Monthly Archives: July 2005

Selecting user-friendly domain names

When graphic designers are developing logos, one common test of the quality of the logo design is to fax it and see what the faxed version looks like. Faxes flatten colors, make tiny print hard to read, and just generally put the logo to the test of withstanding less than optimal conditions. Domain names need to be able to withstand equally sub-optimal conditions. Whenever I see domain names that are hard to pronounce or include hyphens or use words for which there are several spellings or sound different from how they are spelled, like storycorps.net, a wonderful effort at documenting American oral history, I wonder if those deciding on a domain name ever did a fax test, like imagining that you need to verbally communicate the domain name, perhaps over the phone, or maybe at a cocktail party, or some other context that is less than optimal for communicating domain name. Would you need to spell it for them? Would you need to explain that there is a hyphen between the words? Or like the good people at Story Corps, would you need to use up precious seconds of radio ad time to spell out your domain name, because when you say the domain name, it really sounds like “storycore”? So what to do – after all, Story Corps can’t really be expected to change the name of the organization (though I would argue that in this webified age, thinking about the domain name of your organization should be a critical factor when coming up with a name) – what they could (and did) do, like Google has done, is to register expected alternate or incorrect spelling of your domain name (try going to gooogle.com, for example, or try going to capitolone.com, which will take you to capitalone.com), so Story Corps, knowing that even if they spelled out the domain name, storycorp.net, were smart enough to register storycore.net. In this case, they were lucky enough that the alternate spelling was not already taken. But then you’ve got domain names like real-estate.com. When giving someone this domain name over the phone, you have to call it “real hyphen estate dot com” which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue that easily. And should you forget to mention the hyphen, well, then the person you’re talking to will end up at the competitor site realestate.com. In my view, real-estate.com is actually inferior to a name like realestateonline.com, which is longer but easier to say. Shorter is not always better, not even when it comes to domain names…

Smart design vs Too-smart design

I love gmail as much as the next guy, but sometimes even the ui wizards at Google seem to have fallen for that most tempting of traps in user interface design – trying to be smart. Wait a second you say, isn’t ui design about being smart! ok, not to get bogged down in semantics here, but what I mean by this is when the overly eager designer tries to make one too many assumptions about a user’s behavior, essentially painting their design into a conceptual corner. For example, the designers at google decided that if someone posts a message to a list, and you are on that list, that you would not want to also be a recipient of that same message once it has been posted. Really? I actually like to see that my message went through.

But ok, let’s say that I’m ok with this. Unfortunately, the real problem with trying to be smart are all those pesky unexpected scenarios that you hadn’t consider. Ever tried sending an email to another of your addresses that is in turn forwarded back to the gmail address? Well, gmail sees that it was sent from your address and therefore decides (apparently) that this was someting you posted to a list and quietly does away with the message. Same with the otherwise brilliant gmail alias feature. Am I being overly picky? Are these realy non-issues? (How often do you need to test your own email address?) Possibly. At the same time, not showing you an email that you sent to yourself is non-standard behavior. For that reason, even if it is a good idea, it is something that the user should be able to decide that they want to do. The first time gmail does this, it should ask the user if this is their preference, and provide information on how this preference can be updated. This provides the best of both worlds, rather than mysteriously lost email because some designer decided that they know how their users behave…

Blogging and rewriting

Having (somehow) completed a degree in Enlish Lit., I did *a lot* of writing in my college days. So, it makes me wonder why I sometimes find blogging so frustrating. Ok, so it’s certainly not the writing part, and it’s not the techie part (I basically work on web sites all day long) – it’s the post-it-and-forget-it part. Huh? What I mean is that when we were writing in college (and when I do most any kind of writing these days, even any longer email), it’s all about writing and rewriting. Yes, you know, that whole revision thing (some of which this post looks like it’s going to need…) – blogging doesn’t really promote that. Yes, you can of course go back and revise stuff you wrote previously, but that would sort of contradict the all-important ‘date-posted’ info attached to your entry, which is telling the world “this is something I wrote July 30, 2005, at 2:54PM EST, and I never touched it again.” No, that date is just the publish date, you say, you can write and revise all you want while your post is in draft state. Sure, true that, but the reality is that you write stuff, post it, and then re-read it a week or so later (after all, somebody has to read these entries), and realize it is in dire need of a revision. Why should it be that because that July 30 date already is ‘out there’ I would kind of feel like I were cheating if I went back and made some revisions? I mean, after all, trusting readers have now read what I wrote back then, and I can’t just start making changes – that post is in the past. You can’t change the past. The problem, Ithink, is that blogs are supposed to be some kind of stream-of-consciousness thing we’re sharing with each other, which they sometimes are, and sometimes those are the best blog postings. But a lot of blog postings are also more like essays – well-crafted discussions – and the constantly evolving creatures that we are, we want to revise and improve our work – is that cheating feeling maybe because in the print world, it really is out there? After all, once a book is published, you can’t go back and change. (You can publish a new edition, and make changes there.) But the web is course very different from print, and blogs are not books – why, then, is it that we feel like we need to abide by the rules of the print world?

Battling affordances with labeling (or trying to)

Walked by the Dolce & Gabbana store in SoHo the other day and saw some serious labeling on their door handles.

Dolce & Gabbana door handles with huge signs on each handle that say PUSH

You have to wonder if at some point the doors did not have these oversized instructions on the handles, and customers were constantly trying to push the big and inviting surfaces only to be rudely informed (probably in the form of a big ‘BOINK!’) that the doors actually swing outward. After all, those big white raised surfaces simply beg to be pushed inward. So, instead of correcting the affordance of the design (e.g. replacing the big push handles with a set of thin vertical handles that communicate the need to pull), somebody decided to instead slap on a label to communicate how to open the door. Sort of like labeling a big beveled button with ‘DON’T CLICK.’ I guess the labeling will likely work ok for attentive people who can read English. But as it happens, more than a few people in NYC do not speak or read the language–especially tourists who of course come to SoHo in droves. They’ll probably wonder what the hell that text is on the door, seconds before finding their face imprinted on the glass…

Yahoo AddressGuard vs Gmail aliases – a case study in thinking outside the box

I remember when Yahoo AddressGuard came out. After having had two of my favorite email addresses pummeled to oblivion with spam, I jumped on the opportunity to a near endless store of disposable email addresses. I do remembering thinking that the process of creating new disposable addresses seemed a bit cumbersome, but what the hell, it was worth it! And then gmail was born, and with it came gmail aliases, and suddenly Yahoo AddressGuard seemed like a big old clunker…

Why? Well, the genius of gmail aliases is that you get almost all the benefit of Yahoo AddressGuard, but there is no ui, no forms to fill out, no disposable addresses to manage. All you do is add a plus sign to your current user id and then add some descriptive term to identify the alias. For example, if I’m filling out a form at BigBBQ.com, I might fill in my email address as gmailusername+bigbbq@gmail.com. Essentially, google replaced an entire user interface for managing disposable addresses with a plus sign! Ok, there is still a bit of a trade-off – your actual email can relatively easily be parsed out of the alias, but then gmail’s spam filtering is so good, that for the spammers who go to the trouble to do that (it won’t be worth it until gmail aliases become widespread), they’ll get dumped into the spam folder anyway.