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June 17, 2001
7:33 PM   Subscribe

I usually just ignore Jakob - he has his right to his opinions, tho' I seldom agree with him - but I draw the line at misrepresenting a technology so egregiously... Acrobat's not that hard to understand; I can't believe it's possible for Neilsen to not know that the features he berates Acrobat for missing are, in actuality, right there to be used.
posted by m.polo (37 comments total)

 
Dude - it's okay. Look, Jacob is just doing what he does best - restating the blatantly obvious and collecting a big fat check from companies that don't know any better.

PDF is not meant for onscreen reading - it's meant for printing. Therefore his whole argument is assinine and should be ignored.
posted by gsh at 7:39 PM on June 17, 2001


Forcing users to browse PDF documents makes your website's usability about 300% worse relative to HTML pages. This is my rough estimate, based on watching users perform similar tasks on a variety of sites that used either PDF or regular Web pages. Because I have not performed a detailed measurement study of PDF on its own, I can't calculate the precise usability degradation. However, whether the true number is 280% or 320%...

In related news choclate ice cream is estimated to 234.47% better than vanilla ice cream but researchers are uncertain of the number because they only thought about eating ice cream rather than actually eating it.
posted by rdr at 7:55 PM on June 17, 2001


Jelly doesn't have bones.
posted by dong_resin at 9:10 PM on June 17, 2001


gsh, did you even read what jakob said? "Only use PDF for documents that users are likely to print." sounds like total agreement with your statement that "PDF is not meant for onscreen reading - it's meant for printing."

i think jakob's point is well-made. then again, there haven't been many pdf files i've run across on commercial websites that weren't pure marketing drivel to begin with, other than the ones that were meant for printing (manuals, papers, etc).

crusading against pdf files doesn't seem like picking a particularly looming menace.
posted by jimw at 9:10 PM on June 17, 2001


Okay what this Jakob guy is saying, I happen to agree with. If you're gonna use a pdf file, have an html equivalent for actual web browsing. Case in point: that stupid list of AFI's Top 100 most heart-pounding movies. You have to dig around to find an html equivalent, so you can copypaste it into notepad and make notations listing which ones you've seen and which ones you haven't and which ones you did see but they really sucked.

I should also note times when I've gone to a webpage and found something I wanted to edit for my own purposes but clicked only to find a pdf file where you have to manually type everything in again so you can have a normal .txt version. I'm telling you, this is all part of that ongoing plot to copyright protect everything on the Internet so that I can't steal it! ..yeah I know. Switch to decaf. I've heard it all before...
posted by ZachsMind at 9:29 PM on June 17, 2001


For what it's worth, there is one other reason for publishing documents in PDF that doesn't have to do with printing them, and dear, old Jakob doesn't even mention it.

If you've got original documents that you'd like to be made available to your viewers, but that you'd rather not give them the opportunity to swipe it.

Acrobat lets you disable selecting the text and copying it.

Furthermore, if you'd like to insure that your text appears in a specific font, you can embed the font into the pdf document -- a feature I wish HTML supported.
posted by crunchland at 9:41 PM on June 17, 2001


convert online PDF to HTML:
http://access.adobe.com/simple_form.html

problems solved?
posted by greyscale at 9:52 PM on June 17, 2001


the more i get to know specific usability individuals the more useless i find their function. we just need better educated designers and we wouldn't have the "usability" problems in the first place. how an entire industry was invented for this stuff seems bizarre to me.
posted by greyscale at 9:56 PM on June 17, 2001


Wow.

The level and depth of ignorance expressed in this thread is astounding.

To the original post: the point isn't that Acrobat doesn't have the features. The point is that access to those features is different than in a normal Web-browsing environment. This break in conventions screws with usability. And having to learn a whole new set of icons that are similar, but different, to the standard set of Web icons is also a burden.

And to greyscale's point: educated design is informed by "usability," as you put it in quotes. You couldn't have educated design without it. An "entire industry" (you make it sound like car manufacturing, or something) was invented because it became necessary to have a field devoted to studying how people interact with devices, in order to better understand how to design those devices. Usability goes hand-in-hand with smart design.
posted by peterme at 10:19 PM on June 17, 2001


The level and depth of ignorance expressed in this thread is astounding.

Oh, come on. Jakob is like the painter who sells his toddler's paintings: it's really obvious and basic, but they moved to sell it first.
posted by skyline at 10:52 PM on June 17, 2001


Skyline, usability is not obvious or basic. That's why Jakob makes money. This sort of analysis comes from direct observation of users. Most web sites suck because they're designed to suit the conceptual understanding of the web designers.

Some MeFi'ers may whine that PDF is not difficult, but that's because they are clueless about how advanced they are. The average person doesn't understand file management on their PC, let alone browser plug-ins.
posted by fleener at 11:36 PM on June 17, 2001


Feh. I'm plenty advanced and I still find PDF difficult.
posted by Mars Saxman at 12:33 AM on June 18, 2001


Let me state an opinion without reading Jakob's.

PDF is not as usuable as a web page, period.

btw I love PDF, its great format which crosses between online and print wonderfully. I work with it every day.

However as a page on the web, PDF is not as good as HTML and I'm just so glad that the web got up without buying into Adobe's model.
posted by lagado at 12:35 AM on June 18, 2001


Because they (think they) can drive very well, they insist that Granny must be an idiot if she can't jump into a Formula 1 racer and take it for a couple of fast laps at Monaco on race day, and that all cars should be as hard to drive (and driven as hard) as a Formula 1 racer.

Jakob's how-to-build-a-Volvo and how-people-drive-a-Volvo messages are not for everyone, but they are useful to those who need them. People should stop posturing and complaining.

> convert online PDF to HTML:
> http://access.adobe.com/simple_form.html
>
> problems solved?

Nope. But thanks for the useful link, greyscale.
posted by pracowity at 2:21 AM on June 18, 2001


crunchland: if you want to ensure that your web page appears in a certain font, print it out and send it to people. Don't put it on the web. Would that it were different, and that the subtleties of my favourite fonts, properly-leaded, were able to be put on view; but to be honest, when you see what people like Dean Allen do with the frankly strangulated typographical resources available within HTML, I'm not too worried.
posted by holgate at 3:19 AM on June 18, 2001


I think PDF is a marketing ploy to influence purchasing of overpriced Adobe software. Adware that's supposedly freeware. ADOBE ADOBE ADOBE. . .

I hate PDF. . .it's no better than a monster gif.
posted by crasspastor at 3:23 AM on June 18, 2001


fleener writes:
[...]usability is not obvious or basic. That's why Jakob makes money.


Jakob makes money by squatting dim users in front of dead web sites and tallying the seconds which elapse from checkered flag to duh-me-found-widget.

Then he distills all of his flawed myopic data into a smelly yellow oil, squirts it into garish bottles, and sells it for 20,000 USD per day - all in a selfish effort to bend the web to his own narrow and unimaginatve version of usability.

And of course, as a result of Dr. Jakob's careful ministrations, the web is, as everyone knows, flourishing and flowering...

Usability, as defined within the current paradigm, is exquisitely obvious. Painfully obvious. Ridiculously obvious. But the current paradigm is deeply flawed, simple-minded, and agonizingly boring. Jakob has merely set up his church right in the middle of this uninformed Babel, and bales up money while preaching uniformity and predictability - which, of course, tends to discourage the kind of useful experimentation which might eventually redefine and reinvigorate the web. He is also an apologist for the lowest common denominator, which screws any helpful Darwinian imperatives which might apply to the development of what should be an elitist (or at least a stratified) web.

Of course, a little more OnTopic, Online PDF does sort of suck...'cept for print files...and I never would have known if Jakob hadn't pointed it out...Marge, cut a big check for my jolly friend Jakob...
posted by Opus Dark at 3:55 AM on June 18, 2001


Given that Jacob's argument is based on spurious 'proof' that most websites expect users to read PDFs online, which is absurd and totally unsupported, I'd say I read the piece quite well.
posted by gsh at 4:27 AM on June 18, 2001


PDF content is thus optimized for letter-sized sheets of paper
Any page in a PDF document can be any size from 1"x1"up to 45"x45" in 1/72" increments.
PDF Lacks navigation bars
Either untrue or meaningless. Untrue: if a document is authored with bookmarks or thumbnails, there will be additional navigational tools equivalent or better than navigation bars. In addition, inter- and intradocument links and links to html documents can be authored in, which are navigation bars. Meaningless: some navigation modes in web browsers don't make sense in PDF and vice versa.
we found that PDF files sometimes crashed the user's computer
Specious. We found that with nearly every program, including the OS.
Because PDF is not the standard Web page format, it dumps users into a non-standard user interface.
Specious. There is no standard web interface, unless you consider whatever the current MS browser is to be standard.

Example of use: I worked at a place that had the company spanned across five buildings. If I had to find someone, I went there first because I could search across the document and find their location in one step, browsable onscreen.

Jakob: you might want to check your arguments, first.
posted by plinth at 5:16 AM on June 18, 2001


I also don't like how he says "don't index into the search engine." I deal with the federal government web sites every day, who use PDF a lot, and for good reason. PDF is a LOCKABLE format. You can't change whats in there.

It also lets you include images inline in one document, and allows you to transport that document. I might have specs for a federal contract bid, with inline graphics. So then I would forward that via internal e-mail (to cut down on net traffic on the already overworked connection) to a co-worker for opinion. They can then do markup right on the document, without affecting the overall content. Markup that can be turned off and on. They then forward back to me to review, finalize, and complete. I can then remove the markup, send it to a processing center complete, and the original file is guaranteed to be in its original form.
posted by benjh at 5:29 AM on June 18, 2001


Some MeFi'ers may whine that PDF is not difficult, but that's because they are clueless about how advanced they are. The average person doesn't understand file management on their PC, let alone browser plug-ins.

I'm tired of worrying about being ignorant of my own "level of advancement". In my experience, the end-user is a flat out moron who will not read what is on the screen. That is not my problem. It's his/hers.
posted by quonsar at 5:38 AM on June 18, 2001


... and MeFi'ers join in the debate. Jakob wins. Auuugh!
posted by darren at 5:48 AM on June 18, 2001


... and MeFi'ers join in the debate. Jakob wins. Auuugh!
posted by darren at 5:53 AM on June 18, 2001


He is also an apologist for the lowest common denominator, which screws any helpful Darwinian imperatives which might apply to the development of what should be an elitist (or at least a stratified) web.

The attitude here is such the smug "users are stupid" crap that design types tend to spout.

True, it seems to some of us that Nielsen often states the obvious, but there's definitely a need for it because there are so many sites that have rendered themselves unusable in exchange for "pretty graphics" that serve only to satisfy the site builders, and becomes a big f-u to the users.
posted by owillis at 6:54 AM on June 18, 2001


His overly precise figures are ludicrous but the direction is always correct and numbers are much more convincing than opinions. One number's higher. The other is lower. Lets choose the higher number. Or something.

In previous jobs I built up Jakob in the eyes of my managers and quoted him wiith preciseness and glee. When the boss wanted an animated gif background I could either explain that it'd be distracting and there's the bandwidth issues (and my dislike of unisys) and how animating that many gifs would need a fast machine or I could take the easy way out and make up some stupid usability statistic that said 80% of users got to where they were going faster without distracting animations. If I could remember a silly statistic from Jakob's I'd use that too. The decision was right, but it was based on silly information - and that I can live with.

When justifying decisions to upper management and those that aren't in the industry you need numbers. Opinions are far too debatable. Numbers numbers numbers.

So he states the obvious and makes a buck. Jakob rox0rs.
posted by holloway at 8:07 AM on June 18, 2001


> In my experience, the end-user is a flat out moron who
> will not read what is on the screen. That is not my
> problem. It's his/hers.

Good old-fashioned contempt for the audience.

It is your problem if you want people to read what you put on your screen but people don't read it because you didn't try hard enough. Even if your only aim is to insult people, you have failed if they don't read your insults.

> He is also an apologist for the lowest common
> denominator, which screws any helpful Darwinian
> imperatives which might apply to the development of
> what should be an elitist (or at least a stratified) web.

How about links to some of that elite content you want to defend from the evil Mr Nielsen? Let's see that great stuff that would pervade the web if only Jake were to dry up and blow away.
posted by pracowity at 8:21 AM on June 18, 2001


I always love the "defender of the common man" noxiousness that pours out from Jakob defenders. I can envision them standing there, framed by both Nielsen and the American flag in full glory, on the summit of a mountain, reaching down to those poor users who want to make sense of this world, but are horribly oppressed by those misanthropic, elitist designers. I wipe a tear from my eye in relief that someone, somewhere, is working for Joe Six-Pack and his AOL account so he can more easily gain access to goat pr0n.
posted by solistrato at 8:23 AM on June 18, 2001


Any page in a PDF document can be any size from 1"x1"up to 45"x45" in 1/72" increments.

Can be.

But never is.

-Mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:33 AM on June 18, 2001


PDF has its uses. I use it to make slides for lectures. I have total control over my authoring tools (unlike with PowerPoint) and it projects just fine. My students love to get class notes in PDF over the web (they love it too much, in fact--I've stopped offering it, so they'll come to class).
posted by rodii at 9:17 AM on June 18, 2001


I can envision them standing there, framed by both Nielsen and the American flag in full glory, on the summit of a mountain, reaching down to those poor users who want to make sense of this world, but are horribly oppressed by those misanthropic, elitist designers.

Like this, you mean?
posted by holgate at 10:07 AM on June 18, 2001


How about links to some of that elite content you want to defend from the evil Mr Nielsen? Let's see that great stuff that would pervade the web if only Jake were to dry up and blow away.

My silly website is niether elite nor great. It is written and visual material, "printed matter". Books are written for those who would choose to read them. I've never seen a useability study done on books. Any half-wit with the ability to read and comprehend can master a web page, if not a computer. If they choose, for whatever reason, NOT to read, whose loss is it? Not mine. I know hundreds of adults who never read anything except when neccessary. While I find it difficult to imagine going through life like that, I ain't gonna bend over backwards trying to make it 'useable' enough for a brain that's been relegated to its owners back burner.
posted by quonsar at 11:04 AM on June 18, 2001


quonsar, have you ever watched someone not familiar with computers try to surf the web? I have seen many intelligent people frustrated by poor web design.

Print Media is a major field, book design even more so. They follow conventions that have come about over hundreds of years. To think that a website is as easy to use as a book is laughable.
posted by Mick at 11:19 AM on June 18, 2001


I wipe a tear from my eye in relief that someone, somewhere, is working for Joe Six-Pack and his AOL account so he can more easily gain access to goat pr0n.

thank you, solistrado. that says it, in a nutshell!
posted by quonsar at 11:19 AM on June 18, 2001


should read "Print Media is a mature field" unlike my proofreading skills
posted by Mick at 11:20 AM on June 18, 2001


quonsar, have you ever watched someone not familiar with computers try to surf the web? I have seen many intelligent people frustrated by poor web design.

All the time, Mick. All the time. And I have never seen anybody frustrated by 'poor design'. I see them skimming right past navigation, scrolling wildly up and down, cursing the machine and/or web, and in every case the problem is a failure to read what is in front of thier face. These people want television, they want passive interaction. They have been led to expect that, mostly by the likes of Intel and Microsoft and a zillion poorly conceived and now dead dotcom ad campaigns. Mick, you mentioned the importance of book design - what a hoot! In the western world, the interface is always the same. You open the cover, flip to page one, place eyes on upper left corner and read left to right and down one line at a time. Around the world this varies little, usually only in terms of starting point and reading direction. Apply this process to a web page: WOW! You're on your way! You're mastering technology! I have nothing but disdain for people who won't read. And I have no interest in altering my presentation in the hope that one or two more might.
posted by quonsar at 11:34 AM on June 18, 2001


Are you on the same internet as the rest of us? The same web with navigation on the bottom left hand of the page in totally illegible text? Or with icons that you need a dictionary to figure out? If only people who designed for the web would have to use their interfaces to access their email, then they would understand that their "pretty design" is flipping unusable.

People want websites that work, not ones that make the creators feel good about themselves.
posted by owillis at 11:45 AM on June 18, 2001


wipe a tear from my eye in relief that someone, somewhere, is working for Joe Six-Pack and his AOL account so he can more easily gain access to goat pr0n.
So it's the religious adherance to Jakob's Law that you find irritating? Yeah - I guess so, I feel the same about webstandards.org. Your scene of usability gits unccessarilly defending the weak and feeble doesn't give any clear idea of what guidelines you disagree with (all guidelines are stupid?). I hope you would agree that most of what Jakob sez is common sense. I've certainly seen PDF files in places they shouldn't have been. It took several hours and several broken downloads to open a five page document that should have been HTML 2. So it's blatantly obvious not to use PDFs online, yet it's still done and it still gets my goat.

A commercial site - here in beautiful New Zealand - had black circles at the top of the screen with onClicks to change the page (and no href). There was an OnMouseOver to update the window.status so as to inform the user where they were going. There were no frames and no need to update several pages at once. Everyone knows it was a bad decision yet it still happens.

I don't see arrogance in making sites that follow usability guidelines anymore than the arrogance of my mechanic deciding what sparkplug I should have. I believe that there are good and bad interfaces and that usability is a science.

The trend I have noticed is that people who hate Jakob also hate any guidelines. They don't tend to say which guidelines they disagree with, or why. Jakob states the obvious - and yes, I want his babies.
posted by holloway at 6:36 PM on June 18, 2001


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