Usability guru philosophizes on Web subjects
Seattle Times technology reporter
From a user's perspective, it sounds obvious: People like to use things they understand. On the technology side, it has apparently taken 20 years to sink in. Jakob Nielsen has spent that long evangelizing usability, the field of user-friendly design.
Nielsen and his Fremont, Calif., consulting company, the Nielsen Norman Group, was in Seattle yesterday for conferences as part of an 11-city tour for local Web and software developers.
Nielsen, author of "Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity" and former distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems, usually charges companies $20,000 for four hours of his time
In a half-hour interview, the guru of usability gave his take on a range of Web subjects.
On the Internet: "The classic mistakes are No. 1, a site that is glamorous, beautiful and impossible to use. The first site is always done by an ad agency and it always looks like a glossy brochure (that's) not interactive at all. The second mistake: The structure is wrong. The internal structure of a company is not how to structure a Web site. If you can say, 'This button belongs to this VP,' it's designed wrong. And No. 3, the writing is marketese, fluffy, overblown."
On the wireless Internet: "WAP (wireless application protocol, the current language of the wireless Web in the U.S. and Europe) should stand for Wrong Approach to Portability.... It's a zombie technology, the walking dead. I-mode (the standard in Japan that AT&T Wireless is working on bringing to the U.S. market) will blow WAP away."
On the future of interactive TV: "What's engaging about the Web is movement. What's great about TV is sitting down with a beer and relaxing. They're too different. Browsing interrupts viewing for the same reason video (on the Internet) interrupts browsing behavior."
On online music: "I think audio will ultimately be successful; the challenge is getting it to your car... Napster is a short-lived phenomenon because if music is free, there will be no music."
On Microsoft's .NET initiative, the company's strategy to deliver services via the Internet: "It sounds really good but what they ship usually ends up lower in usability ...
"I think HailStorm (the developer building blocks for .NET) is both insidious and a great initiative. HailStorm says if you develop for Microsoft, you will get paid by users. If you build for the traditional Internet, you go bankrupt."
On America Online: "I have mixed feelings about AOL. It's the only company making the online world easy to use.
"But it's ultimately evil because it's aimed at controlling what the user can do and oppressing the user vs. empowering the user. It's 'play in the playground we've made for you.' "