Yellow is the new black

Yellow Pages have put up a beta of their new website:

www.yellow.co.nz

As previously noted they seem to have dropped the “pages” part of their name.

As far as I can tell, apart from a bit of lipstick, the site is the same old site we all don’t love:

It’s still just an online version of the printed directory. Most listings contain only a phone number and an address, not even a description of the business. You actually get more information from the hard-copy where at least they allow graphics etc (although you can view the ad from the printed directory by clicking on the ‘view ad’ link).

There is so much more useful information that businesses could include in their online listing. Imagine, for example, if they allowed restaurants to list their menu.

They don’t cater for browse dominant users. To view the category hierarchy I need to click a link and then I end up in a horrible control which lists every leaf category alphabetically.

Their category hierarchy continues to be a complete dogs breakfast. There are too many leaf categories and consequently the structure is too deep and too fragmented. The structure is also unbalanced. ‘Business Services’ is a top-level category – covering everything from ‘Accountants’ to ‘Security Guards’. ‘Funeral Arrangements’ is also a top-level category, although it has only seven sub-categories which hare all leaf categories.

I can’t list a new ad online. Hello?

The search is still way more complex than it needs to be. Google allows me to find any page on the whole internet using a single text box. That should be the benchmark. Really, who is going to search for businesses “within 100 kms”?

They’ve added “My Address Book” functionality, but don’t allow me to add comments. I’m completely disconnected from all of the other people searching on the site. Where is the “other people searching for this found these listings useful” functionality?

Oh well. Maybe in the next version?

Designing for blind users

In the comments to my recent post about XHTML Scott Mayo asks an interesting question:

“How many complaints you have had about the usability of your website by blind, site impaired or other-wise impaired users. Surely as NZ’s site with the broadest coverage you would have a lot of exposure to such feedback?”

I have to admit that I haven’t had any direct feedback, or any first-hand experience using Trade Me with a screen reader.

I’d be interested to hear from anybody who does.

At TechEd last year we used Trade Me in a demo of the speech recognition features built into Windows Vista, and it worked great.

Amongst all of the other things to consider when creating a new site or page, it can sometimes be hard to get excited about accessibility.

But don’t forget that the single most important visitor to your site is effectively blind (a.k.a GoogleBot).

Design for accessibility and you’ll often get search engine optimisation for no additional charge!

Make it work, then make it look good

Here is a simple rule: if you’re building a web site make sure it:

(1) works; and

(2) looks good.

The order here is important.

What does it profit someone to have a site which looks like a million dollars but which doesn’t actually work?

Here is my theory: the better a given web site looks the less likely it is to actually work.

A recent example …

Both Rod and Nic have raved about their Blackbox M-14 headphones, made by NZ company Phitek.

I figured I’d get me some of that noise canceling goodness.

(and, in case you’re reading this Larissa, this purchase decision was not influenced by sitting beside you this week! ;-)

I had an uneasy feeling from the moment I hit their home page. The main navigation links unfurl onto the page in a very pretty (but otherwise pointless) Flash animation.

The real fun started when I got to the check-out.

There are pretty well understood conventions now for how an online check-out should work. Don’t make me think.

Instead, here is the Blackbox check-out page:

Blackbox Check-out

So, I select the product I want and click the “Go To Payments Page” button.

An error message is displayed: “Please check your personal details”.

Eh?

It turns out that all three steps are contained on one page – with the second and third steps hidden in collapsed sections at the bottom of the form. To get to the second step I need to click on the “Review Purchase Summary” bar, although there is nothing to indicate that it’s a link. It doesn’t look clickable, and the mouse cursor doesn’t even change to a hand when I hover over it.

Then, having made it through the form I get this:

Blackbox Check-out Payment Page Re-direct

Unfortunately, the re-direct doesn’t work. And there is no obvious way to click-thru manually. I can’t get to the page where I enter my credit card details.

The net result: I haven’t purchased the headphones and my confidence in their brand is dented.

I wonder how many sales they miss because of a website which looks great but which doesn’t work?

Enhanced metafiles

How hard is it to copy a diagram into a PowerPoint presentation in a reliable format?

Copy and paste is a pretty fundamental operation. When you copy and paste a file, the file that is created is a new file with no relationship to the file that was copied, apart from the fact that it is initially a copy. Any changes you make to the new copy are not applied to the original and vice versa.

But, for a reason that I cannot explain, Office messes with that simple model. Instead the default paste tries to embed the original file.

Why is this the default?

Is this really what most people expect to happen when they click paste?

I doubt it.

To get around this broken default you need to select the ‘Paste Special’ option. And then, God help you!

There are seven different options to choose from:

Enhanced metafile dialogue

I have a Computer Science degree and the only ones that make sense to me are the four that appear to map to different image formats (Bitmap, GIF, PNG, JPEG). Even then it’s not clear to me which of these formats would make the best choice.

What the hell is an ‘Enhanced Metafile’? Why would I choose a ‘Windows Metafile’ format when I could have the enhanced version? Should I prefer the Windows flavour of Metafiles or the Enhanced ones (how exactly are they enhanced)? And, while I’m at it, what is the sort order on this list?

The picture below is taken from a random Google image search.

Marjorie

I don’t know this women. But for arguments sake let’s call her Marjorie and think for a second what she would make of this dialogue.

When are those of us who build these tools going to start putting ourselves in the shoes of people that don’t speak C#?

Recently closed tabs

As of this morning I have a new favourite Firefox feature:

History > Recently closed tabs

As the name suggests it lists any tabs that have been closed in the last wee while. It’s like an undo button for when you accidentally close the wrong tab.

Simple, but brilliant!

(extra: there is even an extension available which allows you to add this function directly to the toolbar)

Fat homes

Matt from 37signals recently posted some excerpts from “The Eight Step Home Cure”. They are well worth a read.

This one especially jumped out at me:

But when we take something new into our home, we rarely let go of something else. This is how our home gains weight, grows unhealthy, and begins to nag at us…Most of us aren’t in need of more organizing; we need to manage our consumption, let go of our stuff, and learn how to restore life to our homes.

As a reformed hoarder, I love the analogy of a house slowly getting fat as you fill it with more and more stuff.

As an aside, I actually think that hoarding might be a genetic condition. The good news is that it isn’t necessarily terminal. I recently got my parents hooked on Trade Me (hey, it only took 7 years!) They are now enthusiastically selling off lots of their junk stuff and are well on the way to a full recovery. :-)

Fat software

If you can think of your home as a “living organism” which needs a healthy diet and regular exercise then software is surely the same.

Applications that have been around for a while and through a number of versions are typically obese with features.

A classic example is Microsoft Office. When the team planning the most recent version asked people what features they would like to have added many of the things people suggested were actually already in the product. The problem was not too few features but the opposite – there were so many features that people were struggling to find them and use them effectively.

To solve this they came up with their new ribbon UI.

As more and more functionality is added to Trade Me we have started to run into the same sort of problems. We recently added a Seller Acceleration Centre to our help to make it easier for big sellers to find the existing features they can use to make their lives easier.

In addition we haven’t been scared to take the “liposuction” approach and remove functionality altogether when it isn’t used enough to justify its place in the UI. For example, a few months back we removed Trust Webs, which allowed us to give extra prominence to a members Blacklist.

So, next time you adding a feature to your application ask yourself what you can remove to keep things in balance.

Like somebody who holds on to every nick-nack that is choking their house on the assumption that it might be useful one day, it is harder to do than it sounds.