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When I am Copyeditor General ...: Websites will be utopian


Websites will be utopian

Today I'm being Usability-meister General again, though that cabinet position really belongs to someone else.

Imagine this scenario: You go to the zoo and discover that all the enclosures have six-foot walls. And you're five-three (a perfectly lovely height, I might add). You find a zookeeper and ask what's going on.

"Well," she says, "this zoo requires visitors to be tall. If you're not tall, you can use stilts to see the animals. Or, if you'd prefer not to use the stilts, we have a couple of pigeons and a three-legged dog in the parking lot."

Of course, that would never happen; a business that segregated and alienated its customers in such a way would have a terrible reputation.

Online, however, we find things like this:

Non-Flash people need not apply.

It's essentially the same attitude. Sure, most computers today handle Flash, and it's no great challenge to download the player. But as an introduction, this page sends an unwelcoming message: we're only making ourselves available to certain people.

And it's not as though the entire Battery Wharf site requires Flash; much of it consists of simple lists of features, short paragraphs of description, a handful of PDFs, links to videos and photo galleries. Nothing, in other words, that couldn't be handled just as easily in HTML, with Flash for the multimedia content.

I understand the philosophy that qualified visitors to this site—those who have a genuine interest in buying a luxury waterfront condo—are more likely to have Flash-ready computers.

But aren't those prospective customers also looking for flawless service? For a company that anticipates their needs? For, let's say, a company whose site checks whether you have Flash and seamlessly serves up the appropriate content (and doesn't make you wait through eight-second loading times)?

Copyeditor General's ruling: If this site is really a reflection of the company's goal of "engineering Utopia," the experience should be a little closer to paradise. And if this project is really Utopia, why does it consist of multi-million-dollar condos on a spit of dockland in Boston?


Holly said...

I agree! And where this becomes a problem is trying to access these sites on your blackberry. Flash isn't avail for mobile devices, so you can't even get into those sites at all. I can't figure out why these places want to limit their users to sitting at PCs, when mobile browsing is getting more common each day!

LimeyG said...

Most of the time, it's not the companies themselves that want Flash; it's those pesky designers who are thinking about style over substance ...

(Designers, feel free to step in here!)

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