It’s funny how things have changed. Before the days of the web, if someone offered you something for free you’d be all grovelly and the offerer would be all haughty. Like watching those matrons jostling and bashing each other with handbags at the Christmas sales, the sales assistants standing by assessing their nails.
Now, at least online, we’re frustrated and angry if things don’t work out the way we like, even if we aren’t paying for it. When Facebook had the effrontery to start trying to make some money from us we all went ballistic, including moi. Of course, that was partly about privacy, and about ownership. We are gradually becoming aware that everything revolves around our desire to spend, and so, finally, the customer is king. Or at least our data is.
We are slowly waking up to the fact that everything that is pitched to us as a reward is actually a lure: a customer “loyalty” card (loyalty by whom to whom? The company to the consumer? I think not). And a freebie is often a pair of handcuffs in disguise: A free TV when you sign up for a 24 month contract? (Try saying no to the TV but yes to a 12 month contract instead.
The truth is that we are being increasingly mined for our proclivities, and in so doing are being swamped by a cornucopia of gifts in the hope that we’ll give up some of our secrets. The web is the purest version of this: Every Web 2.0 service that has been launched has been free, or, at least partly free. I can’t think of one genuine Web 2.0 (and I don’t mean the faux Web 2.0 offerings, which try to look and feel like Web 2.0 but, like 40-year old men wearing sneakers and jeans cut a little too trendily for their age, give themselves away easily.
Swamped by this pile of freebies, our time becomes the most precious commodity to us. We realise we are in the ascendant and can flit easily from one service to another because so many exist and because we have to reach quick decisions about whether any merit our attention. Given this, you’d think that Web 2.0 services would be really careful about that initial experience (what folk like HP call the OOTBE — the out of the box experience.)
But it’s not always so. One service I signed up for wouldn’t accept the first password it sent me; I had to reset it and then it worked (my message to their support team went unanswered.) A second, webAsyst, wouldn’t recognise its own CAPTCHA codes:
it told me, only to admonish me:
There are two lessons here.
Web 2.0 is about speed. The interface — large fonts, interesting colors, fast loading pages or AJAX — is all about matching the speed of our online lives. So these obstacles undermine those efforts. Get that first impression right, because we won’t hang around.
Web 2.0 is also about user friendliness. If something doesn’t work, give the user some options about how to fix it, and, if you can, concede that it may be your own poor coding at fault rather than the poor user. In the webAsyst case, all the usual rules are broken:
- the CAPTCHA doesn’t work.
- the error message doesn’t have an OK button or anything to indicate what I might do next.
- there’s no way to refresh the CAPTCHA to give me a different set of numbers to try (yes I tried replacing the 0 with an O with the same result.)
The result? I don’t bother with webAsyst anymore and I smell a 40 year-old man struggling to look cool in a 20 year-old’s getup.