Ask People to Destroy Your Site
by John S. Rhodes
One of my favorite pastimes is beating the blazes out of
a Web site. I really enjoy pointing out a sites problems; the more problems the
Is this sadistic? Not unless everyone is sadistic. More often than not, Web sites suck,
usability is pathetic, and content is skimpy. Problems abound. What I've found is that
most people like to complain about how bad Web sites are. Since so many Web sites rot,
this is generally a fun and easy exercise. Folks might not be formal about it, but that
doesn't mean they don't relish the opportunity to tell someone how bad they think a Web
So Web sites have all kinds of problems that people will point out, what good is that? My
answer is simple: harness that angst, savor it, capitalize on it! People will tell
you for free what sucks. There is some weird intrinsic value to this act, so let people
channel it and then use the results to improve the site.
I suggest that you develop and sponsor a "Destroy This Site" contest. The
contest should basically be an open invitation to beat the stuffing out of your site.
People will readily tell you what they don't like, and it doesn't take much of their time.
If you want to enhance the frenzy, I suggest that you offer a small reward or bounty for
the finding of the greatest number of problems or for the biggest problem. It is amazing
how far $5 or a pitcher of beer will go to motivate people.
"Destroy This Site" contests are win-win. People love them, they cost you
very little, and you get data out the wazoo.
I warn you of one thing. A users preference is not the same thing as a users
performance. Just as correlation does not equal causation, a person's like or dislike of a
Web site does not mean that performance is directly related. For example, a person that
hates the text boxes on a web site might be able to use the text boxes very well, whereas
a person who loves the text boxes might use them poorly.
The major step after gathering the contest data is usability testing. Get a
usability test put together and look at how people perform. Use the "Destroy This
Site" data to guide the development of your test scenarios, the test measures, and
the usability goals.
Be sure to enjoy putting your Web site under the gun.
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