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Aug 2006

Popular Despite its Sins…

“Tell me, Yu Centrik: how in God’s name is it possible that a site like MySpace.com, with its rotten user interface, is one of the most popular sites in the world?” We’ve been asked this question more and more often lately, and it deserves an answer…

Yes, we interface designers, who agonize over the placement of every pixel in the screen and the logic driving every click of the mouse, find it very hard to observe the rising popularity of such a horrid site. But it’s not that hard to explain the phenomenon.

Ease of use is not the only reason why sites are accepted and adopted by the public. There are two other ingredients in the recipe for success:

1) Sites that fill a specific need will always be successful, even if they require a significant investment in time for the user to master them. If the market is looking for a prefabricated solution, it will be keen to adopt it if there’s a positive cost/benefit ratio.

2) Sites designed for collective use (that require a community of users), experience a snowball effect once the baseline community has been built: one person invites another; the community grows; and suddenly it becomes a habit. People end up using the site every day, which helps them learn the system (like any frequently used software) and build an attachment to the community.

MySpace.com has evolved in this context: a user base developed very quickly (an e-community) around a series of functionalities not available elsewhere (specific needs).

Although this explains how a non-ergonomic site can have such good uptake, it doesn’t prevent us from wanting to completely redesign its interface! It would have to be done cautiously though. There’s an enormous user base, and each user would be impacted; the perennial problem for ergonomic designers!

Still, I cherish the dream of getting to do it one day … 😉

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