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Jakob Nielsen on Design, RSS, Email, and Blogs

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the where-do-we-go-from-here dept.

161

Carl Bialik from WSJ writes "Jakob Nielsen took some time to chat with the Wall Street Journal's Lee Gomes about RSS, email newsletters, web design and blogs. When asked whether blogs must maintain a 'conversation' with readers, Nielsen says, 'That will work only for the people who are most fanatic, who are engaged so much that they will go and check out these blogs all the time. There are definitely some people who do that -- they are a small fraction. A much larger part of the population is not into that so much. The Internet is not that important to them. It's a support tool for them. Bloggers tend to be all one extreme edge. It's really dangerous to design for a technical elite. We have to design for a broad majority of users.'"

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Lee Gomes (1, Funny)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576750)

That wouldn't be Lee... "Underpants" Gnomes, would it?

Re:Lee Gomes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15577159)

Wow that's... not very funny.

Re:Lee Gomes (1)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577522)

Well to be fair, it is only a 2. I imagine it'll get modded up to 5 Funny, and back down to 1, Overrated, so my karma burn should be appropriate punishment.

Email newsletters better than feeds? (5, Interesting)

ThinkingInBinary (899485) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576772)

Nielsen says in this article that he prefers email newsletters to news feeds because "the email newsletter comes to you; it arrives in your in box, and becomes part of the one place you go to get information. That's the great strength." This is an interesting idea, but I don't think he realizes that it doesn't scale. Sure, a couple newsletters would work fine, but a few years back, I was subscribed to so many newsletters that I started filtering them into folders and essentially treating them just like feeds.

What I prefer to newsletters is user-requested content, where you can say "Send me an email when you write a new blog post/article/whatever about $SUBJECT". I'm not usually interested in everything a site has to offer, but if they're willing to pick out the things I would be interested in, I'm much more likely to want to see it.

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15576827)

I use FeedDemon with Watches to do just that. I don't want to read everything someone posts to a blog but with a watch setup in FeedDemon I see the feeds which contain things that interest me. I would love to see more sites offering search based feed results so that I can subscribe to 100 feeds and only see the posts about subject X. There are services that do this now but not as well as a FeedDemon watch.

btw I have been using FeedDemon since before it was released and love it. I use it every day both at home and work and nothing is better on Windows for RSS.

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (3, Informative)

Billosaur (927319) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576997)

What I prefer to newsletters is user-requested content, where you can say "Send me an email when you write a new blog post/article/whatever about $SUBJECT". I'm not usually interested in everything a site has to offer, but if they're willing to pick out the things I would be interested in, I'm much more likely to want to see it

I agree. I'm not a big fan of blogs, but there are occasionally ones that contain useful information and come across with some thought-provoking ideas. I like this idea of the customizeable email alert; I get these already from my bank and credit card company, and from CNN, why not a blog? When you think about it, it's similar to doing a search on a topic and following the links, except that instead of getting a lot of irrelevant crap, you get a more focused set of data. THe only caveat would be to make sure that if it's keyword based, there's some kind of threshhold that says, "alert me is $SUBJECT comes up, but only if it's talked about at length." Someone might mention a keyword once in a blog, but that shouldn't be good enough to trigger an alert -- it should only get sent out if there's enough about that subject to make it worth reading.

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (2, Insightful)

kisrael (134664) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578247)

Well, you're probably looking for "tags" rather than keywords....

I'm a whore. My blog has categories. (1)

ClintJCL (264898) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578443)

And just to demonstrate, I'll plug my blog to make a point.

If you go to http://clintjcl.wordpress.com [wordpress.com] , I have categories listed on the right. Heirarchial.

So, a user COULD in fact choose to subscribe to RSS feeds only for certain subjects that I talk about (cartoons, politics, journal, etc).

Ideally, I would like the categories to be presented as checkboxes, where each user can cookie himself a customized view, showing only the categories (s)he is interested in....

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (2, Insightful)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577475)

Nielsen says in this article that he prefers email newsletters to news feeds because "the email newsletter comes to you; it arrives in your in box, and becomes part of the one place you go to get information. That's the great strength." This is an interesting idea, but I don't think he realizes that it doesn't scale. Sure, a couple newsletters would work fine, but a few years back, I was subscribed to so many newsletters that I started filtering them into folders and essentially treating them just like feeds.

I was in exactly the same situation. My inbox stopped being about communicating with people and became a time-sink for keeping up to date with various things. So I went through a phase of unsubscribing from every mailing list, and once unsubscribed, I'd try and replace the information with an RSS feed. If I couldn't find one, I'd email them, tell them why I unsubscribed, and ask for a feed. Sometimes I was pleasantly surprised to find that they had one squirrelled away and not linked to on their site.

It sounds like I'm just shifting the burden elsewhere, or "hiding the mess", but it's amazing how much quicker things flow when you don't open your mail client in the morning to find dozens of things you need to sort through. And no, mail filters don't do the job for various reasons. As much as I hate to sound like a self-help book, it changes from your information controlling you to you controlling when and how you get that information.

I believe people interact with periodical articles in a fundamentally different way to normal email, and that email newsletters lead people into trying to handle both of them in the same way, resulting in chaos. Email newsletters might be the most effective way to reach your audience, as Nielsen says, but that doesn't mean that email newsletters are the most effective way for your audience to be notified of your articles. So leave your audience members who don't know any better reading your email newsletter, but make sure you give people the option of an Atom feed.

By coincidence, Nielsen's was one of the newsletters I unsubscribed from. He didn't provide a feed, and when I emailed him to ask if he had one, I was told that he'd get back to me because he was on holiday. He never did, so he has one less reader now.

I can accept that he believes that email newsletters are better than feeds, but I think it's uncharacteristic of him to not even allow the possibility of handling his Alertbox column in the way that fits into his readers' workflows best. It's not as if offering the option will harm usability for the people who don't want or understand Atom feeds.

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (1)

reynhout (89071) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578373)

I believe people interact with periodical articles in a fundamentally different way to normal email, and that email newsletters lead people into trying to handle both of them in the same way, resulting in chaos

I agree. I did a similar input reduction on my inbox a year or two ago. Nielsen received a special exception ticket, but not without some ironic reflection on the lack of usability options he provides to his readers. I understand the argument against too many options, but in this case they are not mutually interfering, so I think he's making a mistake by adhering so strongly to his Viewpoint.

I ended up forcing alertbox into an RSS feed via feed43.com. The feed should be accessible by anyone: http://feed43.com/3442002452423878.xml [feed43.com]

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (1)

kzinti (9651) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577760)

"...the email newsletter comes to you; it arrives in your in box, and becomes part of the one place you go to get information."

And the one place you go to to get spam.

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (1)

jrumney (197329) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577844)

Some RSS readers let you filter individual feeds by tags or keywords, so you only see the posts that interest you. Personally I use Blogbridge, which claims this as a feature. I've never used the feature, since I've kept my subscriptions down to the level where scanning the post titles works for me, but it does look useful if you want to subscribe to absolutely everything that might ever post something of interest.

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (1)

Eric Giguere (42863) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578097)

The problem isn't with the technology (newsletters vs. blogs) but with the way the technology's being used. Newsletter creators learned long ago that it made much more sense to send out tightly-focused newsletters, something that many bloggers have yet to learn. Those bloggers cast too wide a net and turn off some of their readers.

One way to just get the things that interest you from a less-focused blog is to use category feeds [bloggingpro.com] if the blogging software supports it. This relies, of course, on the blogger properly and consistently categorizing his or her posts, but it can definitely narrow things down.

Eric
Vote for my blog on MarketingSherpa! [memwg.com]

Re:Email newsletters better than feeds? (1)

DRM_is_Stupid (954094) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578159)

I'm not usually interested in everything a site has to offer, but if they're willing to pick out the things I would be interested in, I'm much more likely to want to see it.
Filtering is certainly available for web feeds. There's no particular need for a website to only have one feed. BBC News has a separate feed for each news section. At other websites, one can structure a query in a URL to get filtration, etc. Once received, the contents can be further organized by the client's aggregator.

took some time... (0, Offtopic)

SilentGhost (964190) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576788)

hm, 5 minutes? and it got posted on slashdot. even for guru, it's too fast. not to say, that he doesn't say anything interesting, especially for "developers".

What a joke! (4, Insightful)

XxtraLarGe (551297) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576792)

I can't believe this guy is a design/usability guru. His web site [useit.com] is easily one of the most garish and unfriendly pages I've ever seen.

Re:What a joke! (2, Insightful)

ThinkingInBinary (899485) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576836)

His web site is easily one of the most garish and unfriendly pages I've ever seen.

In his defense: while the page is butt-ugly, one of his major points about usability is that usability needs to have priority over design.

But I do agree with you. It's got that Stallman-esque "I am so pushy about my principles that it's annoying" feel. He's overapplied his own advice, to the point where his web site looks so generic that it has no unifying brand. I don't think he realizes that if every website stuck with a white or light background, dark or black text, blue/purple/red links, and relatively tame fonts, it would be almost impossible for web site owners to create a memorable brand. As he has pointed out, people don't read most of what websites contain, so wowing people with great prose won't help. All we have left is slogans, then? I would point out that my Slashdot T-shirt says "Bathing Geeks in its Soothing Green Light since Nineteen Ninety-Seven", not "Pestering Geeks with its Super-Cool Slogan, "News for Nerds, Stuff that MAtters" since Nineteen Ninety-Seven". People remember sites visually.

The content makes it memorable. (2, Interesting)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577048)

First off, I also agree that his website looks like ass.
I don't think he realizes that if every website stuck with a white or light background, dark or black text, blue/purple/red links, and relatively tame fonts, it would be almost impossible for web site owners to create a memorable brand.

I don't konw about you, but for me, "memorable" comes from content. I don't care about flashy (or flash). I want content.

The "brand" is the information and insight.
As he has pointed out, people don't read most of what websites contain, so wowing people with great prose won't help.

No, the problem (as I see it) is that people don't realize that there comes a point when they have made their statement and should just shut up.

Instead of shutting up, they try to post more "content" on their site. But they've run out of interesting, insightful material so they end up posting ... crap. And who is going to wade through pages of crap on hundreds of websites?

Focus on you point/message/concept and polish that.

Again, look at his website. What do you get from that? 90% of the material there is crap. It's all about interviews that he has done. It's him posting about sites that are "interesting" because they've posted about him because he was "interesting" when he commented on sites that he thought were "interesting". That's just derivative. Get rid of it. If you must have the "I love me" crap, then make it a single link off of the real content of your site. But stay focused on the real content.
I would point out that my Slashdot T-shirt says "Bathing Geeks in its Soothing Green Light since Nineteen Ninety-Seven", not "Pestering Geeks with its Super-Cool Slogan, "News for Nerds, Stuff that MAtters" since Nineteen Ninety-Seven". People remember sites visually.

Yes, that is one of the ways that people remember sites. But that is primarily useful for "branding" something. If you're pushing your "brand".

But you need to have some content for the branding.

Selling empty Coke cans ... even with a widely recognized visual brand ... not a smart move. The brand is there so people can easily identify what content they wish to consume.

Re:The content makes it memorable. (1)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577377)

Again, look at his website. What do you get from that? 90% of the material there is crap. It's all about interviews that he has done. It's him posting about sites that are "interesting" because they've posted about him because he was "interesting" when he commented on sites that he thought were "interesting". That's just derivative.

I seem to recall someone analysing useit.com using Nielsen's own techniques a couple of years back, and demonstrating (as conclusively as anything Nielsen himself ever published) that the quality of the site (using Nielsen's own metrics) had dropped a great deal since it was first created. :-)

"Jump the shark" applies to websites, too. (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577412)

I seem to recall someone analysing useit.com using Nielsen's own techniques a couple of years back, and demonstrating (as conclusively as anything Nielsen himself ever published) that the quality of the site (using Nielsen's own metrics) had dropped a great deal since it was first created. :-)
I would not be surprised at that.

You know when TV shows "jump the shark". They've run their storylines. They've developed their characters to the maximum extent of the writer's skills. Then they ... decline.

Re:What a joke! (4, Insightful)

DrVomact (726065) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577573)

I couldn't disagree more with the original poster--I think it's an absolutely great web site. The layout is clean, simple and instantly comprehensible. The purpose of this page is to direct you to information about web design...so it gives links to articles and conferences. What else could you want? A bunch of animated screenshots of web pages that dance in circles around the text? --In fact, that's what popped into my head when the original poster mentioned "garish"!

As for your (parent) comment, I think that following conventions such as using dark type on a light background, blue underlined links and legible type is not a bad thing. In fact, it's a very good thing for web pages to follow conventions. A good user interface is always a consistent interface. This principle is what made the Macintosh such a success--nearly every program that ran on the Mac had a similar menu structure, the buttons looked alike and did what you expected, and so on. (I speak in the past tense because I haven't used a Mac in years.) I hate programs that use a glitzy unique interface just to be different; you would say they are establishing "brand" identity or something--I say that they are annoying the crap out of me by having to learn a new interface just for their stupid program. (This happens a lot in games.) In this case, doing things differently doesn't make the software cool--it makes the program look amateurish.

Now, I understand that the web isn't an operating system, or a set of related application programs. Web pages serve many different purposes, and what works for one page doesn't necessarily work for another. But I have seen many more examples of web pages that defeat themselves with their unique graphics or typographical layout than I've seen examples of successful web pages that depart radically from convention. The same general rules do apply to most web pages as apply to any user interface--make me feel at home, make it clear where I'm supposed to click to do what, let me recognize a link when I see one. The first rule about breaking rules is, "Have a good reason". Break the rules only when it makes your page more effective--don't break them just to be "different".

Re:What a joke! (2, Insightful)

DarkSarin (651985) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577734)

That would be fine, except that try using his sight with a screen reader: it would suck!

He has far too many links of the main page.

In addition, I see the following as problems:
Easy to get lost below the fold (no indicators of what each column means;
lack of organization of links (no indicators of organization);
lack of information explaining page;
lack of actual content.

Not all of these may be agreed on by those who visit, but I think you get the point: it's not a very usable site.

Re:What a joke! (1)

ubernostrum (219442) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577855)

The purpose of this page is to direct you to information about web design...so it gives links to articles and conferences. What else could you want? A bunch of animated screenshots of web pages that dance in circles around the text? --In fact, that's what popped into my head when the original poster mentioned "garish"!

There's a common misconception that it's not possible to have good visual design and usability, or that "visual design" has to mean flashing dancing animations. It's a misconception that Jakob Nielson has been at least indirectly complicit in promulgating. And it's very definitely a misconception. A few well-known designers took a stab [designbyfire.com] at making one of Nielsen's Alertbox columns more attractive, and I think they proved that it certainly can be done without compromising usability in the slightest.

The same guys have also done a couple other [designeye.org] demonstrations of how high-profile sites could be redone a bit more attractively.

Re:What a joke! (2, Interesting)

Sparr0 (451780) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577836)

I can't be the only one who does the majority of my surfing with stylesheets turned off. On well designed sites it works amazingly well. I get the content and just the content in a nice linear format that is easy to read. Lite mode used to be nice here, but since the redesign it has gotten a lot worse, so I am doing my /.ing with no stylesheets now too.

Nielsen brand (1)

porneL (674499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577864)

He's overapplied his own advice, to the point where his web site looks so generic that it has no unifying brand.

Really? I can recognize Nielsen everywhere - his website and books look all the same - ugly. That's his brand [ok-cancel.com] .

Re:What a joke! (1)

klenwell (960296) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576853)

His web site is easily one of the most garish and unfriendly pages I've ever seen.

I don't know if I'd say his website is garish. Still needs a few banner ads. But his use of 'Dr.' and 'Ph.D' certainly is. Probably got those online -- hence his qualifications as a web expert.

The page certainly is an eyesore.

Re:What a joke! (1)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576854)

You've been modded as a troll, but I completely agree with you. Also, from his "Why This Site Has Almost No Graphics" page:
My original design used a simple colon to separate the levels, but some users thought that the colons indicated alternative choices on the same level (and not a progressively deeper nesting of options, as intended).
It seems that he should have considered that different people might view the separator in ways other than he intended. This is a pretty basic tenet--consider all possible ways that people could misinterpret your intentions and try to eliminate these misinterpretations.

Re:What a joke! (4, Insightful)

Pink Tinkletini (978889) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576857)

Indeed. He sneers at graphic design and pretty much anything beyond plaintext, claiming that "gimmicks" like animation impair usability. What he fails to understand is that when properly applied, these very same techniques can aid usability substantially (e.g. Genie effect to tell you where your windows are going).

An oversimplification of his position, I'm sure, but that's the impression he gives. As you say, it doesn't help that his homepage is an oil spill of inscrutable links, an assault on the senses.

Re:What a joke! (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577036)

>He sneers at graphic design and pretty much anything beyond plaintext, claiming that "gimmicks" like animation impair usability.

It's all about context. While I agree with you that the genie effect helps follow minimized/maximized windows, anything that moves [I]while I'm trying to read something[/I] really impair usability.

That's why I disable plug-ins and can't wait for Apple to add "disable animated GIFs" in the Safari viewing options.

Re:What a joke! (2, Informative)

Pink Tinkletini (978889) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577127)

There's probably a free Safari plugin [pimpmysafari.com] to help out with that. SafariStand, maybe?

You know, I have trouble understanding how people separate "design" and "usability." Aren't these concepts inherently linked? Take a bare list of links like Nielsen's page. It isn't usable, it isn't functional, because it's user-hostile, a huge turnoff to anyone who wants to read it. Even worse if you're just browsing through. Design and functionality aren't in opposition; nor, even more clearly, are design and usability.

Re:What a joke! (3, Insightful)

great throwdini (118430) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577183)

Indeed. He sneers at graphic design and pretty much anything beyond plaintext, claiming that "gimmicks" like animation impair usability. What he fails to understand is that when properly applied, these very same techniques can aid usability substantially ...

An oversimplification of his position, I'm sure ...

Your second thought is the correct one: your opening statements are a gross oversimplification of Nielsen's position.

I've read more than my fair share of his writings -- and disagree with Nielsen on any number of points -- but he isn't opposed to paratextual content in the least. He is, as you sense, quite opposed unthinking graphic and interactive design, though.

Re:What a joke! (2, Interesting)

Pink Tinkletini (978889) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577301)

Thanks for the correction. I should know better than that. :-P

What annoys me about Nielsen is that he preaches usability, yet his homepage is practically unusable unless you think the same way he thinks. If you're a more visually oriented person than Nielsen seems to be, or you're less of a linear learner--basically, if you approach his homepage in any way he wouldn't--then it's going to be a total nightmare to navigate. His vision of "usability" works well for him, it seems, but Nielsen isn't the world.

Re:What a joke! (1)

Pink Tinkletini (978889) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577472)

Upon further reflection, I guess what I meant to say was "thanks for the correction, but I won't let that stop me from being serially annoyed by Jakob Nielsen."

Re:What a joke! (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577550)

He sneers at graphic design and pretty much anything beyond plaintext

Do you have a cite for anything even approaching this? I find Nielsen to be one of those people who is widely vilified for things he hasn't said and doesn't agree with. Having read plenty of Nielsen in the past, I strongly suspect you are completely misrepresenting him.

Re:What a joke! (1)

SweetP (700294) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578094)

An oversimplification of his position, I'm sure, but that's the impression he gives. As you say, it doesn't help that his homepage is an oil spill of inscrutable links, an assault on the senses.
Yeah, Nielsen's homepage does seem overwhelming. In fact, I think that Steve Krug's website [sensible.com] is much more usable than Jakob Nielsen's (although it does have an advantage by having much less content).

Re:What a joke! (3, Informative)

nv5 (697631) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576869)

you may still not be impressed, but but he does explain his reasoning for the absence of graphics [useit.com] .

Old reasoning. (1)

shmlco (594907) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577806)

Of course one still want pages to load quickly. That said, we have much higher market penetrations of DSL and cable modems than we did just a few years ago, and as such the 28K dialup-modem bit isn't really relevant here. Especially when you consider the audience of the site will be primarily web professionals, the vast majority of whom will NOT be accessing his site at 28K.

IIRC, failing to consider your site's audience is also a big usability no-no.

As to graphics, there's a ton of free and inexpensive $29.95 web templates out there that are CSS-based, highly usable, accessible, and graphically pleasing.

So what he's really saying is that he just doesn't want to be bothered with it and that's fine, but he should SAY that, and eschew the dated rationalizations.

Re:Old reasoning. (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578473)


So what he's really saying is that he just doesn't want to be bothered with it and that's fine, but he should SAY that, and eschew the dated rationalizations.


He DOES. Right on the same page. Directly below the text you quoted, in fact. Unless you're running at 640x480 (thus validating his point that a lot of people still use old equipment --- but I digress), it should have been plain in front of you.


# I am not a visual designer, so my graphics would look crummy anyway. Since this website is created by myself (and not by a multidisciplinary team as I always recommend for large sites) I didn't want to spend money to hire an artist.


Good enough for me! I might not agree with Nielsen on everything, but he's got some excellent points, and is worth listening to. No graphic design is lightyears better than *bad* graphic design.

Now, on the other hand, most of his (most famous) work dates back to before the days CSS was popular and adequately-supported, and indeed, since it's been adopted, usability on the net as a whole has gone up tremendously, and designs have (thankfully) started to veer toward 'tasteful' minimalism (ie. mostly-text-based sites with attractive visual styling. Flickr and del.icio.us both jump into mind). I can't stress enough how useful of a tool CSS can be for *easily* creating user-friendly and visually-consitent sites.

Re:What a joke! (1)

Oxyrubber (982275) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578143)

I am not really impressed with his reasons. This page is more of an excuse not to put any effort into making the page appealing (through graphics or design elements).
Quotes from Jakob Nielson's "Why No Graphics" page:

Download times rule the Web.
They did when I was downloading 100kB+ images on my 14.4 modem back in '98 (I never went 28.8 or 56). Dial-up users today are used to waiting for massive DHTML pages that include flash and other media (even though I admit, they should be able to disable downloading of rich media if they want).

... most users have access speeds on the order of 28.8 kbps ...
Maybe a few years ago. I don't know ANYONE who still uses dial-up (although that probably says more about me than "most users"). I would argue that over 50% of households that have internet access use a broadband connection (I have heard figures of 70-80%, bit I am skeptical).

Users do not keep their attention on the page if downloading exceeds 10 seconds
Users keep their attention if they know/think there will be useful/relevant/desirable content on the page. No one expects a large, high-resolution image to take 1 second to download.

While I do agree that sub-second response times are impressive, I would argue that a minimal amount of CSS touch-up would improve the appeal to his site. Also, users don't come to a site for the response time, they come for the content. Page design that optimizes layout rendering helps to make the page appear to load much quicker (when you wait for optional images to load after text content is already loaded).

On another note, I rather like Nielson's favicon: a yellow background with a dark red "u" in the foreground. From a design standpoint, it's bold and is rather elegant. Too bad the website looks nothing like it.

On another positive note, it looks as though his page would be extremely accessible from my Sidekick's browser.

Re:What a joke! (1)

fuzzyfozzie (978329) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577061)

I have Jakob Nielsen and Marie Tahir's book: Homepage Usability--50 Websites Deconstructed. I started reading this book when I first started designing and I can say that Jakob Nielsen has had more influence on my design than anything else.
Although I agree that his website isn't the greatest it doesn't represent what kind of guru he is. He has had a major impact on web design. Big companies like eBay have hired him to consult with their designers. In his book he goes through About, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Boeing, Disney, and Yahoo. I'm not saying everything he says is absolutely correct but much of it is. He is been in this business for years and definately knows what he is talking about.
Just because his website may look like crap, that doesn't lessen his opinion at all. He has changed the face of modern usability in web-sites and for this, he deserves respect.

Re:What a joke! (4, Funny)

ribuck (943217) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577079)

Yeah. He didn't even bother to select a font size for the body text; he just left it at the browser default.

There are no animated graphics, and he missed the opportunity to provide an interactive Flash marketing experience.

And black text is just, like, so readable.

Re:What a joke! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15577100)

Nielson doesn't understand the concept of emotional response evocation and expression via means other than the written word. I've always said that what Nielson thinks is proper design is fine - for Nielson. So let's just move along, nothing to see here...

Re:What a joke! (1)

downwithpeople (982809) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577181)

wow. i completely agree - that is one fugly site.

Re:What a joke! (0)

aevans (933829) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577235)

If you'd notice, at the top of his garish, unreadable page is "Email Newsletters: Surviving Inbox Congestion" He is a consultant for spammers, basically. Okay, not the lowest level of spammers, but the next level up, which put in the fine print on their product registration (X will not share your information with anyone outside of X, it's subsidiaries, or partners. X may change it privacy policies at any time, but our current iteration of privacy policies promises post changes in an undisclosed location until this part of our policy changes.) Which brings me to my own pet peeve. Why can't I get a spell checker spam filter? If you have more than 100% of words in a letter that fail a spell check, junk it.

Re:What a joke! (1)

lhorn (528432) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577684)

Well, I find it very readable, easy to skim thru, and informative.
Usually I turn off web page specified colors, fonts and sizes, disable flash and javascript, all plugins, animated gifs and external links.
This forces me to wade thru HTML source if I really want the information on some sites, but I can use Internet Explorer without reinstalling daily, and are not bothered by jumping, distracting ads.
Thus I see The Internet as a wast, calm pool of information, and useit.com is a pearl.

He's no guru (1)

Zarjay (891644) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577691)

I don't know what made Jakob Nielsen such a "guru," but all I ever hear from him is outdated advice or advice that suggests that we should jump back several years or so in technology. From what I've read about him, he believes that the world isn't ready for the majority of the technology that we use on the Internet.

He still believes that "most users have access speeds on the order of 28.8 kbps," which he uses as one of his excuses for having a graphic-free and ill-designed website. It seems to me that his website is proof enough that this guy isn't an expert on design and usability.

If you ask me, I think any site that requires the author to explain why he uses arrows instead of colons [useit.com] is a poorly designed website.

Google, Yahoo, Slashdot, and just about the rest of the Web understand that aesthetics and special features matter, and designing for a 28.8k demographic isn't going to help anyone. If we all listened to this Nielsen guy, we wouldn't have technologies like AJAX and Flash enhancing our online experience.

His view on RSS feeds and blogging implies that the majority of the world can't keep up with the times. So while 10-year-olds are owning cellphones and posting about their lives on LiveJournal, the rest of society isn't capable of learning how to use RSS feeds and blogs? It may take time for the general public to get used to something like RSS feeds, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't use it.

Re:What a joke! (2, Interesting)

miller60 (554835) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578237)

Jakob Nielsen was once an important voice on usability issues, but that's only true today if you use Lynx or some other text browser. He recently tried to apply his expertise to the topic of "banner blindness" (the tendency of Web users to ignore ad banners) and how it was also undermining contextual ads like Google's AdWords. A lot of bloggers and site owners were concerned about this, given Nielsen's reputation and his use of EyeTracker (a really cool tool) for the research. It turns out his work on "text box blindness" tested pages designed with poorly positioned text ads [nngroup.com] that were so lame they failed to even follow Google's own heatmap for optimizing ads [google.com] . Note that the ad in Nielsen's test page is in the least effective spot on the Google heatmap. All he proved was that people who don't pay any attention to ad placement won't get any clicks. Good thing Jakob's not relying on AdSense for his income.

Re:What a joke! (1)

Dekortage (697532) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578409)

I can't believe this guy is a design/usability guru.

You need to understand that he is a usability guru primarily for software engineers. Graphic designers and artists and architects have been directing people's attention this way or that for a long time (e.g. centuries) before HTML. However, with the advent of web and software design, individuals with no experience in designing composition or spatial flow were suddenly making stuff that desperately needed these things. And people like Nielsen have done a good job of trying to train these folks in fundamental usability issues.

However, he totally misses the mark on so many issues that it's almost painful. He has virtually no respect for the power of negative space (e.g. empty space) in a layout; he says it is wasted space that should be filled with utility. He doesn't understand the value of artistic style in reinforcing a brand or the user's experience. He thinks form follows function; most long-time designers (such as myself) think form is function... just not the kind of function Nielsen is talking about.

Hmm (3, Insightful)

aftk2 (556992) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576796)

The blurb didn't make much sense to me, so I thought I'd actually *gasp* RTFA...

His idea about calling RSS feeds "News Feeds" makes sense to me (c'mon Apple, do you really need the blue RSS badge in Safari's bar? I predict this is gone in Safari 2.5/3 - replaced with an aquafied version of the universal newsfeed icon)

Beyond that and what appeared in the summary, there isn't much to the article. How does one "design" for a blogging audience? I can understand his point that bloggers, while influential on the web, are a vast, technical, vocal minority - but what does that mean in terms of design? What does it also mean that, with regards to MySpace, one of the most popular destinations on the web is also one of its most amazingly poorly designed? I mean, it's slapdash - but it's agile, meaning that they've succeeded by throwing a whole bunch of stuff to the wall, and seeing what sticks.

Re:Hmm (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577588)

His idea about calling RSS feeds "News Feeds" makes sense to me

They're called "RSS feeds" because a "news feed" (or more correctly, "newsfeed") is when someone provides you with USENET news. We already have too much overloading of names in technology, let's not do it to ourselves all over again.

Blogs (5, Insightful)

dubmun (891874) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576819)

Blogs will penetrate the masses much more than Mr. Gomes thinks. They are the journals of our age and may not be read on a regular basis by the masses now... but think about future generation being able to go back and read the blogs of the past.

Journals and diaries have fallen into disuse. Our old blogs and emails are what OUR children will be reading when we die.

Re:Blogs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15576852)

but think about future generation being able to go back and read the blogs of the past.

Or may be not. Do you think we sift through all the diaries/journals from the 50s and 60s ? No. Only if it belongs to specific era (WWII, vietnam ..) may be one goes and looks for those journals from people who are associated with that.

Re:Blogs (2, Insightful)

moracity (925736) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577171)

You are completely wrong. Most blogs are just the current incarnation of personal websites run by ego-centric, know-it-all, wannabe journalists and cry-babies. Most of them just track back to some other equally lame blog. If you're lucky, you might be able to find the original source...which was probably a major news site.

Now, there are some legitimate news sites that have moved to a blog format, but that has nothing to do with blogging.

I consider a majority of blogs to be little more than shameless self-promotion. SPAM, if you will. As more and more people catch on to this, the less relevant they will become and they will join "guestbooks" in the great nothingness. Eventually people will stop updating their blogs because, face it, that's what happens. It's nothing more than a regurgitation of the early "personal" internet. It's a bit prettier and easier to maintain.

Re:Blogs (1)

great throwdini (118430) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577361)

Blogs will penetrate the masses much more than Mr. Gomes thinks. They are the journals of our age and may not be read on a regular basis by the masses now... but think about future generation being able to go back and read the blogs of the past.

Journals and diaries have fallen into disuse. Our old blogs and emails are what OUR children will be reading when we die.

I'm slightly stunned that the above view, absent evidence or reasoned argumentation, would be modded as insightful. It's an intriguing thought, but, to pick apart one underlying assumption in your bold statement, where's the basis for the claim that future generations will even be able to access today's writings on the Web? In what (expurgated) format? How might they be concretely associated with their authors in cases where authorship is uncertain or spoofed? Who will take on the responsibility of migrating content in context?

Working through similar efforts to preserve digital content such as archive.org or Google Groups leaves one with a sense that voluntary commitment to preservation is still very much hit-or-miss, even when motivated and overseen by a third party. Perhaps this, too, will change in time, but I don't yet see blogs as anything more than ephemeral in nature. I have doubts that even the most dedicated individual efforts to maintain, migrate, and archive contents are doomed to eventual failure -- either through excessive linkrot (which debases context for many blogs) or simple human mortality (is there any guarantee that and individual's writings will persist beyond author death in any meaningful way?).

Re:Blogs (1)

dubmun (891874) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577858)

Just to clarify, I'm not talking so much about mainstream blogs with large audiences. I'm talking about smaller more personal blogs setup by people who may be living away from their loved ones for informational or biographical purposes.

Yes, link degradation is a problem... but I think migration isn't. If you backup your data then you have the meat of your blog in a format that anyone with minor programming experience could reconstruct into meaningful entries.

Another benefit to this digital data is that it can be indexed and searched with much greater ease than journals and diaries of old making even the most obscure references available. For example, someone in 2040 could be looking for personal opinions of common American/French/Japanese people during the war in Iraq.

There is value to be found for future generations in our blogs and we have the ability to maintain the most important parts of them. I'm not saying that a better solution won't come along. For now, however, I think blogging serves as an excellent informal history of personal, national, and world events

Re:Blogs (1)

ObligatoryUserName (126027) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577743)

There's a point, I want to say it was identified to me as the 1890's or so, where so many people started writing and keeping their writings that making sense of history became more difficult instead of easier. There's so much modern historical data that it's difficult to pick out signal from noise.

So, I think you're right that people in the future will like reading old blogs, but it won't be the masses per se. For the great majority of blogs the only people who will find our blogs interesting will literally be our children. "Grandpa used to play some game called World of Warcraft and opposed the Great Middle Eastern War before it even had a name, huh."

I think it's very cool, but we should keep things in perspective. Just because something is historically meaningful doesn't imply that it's important to the culture at large.

Nothing New Here, Move Along (5, Insightful)

gbulmash (688770) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576820)

It may be Nielsen talking on a subject that's newer than his seminal book (which is now over 5 years old, an eternity in Web time), but he's just hitting the same old points... broad usability, design for the broadest audience, etc.

Why should I design for or even think about my grandmother's tastes if I'm doing a coding blog, or a baseball blog (that's assuming Grandma isn't a rabid Ichiro fan)?

I view Nielsen as someone who has taken a good idea and turned it into ideology. And when you do that, the goodness begins to evaporate.

Design for two audiences... your users and Googlebot. That's my motto.

- G

Re:Nothing New Here, Move Along (2, Insightful)

ThinkingInBinary (899485) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576859)

Design for two audiences... your users and Googlebot. That's my motto.

Given that this article was published in the Wall Street Journal, I think Nielsen was (rightfully) assuming that his audience would be people who work on websites used by the general public, not the so-called "technocratic elite". Sure, if it's a coding blog, do what you want. Most of your users will figure it out, and the ones who can't don't matter. But if you're creating a web site for the general public, with wide appeal, you'll want it to be accessible to as many people as possible. If that means offering an email newsletter in addition to a news feed for people without newsreaders, or who prefer email, then so be it--it's not that much extra effort.

Re:Nothing New Here, Move Along (2, Insightful)

TheViewFromTheGround (607422) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576942)

I always tend to find Nielsen to a be a sort of second-rate Tufte. He's usually got a few good points that would seem to be conventional wisdom, but he's actually done or read up on the research, so that's kinda cool. But the Ponderous Voice is incredibly annoying. As is his uncanny ability to fit every design and marketing problem online back into his design philosophy, when it is obvious that the problem domain is significantly different than the one his book addressed. The approach -- always trying to shoehorn every problem into one simplistic framework -- shares a lot with the worst ways of practicing religious faith, but in this case, I'm pretty sure it also stems from a kind of opportunism.

Re:Nothing New Here, Move Along (2, Insightful)

mr.dreadful (758768) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577997)

I'm not sure its fair to compare Nielson to Tufte. Tufte's book are beautiful and his thoughts are deep, but I suspect more people have Tuftes books then have actually read them. IMHO, Tufte is the academic, while Nielson is the practitioner. Nielson (who just published a follow up to his first book) writes for the masses, and bases his comments on actually watching people use websites. Over the years I've watched him change his recommendations based upon on his research, despite his preferences. HTML e-mail is a great example. He hates it, users love it, so he changed his recommendation. He still hates HTML email and freely admits it, but comes clean about what users want. Just to be clear, Nielson does the research. Just surfing through the discussions here shows that not a lot of people get this. The principals of his company are all giants in the useability community. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do it. He doesn't potificate from on high, but rather he shares (usually for a price ) what his company has discovered in their hours and hours of ongoing user testing.

Acronymns (4, Insightful)

neonprimetime (528653) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576831)

one of the real strong recommendations is to stop calling it 'RSS' and start calling it 'news feeds,' because that explains what it does

I've been trying to convince my work that for years now! But instead we have systems named ... LTD, MARDAT, APRP, CLSPMT, CSR, etc. It's insanely hard to work with! Call it what it is ... not by some stupid acronym.

Re:Acronymns (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576964)

I don't know, RSS is more descriptive of the online community of people who keep their diaries on the web (I don't use the b word or the b-sphere word because they are the stupidest contrived words ever).

In that situation, I just mentally redescribe RSS as "Really Shitty Stories", or "Retarded Stupid Slapnuts", or variations thereof.

Lets face it, with few exceptions, there's no "news" coming out of the average jerks web browser based journal of daily minutia.

I propose "Perpetually backed up Digital Sewer Line" or PBUESL.

Re:Acronymns (2, Interesting)

SteveHeadroom (13143) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578344)

My previous employer went the other way and chose cutesy marketting names for their internal systems. They were a little more memorable, but still not descriptive:

  • Insight
  • XSell
  • Success Management
  • BullsEye (when management announced the name, my first response was "Well, they got the first 5 letters right!"

What happenned to simple names like "Billing" or "Proposals" or "Sales"?

RSS and blog design (4, Insightful)

TheViewFromTheGround (607422) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576846)

Nielsen has an interesting riff in this very slight interview (couldn't WSJ have expanded the online version of it?) on what to call RSS. It's an excellent point -- lay people don't know "RSS" the way they know "web" or even "Myspace". It is useful technology that could help a good number of people. But between the utter proliferation of newsreaders and naming conventions, it far too fragmented to cement widespread public understanding.

For a guy who loves to throw around numbers, I find Nielsen's comment about blogs incoherent and worthless. Is there evidence that blogs are being designed for the technical elite? What is this "one extreme edge" that bloggers are on? Is there evidence that blogs are corporate marketing tools even are trying to find a broad audience? These are incredibly dubious assertions. Any thoughtful strategy for reaching out to customers is going to combine blogging, email, RSS and other technologies in an audience-specific way. Duh.

Re:RSS and blog design (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15576946)

When you are a 'guru' you can say anything you want and the masses will bow down and worship. What you say is automatically, unquestionably true, despite all the evidence depicting the contrary.

Re:RSS and blog design (2, Interesting)

Pike (52876) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577336)

He's right though. Blog-readers (who are often unusually voracious readers anyway) tend to think that everyone else uses the internet the same way they do, but it ain't so. For most companies (yknow, except flickr and textdrive etc), setting up and maintaining a blog is going to have the smallest ROI of any of the approaches you mention, because it will reach only the voracious readers and news junkies of the Internet.

Please people (1, Insightful)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576890)

Stop saying "blog". It's by far the stupidest pseudo-word ever.

Re:Please people (1)

jejones (115979) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577480)

I fear you'll have no more luck with your campaign than whoever it was (Jonathan Swift?) did centuries ago campaigning against the horrid then-neologism "mob" as opposed to the proper Latin mobile vulgus.

Ahhhh (3, Informative)

drpimp (900837) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576906)

"For Web-Design Expert, Ease of Use And Clarity Are Essential for Firms"

I'm definately not an English major, but I believe it should either read

For Web-Design Experts, Ease of Use And Clarity Are Essential for Firms

OR

For a Web-Design Expert, Ease of Use And Clarity Are Essential for Firms

Almost sounds like a post from engrish.com

Re:Ahhhh (4, Informative)

matantisi (803144) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577085)

It's actually "headline-ese": "Web Expert" here, refers to Nielsen. Newspapers use this kind of locution all the time in headlines.

Re:Ahhhh (3, Insightful)

JayDot (920899) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577163)

Actually, it's a typical newspaper method of trying to pack the headline with as much information as possible. Most folks who read the WSJ may not know who Jakob Nielsen is, but they can understand the concept of a Web-Design Expert. The second half of the title refers to the content of the interview, with the main point highlighted. So, to summarize, this newspaper headline could be translated as "Web-design expert Jakob Nielsen believes that ease of use and clarity are essential for firms," thus satisfying proper English usage requirements at the cost of valuable newspaper space. Ironically, an English major would have had a good chance of recognizing this as a newspaper headline instead of an attempt at a properly constructed sentence. Please do not misunderstand; I merely am pointing out a situational irony, not condemning anyone's intellectual prowess.

This guy is clueless (1, Interesting)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576907)

Certainly you can have blogs that function as newsletters, updated on a regular basis. But they don't tend to do that. They don't tend to have that same sort of publishing discipline: having a publication schedule and surveying this week's or this day's events. They could, of course, but they don't tend to.

What planet is he browsing? Here on Earth, we have blogs that get updated in response to the day's events, often as fast or faster than the MSM. Want to know the latest on the SCO vs. IBM case? Where are you going to look, CNN or GrokLaw? Ditto the Plame leak investigation, the hunt for Mersenne primes and extra-solar planets, cheese making, and on and on... There are blogs on all these subjects updated daily. What newsletter can beat that?

And his subsequent comments about only the "fringe" readers wanting to have a conversation misses a key point: everybody is "fringe" on some subject, and will talk your ear off about it, given the chance.

Combine these two facts and you'll immediately see why blogs took off: rather than everyone waiting around some central font of information for the weekly newsletter that--if it's done right--might touch on a point or to that interests them, they're all going off to have conversations about the things that matter to them.

Short response: This guy is clueless.

-- MarkusQ

Re:This guy is clueless (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15577106)

MSM. You keep using that term. It does not mean what you think it means. [everything2.com]

Re:This guy is clueless (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578080)

Don't be so quick to write him off as clueless when you haven't actually read what he's saying. He's not talking about the speed at which information is published, he's talking about having it published on a regular schedule.

I don't really seen the point in publishing something at a set time or on a particular day, but some people think it's incredibly important. For these people, the fact that weblogs might publish it first isn't important, the fact that they are just publishing on the whim of the author as opposed to covering a particular period of time is important.

Who? (1)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578296)

I don't really seen the point in publishing something at a set time or on a particular day, but some people think it's incredibly important.

Who?

Do you know any? Why would they care?

Apart from sources like the guy quoted in the article, do we even have any reason to suppose that such people exist? From the push/supply side (e.g., a newspaper, or TV show with a schedule to keep) it makes a great deal of sense. But from the pull/consumer side? Do you really think there are people who would rather bread that was baked at 6 AM, on the dot, to bread that was as fresh as possible? Yes, the truck stop manager expects the employees to clean the restrooms every hour, on the hour, but the customers just want clean restrooms.

Likewise, I contend, this guy may very well tell his clients that it's important to send your newsletters out on a fixed schedule, and his clients may believe him, but that does not mean that any of their readers would choose "regularly scheduled news" over "the current news, whenever you want it, with searchable archives and the ability to comment on it and read the comments of others".

--MarkusQ

Re:Who? (1)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578380)

Do you know any? Why would they care?

Yes. I'm not sure why, I suspect a combination of some form of snobbery and the idea that a particular news segment can be thought of as covering the time period between the last article and the current one. When you publish news articles on a schedule, there's a reasonable expectation that you are covering a particular time period, but there's no similar expectation when you just read what people publish when they feel like it - you don't know whether they are covering what happened that day or just what happened to be on their mind that day.

that does not mean that any of their readers would choose "regularly scheduled news" over "the current news, whenever you want it, with searchable archives and the ability to comment on it and read the comments of others".

Oh now come on, that's just a silly argument. Just because you keep to a schedule it doesn't mean that you can't have feedback or searchable archives. You are creating a false dichotomy. Nielsen himself sent notification of this Alertbox out by newsletter, and yet we are discussing it just fine, and his searchable archives stretch back to 1995.

RSS and email are different modes of communication (3, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576908)

The nice thing about email newsletters is that they look just like your other communcations; you use one tool to manage them.

But email is a two-way communication; RSS is really primarily one-way. That makes for a technological difference: with RSS, because it's fetch, you know you're not getting spam. Email is push, and so it's hard to distinguish newsletters from spam. And it's one more site to give your email address to, meaning one more opportunity for spammers to steal/buy it.

Getting newsletters out of the email loop will make it easier to support some anti-spam technologies. Newsletters are one of the downfalls of pay-to-send schemes, because a free newsletter emailed to a million people at $.00001 turns into real money.

I like integrating RSS into the email stream. Some email apps already support RSS, and I would like to see them show up in just a single queue of "stuff to read".

Re:RSS and email are different modes of communicat (1)

the hesper (983638) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578389)

i'm not an expert on the matter, i could see how mass email can add up in cost. but i would also think that mass numbers of people refreshing an rss feed multiple times to check for updates would incur bandwidth costs. i don't know if there would be a big difference. maybe someone could enlighten me :)

The blogosphere is already dead (3, Interesting)

MikeRT (947531) | more than 8 years ago | (#15576925)

It's worth nothing that the political blogosphere has already started to consolidate along "MSM lines." I predict [blindmindseye.com] that within five or six years that "blogging" will be just another way of maintaining an information-rich website. Now, no snickering about how valuable that information might be from the anti-bloggers. The point is that "blog software" represented a commoditization of CMS software in a way that your average user could handle and is thus a step forward. It is now much easier thanks to WordPress and Movable Type for people to maintain small websites, and WordPress can handle very big ones as well.

The problem with the blogosphere is that it is "democratic" by nature, but the future evolutions like vlogging and podcasting will not be democratic. They can't be. If you aren't making serious advertising money, the bandwidth fees from your amateur video hour would actually run into bankrupting-levels if a blogger got hit with several "instalanches" in one month on top of say, 10,000 regular viewers a month.

The interesting part is the software. WordPress has proven to be particularly powerful in terms of forming the framework for websites, as ZDNet has proved with their TechBlogs.

mod 0p (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15576958)

The fanatics (2, Insightful)

Wootzor von Leetenha (938602) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577006)

The fanatics are just as likely to subscribe to a newsletter as they are to go and visit a blog frequently. Unless you force users to sign up to a newsletter, fanatics will be the only informed ones, anyway.

What? (4, Funny)

Odin_Tiger (585113) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577021)

It's really dangerous to design for a technical elite.

Yeah, just look at what a colossal failure Slashdot is... ... ...Wait a sec...

Re:What? (1)

porneL (674499) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577878)

Compare to myspace.

Fighting the good fight against irrelevance (4, Insightful)

faust2097 (137829) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577022)

Jakob is a great pundit but I think he's becoming aware of the fact that most of the sage advice he compiled almost a decade ago has becoming common sense. Aside from getting interviews he hasn't really contributed anything new or exciting to web usability. First the design community figured this out and stopped buying his books, and I think now those designers' bosses are starting to realize that the $5k they spent sending their people to Nielsen conferences would be better spent on talking to their customers and doing more testing [and doing it themselves cheaply instead of hiring NN Group to do it].

It's nice to have a face for your industry but I'd really rather see someone like Steve Krug [sensible.com] , Luke Wroblewski [lukew.com] or Jennifer Tidwell [jtidwell.net] who have done more than design a pre-Cambrian version of Sun's website and a bunch of pie-in-the-sky concept projects. The fact of the matter is that "real artists ship".

Seems like gobbledy-gook to me (2, Interesting)

dada21 (163177) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577025)

I maintain about 12 blogs on various topics, originally because I would repeat myself so often in e-mail every day to various people. The blogs were initially a time-saving tool for my friends, family and customers. Over time the blogs started gaining an audience, and using RSS much of that audience returns daily. By hyperlinking the various blogs with one another, the audience grows even more-so. Sure, they're fringe topics, but the fact that outsiders can now look into my e-mails and start commenting on them is a very big step to me gaining more information to make my businesses more profitable.

In the past 6 months I even started to help some of my corporate customers create their own blogs. By next week my company will maintain 6 corporate blogs which seem to be making big strides in keeping my customers' customers happy and informed. Again, fringe topics, but who cares if the production creates a profit (financial or informational).

I think a lot of old-media promoters will find many ways to downplay the strength of the lone blogger, but it is more than just fringe opinions and a dozen return readers -- it is about creating that "social networking" structure within your social group, and then finding ways to involve your group with others. I believe it is working very well, and I think the future is huge for bloggers, wikis and all sorts of odd social-networking web interfaces.

RSS (1)

PW2 (410411) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577074)

My biggest complaint is when sites that publish RSS will put HTML within their title or description fields. Many times its just a link or icon that is already listed via other RSS tags. It makes it a pain when they assume that everyone is using a graphical RSS viewer. I wrote an RSS viewer that works with LED signs. Please keep it simple when publishing RSS and let the software choose what data to display.

Re:RSS (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577270)

My biggest complaint is people who wrote some software to display text on an LED sign think the rest of the world should format their data for him.

It's like the people who start whining "but I use lynx from a console to browse the web! Stoppit with all the frames and java and flash and pictures!"

The web is, and was intended to be, graphical, and RSS by extension is the same way.

Modify your code to strip out the URLS and display only the data you want. You can wait for the rest of the world to do it for you, but it's not going to happen.

Re:RSS (3, Insightful)

ChristTrekker (91442) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577466)

The web is, and was intended to be, graphical

Says who? TBL's first version of H T ML didn't include IMG, and his first web browser couldn't display graphics.

Re:RSS (2, Informative)

Grrr (16449) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578258)

The web is, and was intended to be, graphical, and RSS by extension is the same way.


Uh [w3.org] ... no [w3.org] .

You must be new.
Unfortunately your post will now continue to exist.

<grrr />

Re:RSS (2, Insightful)

PW2 (410411) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578414)

>> The web is, and was intended to be, graphical, and RSS by extension is the same way.

HTML is now graphical; RSS was, in my opinion, designed to be easily machine readable. I do now have filters built in now, but I am still discovering additional creative techniques people have for complicating something that was supposed to be simple, which then requires more code;

If you want to publish HTML data to your customers, I recommend using HTML.

right, but not that right (4, Insightful)

bitspotter (455598) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577431)

"It's really dangerous to design for a technical elite. We have to design for a broad majority of users."

By "dangerous", he means just to the corporate bottom line. by "we", he just means businesses.

The rest of us "elite" are being designed for just fine, thanks.

He does have a point about the difference between email and rss. That's why I swear by rss2email [aaronsw.com] . it scans feeds, and wraps up items into my email inbox. best of both worlds.

Re:right, but not that right (3, Interesting)

yofal (168650) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577630)

Reading Nielsen's quotes used to make me curse, but I really see him as a pundit whose era passed him by.

Most of his pronouncements in this article show a shocking resistance to the current directions of the web. His 82% of user are unaware of RSS almost directly correlates with a MSFT browser share - and it being unable to handle it. You've got a massive population frustrated by the lack of tools to monitor fresh web content, including blogs, that will suddenly tune into the infinite channel network of the web, because they can do it without wasting their time visiting sites serially. So in a year or so when Vista and a new Explorer are launched watch that RSS/Atom, etc penetration explode.

Ooh, sesh-ual that.

Re:right, but not that right (2, Interesting)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578102)

Atom/RSS became popular long before browser support came about. I don't see why you are tying news feed ignorance to Internet Explorer's lack of support - any Internet Explorer user can sign up for a web-based aggregator today, without any special support. Users aren't hampered by Internet Explorer in this respect, it's their own ignorance, and probably at least partially because it doesn't do much for a lot of people. Not everyone's a geek.

More information (4, Insightful)

Bogtha (906264) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577658)

He's gone into more detail in his latest Alertbox column [useit.com] . One thing that caught my eye:

Finally, some of our users resented the fact that news feeds are divorced from the context of the publisher's website. They preferred the serendipity that came from visiting a full-fledged website that offered additional content beyond the current headlines.

This makes no sense whatsoever. If you are reading a feed, the website is a click away. If you are reading an email newsletter, the website is a click away. In both cases you aren't reading the information on the website.

It only make sense once you substitute "some of our users" for "some publishers". Email newsletters don't really have a strong tradition of including the entire article in the notification email, but plenty of people complain if you only provide partial feeds as opposed to full-text feeds.

I've seen a lot of resentment from some publishers because they think that because the person is reading their article, that they should be able to dictate that they read it on the website. But I've never seen any users complain that Atom/RSS feeds aren't "serendipitous enough". That makes no sense.

An idea for the ultimate tool (3, Interesting)

Alaska Jack (679307) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577859)

What we need is a tool that gets us the info we want, in a timely and convenient manner, right?

So here's what is needed: A web-based service or client-side program (either one would be fine, I think) that lets me set up finely-tuned RSS "smart folders".

Let's say I am shopping for a 120 gb hard drive.

* First, I tell the folder what feeds I want it to check: DealNews, Fatwallet, etc.

* Then, I tell the folder what criteria or terms I want it to look for. Ex.: Show me all items that, in the title or text, include the word "120" AND "drive" AND ("hitachi" OR "seagate" OR "toshiba" OR "samsung").

* From then on out, I can see the results with just a single click on the folder, like a smart playlist on iTunes or a search folder in Thunderbird.

I've tried doing this so far with Vienna (mac) and Thunderbird (pc). Both support smart folders, but are crippled because they don't allow finely grained searches, (I can't believe no one has written an extension that improves on T-Bird's rudimentary filtering criteria!) like regular expressions.

To me, this sounds like the perfect solution. Does anyone know if it exists?

- AJ

Re:An idea for the ultimate tool (2, Informative)

abh (22332) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577944)

I think FeedDemon - http://www.feeddemon.com/ [feeddemon.com] - has a feature called "Watches" which will do what you desire. I use the program, but don't use that feature.

His time is past (0, Troll)

t0mt0m (902935) | more than 8 years ago | (#15577909)

I work for a large company as their usability expert and I shudder whenever I hear someone mentioned Nielsen's dogma. What he says is treated as absolute law by those who know nothing about design, accessibility and web technology in general. More often his words, which once he uttered with real conviction, are regurgitated over and over like some bizarre mantra.

This article was thankfully very short - but classic Nielsen shines through with his "design for the masses" approach to everything. Try to convince normal people that there will be no graphics and plain vanilla layouts for EVERYTHING. Yes I've attended the conferences and yes we've bought some Nielsen white papers, but his time is over. Time to wake up that the web is not run on Netscape Navigator 2 anymore and we can *gasp* put a well-designed bit of rich media on a page that _might_ not appear on JAWS [freedomscientific.com] .

Standing up for Jakob (2, Insightful)

mr.dreadful (758768) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578212)

Surfing through the response here shows a lot of "this guy is behind the times" or "he just doesn't get it" comments. A few things:
  • Jakob and the people at the Nielson Norman Group are *giants* in the useability field. While he has his opinions, he tends to base his work off what *they actually see users do*, not what they say they do or like. He's also fairly clear about his preferences vs. what average people tend to prefer (HTML email is an example)
  • Jakob has a new book that follows on this last book, in which he re-evaluates his recommendations in his first book. Again, he makes his recommendations based upon what users do ( or have, when it comes to something like monitor resolution. ) The first chapter of his new book covers his methodology, and frankly, I doubt many people here have come anywhere close to doing the kind of user testing he's doing.
  • In his latest book, he makes no claim to cover every demographic and says so. If you are targeting kids or teenagers, his book is not necessarily for you. If you are targeting adults, you'll find plenty of good material.
That being said, I do think he leans towards the austere, but thats a perfectly valid stance to take (hello Google!), but he's not telling people how to design. He's telling people what his research is revealing and how we can avoid common pitfalls. I think more people here would do well to actually RTFB before commenting.

Ah! (-1, Offtopic)

TemplesA (984100) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578246)

Upon first glance, [which was quick] I read, "Jackie Gleason on Design, RSS, Email, and Blogs"

I have a hard time with Neilsen (1)

eck011219 (851729) | more than 8 years ago | (#15578398)

I know he's a big name in usability and has some good points, but I take everything he says with a grain of salt. He's disproportionately fixated on self-promotion, I think - I personally feel he gets a little windy sometimes,at the expense of his message or the larger point.

But the point that can be taken from this is still interesting - progression need not be strictly linear. Blogs won't necessarily replace mailing lists, but will serve a different purpose for a different audience.
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