Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Can A Tiny Detail Make or Break A Website?

Sometimes I wonder about myself, because when it comes to conducting my own little usability studies on various websites, I think in many ways I fail myself.

First of all – I’m a big disciple of the KISS method – keep it simple, stupid. I don’t like to jump through a bunch of hoops to make a website work. At Uncharted, for example, our designer INSISTS, in the photo and story submission process, that after completing each step we first have to SAVE our work, and then click an entirely separate button to move on to the next step. It only takes a few seconds to do, but it drives me crazy. It makes no sense to add that extra step.

Yet there are many sites I visit that require such extra steps and, for some odd reason, I don’t mind taking them at all. And the odd reason is just this: I’m used to taking that extra step.

Take digg.com for example. Most of the time when you click on a link, you get another Digg window, on which you have to click another link to get to the item people want to share with the world. (Sometimes you jump right to the item, which is a bonus in my book, right?) Over at reddit.com, however, they don’t do that. You click on the link and you go straight to the item others want to share with you. But guess which site I prefer? Digg. I had to ask myself why, since Digg is one step further away from KISS than Reddit.

So I asked why. It’s not the content. Though the content varies from Digg to Reddit, I can’t say there’s enough difference in what is offered on either site to make me prefer one over the other. And since I link directly to both, rarely getting to Digg or Reddit through any other portal but Digg or Reddit, I can’t say it’s due to the dominant position Digg has taken in the marketplace. Part of me wants to say it’s presentation. Reddit is a might simpler than Digg. In some ways, it has almost a Web 1.0 feel with the plain backgrounds and links that APPEAR the same as they did when I was tinkering with the Web back in 1996, plugging away at HTML with only trial and error. Digg is slicker, with a graphic presentation. But, when you sit down to compare them, they’re not really all that different. Blue links on a white page, with black text nearby. Digg has more pictures. Digg makes their “dig” count more prominent than Reddit in tracking its votes. Both Digg and Reddit offer to sort the selections by category – but I never use the categories.

So why do I prefer Digg over Reddit? I have a dual monitor so for the last 15 minutes or so, I’ve had both Digg and Reddit up, and I’ve stared at them. And stared at them. And stared at them. They function the same. They have roughly the same types of content. One is a little friendlier to the eye with graphics than the other, but I can’t say that really tips the scale.

Then it hits me. And this seems like a stupid, stupid reason to prefer Digg over Reddit, but, perhaps, it shows haw a seemingly trivial detail could, in my eyes at least, make me prefer one site over the other:

Reddit is too blue.

Their hyperlinks are waaaaay too long, sometimes spilling over two or three lines. Digg’s hyperlinks, by contrast, are short. Peppy. Rarely spreading halfway across the page, let alone onto an additional line. Even though those hyperlinks connect me to the same kinds of items, even though those hyperlinks, at Reddit, take me right to the item without having to swim through another layer, I like the Digg hyperlinks better. Because they don’t take as long to read, yet give me enough information to decide whether I want to make that dark blue hyperlink turn light blue.

That seems superficial, I suppose. But it’s how the sites make me react. Digg provides just as much textual information as Reddit provides – it’s just presented in black on white text, underneath the hyperlink. Some of Digg’s texts are even longer than Reddit’s hyperlinks. But they’re not hyperlinks. So they’re not blue. So the offerings on Digg seem more manageable than the offerings on Reddit.

I wonder how Reddit would react to this feedback. Would they think I’m crazy? Maybe I am. I’ll go see if others feel the same. At digg.com.

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