Is Web 2.0 Hype Hurting More Than Helping?

by | May 15, 2007 | Marketing

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen has criticized web firms for being so quick to jump on the “Web 2.0” bandwagon that they neglect basic elements of good design. He’s absolutely right, and it’s great to see someone with his visibility discussing an issue that’s been bothering us for a couple of years now.

We often have clients coming to us talking about terms they’ve read about in magazines or blogs, phrases like “social media,” “tags,” “Ajax,” and “Web 2.0 look.” Every time, we have fight through the buzzwords and get down to the real questions:

  • What’s the target audience?
  • What does that audience need?
  • What functionality will best address that need?
  • What are the actual goals of the website?
  • How can we design the site to accomplish those goals?

From the BBC News article:

Good practices include making a site easy to use, good search tools, the use of text free of jargon, usability testing and a consideration of design even before the first line of code is written.

Sadly, said Mr Nielsen, the rush to embrace Web 2.0 technology meant that many firms were turning their back on the basics.

“They should get the basics right first,” he said. “Sadly most websites do not have those primary things right.”

Design is a “ground up” discipline, meaning that you start with the basic elements, and create a visual design that supports and enhances those elements. While the Web is a fairly new medium, the basic principles of good design (layout, typography, focus, color, etc.) are centuries old, and yet still fully applicable.

While some sites with particular demographics, such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo, have large involved communities of users that will not hold true for all sites, he said.

“Most people just want to get in, get it and get out,” said Mr Nielsen. “For them the web is not a goal in itself. It is a tool.”

Web firms rushing to serve the small, committed minority might find they make a site far less useful to the vast majority who come to a site for a specific purpose.

Forty has been entrenched in the Web 2.0 movement since its early days, but our core team members each have over a decade of web development under our belts as well, so we’ve got some perspective on the hype, the theories, the conjecture, and the promises. When clients come to us excited about some concept they’ve recently learned about, the first thing we do is try give them some perspective on the situation.

The key to a successful website isn’t whizbang gadgets or features; it’s a simple and frank analysis of audience needs and the best ways (not the trendiest ways) to solve them.

So, if you’re dead-set on tags and Ajax in your next website, don’t be surprised if we make you work for it!

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