The Internet is still a big, confusing thing for a lot of people. They don’t understand how or why it works, they just know that if they click a certain icon on their computer, the Internet will appear. So when building and designing websites, you have to keep in mind that there are users out there who are not savvy to the standards, constructs and general milieu of the modern Web. Just because it may be clear and obvious to you or me, doesn’t mean it will be to everyone. I’ll show you some examples that will make my point.
A couple years ago, a website called ReadWriteWeb wrote an article about Facebook working with AOL to integrate Facebook friends into instant messenger or whatever — that part doesn’t really matter. What matters is, ReadWriteWeb titled the article, “Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login.”
The keywords used in the title are important because they are used by Google to connect people searching for those keywords to find relevant articles. In this case, when people searched for “Facebook login,” the article appeared in the search results; in fact, it was first, ahead of the actual Facebook login page.
Why is that important? Well, a lot of people trust Google’s search results implicitly, and click the first result that comes up. So all of those people who just click on the first result were not being directed to Facebook to login like they wanted, they were going to the ReadWriteWeb article. This would be obvious to them once the page loaded and they saw it wasn’t Facebook…except it wasn’t. People posted comments on the article expressing their anger and confusion. People thought the ReadWriteWeb article was Facebook.
It got to the point where ReadWriteWeb had to post a disclaimer explicitly stating that they were not Facebook:
“Dear visitors from Google. This site is not Facebook. This is a website called ReadWriteWeb that reports on news about Facebook and other Internet services. You can however click here and become a Fan of ReadWriteWeb on Facebook, to receive our updates and learn more about the Internet. To access Facebook right now, click here. For future reference, type “facebook.com” into your browser address bar or enter “facebook” into Google and click on the first result. We recommend that you then save Facebook as a bookmark in your browser.”
The confusion can work the other way as well. Here’s an article with examples of people going to Google’s Facebook page and trying to search — actually posting their searches on the page and expecting results to come back.
My new favorite guilty pleasure is the website Literally Unbelievable. It archives posts and comments from the web where people mistake fake stories from the satirical news website The Onion for real stories. It is quite humorous and amazing to see people give any credibility to stories such as this one about how Arby’s is charging customers to let them grab handfuls of roast beef, how Nicholas Cage is really a puppet controlled by another actor inside of him, or how the country of Tanzania lost its name to a tanning salon in court.
Now, I realize my examples highlight the extremes of Internet naiveté, but they help illustrate how not everyone is an online expert. So it’s always a good idea to try to keep wording, design and navigation as clear, consistent and simple as you can to help minimize any possible confusion for your users.
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