Did you hear the one about the technology blog that people started mistaking for Facebook?
It’s a funny story, really, but it teaches us a lot. In a nutshell, ReadWriteWeb wrote a workaday blog post one day, about a new log-in function on Facebook. Now, ReadWriteWeb is a high-ranking well-respected blog, and before long, that post had gained a high Google position for the term “Facebook log-in”.
So far, so good, until the post starts attracting a disproportionate number of irrelevant comments, all saying things like “What’s going on? I just want to get to my Facebook page!”. Yes, you guessed it, these were people who habitually get to Facebook by going to Google, typing in ‘Facebook login’ and selecting one of the top results.
Having reached that page, though, they don’t think, hmm, this doesn’t look like Facebook. No, they quickly look for a log-in box, enter their details, find they’re still on the same page, and leave a bewildered or angry comment.
At some point during this process, more savvy web-users pick up on what is going on and start to comment too. The resulting effect is a string of these discontent comments, interspersed with comments saying – with varying degrees of politeness – ‘This is not Facebook! Try typing Facebook.com into your address bar!’.
Amusing or sad as this whole event might be, it does underline a couple of pertinent points. Number one, there are a lot of users out there for whom the internet feels like an irrational arena, prone to springing unwelcome surprises upon them. Longterm users have, without knowing, picked up an understanding of interfaces and vocabulary that not everyone shares.
Number two, everyone skims. There is so much irrelevant stuff on every webpage these days – ads, invitations to register, alerts, and so on – that skimming is a vital skill if you want to actually get anywhere. Can we blame these people for skimming what, at first sight, may just look like an announcement for a new piece of functionality? Goodness knows the ‘real’ Facebook does enough of that.
There’s a takeaway learning from this incident. You cannot underestimate your audience. Make your website as simple as possible, and when you’ve done that, make it twice as simple again. Remove unnecessary clutter. Don’t expect people to read your lovingly-crafted six paragraphs of text. Signpost the way. Your users will follow.