navigation is along the top and/or the side, and that body content is usually in the middle.

But what about when sites' interfaces become even more complicated (such as those that can be made using Flash and AJAX)? I'm not saying Flash and AJAX websites are inevitably bad, but when content is hidden behind rotating menus, when a user can stretch, spin, rotate, slide, grab, drag, and otherwise click anywhere on a number of non-standard elements, prior knowledge cannot be directly applied to these sites. Instead, users must figure out how to use each one. The result? Usability crashes, and users either cannot find important content or turn away from the site entirely. For sites selling or advertising items on their site for purchase, having users easily find information on their site is critical for their bottom line.

This is why successful designers not only shouldn't do this, but they can't. Users not only will become annoyed and frustrated, they won't even be able to use parts of the site at all. Only if users spend significant amounts of time on a site (like they do with a desktop application) will they learn where content is 'hidden' and how interface objects work. But users do not spend hours every day with websites -- most spend a few precious minutes at each one. Even if there is a group of experienced users, websites inevitably have the large group of people that have rarely or never before visited the site. This group cannot be expected to learn a complicated interface, and in fact, they won't. Designers must know this, or else they will be left wondering why so few people are visiting parts of their sites.


P.S. Comment are open now (for 30 days after each post). Let me know what you think about the above opinion.

Posted by MaTT at 10:45 PM


© MaTT, 2004