Tuesday, May 30, 2006

I appreciate the effort but....

A recent post to the CM Professionals mailing list recommended a tool by EverAge consulting to write use cases in XML. I was interested because I think use cases are very effective in collecting software requirements and I think the de facto format (MS Word) is a really bad way to store this information. I had to check it out. Just not right then because I had 80 other emails to go through that morning. So I wanted to bookmark it for later reference. And that is where the trouble began...

The link was directly to the Zip file containing the software. I didn't want to bookmark that because the Zip file itself would give me no context (metadata). So visited the website to look for a landing page. Oh, the flashturbation! The site looks like a lava lamp of navigation items and text oozing around as they form on the page. While I appreciate all the work that went into this animation, from the user's perspective, it has the same effect as a slow loading page. Every click, I had to wait several seconds as the page mutated into something usable.

When I finally found the content that I was looking for, it was in a flash movie so I couldn't book mark it there either. So here is the link: http://www.everage.ca. To get to the tool: wait and admire, click on resources, wait and admire, it's the first entry in the little scroll box in the middle of the page. Or go directly here.

While all the Flash does a good job of showcasing EverAge's skills in interactive page design and programming, I think it risks sending the message that EverAge doesn't understand the appropriate use of Flash and its limitations. Web designers are going to go through a new learning curve as they start to use AJAX and other technologies that push the limits of what is a page. The tension between innovation and usability/familiarity will need to re-stabilize as designers and developers try new things and users react. Search and bookmarking are primary considerations. So much of existing internet technology is based on URLs and anchor tags. Take those away and the user's familiar tools quickly lose their potency.

Think of the browser as two things: a traditional browser, and an operating system on which to build dynamic applications. Make your decision early as to what you need it to be and design your interfaces accordingly. My general rule of thumb is to avoid using AJAX or Flash except when you want a user to interact with (rather than just view) the content and do not try to re-invent the browsing experience. Otherwise you will gain little benefit but spend lots of time solving problems that have already been solved with existing best practices (search engine optimization, accessibility compliance, etc.). If you want to improve your content viewing experience, focus your energy on making better content.