A fundamental flaw

Paul Boag

The web has a fundamental flaw; every web site is different. Every time a user visits a web site they are faced with a different interface with a different set of rules.

Even the simplest web site is a lot harder to figure out than a magazine or a book. We all know how to use a book. Start at the front and work your way through it by turning pages. What is more it is exactly the same with all books, magazines, catalogues and most other forms of printed material. It has always been that way and always will.

By contrast every new web site we visit means learning how to use it. We have to work out how to "turn the pages" in order to find the information we are looking for.

The fact that no two sites are the same creates barriers to entry and can seriously slow down new users or worse still, drive them away. When they arrive at a site they have to pause and work out what to do next. This is a frustrating process and one that is unique to the web.

Some see ASPs as the answer. ASPs provide a standard interface to all web sites removing this barrier to entry. Although many see this as a potential way forward it does face substantial obstacles, not least objections from marketeers who would see this kind of standardisation as undermining their brand identity. Even if ASP can overcome these problems it is still a long way from being a mainstream approach.

In the meantime all we can do is avoid making our sites too different. Try to conform to the internet conventions that have emerged. In a previous article I outline some of these conventions and why I believe it is important to follow them. However there is also a very useful site which helps web site owners understand what design practices are currently being used on the web so that where appropriate we can use these conventions to make our sites seem more familiar to users.