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A Blue Perspective: Too many steps

Too many steps
2 February 2004

Even though I read all the usability books, browse all the usability web sites and meditate to all the usability mantras, I still forget about usability. This was brought home during my latest "referrer crawl". Given that I only coded SSCrabble for my own benefit, it was a pleasant surprise to note that I got 2,000 visits out of it on Friday (thanks kottke); but reading through comments posted here and elsewhere, I noted that I had neglected to include something.

I had assumed that, as an experiment, it would be sufficient to write up the description of SSCrabble as an entry and link to the page from the entry. Anyone who was interested in the game would be interested in the description of XHTML/CSS/JS design and link to the entry, right? Ba-bowww! Everyone linked to the page. This isn't so bad in itself – there's a link back to the entry from the SSCrabble page, so people can find their way back to the main site if they're so inclined. The problem occurs because there's two versions of SSCrabble: the short dictionary version (designed for quick download) and the long dictionary version (designed for people who actually want to play). People were generally directed to the short version, started playing the game, found out the dictionary sucked, and then went off somewhere to flame it (well, not really, but they whinged a weensy bit).

The point is, on the Internet you can't rely on anything. Sure, there were rather loud links to the long version on the entry page, but when someone arrives on your page and doesn't like it, unless they see a reason to stick around, they're not going to click around. Having to go from the short version, to the entry, to the long version is too many steps.

The lesson: although I'd followed the hierarchical model of navigation – letting people get from the lower level of "the game" to the higher level of "the entry" – I hadn't linked two semantically grouped pages, the "short" and the "long". You really can't predict what people are going to do, so the only option you've got is to give them as many ways in and out as is possible (and sensible). Of course, I've fixed it now with two clearly labelled links, but the mistake has been made. Don't make it yourself.

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