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"I WANT TO TAKE GOOGLES OFF OF MY HOME PAGE"
February 11, 2010 11:05 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday, ReadWriteWeb, which "provides analysis of Web products and trends to an intelligent audience of engaged technology decision makers, Web enthusiasts and innovators" posted an article titled "Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login." What happened in the post's comments taught them a lesson about users who aren't in their target demographic: internet users browse by search, because they think browsers are search engines.

ReadWriteWeb's own analysis of the "Facebook login" debacle. Their primary reflection? "Users don't care about what you care about."

OK/Cancel, a blog which ran into similar territory with the keywords "cancel Google," (previously) and another post which fell prey to the problem by commenting on OK/Cancel's plight.
posted by ocherdraco (190 comments total) 53 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, and I should have said that I found this via mathowie and cortex.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:07 AM on February 11, 2010


Facebook. It's not you, it's me. I just need to walk away for a bit. Take some space.

OK it IS you.
posted by Danf at 11:13 AM on February 11, 2010


I LIKE THE NEW ALL-BLUE FACEBOOK BUT CAN I JUST LOG IN NOW PLEEEEEZE?????!!!11
posted by gurple at 11:14 AM on February 11, 2010 [24 favorites]


I have seen this sort of thing in the wild, and it always amazes me.

Over at a friend's house, and he wants to look up something on espn. He doesn't go to the address bar and type in espn.com, he goes to the search box in firefox, and types in espn.com, then selects the first search result returned. He might be one of those commentators.
posted by nomisxid at 11:15 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


oh dear lord. i deal with this ALL THE TIME.

my first year as first-level support for an ISP...it took me awhile to figure out what was going on, that people had no idea about the address bar. also, they didn't understand they didn't need AOL anymore because WE were their internet provider.

even tho i'm in not in a tech support call center anymore i still work in IT and have to deal with this so often when trying to help someone with a webapp we have or getting to a web meeting URL (people will retype the link rather than open it from their email and then insert a www where none is needed, completely ignoring that the link is in its entirety in the email, including the http:// in order to show that there was no www!!!)

i don't expect everyone to know everything about the internets, but i just have such a hard time fathoming this...and then i just feel bad because not everyone has the same skill set. i just don't understand how people can use a computer all day, everyday and not know this.

does this kind of stuff fall under digital divide? user experience? i'm not trying to be all rant/uppity, i really just don't understand. i'm not super techie, i know i grew up with this stuff, but there are tons of people who didn't who seem to use it just fine. just like there is no single demographic that seems to do the "browse by search" thing (at least IME).
posted by sio42 at 11:15 AM on February 11, 2010 [9 favorites]


Jesus H. Christ.
posted by brundlefly at 11:16 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't get it... how hard is it to understand what a browser is and what a URL is and how to use a search engine? Is it just that people don't bother to try and blindly flail their way through life?
posted by Never teh Bride at 11:16 AM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


wait. I'm really confused. Did these people actually think that the RWW site was a facebook redesign? if that is what's going on here...I...just...oh.my.god.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:17 AM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yup, sounds like it's about time to get your internet search engine serviced.

::pulls out dipstick to check::

Yessiree, just what I figured - this here internet is just chock full of dipsticks.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:17 AM on February 11, 2010 [25 favorites]


ocherdraco: ""Users don't care about what you care about.""

This fact becomes usually become obvious after meeting with users for any amount of time.
posted by boo_radley at 11:17 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


In other news, Farmville activity took a nose dive yesterday.
posted by evilgenius at 11:18 AM on February 11, 2010 [19 favorites]


"I am outraged that you won't just let me log in to Facebook. I'm going to call my lawyer just as soon as I figure out how to use a phone."
posted by brundlefly at 11:19 AM on February 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I found this through cortex's twitter stream as well, and I finished the article and didn't understand what was happening when I got to the comments, wondering "why are these people even reading this article?" Then I finally connected with what the barely literate comments were saying and I smiled so large I think I heard it.

I said something similar in the Apple iPad thread, and I think the same thing is true when it comes to Facebook/Twitter as well -- and probably just about anything having to do with big time monetizing of the Internet -- and I think this incident proves my point: If you have a passionate opinion about this, you aren't the target demographic.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:19 AM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't know what all of this is about. I am just looking for a used car.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:20 AM on February 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


Thank you ocherdraco. This is really fascinating!
posted by honest knave at 11:21 AM on February 11, 2010


Computer smart. Computer not like fire. Fire tricksy. Fire confuse me.
posted by lalochezia at 11:21 AM on February 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


Still waiting for Metafilter to implement OpenID.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:22 AM on February 11, 2010


I want to change my username to involuntary synecdoche now . . .
posted by protorp at 11:22 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


And Google, of course, wants to confuse the issue even more, by only giving users one uniform bar for search and URLs in chrome.

In firefox and IE, you have two seperate bars. Search and URLs. If you do enter an invalid URL, you'll get a search, same as in chrome. But only URLs show up as suggestions.
ReadWriteWeb's own analysis of the "Facebook login" debacle. Their primary reflection? "Users don't care about what you care about."
Ugh. Selection bias much? What he's actually discovered is that "people who came here searching for 'facebook login'" and "My regular readers" have different web expectations.

Then for some reasons he decided to relabel those groups "users" and "you" so that he could make a more provocative, but far less supportable, statement. There are 378 comments on that thread (not all from FB users), and 400 million facebook users. So less then 1 in a million actually made the mistake.

I mean yeah, some people are going to do a search and think wherever they are is where they're supposed to be, but it hardly means that the vast majority of users are that dumb. I mean seriously. This just both embarrassingly condescending and embarrassingly unscientific.
posted by delmoi at 11:23 AM on February 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


A colleague of mine struggles with this all the time. When I try to explain that the bar on top (the address bar) is a little bit like opening to the exact page of a book because you know right where it is, and that the bottom bar (search bar) is like looking in a library card catalog to find the book, he gets it. That metaphor helps him remember to use his bookmarks, too.
posted by bunnycup at 11:24 AM on February 11, 2010 [29 favorites]


Who are all you people? I don't remember friending any of you fuckers.
posted by avoision at 11:24 AM on February 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


I see this all the time - Google gets focus when the home page opens and people just start typing and then they start clicking. I still don't understand how they get to RWW's page though. Almost any query containing "facebook" has the facebook main link at the top of the search results.
posted by GuyZero at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2010


Their primary reflection? "Users don't care about what you care about."

Seems to me like the real lesson is just that some people are idiots, and this situation inadvertently set up a mechanism for surfacing them. Obviously web publishers may want to cater for the idiot demographic for whatever reason, but the mere fact of them rising to the surface in a situation like this doesn't automatically mean that they're a particularly important part of the user base or that they say anything significant about web behavior as a whole.

Interesting post, though. Thanks!
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:25 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Let's not get elitist about this. In the absence of training, people develop their own techniques and heuristics to navigate a technical system. Lots of times, these heuristics are wrong.

It doesn't mean that people are idiots, although it makes you feel smarter to imagine that this is so.
posted by muddgirl at 11:26 AM on February 11, 2010 [19 favorites]


See also : CANCEL THE GOOGLE
posted by Afroblanco at 11:26 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


or (and it's not often I type these words in this order) what delmoi said.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:27 AM on February 11, 2010


Heck, lots of these people DID have training. They learned how to use the internet through an AOL browser, like my in-laws. Which rewards the use of the search bar instead of the address bar.
posted by muddgirl at 11:27 AM on February 11, 2010


So less then 1 in a million actually made the mistake.

I doubt Facebook has 400M 7-day actives, probably 25% of that number so it's 378 in 100M or like 3 in a million. But on the interweb even statistical outliers become a force to be reckoned with.
posted by GuyZero at 11:27 AM on February 11, 2010


There is absolutely nothing stupid about searching Google for "Metafilter" or "Facebook" to get to those sites. It works fast, it's very simple, and it's one less UI skill to learn. Depending on the specifics of your browser it may well be quicker, too, particularly if you can get an I'm Feeling Lucky redirect out of whatever you're typing in to. Search should be a universal interface, who wants to have to remember whether it's http:// or http:\\ and whether it's slashdot.org or slashdot.com? Navigational queries are a large and useful part of search engine traffic.

(Before you flame me, I'm a software engineer, used to work at Google, and have a masters degree in arts and sciences. I may be stupid, but I'm at least educated stupid)
posted by Nelson at 11:28 AM on February 11, 2010 [16 favorites]


My favorite comment.
Dear Sir,

I am Prince Otumfuo Zuckerberg, the elder son of the late Facebook King Mark Zuckerberg whose demise occur following a brief illness. Before the death of my father, I was authorised and officially known as the next successor and beneficiary of my father's property according to Facebook Traditional rite.

Due to a recent redesign, I find myself trapped inside of a ReadWriteWeb article, unable to log in to Facebook to collect my inheritance. This ugly situation made me to secretly move the gold dust having the above mentioned qualities into a security and finance firm with the assistance of my uncle whom serves as a secretary to Facebook council of elders.

If you are interested to buy it just contact me or just look for a buyer for me. I have promise to run the deal with you, base in the degree of sincerity and trust in you. Having receive your reply, I will feed you with the relevant information covering the consignment.

Please reach me through my e-mail address oneborneveryminute@onebox.com to avoid much publicity.

Thanks. Yours faithfully,

PRINCE OTUMFUO ZUCKERBERG
posted by signalnine at 11:28 AM on February 11, 2010 [21 favorites]


I think this is the reverse of the 1000 monkeys on typewriters. With 350 million users, there's going to be a significant number of people with below average Internet literacy, even if it's a low proportion.
posted by sswiller at 11:29 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are 378 comments on that thread (not all from FB users), and 400 million facebook users. So less then 1 in a million actually made the mistake.

That's what I was thinking too. It would be interesting to see traffic graphs for the site from before the article was posted to after, which theoretically would show a big spike as people got there and realized it wasn't fb.

I have noticed though that the layout of fb does seem to change often enough that a total redesign (from blue to red? with a new banner? reaching, I know) might confuse users to thinking the site had changed again. At least that's my impression becuase there seem to be little differences everytime I login, which is probably like once a month or so.
posted by Big_B at 11:30 AM on February 11, 2010


Every six or eight months another “controversy” like this comes around. The insinuation, in every case but this one, is that we are to blame for actually knowing what we are doing. A minute or two of education solves the problem for most; some people will remain too stupid. Beyond a certain point, people who are not paid to do so don’t have to help them.
posted by joeclark at 11:30 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was helping my sister get through a computer technology class. At first, I was just answering her questions, not realizing that I was doing her homework over the phone for her. Then I started asking her what she thought, and what the book said (a book about computers? Why not just ask a computer? ZOMG!) She's almost 20 and has used computers for over 10 years, but for her I think they computers simply exist and they usually work when you do stuff with them. Further into the unknown is my mother, who is unsure what to do with a computer when it's not yet turned on.

Even at work, around people who use computers every day for their jobs, get beyond the basic functions and it's a foreign language. Follow the steps you normally take, and you'll get to the end. The path doesn't matter. But I think the same can be said about anything that is sufficiently complex: if you can make it work for your normal tasks, most people will be content with getting from A to B, even if it takes you past Q and Z. Computers just have a lot more options for detours.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:30 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


At this point, the increasing numbers of other websites linking to that blog post, with yet more juxtapositions of "facebook" and "login", is ensuring that the post is even more tightly glued to the number two spot in Google search results.

Probably the best thing for ReadWriteWeb to do is turn off comments on that post for a week or so; people won't be trying to log in if they can't find any form fields to put their personal information into.

At the very least, they practically have a moral obligation to turn off the "Sign in with Facebook..." label over the comments field, which judging from some comments is clearly what a lot of visitors are using to conclude that this page is Facebook.
posted by ardgedee at 11:30 AM on February 11, 2010


To be fair to the morans, Facebook does change shit around in vexing ways. But yikes! They wouldn't CHANGE THE NAME OF THE SITE, for instance.
posted by Mister_A at 11:30 AM on February 11, 2010


There is absolutely nothing stupid about searching Google for "Metafilter" or "Facebook" to get to those sites.

The stupid part is thinking that you've landed at Facebook when you obviously haven't. I don't think anyone's saying it's idiotic to use Google to search for login pages.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:31 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


And hey, I browse via search all the damn time. I have too many bookmarks for them to be useful – Google is my bookmarks!

And a lot of other people do this, but some of us realize that you should only click on the thing that is actually the thing that you want, not just the thing that is about the thing.
posted by Mister_A at 11:33 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


But as much fun as it is to have a good LOLMOMS, the lesson here is that the moms are right.

It IS increasingly redundant to have a URL bar and a search bar. I'm always accidentally pressing the wrong one on my iPhone and having to backtrack. Either way, you're plugging English words into a little box, and computers are looking it up and translating it for you. (After all, isn't a DNS lookup a kind of search engine?)

Ironically enough, the proof of this came from Google itself: its Chrome browser has only one box, for searching and navigating alike. It doesn't take advanced AI to figure out what the user is trying to do, and it removes a potentially irksome hurdle. I really, really like it.

It's easy for us to sneer at people who never learned exactly what's going on behind their computer screens, with their elaborate abstract metaphors. But is it irrational to just want your machine to do something in a predictable, repeatable, and immediately comprehensible manner? That's what we ask of cars, for instance.

Desktop-metaphor operating systems have always been, and will always be, too fiddly and abstract for a large slice of the population to completely engage with - the slice we, of necessity, don't often hear from here. The sooner the information appliance matures the better. I, for one, welcome our new tablet overlords, and my mom does too.
posted by bicyclefish at 11:34 AM on February 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


See also : CANCEL THE GOOGLE (Afroblanco)

Afroblanco, that's the "previously" link up there next to the OK/Cancel bit.
posted by ocherdraco at 11:35 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


And with this, I am really surprised that there aren't more casual attempts at phishing sites, bumped up in the search results by nefarious means. if people confuse ReadWriteWeb for Facebook, how many people are paying attention to all the widgets on the top and bottom of their browser that tell them they are securely talking with Bank of America? Even if the result is a page that says "Oops, that didn't work. Click this link (to the real bank website) and try again!" could nab a lot of information and many wouldn't think twice (so it seems).

Maybe Computer Literacy should be the new Home Ec class. Making jello and learning how to sew on a button don't seem as pressing when someone might give away their identity because they think a technology blog is their favorite social network. Or better yet, critical thinking, where you're faced with basic logic puzzles. No easy answers, think for yourself!
posted by filthy light thief at 11:36 AM on February 11, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't get it... how hard is it to understand what a browser is and what a URL is and how to use a search engine? Is it just that people don't bother to try and blindly flail their way through life?
You know I had an interesting experience with my mom when she started using the computer. She wanted detailed instructions for everything, which she would write down. Literally like "click on icon that looks like X, wait, click here, type this." Ironically GUIs are a disaster for people who actually don't want to know how to user a computer. With a command line interface you just say "type this, type that, type the other thing" and they can remember those steps. The instructions I gave her for browsing the web once left off the "wait" step and once she asked me why she was getting dozens of browser windows popping up. Turns out she was clicking on the icon multiple times when it didn't come up right away.

She would actually use a terminal connection to read her email too; she actually did find command line email easier then using a GUI. Obviously, she was comfortable using a typewriter and GUIs actually frustrated her.

Finally I got her to admit that she wasn't trying to learn how to use the computer. In fact, she actually resented the fact that she had to learn anything.

But that was years ago. Later on she apparently realized how useful computing skills were and actually learned how to use computers. She's not an expert, but she can certainly manage using basic programs (and I'm sure she knows the difference between a URL and a search, btw)

So the fact is, really, that she never wanted to learn how to use a computer in the past, but later on she did. And now she knows how. So I think a lot of it is just not wanting to learn. I think for a lot of people, the desire to learn disappears after they reach a certain age.
posted by delmoi at 11:38 AM on February 11, 2010 [12 favorites]


> So less then 1 in a million actually made the mistake. I doubt Facebook has 400M 7-day actives, probably 25% of that number so it's 378 in 100M or like 3 in a million. But on the interweb even statistical outliers become a force to be reckoned with.

How many of 400 million people log into Facebook via Google on a regular basis?

The problem with playing this numbers game is that a trivial slice of a large number of people is still very large:Whatever numbers you choose to make up for those percentages doesn't matter a whole lot; Facebook gets a lot of traffic, and a fraction of a fraction of a percent is probably a lot more visitors than your blog usually gets.

Of course, there are now all kinds of SEOs are freaking right the hell out with urgent attempts to capitalize on this heretofore-unknown exploitable phenomenon. So ReadWriteWeb will eventually slide down the rankings as the brouhaha dies, but there will probably be unpleasant aftereffect in the near future.
posted by ardgedee at 11:41 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think filthy light thief is on to something! This should be taught more systematically, as so much business and social stuff is transacted via the tubes.
posted by Mister_A at 11:41 AM on February 11, 2010


And hey, I browse via search all the damn time. I have too many bookmarks for them to be useful – Google is my bookmarks!

But do you search for MetaFilter? ESPN? CNN? Your bank's website?

There are the pages you rarely visit, and those you check daily or weekly. URL completion is your friend, unless you happen to visit sites that have remarkably similar names. Google the rest.

Finally I got her to admit that she wasn't trying to learn how to use the computer. In fact, she actually resented the fact that she had to learn anything.

This, a thousand times. Computers are supposed to make everything easier, so when it's hard, you feel extra stupid. Especially when the kids already get it (even though it seems like more and more of them don't get it).
posted by filthy light thief at 11:41 AM on February 11, 2010


... They've chosen to be smart about other things, like building cars or making art or raising families. I'll bet some of them are terrific dancers...

God Bless you, Jolie O'Dell, for this wonderfully kind comment. While I am guilty of laughing at and mocking other people's naivety, you have raised the bar on being kind to people who might not know as much as us in this particular area.

"Whose your audience?" a former boss of mine used to say. Always remember who your audience is. And even if what they do or what they think makes no sense to you, remember that you are making your product for them and not for you.
posted by bitteroldman at 11:42 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


My dad, thank the lord, is not on Facebook, but he does the search bar thing all the time. Every time I grit my teeth I remember that he knows how to rebuild a diesel truck engine and I can't change my own oil.
posted by desjardins at 11:42 AM on February 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


This makes me feel good. Here I am trying to get openGL to work on an android emulator and yet there are people dependent on search engines to do simple navigation.

But what worries me is there are a lot of young people, who have grown up using computers and the internet, who are googling for the login. Just boggles the mind, really.
posted by hellojed at 11:44 AM on February 11, 2010


Apparently, both Afroblanco and I didn't read the (more inside) since my post pretty much said just what RWW concluded and there was also a link to the Cancel Google. See, people of all kinds make mistakes!

And though thinking anybody who made this error is an elitiest, I think you can still be pretty darned amused at it and not be (entirely) looking down your nose. We often forget that we're just points on a spectrum because, despite all the talk about interconnections, some of see such a narrow band of it.

If anything, like I said, it shines a bright, bright light on the oft-forgotten fact that a lot of people out there are nothing like you and you don't have to have a license to have access to a web browser and a whole lot of actually really smart people don't know why they shouldn't be using that browser/OS/technique you think is really commonplace. To be honest, I find the fact that this shocks people almost as funny as I find the comments themselves.

And like Nelson, I will also admit to often using the google search bar to login to sites. (The difference being I don't wonder why I can't find my damn Puzzle Pirate if the wrong page comes up.)

My final reflection is this: There are times that I wish that I could be so confident in my interactions with the world that I could shout angrily into a text box because I couldn't even imagine that I might be doing something wrong.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:45 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


But do you search for MetaFilter? Yes.
ESPN? Yes.
CNN? Yes.
Your bank's website? Sometimes.

Not always for any of them, but sometimes or better for all of them. Why? Why not? If I typo the name, good ole google will get me there anyway.
posted by Mister_A at 11:46 AM on February 11, 2010


idiots on the internet well i never
posted by DU at 11:47 AM on February 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


I can absolutely concur with delmoi above. When I was home for Christmas, my mother meekly came to me with a CD. "Someone sent me this," she said. "It has pictures from back in October, but...I don't know how to look at them. Can you show me how I look at these on the computer?"

It took me ten minutes because I had to pause at EACH AND EVERY STEP -- "okay first you open the disc drive and -- oh. Okay, the disc drive is this thing here, that you put the disc in, so you open that and -- oh. Okay, the way you open the disc drive is by pushing this button right HERE. So -- oh. Okay, let me know when you're done writing that down. Okay, then you put the disc in and -- oh. Okay, you put the disc in with THIS side up, and -- okay, let me know when you're done writing...."

On the one hand, it's frustrating, but on the other hand, I just remind myself copiously that she has had 40+ years of a computer-less existance to fight past, while I only had 10 years before they came along.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This isn't a 4chan prank?
posted by Theta States at 11:47 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I think this is really interesting, and an indication of a tipping point, where the internet crests the hill of "egghead geek toy" and enters the slope of "essential fact of modern life". It's pretty essential already, I admit, but it isn't quite like a pocket calculator for the majority of folks (even the majority of folks who own computers).

I've been on the web since '95, and I certainly know the difference between a URL and a search term. And back in '95, this was crucial knowledge--Altavista couldn't find what you were looking for if it wasn't on the web, and many, many things weren't on the web back then.

These days, however, if I'm interested in something then there is almost certainly info about it online, whatever it may be, and there's no guarantee that the URL will be easy to remember. In addition, Google is good. Really good.

And so 80% of the time I use google even if I think I know the URL already--it will correct my misspellings. Or I'll type the first few words into Chrome and hit enter--sometimes it autocompletes the URL for me (because I've been there often enough) and sometimes it goes to google and I click through.

All I'm getting at is that yes, these people are still dumb. Back in 1995, they would have been incomprehensibly dumb. But in another five or ten years I expect URLs to be completely obsolete, and this type of confusion will seem like an archaic, abstruse distinction. It will be like laughing at people who don't know how to use a slide rule or something. It was common enough, once.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 11:50 AM on February 11, 2010


And Google, of course, wants to confuse the issue even more, by only giving users one uniform bar for search and URLs in chrome.

I'm not sure that's really the wrong move, though. The part of my brain that's responsible for habits finds it disconcerting, because That's Not How It Works, but building a smarter single-input box makes a fair amount of sense if you start from the position of not considering it automatically wrong. A combined url/search bar can start by trying to find a valid absolute (or partial) URL in the user input and then fail gracefully to secondary functions like search if that's not found, which seems like a pretty reasonable and elegant way to handle things.

Power users are going to want to be able to control how this stuff works, and I think part of my own initial negative reaction to a combined-bar approach (I don't use Chrome and haven't tried to acclimate to that UI paradigm) is just a worry that somehow this being a simpler approach to input means that my fine-grained control over my experience will be nerfed. But while it's possible for that to happen in practice, there's no reason it'd have to happen in theory.

And, in practice, browsers already try to make some sort of sense of non-url content in url bars, so we're not really talking about new behavior in e.g. Firefox so much as the removal of an increasingly redundant search box.

What people do when they land on the pages the land on is a separate question entirely; I don't think the problem here is one of how-people-search or how-people-get-to-websites so much as it is how-people-think-critically-while-browsing. And some of them just don't; while you can design towards helping even the clueless improve their success rate for any given interaction, you can't foolproof anything.

I doubt Facebook has 400M 7-day actives, probably 25% of that number so it's 378 in 100M or like 3 in a million. But on the interweb even statistical outliers become a force to be reckoned with.

The real question here is how many people searched and failed, which I'm guessing (ungenerously? realistically?) is a much larger number than on the order of one in a million. How many facebook users actually searched on this? How many landed there? How many landed there, were just as confused as the folks commenting, but didn't bother to leave a comment? Etc. Numbers are horribly mushy. The fact that outliers scale is the fundamental one, though, absolutely.
posted by cortex at 11:50 AM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think filthy light thief is on to something! This should be taught more systematically, as so much business and social stuff is transacted via the tubes.

EVERYTHING should be taught systematically. If the steps are nothing more than points to check off, you're screwed when something changes. Some people will forget the reasons, but at least you once understood what things meant. With computers, it's an issue with GUIs (hehe, you said gooeys) change, often with the notion of making things easier (I'm scowling at you, Microsoft). The problem is this means it takes longer to teach something, instead of just giving people checklists of actions, but you'll save a LOT of time down the line.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:50 AM on February 11, 2010


My cell phone number is (area code) 978-7***. There is a medical supplier in Massachusetts whose phone number is 978-7**-****. I've discovered that some people apparently never answer their phone. They just call the numbers they see on their caller ID, so I get these calls from people who say, "Yeah, who is this? This number called my phone and I'm trying to find out who's calling me and what you want." That kind of thing.

I just don't answer calls from numbers I don't recognize. My outgoing message now says, "If you're trying to call Stylus, leave me a message. If you're calling about medical supplies, you're trying to call a long distance number, which means you need to dial a 1 first." Is till get messages that say, "You called this number and I'm trying to find out why you're calling me."

But my favorites are the ones that say, "Hey Stylus. I need you to call me back about some medical supplies..."
posted by Stylus Happenstance at 11:52 AM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


And Google, of course, wants to confuse the issue even more, by only giving users one uniform bar for search and URLs in chrome.

In firefox and IE, you have two seperate bars. Search and URLs. If you do enter an invalid URL, you'll get a search, same as in chrome. But only URLs show up as suggestions.


I actually like this, because before I started using Chrome I was pretty much using the Google search bar in FireFox exclusively rather than the address bar. If I'm visiting a site that I use regularly, then I probably have a bookmark for it or it's already open in a tab on my persistent browser session. For sites that don't I use often, I don't remember if they are whatever.blogspot.com or whatever.com or whatever.net or somethingelse.com/whatever. It's easier to just always reflexively start with a search for those kinds of sites.
posted by burnmp3s at 11:53 AM on February 11, 2010


It's not that users are stupid. It's that browser and website designers have NO CLUE how actual users interact with the web. All this crap that sophisticated people like us Metafilter people take for granted (buttons, forms, URL field, search bar, window contexts, sidebars, nav bars etc) are confusing and distracting to a lot of people. So they tune them out.

We're like mechanics laughing at old ladies for not understanding the difference between a cam and a crankshaft. Sure, the old ladies are stupid about what's under the hood. But who cares? To them a car is something that takes you places, not a complicated piece of machinery.
posted by dylan20 at 11:53 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I just wonder if some of those are people commenting for the LOLZ. The trouble is that it is getting tougher every day to tell.

I use the URL bar more than bookmarks. If I've been there before and/or I have a bookmark it will be on that list. For grins I just typed facebook into the bar and like most browsers since Netscape 2.0 it would tack the www. and .com onto it and take me to facebook.com.

But this is part of the Google's world domination plans. People who type urls into search boxes is great for Google since it can serve ands. And what if instead of clicking on the results link, they click on Facebook's sponsored ad? It means that Google gets paid every time someone goes to Facebook. Genius! And if more people use Chrome it will be even easier! If IE and FF default to search results w/o a plugin they (or Bing) makes money on behavior that is unnecessary.

Now I'm going to post this to my Google Buzz stream tweet wall or whatever it is.
posted by birdherder at 11:55 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I still can't duplicate a search that puts that RWW article anywhere in the top queries in the google. Maybe they did it in Bing.
posted by GuyZero at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


...I think a lot of it is just not wanting to learn. I think for a lot of people, the desire to learn disappears after they reach a certain age.

If I get like that in 20 or so years I hope someone will put me out of my misery.
posted by thisjax at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Does anyone have screenshots of what these various pages looked like before they were altered to be more clear?

From the icon in the RWW metapost, it seems like there was an image or something similar with a facebook login prompt?

Similarly, it's impossible to tell from that "cancel Google" link what the original visitors were seeing.
posted by joshwa at 11:56 AM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]



So is this why google makes so much money? I ask because I've always wondered how they make the really big cash.

Whenever I use google, I never click on the ads, and I actively avoid the highlighted or sponsored links since I don't want to favor only those sites that can afford it. Call me a jerk, but that's one of my hang ups. Google's probably making money off of my usage anyway in some way I'm not aware of, and I'm adding page hits to them anyway. That should be enough.

I guess I now see why google makes so much bank. They have millions of people who have no clue clicking on links that get money sent to them.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 11:57 AM on February 11, 2010


I think for a lot of people, the desire to learn disappears after they reach a certain age.

I agree with your previous thoughts, but I'm not convinced age is the main factor. I've seen this same attitude in plenty of my contemporaries when I was in my teens and twenties. My wife was even one for a while, she was completely against the idea of learning how to use a computer, for reasons I never quite understood. Once she changed her mind, she did just fine, it was just a mental block (very similar to how many people have a mental block about learning math, where they convince themselves it's too hard or that they can't).
posted by wildcrdj at 11:58 AM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


GuyZero, I did

Facebook login

and it showed up first page.
posted by Mister_A at 11:59 AM on February 11, 2010


I have a small staff (six folks). I am the most computer literate of the bunch. Recently, the guy who managed all the computer stuff left the church. This was *very bad* because though I can deal with router issues and changing passwords and all that, I am busy doing weddings and burying people and reading the Bible and stuff.
Anyway, I reached my tipping point when one of the staff members "lost" all the passwords for Outlook 95 and the church's calendar. No emails got through for a week. I spent an hour on the phone with our ISP sorting it all our and recovering the lost information. And then I called a staff meeting and showed everyone gmail.
Me: "This is gmail. From now on we will be using it for everything."
Staff: OUTRAGE, BILE, YOU CANNOT DO THIS IT IS AN ABOMINATION UNTO THE LORD
Me: "There will be no discussion. We are switching everything to google. Calendar, documents that are shared, everything." (I can now backup our google docs to the server weekly, easy peasy).
Anyway, after about six hours I got an email from my secretary, through her new google account. "HELLO PASTOR THIS WORKS REALLY WELL. I LIKE THE CALENDAR." She had spent several hours manually inputing her contacts before I even had a chance to migrate the old csv file. People rejoiced. And then I revealed the real magic. "You can now log in to your google account from any computer that is connected to the internet, you can even check your email from home." There was much amazement and rejoicing. So, I suppose, the moral of my story is that sometimes you just have to make them switch. Change is painful, but ultimately it got us all on the right track. Now if I could just merge the previous five pastors' filing cabinet systems.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 12:00 PM on February 11, 2010 [40 favorites]


It's not that users are stupid... We're like mechanics laughing at old ladies for not understanding the difference between a cam and a crankshaft.

Once again... the error here is not a lack of grasp of the detailed elements of web navigation. It's thinking that when you arrive at a big red page called ReadWriteWeb that has a whole ton of writing on it, you don't stop to consider that you've done something wrong, but you assume that it's the same thing as a big blue page called Facebook that only has a tiny box to type in in the middle of the screen.

Not many people are really dumb, and smartass Metafilter types shouldn't assume dumbness on the part people who are simply less web-savvy... but a few people are dumb and this was flypaper for them. Even their dumbness deserves understanding rather than mockery, but that's a point about educational opportunities in society at large, not web design.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:00 PM on February 11, 2010 [16 favorites]


on the part of people
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:00 PM on February 11, 2010


(this was still in the days when computing was mostly a nerd thing [early to mid 90's], though, which is probably a big factor. these days most kids probably learn computing at an age before those kind of blocks develop -- very young kids don't seem to know what they should find hard :) )
posted by wildcrdj at 12:01 PM on February 11, 2010


I get disturbed with how slowly people skim search results to find what they are looking for. I seem to have it down to a fine art, of "No, no, no, hmm, no, yes!", whereas some people I deal with have to read every single one (often out loud) until they figure out which one might be the one they're actually looking for.

Initially very hard to comprehend, but understandable after a bit of thought.
posted by knapah at 12:02 PM on February 11, 2010


And this is why the iPad will win.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:04 PM on February 11, 2010 [15 favorites]


We're like mechanics laughing at old ladies for not understanding the difference between a cam and a crankshaft. Sure, the old ladies are stupid about what's under the hood. But who cares? To them a car is something that takes you places, not a complicated piece of machinery.
posted by dylan20


I was thinking about this, and wondering if since beyond driving, I'm mostly car illiterate, I was the equivalent to these people in that realm. I don't think the metaphor holds up however, I can't FIX a car, I only vaguely know how it works, but I can drive it with no issues. Facebook is an automatic, it doesn't require fixing, someone else handles the engine, you just have to put it in gear and press the pedal. These people GOT IN SOMEONE ELSE'S CAR (because it was in the same parking lot), the key didn't work, so after cranking it for awhile they left a note saying they wished Ford hadn't changed it on them, even though the dashboard clearly said Toyota.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:07 PM on February 11, 2010 [33 favorites]


Maybe Computer Literacy should be the new Home Ec class.

Seriously. As insanely dull as it was, I've had many occasions to be glad that I took a "microcomputing" class in undergrad that seriously started out with instructions for turning the computer on, and then covered the very basics of hardware, GUI, Microsoft Office and internet use. About the only thing I really took away from it was a) there is a Help file and b) how to search it effectively, but I've found that just that knowledge puts way ahead of the curve compared to most of my colleagues, which is kind of alarming when you consider that none of us can get through a work day without long periods of time on the computer.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:09 PM on February 11, 2010


Once again... the error here is not a lack of grasp of the detailed elements of web navigation. It's thinking that when you arrive at a big red page called ReadWriteWeb that has a whole ton of writing on it, you don't stop to consider that you've done something wrong, but you assume that it's the same thing as a big blue page called Facebook that only has a tiny box to type in in the middle of the screen.

Well, there are a lot of assumptions in this here paragraph.

For example, some people clearly DON'T think that RWW is facebook. they're just using the comments to bitch about Facebook. For example, Comment #44:
I don't like the new face book page. I want the old face book page back. Plus the updates run slow or the pages freezes
Since they have been rolling out the new Facebook organization system, you may not be aware that there even IS a "new face book page". Be assured that there is, and a lot of people don't like it. In fact, they've been complaining about it everywhere.

Some people DID read the article and think, for one reason or another, that the new AIM scheme is the only way to log into facebook now. They probably misinterpreted the phrase "Your One True Login", which is prominently displayed in several places on the RWW article. Comment #37:
All I wanted to do was LOG IN TO MY FACE BOOK ACCOUNT! I don't like this new way! "If it an't broke why fix it?"
Lots of people are clearly just trolling. Comment #12 is a good example:
I just want to log in to Facebook - what with the red color and all? LOLLLOLOL!!!!!111
posted by muddgirl at 12:13 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The way Read/Write/Web is posting I think they have a mission to actually rewrite the web. Themselves. I had 118 posts in my RSS reader after a few days of not reading it.
posted by srboisvert at 12:17 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Whatever numbers you choose to make up for those percentages doesn't matter a whole lot; Facebook gets a lot of traffic, and a fraction of a fraction of a percent is probably a lot more visitors than your blog usually gets.
Um sure, but so what? The point is, generalizing from a tiny subgroup into "users" (as in, all of them) is absurd. There are ways to study this scientifically, or at least in a way that's statistically valid. And this ain't it.
I'm not sure that's really the wrong move, though. The part of my brain that's responsible for habits finds it disconcerting, because That's Not How It Works, but building a smarter single-input box makes a fair amount of sense if you start from the position of not considering it automatically wrong.
Sure, and just as a total coincidence it gives google a ton of control over where people actually go on the Internet. It might be "easier", I suppose, then remembering URLs, but is it wise to give so much control over the web to a single entity? Instead of trying to educate the user. For example, if someone made the mistake of entering a search term in the URL bar, they could get an information note with a little demo or something.

Instead of making interfaces that are easy to learn, people seem to be interested in making interfaces that are easy to use, even if they sacrifice expressive power.

Also, what's interesting is that Firefox actually seems to promote typing in the URL. When I use FF 3+ with the 'wonderbar' or whatever they call it I only have to type a few letters of the URL. It works great and actually I can remember a few letters of most of the URLs I go too. Chrome's intelisense actually performs worse.
The real question here is how many people searched and failed, which I'm guessing (ungenerously? realistically?) is a much larger number than on the order of one in a million. How many facebook users actually searched on this? How many landed there? How many landed there, were just as confused as the folks commenting, but didn't bother to leave a comment? Etc. Numbers are horribly mushy.
Yes. we don't know the numbers which is why we can't draw a conclusion. Instead this guy has learned that the number of people who have made this mistake is "more then one" and has decided that "more then one" is equal to "most". It's completely ridiculous. This guy isn't presenting the results of careful study in a controlled setting -- and perhaps experiments might bare this out -- instead he's extrapolating wildly and drawing completely inappropriate conclusions. Might be true, might not be true. In either case we have hardly any more information then before this happened.
We're like mechanics laughing at old ladies for not understanding the difference between a cam and a crankshaft. Sure, the old ladies are stupid about what's under the hood. But who cares?
It's more like getting confused about the gas pedal and the break pedal. People don't know about different shafts because they never see them. But the "URL bar/search bar" thing is really simple, and right in people's faces every day.

Then again, most people take driver's ed at least once in their lives too.
posted by delmoi at 12:18 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Microcomputers are the best.
posted by everichon at 12:23 PM on February 11, 2010


And this is why the iPad will win.

Was just about to post that. We need to get away from the concept of web browsers. People understand icons that they press. I think this is where Google Chrome is headed too. Remove the technical layer and replace with a bunch of symbols people get. Still can't decide if it's a good or bad thing... but for the majority of people there's no doubting the death of the PC in the home will be a good thing.
posted by twistedonion at 12:24 PM on February 11, 2010


People DO develop very, very incorrect ideas about how cars work. Listen to Car Talk for long enough and you'll develop a list.

Sure, they have Driver's Ed, so they know how to operate a car when it's going well. Imagine if we just sold people a car and only gave them an end goal: "Get to the grocery store".
posted by muddgirl at 12:25 PM on February 11, 2010


This has definitely made my day. I wasn't previously aware that so many people are on cruise-control as they use the internet. I know there were stories... But to witness something like this for myself is shattering some glass. It will probably get better as technology and UI designs become sleeker and more unified, but on the other hand I'm sort of scared of a world where we don't have to understand how anything works, why it works, and what to do when it breaks down. That I don't see getting better. The easier it becomes to do something, and the more dependency arises of it, the less need there is to peek behind the curtains.
posted by Tequila Mockingbird at 12:26 PM on February 11, 2010


game warden - a hundred favorites if I could give them.

Part of my job has been introducing technology to corporate banking clients, a healthy number of whom are not-for-profits. So you've got wicked-cool (but by no means bleeding edge) technology that impacts the AR/AP workflow for lots of earnest, little-old-lady volunteer types. If I'm offering a product that would remove steps 4-15 of a 25 step workflow, the first thing they want to know is "but how do I get back step 4 after I've done this?"

Every opportunity is a teachable opportunity, and I'm constantly amazed at how willing and eager most people are to understand change if I start from a place where I'm understanding *them*.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:26 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there any possibility this is an enormous hoax? Because it sure seems like one.
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:32 PM on February 11, 2010


And this is why the iPad will win.

Agreed. This whole thing confirms for me that bloggers for whom "no multitasking"=fail speak for a tiny percentage of the people who actually use computers and the web day to day. There's a one-to-one correspondence between icon and function for people who equate browser and search engine, and that is exactly what the iPad does.
posted by mariokrat at 12:32 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


That last line didn't quite come out right, but you know what I mean...
posted by mariokrat at 12:33 PM on February 11, 2010


"All you have to do to turn the website on is put the little blinking line thing in the cyberspace window at the top of the screen, type 'thegoogle.com,' and press 'return'—although it will also recognize http.wwwthegoogle.com, google.aol, and 'THEGOOGLE' typed into a Word document."
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I visited a website today to search for some phrases in R'lyehian, and one of the websites I visited asked me if I wanted frames or not. I had to click on both frames and no frames to remember what the hell that meant.
posted by bunnycup at 12:36 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


Is there any possibility this is an enormous hoax? Because it sure seems like one.
posted by anotherpanacea


If they were all anonymous comments I'd think maybe it could be fake, but they've logged in with their actual facebook accounts, plus if you've ever done any I.T. support, you'd know this is quite, quite possible. It's probably happening all the time, only without people having a "log in with facebook" button anywhere on the page to add to the incredible confusion.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:37 PM on February 11, 2010


We're like mechanics laughing at old ladies for not understanding the difference between a cam and a crankshaft. Sure, the old ladies are stupid about what's under the hood. But who cares? To them a car is something that takes you places, not a complicated piece of machinery.

I'd say the cam and the crankshaft are more akin to the CPU and the RAM. They make the computer work. The browser is where you put the information in. Computers have more options visible, which can be troublesome. Then again, people fumble around in strange cars for the headlights and windshield wipers, hopefully figuring it once and remembering from then on. Then again, people go through driving school to learn how to drive, and often get told about cars to some degree (oil changes and washer fluid, and that sort of thing).
posted by filthy light thief at 12:38 PM on February 11, 2010


One thing to keep in mind is that logging in/registering for sites doesn't make a whole lot of sense to begin with unless you understand something about client-server architecture. When I start Word, it doesn't ask me to log in with my username and password before it lets me in, so why does Facebook? The reason for this is actually quite complicated to explain, and from the number of people who IM me links to their shopping carts, most people don't understand it.

It's all very well to say people should educate themselves, but should they have to learn the details of client-server architecture, how sessions are created and managed by a browser, etc.? You actually need to have a very high level of knowledge to get to a point where the hoops you have to jump through don't seem totally arbitrary. Without that, the computer bombards you with nonsensical, confusing demands, responds strangely and inconsistently for no apparent reason, and this kind of experience just doesn't encourage learning, even for smart people.
posted by AlsoMike at 12:41 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've grown up with computers all of my life, so it's absolutely confounding to me that people confuse browsers and search engines. I'd never heard of this before...

BUT!

Less than 5 minutes after I read this article, one of my co-workers asked me help him with an Internet Explorer-related problem. I fiddled with it, gave up, and in exasperation said, "Ugh! I hate Internet Explorer. This is why I use Firefox. Have you ever used Firefox?"

He gave me a blank look and said, "Oh, I don't know, I just use Google"

Wasn't there an askme not too long ago about hearing a word for the first time and then suddenly you see it everywhere?

It's like that, y'all.
posted by chara at 12:41 PM on February 11, 2010


Sure, and just as a total coincidence it gives google a ton of control over where people actually go on the Internet. It might be "easier", I suppose, then remembering URLs, but is it wise to give so much control over the web to a single entity? Instead of trying to educate the user. For example, if someone made the mistake of entering a search term in the URL bar, they could get an information note with a little demo or something.

This isn't a one-bar-for-both thing, it's an individual-company's-ethics thing, though. Don't muddle the two; how the Chrome team and Google in general (or the Firefox folks, or MS, or Opera, or whoever) chooses to navigate that question of control and concomitant responsibility for how that interface functions is separate from whether a two-different-bars paradigm really has anything going for it aside from inertia.
posted by cortex at 12:44 PM on February 11, 2010


And what was saying just the other day?
posted by Zinger at 12:48 PM on February 11, 2010


Over at a friend's house, and he wants to look up something on espn. He doesn't go to the address bar and type in espn.com, he goes to the search box in firefox, and types in espn.com, then selects the first search result returned. He might be one of those commentators.

Well, I make no excuses for statements like "I want the old Google search engine, not Google Chrome." But I certainly do make use of a quick but exact search term (though not the whole address, jeez) rather than typing the address into the address bar, if: (i) it is in the particular case quicker, and (ii) it's bookmark is lost somewhere in the disorganized mess of bookmarks I haven't gotten around to organizing into folders yet.

Case in point: I want to go to the wikipedia page on the film Inglourious Basterds. I could find the bookmark for wikipedia, or type "wikipedia.org" into the address bar, or these days, if I forgot, "wikipedia.com" (as it routes to .org), and then come to the goddamn language page, by which time I've already spent more time navigating than I would have spent typing "Basterds film wikipedia" onto my home page (Google, tyvm) and getting the link for the particular page on the top of the results returned, which is what I did.

So yeah, I know my browser Firefox from my search engine (and home page) Google.ca, from my ISP Bell (I KILL YOU), and I do often use the engine this way.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:49 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


All this computer hacking is making me thirsty. I think I'll order a Tab.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:49 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


McGruff the Crime Dog said it best: "Users are losers and losers are users."
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:51 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I did

Facebook login

and it showed up first page.


It's way down the page... it's the 6th entry or something. It's BELOW THE FOLD WHERE USERS DON'T GO. I am still amazed that people managed to miss the first link somehow.
posted by GuyZero at 12:56 PM on February 11, 2010


I still can't duplicate a search that puts that RWW article anywhere in the top queries in the google.

I saw it that way yesterday afternoon, when I first heard about this via waxy. #1 result for "Facebook Login" was RWW. I'd say that's definitely the wrong result for Google to be serving, and I'm very curious both how it was at the top briefly or how it got quickly demoted.
posted by Nelson at 12:59 PM on February 11, 2010


Facts stipulated: posted by joeclark at 1:02 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know, they are idiots, but this what I feel when people try to make me use Linux.
posted by treeshar at 1:02 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Agreed. This whole thing confirms for me that bloggers for whom "no multitasking"=fail speak for a tiny percentage of the people who actually use computers and the web day to day.
Once again, it doesn't confirm anything, because it's only a tiny non-random sample. There's obviously a huge difference between what people are capable of understanding and what they will understand if they don't care. And a lot of people don't care.

Also, the idea that "the iPad will win" and replace everyone's computer makes little sense when the iPad requires a PC to synch with makes little sense. Obviously that can change in the future, but people are clearly not thinking things through.
This isn't a one-bar-for-both thing, it's an individual-company's-ethics thing, though. Don't muddle the two;
Why not? "Individual company's ethics" are not an issue if we're not using search for everything. They are completely related. Besides, the fact that we use Google now doesn't mean that every device is going to use Google for search. Obviously windows comes with Bing loaded up in IE. Apple could change the search engine behind anonymous search widgets on the iPad, and who's to say that every cellphone company wouldn't want to capture and monetize all the search traffic that emanates from their phones?

In other words, the question is: Do we want to put ourselves in a situation where one company's ethics matter, or not? Remember the company may not be Google, but rather whoever sold you the device or is in charge of the user interface.

Furthermore, I simply reject the idea that having two boxes is too hard for people to understand if it was explained to them. People drive cars with two (or three!) pedals all the time. It's not that complicated. Maybe a lot of people are able to get by without knowing, and obviously search companies have a vested interest in people not knowing. There's little motivation to explain the difference to people.

That's leaving beside the question of verisign's ethics, they're terrible. But because the domain name system is, for the most part, pretty fair the fact that they are unethical doesn't really affect anything.
posted by delmoi at 1:03 PM on February 11, 2010


Reminds me of the Dear Overhaulin'... thing in '04. Guy writes a short post about the TV Overhaulin' on his blog, and roughly 46 billion people show up and somehow all conclude that it's the place to ask questions to the show.
posted by notmydesk at 1:05 PM on February 11, 2010


filthy light thief: "But do you search for MetaFilter? ESPN? CNN? Your bank's website? "

Metafilter? No, it's bookmarked, and I use several RSS feeds on askme tags like my location and interests. (I expect this is highly out of the norm.)

ESPN? Not bookmarked, not visited.

CNN? I have this url memorized, but rarely visit it.

My banking sites? All login pages bookmarked with HTTPS urls. Because my understanding is that US law doesn't hold banks liable if I give up a password to a phishing attack. I take the fact that my available "security questions" are nearly universally available on Facebook as supporting evidence to this fact.
posted by pwnguin at 1:06 PM on February 11, 2010


I'm eagerly awaiting a host of tech support stories that end with Yeah, I Googled it on Bing.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:10 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]



We're like mechanics laughing at old ladies for not understanding the difference between a cam and a crankshaft. Sure, the old ladies are stupid about what's under the hood. But who cares? To them a car is something that takes you places, not a complicated piece of machinery.
posted by dylan20


Not really. We're more like people who drive regularly, who do not understand why someone has turned on their windshield wipers and is complaining that they can't see any better in the dark because they thought they had turned on their headlights despite the fact that there is no light, and some rubber things keep making noise on the glass.
posted by mikeh at 1:12 PM on February 11, 2010 [11 favorites]


Do we want to put ourselves in a situation where one company's ethics matter, or not?

What "one company" are you thinking about there? Firefox, MSIE, Chrome, and iPhone all let you choose the search engine. I can have Google Chrome binging away from the box right now if I wanted with two mouse clicks. Sure in some dystopian future users could lose that freedom, but given the specific history of anti-trust investigation in this area I think it's unlikely.

Furthermore, I simply reject the idea that having two boxes is too hard for people to understand if it was explained to them.

Who cares how hard it is to understand? Why would you possibly want two boxes? What good does having to remember which box to click, tab, or tap on do you? There's not even the potential for ambiguity.
posted by Nelson at 1:12 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Why not? "Individual company's ethics" are not an issue if we're not using search for everything.

But, again, that's aside from the idea that Google is "confusing the issue" by explicitly merging search and url into one bar, something that's also happening implicitly on other browsers too.

The problem of whether to trust a given browser company's decision-making about how to process url/search input or a given search company's decision-making about how to produce search results is an independent matter. Not an unimportant matter, hardly, but pinning it in any way on how many bars a browser has is silly.

Furthermore, I simply reject the idea that having two boxes is too hard for people to understand if it was explained to them.

You're welcome to reject it, and I don't even particularly disagree with you, but that still doesn't mean that as a design choice it has any real practical merit. It certainly does have inertia, though even that is clearly eroding as the feature-set of url bars continue to grow toward this single-field, multi-purpose functionality regardless of the continued presence or not of an explicit secondary search bar in any given browser.
posted by cortex at 1:14 PM on February 11, 2010


unsubscribe
posted by nicepersonality at 1:16 PM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


mikeh - i seriously had to painfully quelch my laughter so no one in my office would wonder what i was doing cause work isn't that funny.
posted by sio42 at 1:20 PM on February 11, 2010


I don't get it... how hard is it to understand what a browser is and what a URL is and how to use a search engine? Is it just that people don't bother to try and blindly flail their way through life?
One of the first frontline support tasks I ever had was staffing an AOL support chat room. Specifically, the AOL Macintosh Beginners Help Desk chat room. It was the muddy blog at the center of a very, very dense Venn Diagram of Not Getting It.

I answered questions, day in, day out, for people who didn't understand what a menu was. Or a mouse. They had only tangentially heard of modems. And they asked these questions sitting in a chat room that they could only get to by dialing a number with a modem, using their mouse to click on menu items, then typing their questions.

There is nothing quite as bad for a 16 year old kid as doing support, because you walk away from it with the profound conviction that the things you're good at are the baseline for being a functional human, and the world is full of mouth-breathers who just don't get anything and are essentially a lost cause.

The "Ahah" moment for me -- and it was a very humbling one -- came when a few of the people who had lots of questions started showing up frequently, and even hung out in the chat room outside of normal support hours. Being the egocentric nerd that I was I considered myself a young prodicgy who was coincidentally an expert on every topic I found interesting, like literature and organic farming.

I mentioned some stuff I was trying to figure out, and discovered that two of the people who were always confused by concepts like clicking and windows were, in fact: A 52 year old master gardener who made her living answering incredibly stupid questions from schmucks like me, and an english lit professor who (obviously) knew more than I could even pretend to about the writing I'd been casually preening over.

Obviously, not everyone is a topical expert. But it really was a lightbulb moment for me: the realization that my area of expertise (limited as it was at the time) was just one particular pool of topical knowledge that some people happened to need. Just like the things those people knew. I was lucky in that I had been given the opportunity to casually absorb many fundamental concepts about computers at a young age. I was lucky in that I discovered some important conceptual anchors at a time when computers were simple enough to make sense without a massive flowchart. And I was also lucky in that I discovered these things when I was a slacker in junior high and high school, rather than an adult with a family, a job, and a life. If I'd had to balance those things I might have easily moved on or learned just what I needed to do to get by, rather than diving in and learning how the whole damn thing worked.

Today about 25% of my professional time is spent training and teaching. If anything I have had to become even more humble about the limited scope of my own expertise in the face of the people who come to me looking to learn. There are some flat-out impossible people, sure, but they are a tiny minority of the group that "doesn't get it." Most are just people who are trying to get a handle on a very complex tool, and are overwhelmed by the scope of what you have to "get" if you're not "into" computers.
how hard is it to understand what a browser is and what a URL is and how to use a search engine?
The problem is not that a URL and a Search Term are two different things. The problem is that that particular distinction is one of thousands that are hidden under the surface of simple computer and internet tasks. What's the difference between a "program" and a "web site?" What's the difference between a local and a remote file? What's a remote file? What's caching? How do you tell the difference between a browser window that looks like a dialog box, and a modal window that contains a browser pane? Because guess what? All of those things matter at some point -- and somewhere out there is a development team working hard to blur the distinction for their application, just for the hell of it.

I don't mean to go off on a rant, but some days, as I'm walking a group full of relative newcomers through something technical, I marvel not at what they don't get, but at the fact that anyone is able to get it.
posted by verb at 1:29 PM on February 11, 2010 [42 favorites]


but that still doesn't mean that as a design choice it has any real practical merit.

What does that mean? Either it's too hard or confusing, or it's not. What are the benefits of the one-box model and why are they more important then the downsides (giving more control to google, or whatever company manages to control whatever search box is being used?)

I mean obviously I understand that computers, in the past, were difficult to use and there were a lot of things that could be done to make them easier. But it seems like most of those things have been done and at a certain point you reach a sort of floor where things can't actually get practically easier for the majority of people. In fact, taking away options and expressiveness can be confusing and annoying as well. And not just for nerds.

And keep in the one thing that people who don't really know that much about computers hate it's changing something. Once they already know how to do something, they're not going to appreciate relearning it.

I think people just spend all their time theorizing about UI design and imagining "users" as some herd of morons who can barely work their mouse. Which brings me back to my original point.

When the post appeared as the first search result some number of people appeared to be confused. And the author took that as confirmation of his model of "users" as being morons too dumb to understand the difference between a search box and a URL box or know what a URL was. There wasn't any reason to make that assumption for anyone other then the few people who did make the mistake but he made it anyway because it confirmed is view of "the users" as drooling morons.

Now certainly, you could find some real data about how common that is, but, this isn't it.
posted by delmoi at 1:31 PM on February 11, 2010


"It was the muddy blog BLOB at the center of a very, very dense Venn Diagram of Not Getting It."

Man, that really confused things.
posted by verb at 1:31 PM on February 11, 2010


And look, I'm not saying it's not true. Maybe it is true. But it's frustrating that someone would go off on this and make all these suppositions based on a single, totally unscientific experiment.
posted by delmoi at 1:36 PM on February 11, 2010


I really hope that these are just the first few examples of a long trend of baiting the dumbest-of-the-dumbest Facebook users into making idiots of themselves in public. I would love to see this done intentionally and well.
posted by gurple at 1:38 PM on February 11, 2010


What does that mean? Either it's too hard or confusing, or it's not.

The point is that "is it too confusing" is not the be-all, end-all of interface design. A two-bar model can be not-too-confusing for the average person to learn to use and still not necessarily be a better choice than a one-bar model. "I can teach someone to use the two-bar model in a couple minutes" is not an explanation of why it's a good model.

What are the benefits of the one-box model

- Having one place where people do both direct-url access and search, instead of having to learn to partition those activities out to separate areas in the interface.

- Supporting default user behavior. Non-savvy users were typing search terms and other non-absolute data into url bars long before Chrome came along. Browser developers have acknowledged that behavior by supporting it in the interface. Knocking off an increasingly-superfluous secondary search bar (one that for a long time didn't exist in the first place, for that matter) is a pretty logical extension of that existing user behavior and the functionality that's been built into browsers over time to support it.

and why are they more important then the downsides (giving more control to google, or whatever company manages to control whatever search box is being used?)

That's, again, an independent issue. As battles go, that one's already been ongoing for a good long while now: browser developers already get to choose default search providers, and search providers already get to control how search results are presented. You have every reason to be distrustful of a two-bar solution, especially given that the functionality you're despairing over in Chrome already exists in other browsers.
posted by cortex at 1:41 PM on February 11, 2010


If librarians ruled the world, these folks would be equipped with the power of information literacy.
posted by missrachael at 1:42 PM on February 11, 2010


...by which time I've already spent more time navigating than I would have spent typing "Basterds film wikipedia" onto my home page

A million times this. Searching [topic of query] wikipedia is the fastest way to find that article on wikipedia, if it exists. Same goes for "sd cards newegg", "towels pottery barn", etc.

But yeah, great power, great responsibility. This technique is derived from spending a lot of time on the internet. If, for some reason, this was to stop working properly, I'd be able to figure out why and adjust my behavior accordingly.

Clearly, this is not the norm, and as someone who needs to put myself in the typical user's shoes as part of my job, these comments are certainly eye-opening.
posted by SpiffyRob at 1:44 PM on February 11, 2010


This internet/car comparison is ridiculous! It's not a big truck! It's a series of tubes!

someone i know and love works with ted stevens and fixes his computer!!!!
posted by ofthestrait at 1:44 PM on February 11, 2010


> Furthermore, I simply reject the idea that having two boxes is too hard for people to understand if it was explained to them.

Here is an book with the phone numbers of everybody who does not understand. Hope you have a strong back, it's rather large.

More seriously, this extends back to Apple's decision (which they stuck with for decades) to only make mice with one button. Two buttons was unnecessarily complicated. Not for you specifically, and probably not for your mom, and probably not this other friend you know who learned from scratch and now he's managing his own email cluster, but for everybody who doesn't actually give a rat's ass about owning or using a computer, except to the extent it allows them to keep up with their friends, get work done, or play games, yeah. It's an unnecessary complication.

Two input fields may be an unnecessary complication. Not to me, because I can distinguish a URL from a search query, and I appreciate added control available to me. But for everybody who goes to Google, puts a URL into the search field, and clicks the first result; for everybody who is not stupid but who does not want to have to care about the distinction between a search query and a URL, yes, it is a unnecessary complication.

Don't blame the user for not caring about things you care about.
posted by ardgedee at 2:02 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


bicyclefish: It's easy for us to sneer at people who never learned exactly what's going on behind their computer screens, with their elaborate abstract metaphors.

Very true. It's also worth pointing that many users don't have the experience we do... they didn't watch the whole thing get built, one layer at a time. To someone just sitting down fresh to an Internet connection, with zero prior experience, a browser is going to be a remarkably complex piece of software to use. What's a browser? What's a search engine? What's the difference between a URL and a search?

We old-timers have a huge advantage, because we saw each layer as it was first implemented. The shortcuts that work for us, because we understand what we need, make browsing an impenetrable morass for someone starting from scratch. Everything looks like everything else. There's no clear differentiation. It's all smooth and seamless and nice for people who understand it, but starting with no knowledge, it's remarkably difficult to translate the modern UIs into anything related to what's really happening.

There are two main strategies for dealing with information... knowledge in the head, and knowledge in the world. We're probably almost all knowledge-in-the-head types; we rely on our memories and navigate based on our internal maps of how everything interrelates. If we're trying to find a place, for instance, and see a street sign that conflicts with our memory, many of us will ignore the sign and trust our internal maps instead.

Knowledge-in-the-world types use where something is to tell them what it is. They tend to be very organized. The location of a paper on their desk, for instance, tells them what they need to do with it. "A place for everything, and everything in its place" is probably the best motto for this style of thinking. They don't memorize things, they store knowledge around them, putting it into the world. They really use street signs, for instance, and often depend on them.

Computers are very, very difficult for people who think this way, because the interrelationships are complex, subtle, and not visible. From their standpoint, modern computer UIs are an absolute disaster. How can I tell, in looking at the Firefox toolbar, what the heck will happen if I type something in there? And what's that other text entry box on the right? What are all those buttons? There's no connection to anything real, and that makes it very hard for a large chunk of the population to handle.

Contrast that with Google's home page, which I believe has come to dominate the world because of its pure simplicity: "type something in and we will find it". THAT makes sense to people, ALL people. Yahoo's hyper-complex home page is only good if you understand what all that shit means, which leaves out about 75% of the computer population. I don't think it's a coincidence that Google rules the online world, and Yahoo's so, so far behind.

If the Google and Yahoo looks had been swapped, with everything else staying the same, Yahoo would still be a contender in search, even though their results were (are?) so much worse.
posted by Malor at 2:03 PM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Case in point: I want to go to the wikipedia page on the film Inglourious Basterds. I could find the bookmark for wikipedia, or type "wikipedia.org" into the address bar, or these days, if I forgot, "wikipedia.com" (as it routes to .org), and then come to the goddamn language page, by which time I've already spent more time navigating than I would have spent typing "Basterds film wikipedia" onto my home page (Google, tyvm) and getting the link for the particular page on the top of the results returned, which is what I did.

This is how I've learned the various ways to spell site names in Firefox's URL bar. "Wikipedia" is spelled "E-N-Down Arrow-Enter"; "Metafilter" is spelled "M-Down Arrow-Enter"; etc.
posted by nickmark at 2:07 PM on February 11, 2010


Two buttons was unnecessarily complicated.

Yeah, but even Apple has screwed that idea all up. Now you've got this dreadful morass of control-clicking and shift-clicking and option-clicking and alt-clicking. I have trouble remembering all the click options in OSX. I can't even imagine how non-techies handle it.

I don't think it's accidental that all their touchpads now support multi-finger clicks; that's their way of (finally!) adding buttons to their mice without making Steve look stupid.
posted by Malor at 2:08 PM on February 11, 2010


I think there are two things going on: one is the use of Google as navigation. I have witnessed my father type "google.com" into the Google Search Toolbar of his browser, get the search result for Google.com, click it, and then enter his actual search terms. Because I love him soooooo much I just let him keep doing it. I couldn't break his heart because he loves his internet browsing so much.

The second is that people just plain don't read. And they definitely don't read web page instructional text. I answer website comments all day and the eyerolling comments I see from COMPUTER SCIENTISTS who would actually know what to do if they read a SINGLE SENTENCE number in the hundreds a year. We're constantly tweaking things to try to make it more clear but nothing seems to work because at some point someone is going to have to read at least 5 words and they just won't.

Third, I don't think it's really fair to expect the average computer user to understand single-sign-on and things like Facebook Connect. They saw the "Login with your Facebook account" and - hey, that's the Facebook icon so it must BE Facebook (or at least that will take you there). And actually, that's not that dumb an assumption to make. They may have recognized that this wasn't Facebook they landed on but why wouldn't logging in with their Facebook account take them to Facebook?
posted by marylynn at 2:16 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or, you know, three. Like they can't figure out logins, I can't figure out counting.
posted by marylynn at 2:17 PM on February 11, 2010


Well, Malor, one can say "hold down the flower key and click the mouse" and that's pretty clear, but when you say "click the right mouse button" some brains explode. Which one is the RIGHT mouse button?
posted by seanmpuckett at 2:19 PM on February 11, 2010


I'd say the cam and the crankshaft are more akin to the CPU and the RAM. They make the computer work.
Analogies are awesome until they're not, and then you realize that you've been talking to a mechanic and he took your comparisons seriously. How can the RAM possibly be like a crankshaft? I don't run out of crankshaft if I spend too much time idling, but lo, if I have a bunch of unused firefox windows open, my computer dies.

Not to jump on you or anything -- metaphors are a great on-ramp for understanding but they can also be dangerous. Just like on-ramps! Metaphors also have tolls associated with them on occasion, and sometimes the metaphors are under construction, and you have to drive a few miles down until you get to the next metaphor, one that isn't as good but is probably close enough to work, and...

Okay, I'll stop.
posted by verb at 2:20 PM on February 11, 2010 [6 favorites]


I got my first computer, a Timex Sinclair 1000 when I was 7. Got my first PC XT when I was about 11. A year later I had my first 1200 baud modem. A year after that I set up my first BBS. I remember in high school you could still see a clear delineation between those who "understood" computers (aka, geeks) and the overwhelmingly vast majority of those who didn't, and didn't care that they didn't.

Some people worry that "kids these days" are becoming simultaneously more familiar with computers but less connected to them. They worry that because the newer generations didn't have to struggle with XTs and monochrome monitors that they're somehow more stupid than their predecessors.

But I bet the truth is that there are exactly the same percentage of people that don't know shit about computers—and don't care that they don't know shit—as there were back in the 80s. Except computers have slowly permeated into our lives, through cell phones and MP3 players and digital video recorders and the like.

But the only reason the hulking moronity is using computers at all is because developers have numbed and dumbed them down to Fisher-Price simplicity. But the users? They're still precisely as fucking stupid as they ever were.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:21 PM on February 11, 2010


*copies and pastes entire thread so far into comment box*

Me too.
posted by hades at 2:21 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


mikeh: Not really. We're more like people who drive regularly, who do not understand why someone has turned on their windshield wipers and is complaining that they can't see any better in the dark because they thought they had turned on their headlights despite the fact that there is no light, and some rubber things keep making noise on the glass.

Yeah, you're probably right, I overstated the case. These people -- if they are seriously confused about RWW being Facebook, are dumber than most.

The fact remains that there is a lot of stuff in web design and computer interface design that makes no sense to ordinary people. And that's why seanmpuckett is right: This is why the iPad will win. Or why it has a good shot, anyway: Because it's simplified enough (or "dumbed down" enough) that you don't have to screw around with it to get something done.

That's not to say that people won't use the iPad to make the same mistakes, of course.
posted by dylan20 at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2010


there sure are a lot of stupid people apologists on metafilter today.
posted by clarenceism at 2:48 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Lazy misanthropy gets jackshit accomplished.
posted by cortex at 2:56 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


Since 1995, tinkering with the constraints of early HTML, bringing the principles of old-time graphic design, typography, information architecture to the tabula rasa the web was then, I, we tried to make this place easier to use, more comfortable, pleasing to the eye.

Giving access to what we saw as a resource of infinite potential to the largest number of people possible, regardless of who they were, where they lived, their status, race, gender, education was a dream we worked hard to bring to fruition, without tutorials, manuals, courses; we made it up as we were going.

We succeeded.

Only now we can fully appreciate the bitter irony of our mistake.

Let the eternal september continue.
posted by _dario at 3:03 PM on February 11, 2010


Bullshit story. Not even as good as a 4chan prank, and yet plenty of news "outlets" are reporting it as true.

GuyZero, I did

Facebook login

and it showed up first page.


Yeah, it's the second news result. Here's the first. It got 13 comments, most of which I bet are riffing off the other "story."

What made the RWW story look so much more like Facebook? Nothing. The jokey comments are a prank. And a successful one, apparently.

If you do "I'm Feeling Lucky" in a facebook login search on Google, you get ... Facebook login.

I call shenanigans. You folks aren't usually this gullible.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:03 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


My car stalled on the interstate today and I had to have it towed. I wonder if the tow truck driver and my mechanic are having this same conversation about me.

Here are the two types of people in a nutshell: my husband was all "I wonder if it's the spark plugs, or it could be the doohickey, or the whatsit" and I'm all "I don't care, I hope it's covered under warranty."
posted by desjardins at 3:03 PM on February 11, 2010


The Guardian follows mathowies tweets: As Matt Haughey, who runs community site Metafilter, said: "Laugh all you want about ReadWriteWeb, but two weeks ago I watched a 35 year-old friend with a PhD go to Facebook by googling 'facebook login'."
posted by Dumsnill at 3:07 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


The point is that "is it too confusing" is not the be-all, end-all of interface design.
So what is then? What are the goals of interface design, if not to make things easier? And who are we making things easier for? Is doing something one way make it easy for one group and more frustrating for another. Having a single bar annoys me and it's probably one of the reasons why I don't like using chrome.
- Having one place where people do both direct-url access and search, instead of having to learn to partition those activities out to separate areas in the interface.
But, if you agree that the two-box model isn't confusing, then why is it a problem to partition those activities? "Learning" the two boxes isn't that hard. Someone can be shown once they'll probably be able to remember if they want too.

I agree that people type inexact stuff into the URL bar but there are other ways around that. For example, firefox's 'wonderbar'. When you start typing, it brings up exact URL suggestions. So users who might otherwise just type "facebook" will see "facebook" pop up and then press enter -- the correct URL will be filled in for them. That actually saves them even more time because they don't need to be seen a intermediate search page (with ads, of course).

So there are other ways to solve the problem. There are ways to guide the user and educate them to correct behavior. But this solves the problem in a way that gets google search results more page views.

And worse, it encourages a lack of understanding of how the web works, and encourages it in a way that makes people more dependent on search. Also good for google.
and why are they more important then the downsides (giving more control to google, or whatever company manages to control whatever search box is being used?)
That's, again, an independent issue.
How are the issues independent? I don't see how you can think of them that way, they are obviously tightly related. If Google changes the interface in a way that draws more traffic through their homepage, and shows more ads to more people, then obviously you have to question whether they did it purely because it's "better" in some undefined way, or if they did it because it's not any worse for the user but much better for Google.

So I don't think they are independent at all. They are tightly related.

(It's kind of like I say the downsides are X, you say the upsides are Y, and rather then arguing that Y is greater then X, you're saying you only want to analyze the situation within the context of Y. :P)
Well, Malor, one can say "hold down the flower key and click the mouse" and that's pretty clear, but when you say "click the right mouse button" some brains explode. Which one is the RIGHT mouse button?
Oh come on.
Not to jump on you or anything -- metaphors are a great on-ramp for understanding but they can also be dangerous. Just like on-ramps! Metaphors also have tolls associated with them on occasion, and sometimes the metaphors are under construction, and you have to drive a few miles down until you get to the next metaphor, one that isn't as good but is probably close enough to work, and...
Hahah.
posted by delmoi at 3:07 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I agree that people type inexact stuff into the URL bar but there are other ways around that. For example, firefox's 'wonderbar'. When you start typing, it brings up exact URL suggestions. So users who might otherwise just type "facebook" will see "facebook" pop up and then press enter -- the correct URL will be filled in for them. That actually saves them even more time because they don't need to be seen a intermediate search page (with ads, of course).

Ugh, I freaking hate the wonderbar, and I'm a touch typist. Freaking autocompletes just throw me off. I can't imagine how horrible it is for people who don't really look at the screen as they type (like my husband, who by the way has a Masters degree in Engineering).

And worse, it encourages a lack of understanding of how the web works

Who cares? Fuckin christ, I'm just imagining some software vendor in a meeting complaining about the fact that Solidworks users don't use their fancy sheet metal tool and instead do the metal bends manually.

and encourages it in a way that makes people more dependent on search. Also good for google.

Except people don't give a shit about Google. If google disappeared tomorrow these people would just use Yahoo (like the used to do) or Altavista (like the hella used to do). It's good for Google in the short run, but every time a problem like this happens, they alienate a certain population of their userbase whose needs aren't being met.
posted by muddgirl at 3:15 PM on February 11, 2010


And actually this thing is a perfict example of why using search, rather then URLs is a bad way to navigate. People got to the wrong spot!

How many of the confused users had set their browsers to automatically use "I'm feeling lucky"? or pressed that button? If that's what happened -- rather then searching then clicking the wrong link, it makes a lot of sense.

But designing an interface to that obfuscates the difference between a location and a search term, you actually are making the problem worse when the search term doesn't actually bring up what you want.
posted by delmoi at 3:18 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Who cares?

Um, I care. I mean, people don't know much about banking, how mortgages and credit cards work and look what happened! The economy collapsed and millions of people got screwed! Since the web is an important part of people's lives it's a good thing for people to understand how it works and what's going on.

Look at the huge phshing problem that's still going on, but was really bad years ago. That was entirely due to people not understanding URLs and the like.

If something plays a major part of your life, which the web obviously does for a lot of people, then understanding the basics is a good thing. Just like banking, legal rights, how to drive, etc. Now there are certainly a lot of people who probably don't care very much, and so they don't learn it.

But it is possible to learn the basics and things like the difference between a URL and a search term as you use the software, if the designers take care to guide users, rather then deliberately confusing them.

Ugh, I freaking hate the wonderbar, and I'm a touch typist. Freaking autocompletes just throw me off. I can't imagine how horrible it is for people who don't really look at the screen as they type

The wonderbar doesn't autocomplete. It makes suggestions that you have to use the down arrow to get to. If you don't look at the screen, then it makes no difference at all

In fact I just tried it. I closed my eyes and typed a URL and pressed enter. When I opened them, the page I wanted was there (or loading)

I actually hated most autocomplete on other browsers before FF 3, but this implementation works really well, at least for me.

posted by delmoi at 3:27 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


What made the RWW story look so much more like Facebook? Nothing. The jokey comments are a prank. And a successful one, apparently.

A few things, actually. First, the Facebook logo is right at the top of the page. Then, in the comments section it gives you the option of "signing in with Facebook." The page title, "Facebook wants to be your one true login" could be easily understood to be some sort of advertising slogan, with that whole article being some stupid flash page impeding people from getting to the actual content of the site. Facebook has been changing things around so much lately, changes that many people don't like, that this actually isn't too far-fetched.

If you never looked at the URL, and you have no idea that "ReadWriteWeb" is the name of a blog that isn't Facebook, and of course you don't really read the long article, you have no f'ing clue what's going on. All you want is your Facebook page the way it used to be, where you've found it every other day.

If this guy really wanted to clear things up, he'd get rid of that Facebook logo, and put a giant "ATTENTION: THIS IS NOT FACEBOOK. TO LOG INTO FACEBOOK, CLICK HERE: [FACEBOOK LINK]" link at the very top of the article.
posted by wondermouse at 3:28 PM on February 11, 2010


gusandrews, who collects and studies these commenting-in-the-wrong-place phenomena, calls them "gumbabies." I like this word, because it highlights that they work like flypaper for web-illiteracy — pulling out of the ambient air a big sticky bundle of confused outsiders who, though we Net natives rarely encounter them, were there all along.
posted by RogerB at 3:32 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


I meant "Splash page" not "Flash page." Sorry, that made no sense.
posted by wondermouse at 3:32 PM on February 11, 2010


The best argument against the internet is ten minutes with a user.
posted by StephenF at 3:35 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


And worse, it encourages a lack of understanding of how the web works

A whole great big crapload of people are never going to be willing take the time to develop an understanding of how the web works, because having an understanding of how the web works will never be important to them or worth their time. They want to sit down at a computer and do the thing they want to do. They don't care how they get there as long as they CAN get there. Choose to accept this or choose madness.

I agree that people type inexact stuff into the URL bar but there are other ways around that. For example, firefox's 'wonderbar'. When you start typing, it brings up exact URL suggestions.

I like the wonderbar a lot (after viscerally disliking it for a few days while I adjusted my old habits), but then I'm also really comfortable with the concept of autocomplete. All in all I think it's a decent approach to the problem, but while it's great for return navigation, it doesn't address folks wanting/trying to use search from that point in the interface.

I wouldn't be surprised if a version or two down the road in browser development what we'll see is some refinement of both of these concepts into an even more slick one-stop input bar.

The point is not that the one-bar approach is some crazy awesomeness or whatever, it's that it seems to solve the actual problem of servicing naive user input in an effective way that's a bit more streamlined as well than the existing two-bar system. The two-bar system isn't some kind of usability disaster, either. But your entire defense of it seems to amount to "it's not bad, and I distrust search engine companies", which is hardly a defense at all.

You can keep insisting that the general issue of control/abuse of search flow is tightly—rather than at-best-tangentially—tied to whether a browser has one bar that most people type every goddam thing into or one bar that everybody types every goddam thing into if you want, but there doesn't seem to be anything behind that insistence.
posted by cortex at 3:40 PM on February 11, 2010


Look at the huge phshing problem that's still going on, but was really bad years ago. That was entirely due to people not understanding URLs and the like.

Not so much. The root cause of phishing attacks is the fragile authentication system important sites use. And there have been plenty of fishing attacks where the URL location looked correct (and in some cases, SSL signed) but the bad guys were still capturing traffic. Phishing is bad, and you can protect yourself some from being phished if you understand better what a correct URL looks like, but there are better solutions to the problem than blaming the user.

If you like two boxes to type things in on the browser, why not have three? DNS is just a crutch for idiots who don't understand IP addresses, afterall. I suspect it's a Network Solutions conspiracy that MSIE doesn't have a box I can type "174.132.172.58" in to and be sure it doesn't do a DNS lookup.
posted by Nelson at 3:45 PM on February 11, 2010


Re: the wonderbar - I recognize that it doesn't actually fill in any text, but it does bring up an unasked-for menu below the search bar. I don't have tons of experience mentoring non-techy folks, but I do have some (including teaching a guy in the advanced stages of MS to navigate AOL with his one functional finger). The absolute last thing they want or need is things on the screen flashing or moving around while they are typing. It's distracting and causes them to lose focus from the task at hand. They are mission oriented. They're mission: Type in where you want to go. Their mission usually isn't "type in the first few letters and then scroll through a potentially-long list to find the perfect match out of a confusing jumble of words and symbols".
posted by muddgirl at 3:48 PM on February 11, 2010


I actually hated most autocomplete on other browsers before FF 3, but this implementation works really well, at least for me.

I love the Firefox address bar, so much that I removed the search box. I search by keyword (e.g. "imdb X" for an amazon search or "gi Y" for a Google Images search, etc.) or just type in "Z" (e.g. "espn" or "sfgate sports") to go "feeling lucky" to the actual site.

It's also very easy to customize autocomplete so that it only displays your bookmarks (as opposed to bookmarks + history, which can include some "private" URLs), or just turn it off completely.

And Advanced URL Builder lets me go even one step further and search terms on specific sites directly from the context-menu, i.e. right-click a word or phrase then search YouTube in a new tab--now that is the shit of miracle and wonder.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:54 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


A whole great big crapload of people are never going to be willing take the time to develop an understanding of how the web works, because having an understanding of how the web works will never be important to them or worth their time. They want to sit down at a computer and do the thing they want to do. They don't care how they get there as long as they CAN get there. Choose to accept this or choose madness.
Well, that would be fine if search were flawless, but as this example illustrates, it's not. And in any event, it's not all that clear to me that the majority of people don't understand the difference between a URL and a search term. All we've seen here are anecdotes.
The point is not that the one-bar approach is some crazy awesomeness or whatever, it's that it seems to solve the actual problem of servicing naive user input in an effective way that's a bit more streamlined as well than the existing two-bar system. The two-bar system isn't some kind of usability disaster, either. But your entire defense of it seems to amount to "it's not bad, and I distrust search engine companies", which is hardly a defense at all.
Why not? Haven't you heard the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"? And as far as trusting search engines, you still haven't explained why you think it's a non issue. Presumably because you trust Google and all other search-bar providers? Or some other reason?

(Another defense of the search bar: I can switch between different search engines, so if I want to use wolfram alpha to solve a math problem, or some other specialized search issue, it's easy to change).

The question here is "What are we trying to optimize"? Now, that's not an easy question. You could say "user frustration" but in this case the users who were looking for facebook and ended up at readwrite web seemed pretty frustrated. It's probably a rare occurrence for facebook users, but might be more common for people using more obscure sites. That means in this case search didn't work for them. If they'd typed 'facebook' or even just 'fac' or 'f' depending on how often they went to facebook into firefox's wonder bar, they would have gotten to where they were going.

So the question is, is the minor inconvenience of having TWO WHOLE BARS (even though the URL bar works on search terms too) really that frustrating compared to the frustration engendered when the search goes awry and takes them where they don't want to go.

There's also the timing issue. It takes longer for me to type in "google reader" into the google search bar and then do a search, then click the first result then it does to press "r, [&darr], enter" in firefox.
posted by delmoi at 3:56 PM on February 11, 2010


er, metafilter ate my ↓
posted by delmoi at 3:57 PM on February 11, 2010


(okay that should have said press "r, [], enter" in firefox.") I missed a semicolon, but the arrow still showed up in live preview.
posted by delmoi at 3:58 PM on February 11, 2010


The root cause of phishing is HTML E-mail, which does not need to exist.
posted by joeclark at 4:02 PM on February 11, 2010


I have a feeling that it's not Google that can be "blamed" here, but rather some other search engine. Not that it helps the case much, because I can't remember a single search engine I've encountered that has defaulted to redirecting you directly instead of showing you a list of results.

Of course, all speculation can be dismissed if the blog authors take a dive into their http logs.
posted by ymgve at 4:04 PM on February 11, 2010


I get disturbed with how slowly people skim search results to find what they are looking for.

Yes! I hadn't thought about this much before but now that you mention it, it is also a constant source of irritation to me. Unlike a lot of examples in the thread which have to do, in my opinion, with lack of computer experience or different priorities I believe this may be generational.

It boggles me when a friend of mine who has been using computers for 25 years, who worked at internet companies from the beginning, and who is extremely bright is sitting next to me at a computer and simply cannot keep up when we're searching for something with google. She gets extremely frustrated when I zoom through the google links ruling them out with a glance and, when I do open one that looks promising in a new tab, zoom through that in a matter of seconds to decide if it's a good prospect for the information we're looking for.

How can it take so goddamn long to figure out that the page you're looking at isn't going to contain the information you need?
posted by Justinian at 4:05 PM on February 11, 2010 [7 favorites]


My grandmother is smarter than you are. OK, maybe she's not smarter than YOU are; for all I know, YOU have your Nobel prizes alphabetized by subject on your mantel. But she's pretty damn smart. She was born in 1916, the same year Monet painted Water Lilies, before women had the vote. She graduated college in 1937 with a degree in Business, because it was one of two degrees her state university offered to women and the other, Home Economics, didn't interest her at all. She was the first woman employed by American Airlines to sell tickets, after a lengthy discussion from the board of directors as to whether purchasing their tickets from a woman would destroy the public's trust in aviation. In 1957, with four children at home, she got a Ph.D. in history. She served as the Newberry Library's consultant on Native American history for decades; she is extensively published on the subject.

She learned to use PINE and a simple UNIX shell in the early nineties, in order to keep up with her research colleagues. She was already seventy-eight years old, bear in mind. . . she kept up with her shell account until she could no longer find an ISP that would offer her one on dialup. Then we dragged her kicking and screaming into the world of a graphical interface, in 1999.

It was a disaster. She didn't understand the concept of a window having focus. She didn't understand about clicking to place the cursor, or about layered windows, or anything. My mother literally paid for me to fly out to her house and spend a week teaching her how to use a computer. It was excruciating and humiliating for her, and pretty hard for me. We now have her machine set up to automatically update, critical updates only, and a local person whom she can call every time she gets the "windows has installed new updates" message to come over and explain to her what is different and what's still the same. People have suggested that we switch her to a Mac, and we just laugh and laugh and laugh because yeah, that won't help.

My grandmother is a smart lady. She can organize small conferences by email, she can work on her manuscripts in Word, she can troubleshoot her own printer, she can book airline tickets and check in online. But she's ninety-fuckin-four years old, and her ability to cognitively adapt to change is slowing down at the same time that the rate of change in the technological world is speeding up like whoa. That doesn't make her stupid, it makes her ill-informed and poorly-adapted. Deliberately acting to exclude those who don't get the circular in-jokes of the modern Internet is unkind at best.
posted by KathrynT at 4:14 PM on February 11, 2010 [14 favorites]


Why not? Haven't you heard the phrase "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"?

Good point. Why did they go fucking things up by adding a search bar to browsers in the first place? You could already visit the search engine of your choice by going right to the site by typing it in or loading a bookmark, and that had the advantage of not letting some browser manufacturer pick your default search engine for you.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a lovely aphorism but a plainly insufficient philosophy to software development in a developing field. If you mean "don't fuck it up, that thing you are doing is going to fuck it up", just say that. If you mean "don't change it because I like it the way it is", say that. Leave the cutesy bullshit at home.

(Another defense of the search bar: I can switch between different search engines, so if I want to use wolfram alpha to solve a math problem, or some other specialized search issue, it's easy to change).

And the browser that embraces the one-bar model but refuses to make it easy for power-users to change search providers will lose out among people who give a shit about that to the browser that embraces the one-bar model and makes switching search providers easy. And? It's not like the idea of being able to specify search provider is magically tied to having an independent search bar.

So the question is, is the minor inconvenience of having TWO WHOLE BARS (even though the URL bar works on search terms too) really that frustrating compared to the frustration engendered when the search goes awry and takes them where they don't want to go.

It's a safe bet that the people incapable of navigating basic search results are largely not people facile enough to make distinctions about which kind of web interaction to direct to which box in their web-browsers. TWO BARS and ONE BAR are both tangential to that kind of failure in web aptitude.

I'm speculating here that ONE BAR will be a viable and maybe even dominant paradigm going forward because it's a touch simpler and doesn't ask the naive user to do some partitioning of behavior they wouldn't otherwise think about across separate elements of their browser's UI. That's about it; not ONE BAR RULES, TWO BAR DROOLS, nor any kind of concession to an insistence that somehow ONE BAR = CORPORATE OVERLORDS or whatever. It's a relatively minor evolution of what's already an ongoing UI trend.
posted by cortex at 4:16 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Every person that is considering becoming a public librarian should read those comments before they dive into the pool. I help those people all day every day.
posted by zzazazz at 4:35 PM on February 11, 2010


Not that it helps the case much, because I can't remember a single search engine I've encountered that has defaulted to redirecting you directly instead of showing you a list of results.

You mean other then google, when you press the "I'm feeling lucky" button? Lots of people configure their browsers to automatically go to the first google search result when they type in the search bar. And remember, we know for a fact this post was the first link for "facebook logon"
Good point. Why did they go fucking things up by adding a search bar to browsers in the first place? You could already visit the search engine of your choice by going right to the site by typing it in or loading a bookmark, and that had the advantage of not letting some browser manufacturer pick your default search engine for you.
It saves time.
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is a lovely aphorism but a plainly insufficient philosophy to software development in a developing field. If you mean "don't fuck it up, that thing you are doing is going to fuck it up", just say that. If you mean "don't change it because I like it the way it is", say that. Leave the cutesy bullshit at home.
Well, wait a minute. Lets go back a few steps. You paraphrased me as saying:
"it's not bad, and I distrust search engine companies", which is hardly a defense at all."
And then you said that "is hardly a defense at all"

So I followed up by asking "Why not?", and referenced the aforementioned aphorism. What I mean is why is not a good defense to say that it's not broken, and therefore doesn't need to be changed.

Look at user frustration as a metric. Anytime you change something, you're going to frustrate people who don't like to learn new things. Now, it may be that a new interface will make things better for lot of people, while only annoying a few. But is it really the case that having a single bar, rather then two, makes things that much better that it's worth annoying people who don't like it? Is it worth the reduced increased frustration caused by sending people to the wrong place, which is what this entire FPP is about?

I think I gave my reasons for not liking a single bar. But what I haven't seen is any argument about why the argument for having one bar is more important then the argument for having two bars and not deliberately confusing search terms and URLs.
not ONE BAR RULES, TWO BAR DROOLS, nor any kind of concession to an insistence that somehow ONE BAR = CORPORATE OVERLORDS or whatever. It's a relatively minor evolution of what's already an ongoing UI trend
Of course. It's better for Google if people use search terms instead of URLs. It's better for whoever is developing the software because they get to control what terms go to what pages, which they can't really do with URLs. And it usually means showing people a search results page, with ads, more often. So of course people who choose how people interact with browsers are going to gravitate to that model.

But that doesn't mean that the model is inherently better for the user, as opposed to inherently better for company providing the search box.
posted by delmoi at 4:37 PM on February 11, 2010


Of course. It's better for Google if people use search terms instead of URLs. It's better for whoever is developing the software because they get to control what terms go to what pages, which they can't really do with URLs.

Those are not necessarily the same people. With the uninformed user standard, they'll be using Internet Explorer (assuming they're using Windows) so Bing is the default search engine. Google is default in Firefox and Chrome, not sure where else. And those are defaults, with a quick option to choose search sites (Yahoo! is the 2nd option in Firefox at the moment), so it's not that all browsers are in cahoots with Google to get users to click Google AdSense links.
posted by filthy light thief at 4:51 PM on February 11, 2010


What I mean is why is not a good defense to say that it's not broken, and therefore doesn't need to be changed.

Because the implication is that no one should ever try anything different in a user interface if people were more or less functionally bumbling along with the status quo.

The idea that a change in a user interface might fail is totally fine; it could turn out that people by and large hate not having a second bar dedicated specifically to search. But someone trying to make that change is not something that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" addresses coherently unless the change is away from something really goddam fundamental to how a naive user engages with a program. Either a one-bar paradigm will become popular or it won't, and that'll depend largely on how useful it turns out to be to a broad swath of people, most of whom are not you and, I'm betting, most of whom wouldn't have much of an opinion at all about the presence or not of a secondary search bar even if they knew it was there.

We're talking about an incremental change (eliminating a dedicated secondary search bar) as an approach to an already in-progress general UI shift (toward automated parsing and submission of search terms for some kinds of non-url input to the main input bar of a browser) based on the actual habits of actual naive users (e.g. most of the web-browsing userbase) of that kind of software. Browser devs are gonna try things; nixing a secondary search bar is one of the more obvious ones to try from a Keep It Simple perspective.

Look at user frustration as a metric. Anytime you change something, you're going to frustrate people who don't like to learn new things. Now, it may be that a new interface will make things better for lot of people, while only annoying a few. But is it really the case that having a single bar, rather then two, makes things that much better that it's worth annoying people who don't like it?

Good god. If it makes things better for a lot of people while annoying a few then I would hope to christ that the devs would go with the change. The really awesome devs would go with the change but try to accommodate the folks who liked the pre-change version in some sane way as well.

Neither of us can say with authority how the collective browsing public feels or would feel about a one- vs two-bar interface. My guess is that in aggregate they won't care much at all either way, frankly.

But what I haven't seen is any argument about why the argument for having one bar is more important then the argument for having two bars and not deliberately confusing search terms and URLs.

The argument is really utilitarian: if the people using the software don't care, trying to either pretend they care or force them to care is an unconventional move compared with basing design decisions on what they actually do seem to care about. Which means if people spend years and years typing shit that is not urls into your url bar, you might try accommodating non-url content in an intelligent way by e.g. automated search. Which is why that's already been happening. For a while. Even with two-bar systems.

Dropping a dedicated secondary search bar is, as a UI experiment, a concession to the reality of how your average non-power-user interacts with a web browser. It's a superficial change that makes explicit what a whole bunch of under-the-hood search redirection in url bars has been acknowledging implicitly for a while now. Wishing people wouldn't do that doesn't change anything.

But that doesn't mean that the model is inherently better for the user, as opposed to inherently better for company providing the search box.

If it gets the user more quickly and unambiguously to their search results, it's certainly better for the user. If what the user is doing right now is typing search terms into the url bar, experimenting with a change to more explicitly support and refine that behavior makes basic sense. I think we're talking incremental, aggregate improvement here, nothing revolutionary, but I certainly don't see it as the given that you apparently do that focusing on how the users actually use the software (rather than, I guess, how you think they should or should want to use it) is a bad thing.

And, again, the problem with search companies controlling what happens when people invoke search, directly or indirectly, has so much less to do with where those people type the shit that gets searched for than anything else that worrying about it specifically in the context of whether or not there's a secondary search bar that tons of those folks don't give a shit about and never use anyway seems silly.
posted by cortex at 5:05 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Re: supermcawesomebar. I'm a touch typist and I love it. Recently switched to chrome, and I love being able to just type "wiki[tab]search term" to search, say, wikipedia even more. I was fast before. Now, I'm lightning.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:12 PM on February 11, 2010


To: metafilter@wholelottanothing.org

SET metafilter DIGEST
posted by armage at 5:16 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


The argument is really utilitarian: if the people using the software don't care, trying to either pretend they care or force them to care is an unconventional move compared with basing design decisions on what they actually do seem to care about. Which means if people spend years and years typing shit that is not urls into your url bar, you might try accommodating non-url content in an intelligent way by e.g. automated search. Which is why that's already been happening. For a while. Even with two-bar systems.
Right, so what we really have right now is two bars with a slight semantic difference. But if you mess up and type the wrong thing into the wrong bar, it doesn't actually cause any problems. I would agree it was a problem if typing a URL into the search bar didn't work, or if typing search terms into the URL bar didn't work. But that's not the case.
If it gets the user more quickly and unambiguously to their search results, it's certainly better for the user.
Like I said, I don't really think that's the case. Especially since, as you said, you can type search results into the URL bar if you want right now.

But I do find the URL suggestions firefox provides to be convenient for navigating to different URLs, much more so then Google's mix of search and URL recommendations in chrome. I know that's not the case with everyone. But even if the boxes are just semantically, rather then syntactically different it still speeds things up if you pick the right one for the right task. But it doesn't slow you down too much if you pick the wrong one.
And, again, the problem with search companies controlling what happens when people invoke search, directly or indirectly, has so much less to do with where those people type the shit that gets searched for than anything else that worrying about it specifically in the context of whether or not there's a secondary search bar that tons of those folks don't give a shit about and never use anyway seems silly.
Well, is see your point. But I do think firefox's URL bar works well at guiding people into using URLs for commonly visited sites, rather then searching for them over and over again. It would be interesting to see stats on how often Chrome users vs. Firefox users visit pages on Google. (and I would imagine most chrome users are more tech savvy then firefox users today) It would also be interesting to see real stats on how frustrated users actually do get as they use different interfaces.
posted by delmoi at 5:26 PM on February 11, 2010


And so help me I'm eight comments into an argument I don't even really want to be having and the last one was so big it got excerpted on Recent Activity. I'm letting it alone.
posted by cortex at 5:27 PM on February 11, 2010 [3 favorites]



Of course, there are now all kinds of SEOs are freaking right the hell out with urgent attempts to capitalize on this heretofore-unknown exploitable phenomenon. So ReadWriteWeb will eventually slide down the rankings as the brouhaha dies, but there will probably be unpleasant aftereffect in the near future.


You kidding? I'm under the distinct impression that this particular population of idiots is the entire reason that the ad-based internet economy functions at all. Who the fuck clicks ads on purpose?
posted by odinsdream at 6:59 PM on February 11, 2010


You kidding? I'm under the distinct impression that this particular population of idiots is the entire reason that the ad-based internet economy functions at all. Who the fuck clicks ads on purpose?
I swear, every time I read this thread I get angrier. It's all well and good to make fun of someone who, say, can't find Iraq on a map. But until learning how to distinguish between CNN.com's internal promo banners and Time.com's external sponsor banners is civic duty let's cut people a little slack, you know?

Becoming proficient with computers is like learning a foreign language. The fact that you pick up languages easily, or that you grew up around native speakers, or that you've been needed to 'speak the language' for your job for years, doesn't mean that it is magically something that everyone knows. It does not even make it something that everyone aught to know. It just makes it something that you and your friends know.

Sites like Clients From Hell only reinforce this ugly view. For every truly onerous client quote on that site, there's one from someone who just doesn't understand visual design and is asking a legitimate question. "Can we just use one color to make it cheaper?" is a question that actually gets mocked on that site. It's a perfectly valid assumption with print work, but a client asked a web designer, and woo! It's a laugh riot.

Seriously. I deal with people every day who think that they are really stupid, dull people because they don't intuitively grasp something that other people took years to learn. It's like asking, "Who takes gypsy cabs? Everyone knows that you should only take authorized yellow cabs!" But with computers, there are thousands of kinds of gypsy things that can trip you up. And every time you encounter one, everyone acts like you're an idiot because you didn't already know about it.
posted by verb at 8:11 PM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think we should not argue over search vs address box, but unambiguous vs ambiguous identifiers.

Most users seem to treat search terms as inviolable paths to their destination, but you can't blame them. The popular search engines give correct results virtually every time, and they accept plain English. Naturally people flocked to them. Old AOL keywords didn't help. What do you do with a mass of people who don't understand the fleeting nature of search?
posted by Monochrome at 8:25 PM on February 11, 2010


To all those "But someone I love is computer illiterate..." folks- I don't think you understand what we're making fun of. Personally I don't care how or if people understand how address bars work, or if they have to Google "facebook login." I do not however, think that anyone who deserves and holds a PHD could POSSIBLY see that RRW page and think it was actually Facebook. That is a fundamental disconnect from reading ability, common sense, and perhaps even pattern recognition. Also, if someone was confused and thought it was Facebook but just moved on, we would not know. The mockable baffling behavior was to go through that course of events and then belligerently post on this "different Facebook" about how they wanted it changed back and why couldn't they log in. THAT is the behavior I find incredibly and hilariously stupid. It requires lack of awareness, lack of understanding of what Facebook is, lack of logic in determining whether major services would radically change in such a way, lack of willingness to read, lack of reading comprehension, laziness, not RTFA and clearly for the later people, not reading any of the other comments whatsoever. There are some people who could have made a similar mistake who fully deserve to be defended. Those who posted "WTF WHERE IS MY FACEBOOK CHANGE IT BACK LOG ME IN!" do not fall under that category.
posted by haveanicesummer at 8:34 PM on February 11, 2010 [4 favorites]


Becoming proficient with computers is like learning a foreign language. The fact that you pick up languages easily, or that you grew up around native speakers, or that you've been needed to 'speak the language' for your job for years, doesn't mean that it is magically something that everyone knows. It does not even make it something that everyone aught to know. It just makes it something that you and your friends know.

We're arguing over degree. No one is saying everyone should be able to hand-code syntactically-correct HTML 4.0 to use the web. But these people need more computer literacy than they have now. To use your language metaphor, this is akin to tourists who don't speak a word of the language, don't know any local customs, and nearly break local laws.
posted by Monochrome at 8:34 PM on February 11, 2010


We're arguing over degree. No one is saying everyone should be able to hand-code syntactically-correct HTML 4.0 to use the web. But these people need more computer literacy than they have now. To use your language metaphor, this is akin to tourists who don't speak a word of the language, don't know any local customs, and nearly break local laws.
A fair point. The angry "WHO ARE YOU? TAKE ME OFF INTERNET" folks are definitely wandering into another country and demanding the locals translate.

Many of the commenters here, though -- the ones I've jumped in to take issue with in particular -- are not objecting to the angry, entitled tone. They are questioning how someone could be so dumb as to confuse a browser with a url, or to click on a banner ad. Those are not "breaking the law because you don't care" problems, they are "getting your directions confused because you didn't realize how many colloquialisms you would encounter on that business trip" problems. And in those situations, rolling our eyes and calling those people stupid is pretty arrogant, IMO at least.
posted by verb at 9:26 PM on February 11, 2010


Oh wow.

Via the gumbaby blog linked above: a blog post talking about Toys for Tots that's got 500 posts from (mostly) single moms, talking about their struggles and wanting their kids to have gifts for the holidays. (The blog post has a non-working link to the actual Toys for Tots page.) No idea what search terms people are using that bring them to this site rather than the real one, but it seems to get dozens of posts every November-December since 2004.

I wonder how many of the commenters think they actually submitted their families to Toys for Tots and were ignored? Hello my name is crystal gutierrez i am 27 years old .i have lily(11),breanna(10)adrian(8)maya(7)and samantha(9)weeks old. I really could use help this year .my boyfrined and I are having hard times and we just cant afford gifts for our children this year .we bearly piad our bills and we have reseived our three day notice to pay or quit as of today . i have been trying to find a job but there has been no luck. my boyfriend is disabledand and cannot work . we have been living off of welfare and food stamps . i have been praying for miracle. a family member told me about toys for tots and the miracle that the marines and the familys that donate create for familys in need.i know there are alot of familys out there but i hope that by some small chance my children could be on your list too.any little thing will help. thank you and god bless

This one at least knows that just commenting with your info won't sign you up, but doesn't know how to actually do it: How come you hear about these toy drives but have no info about signing up so that your child wont feel as though hes bad because he gets nothing from Santa? Its bad enough that we need to ask for help, but having no help on asking for help, sure sucks. I hope all you single Moms out there trying to make things right for the kids, have some help and hopefully healthy Christmas, because I can say that this stress is killing me, not knowing how i will provide a tree let alone presents.. Merry Christmas

Most of the commenters are unreachable, but some of them leave their e-mail addresses and phone numbers. I think I'm going to bookmark it and see if I can remember it next holiday season in time to point some of these folks in the right direction...
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:31 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hello my name is crystal gutierrez i am 27 years old .i have lily(11),breanna(10)adrian(8)maya(7)and samantha(9)weeks old. I really could use help this year.... i know there are alot of familys out there but i hope that by some small chance my children could be on your list too.any little thing will help. thank you and god bless
God! How can someone be so stupid that they can't tell the difference between a blog post about a charity and a post on a blog maintained by the charity? Some people.
posted by verb at 9:44 PM on February 11, 2010


I feel like a huge part of the problem is that people's home pages are not useful to them. I use MyHQ.com...it's blindingly and brilliantly stupid, and I fear the day that it goes down forever. For there is nothing else like it.

It consists of a customizable page containing lists of links that you create. You give these lists category headers...whatever you want...mine are things like "Social Networks" or "Finance" or "Surfing" or "Reference." You set it as your browser's home page. That is all.

Oh, and the search bar at the top of the page. With the drop down search engine of your choice.

List of public pages on myHQ.

When myHQ goes down...as it sometimes does...I'm lost. I open a browser window and I see what the internet looks like for the majority of users. A nothing. No launching point. I don't know where to go. How to even begin. And I actually understand my way around the internet. I can only imagine what it's like...

posted by iamkimiam at 9:50 PM on February 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe one of the top 10 searches on Google is still "Yahoo". Which is why Yahoo are forced to be one of the worlds largest advertisers on the internet basically telling their users "WE'RE OVER HERE!".
posted by PenDevil at 10:14 PM on February 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


OMG I can't stop laughing.
posted by cman at 11:11 PM on February 11, 2010


I have a small staff (six folks).

Oh, is that what the kids are calling it these days?
posted by Evilspork at 11:27 PM on February 11, 2010


Sites like Clients From Hell only reinforce this ugly view. For every truly onerous client quote on that site, there's one from someone who just doesn't understand visual design and is asking a legitimate question. "Can we just use one color to make it cheaper?" is a question that actually gets mocked on that site. It's a perfectly valid assumption with print work, but a client asked a web designer, and woo! It's a laugh riot.
I find that pretty obnoxious as well. And the thing I've noticed is that a lot of the people who make those complaints don't know WTF they're talking about. I remember reading one once from a guy who was making fun of a woman who called her PC (as in the box itself) the "Engine" because it was the part that made noise, like an engine. LOL. Except he called the box the CPU, which is also wrong, and even stupider.
posted by delmoi at 11:59 PM on February 11, 2010


(Another defense of the search bar: I can switch between different search engines, so if I want to use wolfram alpha to solve a math problem, or some other specialized search issue, it's easy to change).

You don't need the search box for that (in Firefox). Add a bookmark with a URL of: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=%s - set the Bookmark Keyword to "wa" (or whatever); go to Firefox address bar and type "wa natural logarithm 2" and you get: http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=natural+logarithm+2. I suppose it's just a shorter way of typing out search URLs, but it's faster for me than adding an extra drop-down menu step, ala the search box.

My focus is mostly on reducing keystrokes/mouse clicks, but it does also translate into efficiency, I think. I also like having a long address bar so that I can see full URLs when they are long, but again, I have specific needs when browsing that most other users wouldn't care about.

Anyway, wonky interface discussion. I like it.

And remember, we know for a fact this post was the first link for "facebook logon"

I guess that's also my other point. Do we really?

First, I'm pretty sure it was "login" not "logon." A search for facebook logon (no quotes) returns no Google News results.

Second, I maintain that this "news" post (which is obviously good at SEO gaming Google News since it's still No. 1 and RWW is gone) was the No. 1 News result from when I first saw the story (which was very shortly before this posted here). It now also has some jokey comments, like "I don't like Facebook's new logo. Why did they change their name to Khabrein!!!???"

Second, screenshots?

It may not have been a prank. I may have just been one or two confused users and then a RWW commenting pile-on of in-jokes and detectable and undetected sarcasm. But's it's not a news story, nor a trend, nor an indication of the internet going "mainstream." It's SEO chum, somewhere on its way down the food chain.

Shenanigans.

I also found something interesting regarding Give Me Back My Google. If you search facebook login there, you don't get any news results at all. (GMBMG results; standard Google results) So, aside from excluding sponsored results, it's also excluding news? Interesting. I'm curious how the site determines whether or not to show Google News results in Web search results. That's the real story here. Hahaha.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:13 AM on February 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


I just realized that this has all happened before, but with Maury Povich instead of Facebook.
posted by brownpau at 8:39 AM on February 12, 2010


I'm the maintainer of the Gumbaby blog :) thanks to those who re-linked.

As some of you may recall from my AskMeFi or Jessamyn and Mathowie's mention in the podcast, I'm doing my dissertation on misunderstandings like these. If you'd like to read my dissertation, a (nearly-finished) work in progress, well, there's the link. Comments on the "study" page of that wiki would be appreciated.

My own observations and responses to things people have written in this thread so far:

It is *not* the case that "these people" are illiterate. In my data, I see plenty of people who write incredibly literate letters. Some of them are even published authors. The problem is that postal letters are not the kind of literacy required here.

Literacy is not monolithic. There are, in fact, different literacies which are acceptable in different situations. You don't write a sonnet when you're asked to write a fiscal report.

And like dylan20 said, those of us who are Internet "smart" are frequently just as dumb when we are *writing* the Internet as these strangers are when they are reading it. Do you write links and headlines with ambiguous meanings? Have you thought about how that might affect how a search engine reads what you're trying to say about your blog or the page on the other end of the link? Congratulations, you're helping write bad search results.

Having worked in HCI, I can tell you that a number of the user research practices I've seen are woefully unsystematic, don't find out what we really need to know about users' misunderstandings, and don't often lead to meaningful changes in interfaces.

As an educator, I agree with delmoi, and disagree with Nelson and bicyclefish. In the long run, it's a bad idea to give people the same bar for URLs and search. People need to understand what URLs are telling them.

In my data, malformed URLs and confusion between these search bars cause huge problems for people. It will be far more empowering to teach people how to read URLs than it will to hide this vital part of the Internet's working from them. It's how those of us who are From The Internet understand where we are, who is speaking, and who owns a website. I'm not saying it will be easy to teach this skill; it will just be better for comprehension, and for equality.

delmoi's observation that "my regular readers" and "people who came here searching" are two separate groups is a good one. That's also the divide I see in my data, and I am coming to the conclusion that it is a huge part of the digital divide which needs to be addressed.

If you're with me, ersatzkat, filthy light thief, and others who have said so, in believing that this is a very important educational issue, stick with me -- I am planning to work up a widget to help make URLs easier to read, and also continue to do a lot of Internet literacy education on The Media Show (where we have a few episodes about netiquette which would be safe to send your grandma).

And if like me, you're a fan of this kind of Internet booboo, in addition to the threads people have already mentioned, MeFi also had a series of other threads along these lines: Jeremy Jordan Loves Demon Dogs and How Hawkish. And I chronicled a number of others on my blog, Gumbaby.

I am always looking for more misunderstandings like this, as I plan to be researching this phenomenon for some time; if you know of any more, please let me know! Having server log data about these misunderstanding pages would be especially useful. More datapoints on how people are getting to the RWW page would also be a help.
posted by gusandrews at 9:23 AM on February 12, 2010 [14 favorites]


I guess what surprises me is that none of these people ever check the "Leave me logged in on this computer" box.
posted by Work to Live at 12:27 PM on February 12, 2010


Thanks for posting, Gus!

those of us who are Internet "smart" are frequently just as dumb when we are *writing* the Internet as these strangers are when they are reading it. Do you write links and headlines with ambiguous meanings? Have you thought about how that might affect how a search engine reads? [...] Congratulations, you're helping write bad search results.

The equivalency you're trying to draw here — between writing that can be misread and misreading itself — makes no sense to me. How could we meaningfully say that people who write ambiguously, playfully, un-literally,* are accountable for, or "just as dumb" as, their misreaders? (Or as dumb as Google, which mostly doesn't know or care about polysemy at all?) To take some of your other gumbabies as examples: in what sense is a pun about the programming language Common Lisp, or a sarcastic reference to the Olsen twins, culpably "dumb" when it's misread as discussing speech impediments, or as a place for fans to write letters to the horrible starlets? This seems equivalent to claiming that the Onion is "just as dumb" as a reader who mistakes it for serious journalism, or that Nabokov is "just as dumb" as the student who thinks Lolita is encouraging pedophilia. Human language is always rich in ambiguity and open to different interpretations, and this can't be wished away; it seems like a huge category mistake to claim that the (literal, repetitive) kind of writing that tends to be best indexed by PageRank is in some intrinsic way better or smarter than the other kinds. How are Google's mistakes, or searchers' misreadings, attributable to stupidity in the writers that they mis-index and misread? Are you seriously claiming that writers should think to themselves "wait, this [clever turn of phrase/joke/poem] is likely to be misunderstood by [Google/some group of random passers-by not in the audience I'm writing for], so I must rewrite it"? If a given use of language results in a "bad search result," that is no argument to think worse of the language-use; rather, it's an argument to make the search engine work better.

* or who write performatively, "parasitically," or literarily, not to get all Limited Inc on you; or even who write confusingly or unhelpfully, since there's no reason the commercial Web's profit-driven HCI/usability goals should apply to every writer in the world
posted by RogerB at 1:24 PM on February 12, 2010


Roger, it's dumb in this medium. Nabokov didn't write in hyperlinks, and up until recently his chapter headings weren't being archived by Google. I'm not saying don't write it, I'm just saying don't call someone else stupid for trying to cope with an error you helped create.

My favorite example of human sensemaking from my data these days is provided by Norma from this thread on jonsonblog; to make sense of where Google took her, she convinced herself she needed to buy ketchup in order to order custom M&Ms. And she didn't even trust her own judgment on that one.

Search engines are, as you implied, the dumbest readers of all -- and unfortunately, the medium is built to run on this lowest common denominator, so if we wish these strangers to go away, we need to stop linking to poor Ryan MacMichael and calling him Maury Povich*. I've been reading articles on natural language processing for a class I'm auditing, and it really kind of startles me some of the misguided assumptions these computer scientists and programmers make about language, even in a field which is ostensibly born from linguistics.

*hee hee sorry I'm just letting my inner 4chan out to wreak havoc
posted by gusandrews at 1:45 PM on February 12, 2010


God! How can someone be so stupid that they can't tell the difference between a blog post about a charity and a post on a blog maintained by the charity? Some people.

Well, sure, you and I know what chunk of text on there is the blog post, which is clearly written by a third party. But I was trying to look at the site with fresh eyes, and unless you know what you're looking for, it's really not at all obvious that the text of the post is "pay attention to me"-important, and all of the ads and links are "to be ignored." It just looks like a mess of words and colors an images. But hey, Toys for Tots could have a messy-looking website, right? It says Toys for Tots in the title, and if they bother to look at the URL, "Toys for Tots" is there too.

So basically if you're not familiar with blogs, and you're not familiar with URLs, it honestly doesn't strike me as that unobservant not to realize what's going on. I can't say the same for all of the examples-- there are some cases where there are a lot of huge, glaring signals that the person is in the wrong place-- but I really don't think you need to be stupid to confused by that site, just inexperienced about what you're looking at.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:37 PM on February 12, 2010


So basically if you're not familiar with blogs, and you're not familiar with URLs, it honestly doesn't strike me as that unobservant not to realize what's going on.
You're totally right -- I was actually being sarcastic about that: the skill of "figuring out the official source for a piece of information when lots of places are talking about it" is not exactly intuitive...
posted by verb at 6:22 AM on February 13, 2010


Oh I was talking to my mom earlier and I asked her if she knew the difference between URLs and search terms, and she did. I asked her if it was her sense that most people knew the difference and she said "Well, if I know the difference, I'm sure everyone else does!"
posted by delmoi at 6:27 PM on February 14, 2010


Delmoi, isn't that more about the apple not falling far from the tree than anything else?
posted by Salamandrous at 7:12 PM on February 14, 2010


I can call my mom up right now and have a quick conversation in which we establish that she has pretty much no fucking idea what the difference between a url and a search term is. Mom fight!
posted by cortex at 7:25 PM on February 14, 2010


Odd coda to all this: we just got a contact email from some confused person, reading thus:

i am not able to open facebook - farmville game and cannot accept gifts etc.

please help


Whether this was prompted specifically by this thread or not, I don't know. This sort of thing isn't all that uncommon, though we don't receive a high volume of it. There's not much to do on our end; if someone is confused about who they're writing to but otherwise has a clear, lucid goal we might try and point them in the right direction, but stuff like the above just goes into my CANCEL MY GOOGLE folder (one of about a dozen labels I partition all the incoming messages into) and dies there.
posted by cortex at 9:16 PM on February 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


Given that no mefi pages show up in the first page of search links for "facebook login" or facebook login farmville" right now, I'd guess it's unrelated, or that this person is using some other, more obscure set of keywords to search for the login.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:57 PM on February 15, 2010


If only pb would implement Facebook Connect for allowing FB users to comment on MeFi.
posted by GuyZero at 1:29 PM on February 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


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