Monthly Archives: May 2014

Shooting the messenger – a right to forget the point!

An EU court has today backed the right for people to request that Google must amend some search results, in what is becoming known as the “right to be forgotten”. This story, reported on the BBC News website, raises some interesting questions and also possible paves the way for a world wide web police, for which Google must logically be placed.

But first lets look at the court case, which presents a few problems and, much like the “cookie law”, has got quite a few people excited despite having hold of the wrong end of a very large stick. For one, the EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, said in a post on Facebook that it is a “clear victory for the protection of personal data of Europeans”. I can’t help but feel she has massively missed the point here. Google themselves make the salient point; They do not control data, they only offer links to information freely available on the internet.

What Viviane is failing to see is that this ruling doesn’t solve any problem at all. If people want misleading, inaccurate or otherwise unfair information about themselves to be removed from the internet then asking Google to remove it from search results doesn’t remove it from the internet, it merely stops it being shown in Google. The information itself is still out there as a source for people to find. And you might argue that if it isn’t shown in the most popular search engine (and indeed website) in the world then that solves the problem, but if you believe that you’re probably a bit short sighted. Why? Well quite simply because the online world is changing.

An example of this change is this article, which talks about how the younger generation are consuming the internet through apps rather than browsers. This is significant because the web is moving towards an information warehouse rather than website based approach, where your app of choice will be used to retrieve this information. If this is indeed where the net ends up then Google will no longer be the majority search engine, and therefore the information that Google has obediently hidden will be found again. Not to mention that if the actual content is not removed, it only takes a couple of people to find it and share it and then it is all over the net.

So, what is this ruling actually doing? Well it is shooting the messenger for the ‘crimes’ of others. Google is suffering from being the biggest name in the web. It suits the cause of the advocates, politicians and legal personnel to aim the gun directly at a big name rather than this court case disappearing into obscurity once the actual offending website is dealt with. More to the point, like the cookie law, it will get a lot of normal people who don’t 100% understand how the web actually works riled up and support some piece of law being passed that doesn’t actually solve the problem, just covers it with a plaster for a while.

But there is something else going on here as well, something which many people have seen coming for a while. In placing the responsibility with Google (and presumably other search engines, although none have currently been mentioned) to manage and control this content they have now effectively asked them to start policing the internet. As there are vagaries around exactly when a person can validly ask for content to be removed, there will need to be someone making judgements on what is and isn’t allowed and Google are best placed to do this. They have the biggest reach, the widest data access and the best understanding of content monitoring and assessment. Another perceived advantage is that Google are agnostic of governments and institutions, meaning they are well placed to make impartial judgements (in theory).

Whether or not Google does end up being this web police or not, this court case is a line in the sand. To date the internet is largely uncontrolled and almost anything can be uploaded. But this court case has moved a step closer to a situation where either proactively or retrospectively content is going to be monitored and potentially restricted or even removed. The age of the free internet, the ultimate safe harbour of freedom of speech, may well be coming to an end. Whether this is a good or bad thing however, is a whole different question.

In the meantime, if you see something about yourself online that you don’t think should be there, don’t ask Google to remove it, ask the actual website. That will be much more effective in actually removing the content.

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Putting the U in UX

We bandy round the term ‘UX’ or ‘User Experience’ quite freely, but what does this actually mean? Often people talk of ‘good UX’ and refer to examples where the experience is obviously very good but there are few examples actually shown that demonstrate why ‘UX Design’ is so important.

Firstly, let me state what I believe good user experience design is. Quite simply it is designing with the end user in mind, so that what they see and use is intuitive. It is very easy to design and build something that is completely functional but actually very difficult to use. It is even easier to design something that is incredible to look at but the average user has next to no idea how to use.

So lets look at how problems arise when this approach is not taken. I have a phone contract with EE and having received some junk mail from them recently decided to use their online portal. We’ll put aside the issue whereby clicking on their link loaded a dead page. After a stroppy tweet to them it seemed to be working again. But having logged in problems soon started to arise. The main task I wanted to achieve was to see when I could upgrade my phone. This is where the problems started.

EE1

You can’t really fault the general design of the page. It is neat, easy to see, on brand and attractive. However, there is no where obvious on this screen that states that my portal is currently restricted, except for the small ‘Access Level: Restricted’ link in the account details section. This would be useful except that clicking the information icon doesn’t do anything!

So I carried on along my merry way and clicked on the upgrade options link. This loaded a new screen:

EE2

Success, this is what I want. Except that when I click on any of the links literally nothing happens. And to make things worse, most of the navigation items in the header also don’t seem to work. It was only when I did a print screen that the prompt text appeared giving some information that my account needed to be activated, but that didn’t even fit onto the screen properly.

Having stumbled blindly upon the problem I then returned to the account details screen and found the small link that allowed me to upgrade my account to full access.

EE3

But even now problems occurred. Having put my account number in, which seemed a bit of an odd step to have to take seeing as I was already logged into my account, I clicked OK and nothing seemed to happen. There was no on screen acknowledgement and the content just got blanked. I then input the details again and then on clicking OK it said that the account was already activated. I returned to the account details screen to see that it did indeed now say I had full access. I was then able to discover that I wasn’t yet eligible for an upgrade (sigh).

This experience is a classic example of how little things have big impacts when it comes to user experience. This isn’t the snazzy, sexy, all signing and dancing type of UX, it is the practical kind that almost all of us come into contact with. EE have spent a huge amount of time (and no doubt money) creating a nice brand, but they let themselves down massively here by simply ignoring the simple things. An absolute basic is to give on screen prompts, help and information that works and is obvious. I am a very savvy user and yet I found this frustrating and difficult to use. Less savvy people would no doubt have been on the phone to the helpline or simply would have given up.

The EE portal site is a classic example of where even 30 mins of user testing and IA input would make this experience so much better. It is a lesson we should all learn from. UX is not just about the big things, it is fundamentally about the little things. A seamless experience is created when a user feels they have everything they need to do the task simply. In the case of EE the site is clunky and has bugs and they have tried to just ‘tick the box’ for things like prompt messages, when they should have actually dealt with them properly.

As web designers it is our responsibility to put ourselves in the shoes of the users. That is hard when you are attached and close to a project for a long period of time, which is why user testing exists. It doesn’t take long to do, but it will make a world of difference to the users.