Information and the state of the web

I only post here occasionally and it has crossed my mind that I might almost be wise to just create a separate blog on my web server.  I have these thoughts and then I realize that I don’t have time to muck with that when I have good blog content to post, or perhaps it is simply laziness.  Either way, I only post when something strikes me.

Oh, and strike me it did.  Today I was hit with a brick by some guy running a site all about that crazy thing called love.  Lies!!  It was all about the web.  More importantly, it was about how to do various things on the web.  The site is called “The Noodle Incident” (http://www.thenoodleincident.com/) and, though it was not my favorite site to visit, I wasn’t terribly bugged about it.  Let me say, I wasn’t bugged until I got to the design page.  Finally, I’d had enough.

The navigation was impossible, the selection of navigation copy was mystery meat and backwards navigation was impossible.  I have to hand it to the guy, his site was clean and easy to read.  Applause deserved for that, but while he realizes that machines and all sorts of accessibility interfaces must interact with his site, he forgot that PEOPLE have to interact with the site too.  This is a really important thing to remember.

Wonderfully, this brings us to the topic du jour: Information Architecture and User Experience.  These are buzzwords right now, but they are really important buzzwords.  They represent something that people have worried about and fussed over for ages.  The question is always the same, “how do I make this easier for people to do?”  The IxDA community holds the key to this particular castle and I promise you the princess is in there.

So, where did our wily friend go wrong?  Simply put, everywhere.  Honestly, the site is easy to read as I had said before, however getting to that information is a real bear.  If you start on the front page then you are going to do well.  The main page of the site leads off to all of the information, as far as I can tell.  The real problem is navigating from another page back to main or to some other set of content.  If you landed anywhere but the front page of the site, forget about navigating anywhere without hand-editing the URL.  Long and short, accessing the content on this site is a challenge and that is bad.  This might be a good time to note, information is still king and getting to it is the only way to ensure optimal reader retention.  If your readers can’t access your content, they are going to assume you have none and leave.  It’s as simple as that.

Another big pitfall is his navigation location.  People learn to rely on the location of menus and such when visiting a site.  Optimally, you should have a strict, well though out navigation hierarchy that you adhere to in the most draconian sort of manner.  I’m not kidding.  Lop off hands of the people that defy you.  You’ll feel better come the end of the day, I promise.  You will see immediate benefit as your users learn to trust that your navigation will remain right where they saw it last as they move from page to page to page through your site.  Key thought here: if your user doesn’t notice the architecture of your site, you did a good job.

Finally, the most embarassing problem with The Noodle Incident, aside from having an uncanny resemblance to a Guns ‘n’ Roses album title, is that it suffers from Muphry’s Law.  Technically, Muphry’s Law applies to editing mistakes, but when generalized, would say “whenever you critique something, you are bound to have an error of the same type in your critique.”  This relates to something really important, be sure that your content is useful, correct and does not point out flaws in your own site.  Nothing turns a user off faster than going to a site that is supposed to be an authority only to discover that they are incapable of following their own rules.  If you post authoritative content, be sure that you really know what you are doing and double check that you aren’t going to be embarassed by it later.

The take-away from all of this is that Information Architecture, attention to the User Experience and some careful content creation will lead to a happier, more productive site.  People will enjoy visiting and may even take you seriously.  Focus on navigation, findability and accessibility.  These items, coupled with a site that is easy to read will lead to a better web experience for everyone involved.

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