Posting Date: April 28, 2002
Usability for Senior Citizens (useit.com) -- "Websites tend to be produced by young designers, who often assume that all users have perfect vision and motor control, and know everything about the Web. These assumptions rarely hold, even when the users are not seniors. However, as indicated by our usability metrics, seniors are hurt more by usability problems than younger users. Among the obvious physical attributes often affected by the human aging process are eyesight, precision of movement, and memory." (Comments: Are web designers actually young? My intuition says yes, but I don't have data. Does Jakob Nielsen have data to back up his claim? Does anyone have any data on this?)
My new metric for evaluating a Jakob Alertbox: scroll down to the bottom of the article..If there is a link selling a related report, close the window.
Good one, Jack. I'm following the same system. ;)
John, Nielsen surveyed over 350,000 web designers from all over the world to conclude that all of us are young (and by implication, inconsiderate). NOT! It's just another grossly generalised statement based on his opinion.
Over at www.evolt.org we had conducted a survey of members (600+) a while back. One of the questions was about their age. The results tell us that while the 26-32 age group is the highest (with about 36%), and the 18-25 group is about 30%, more than 28% is in the "old" group. Thought you might be interested.
Lots of baby and lots of bath water in Jakob's latest, but for Jack Schonchin to suggest that a yardstick for the value of Nielsen's results is whether or not Nielsen is marketing a more detailed report seems misguided. Perhaps Jack still expects everything on the Internet to be free? (Information doesn't want to be free, it wants to be inert; it takes effort to move it.) Perhaps Jack expects Nielsen to conduct research where the findings will have no commercial value?
I admit that I am taking a pot shot at Jack's comment, but has taken a pot shot at Nielsen.
There IS plenty to disagree with, in Nielsen's posts, and it's handled quite well at CHI-web, but to posit an irrelelvant, unsupported argument does nothing to further the dialogue.
I question any article or column that is the basis for the same author to sell his product. There is a direct conflict of interest that would raise bloody hell for any newspaper or magazine author / pundit / guru. Everything he has to say at that point is suspect. Plain and simple.
In my opinion, the purpose of the Alertbox has changed. The public would be better served if commercial messages originated on the NNGroup web site.
In contrast, WebWord takes the high road. John is not hawking a specific product in the articles he writes. The articles serve to inform and demonstrate his expertise. That is what the Alertbox used to do. The integrity of what John has to say is not harmed.
As for commercial value... hey, take a look at the world of academic research where progress occurs in a free and open environment. You know, that wacky place where knowledge builds on the shoulders of the researchers who came before you. Wow, did I utter such a silly, non-capitalistic comment? Dang.
To say it another way... When Jakob uses the Alertbox for a commercial message, he loses the intregrity and loyalty I saw/placed in him as a guru. Until now, I had been Jakob's biggest defender. I won't refer anyone to his books or web sites any more.
Jack, thank you for the kind words. I do strive to take the high road as you suggest. I would certainly like to make more money via the WebWord site, but I would not do it the Jakob way. Instead, I think that I would have the commercial content fully outside the articles I write. As you suggest, Jakob could have done this through the NNgroup site. However, the useit.com site gets a lot more traffic...so that is where he does the selling. I should also point out, to be fair, that Jakob's articles aren't devoid of value. They are just sometimes too commercial.
On different topic, I think that Jakob either feels that WebWord competes with useit.com or that he just plain doesn't have any respect for WebWord (or other similiar web sites). Until this year, Jakob listed WebWord on useit.com's web traffic statistics page, but now he doesn't. What a shame. I drive more traffic to useit.com than nearly all of the search engines on his list. Sometimes I wish I had more pull, so that I could make more of a difference. I really need to write a book...or find other ways to get more press.
My usual complaint with JN is his mis-applied mathematics. I can't fault him on the arithmetic, it's just the application/presentation thereof.
In this Alertbox he presents a comparison between seniors and a younger control group, and does the maths to represent the usability of the seniors group at 100% and the non-seniors at 222%. In my mind, he's done it backwards: the control group should be at 100%, and the seniors should be 45%, clearly indicating that the designs tested are *inferior* for the seniors group (rather than being 100% A-OK).
Unfortunately, each time he does this he damages his credibility as I wonder what other weird math I'm not seeing, upon which the final weird maths is built.
But then, I usually get steamed at seeing cumulative periodic data plotted in line graphs too.
Think webword is just superb John! keep up the good work and think a book is a great idea.
Daniel in HK
John, writing a book is a great idea. I know that I would purchase a copy. On another note...I am relatively new to the concepts of usabilit. Actually, I am fairly new to the Web Design field as a whole. Alertbox was actually my first exposure to any type of usability concepts. I was amazed at some of the things that Jakob had to say. Then I started noticing his little advertisements for NNgroup reports in his articles. I became more skeptical of his work and often times found it difficult to decipher the useful information from the marketing junk. Then I found Webword. I soon realized that Jakob isn't god and there are many dissenting opinions when it comes to web design & usability. I come to Webword not just for hyperlinks to usablity information, but because i trust that the people of this community "know what they are talking about" and always seem to weed out the crap from the useful information...
hmm...I just re-read my post..if someone else posted this, I would think they were an @ss kisser. I hope no one gets the wrong idea. I am just very very interested in usability, and for someone that is mostly self taught, WebWord has been a very valuable resource for me. I appreciate it...hmm we'll see what happens..
Hey Michael! Stop kissing ass. ;-)
Hey Michael! Stop kissing ass. ;-)
Yeah..Go ahead...i deserve it...:-)
I just did that exact process.
I like some of the things he has to say, but stop with the sales pitch already!!!!
If you want to sell stuff make useit.com a sub domain of nng.com (or whatever it is)
Jack, I agree with your position that there is an obvious opportunity for a conflict of interest. But he's entitled to make a buck off his efforts -- no man but a blockhead, & all that -- and I'm sure you're aware that there has been something self-serving about useit.com for years. For years he has highlighted news articles where -he- is quoted, which enhances his reputation and consulting fees. (Anyone wanting to quickly introduce a colleague to Nielsen would send that colleague to useit, and said colelague would see all his exposure, and on a limited, no-random sample of articles conclude that he's authoritative. To my knowledge, JN has -never- had a section where he listed articles where Jared Spool [for instance] is quoted.)
I guess I'm just surprised that you would react this way to Alert Box columns' inclusion of a link to where a fuller report can be purchased. I'm just not sure why -this- crosses your threshold.
It's a credibility issue. Am I reading advice or a crafted sales pitch? When you tie advice to sales, the advice is suspect. This principle applies everywhere else in life, why not here?
Exactly: the principle applies everywhere -including- useit.com. Academic journal articles garner reputation for the programs that a researcher is affiliated with, ultimately leading to higher salaries and/or survival. Network nightly news shows scratch the surface of a story before telling you more can be heard on their magazine show later that night. The New York Times tells you what is coming in the Sunday magazine so you will -buy- the Sunday edition. Nielsen was -always- commercial, he just wasn't always able to leverage it.
To my knowledge, Nielsen has never said that all usabilty labs conducted by others are suspect. Yes, he uses the foot-in-the-door selling technique in his Alert Boxes, but I don't think he's overstating the rewards of what he's selling.
Frank, let's look at your examples.
Academic research (PDF) is peer reviewed and open to detailed inspection (because the research findings must be reproducible). If the researcher had a personal monetary interest in the research, he would be discredited and likely out of a job.
The New York Times news department and advertising department are separate. If a journalist had a monetary interest in what he wrote about - even a columnist - he would face harsh criticism, or even be fired.
Your broadcast news observation, well, that's just like http links. There are limits to the length of any news program, so it's a benefit for the viewer to be informed about an in-depth program that will follow later that evening.
On a related note, when a corporate parent influences news coverage -- it happens every day -- the news organizations are suspect. If you are not questioning corporate media today, you are not a wise news consumer.
At the very least, in my opinion, the nature of Alertbox has changed and we should revise how we interpret its contents.
But then, when Jakob does some research, and sells a report about it, isn't he allowed to share some of the results with us for free? And at the end of this can't he put a link to the full monty?
My contention -- based on the historic nature of the Alertbox -- is that a sales pitch belongs on the NNGroup web site. I believe Jakob, over the past several years, has established a relationship between himself and his readers, one built on an understanding and trust. When Jakob began cross-promoting commercial reports with the Alertbox, he changed the nature of that relationship. Therein lies the rub.
Jack, I understand your arguments and appreciate them... The importance of peer review is something I'm aware of (there was a wonderful article in the 80s in "Journal of Marketing", the 'lighter' brother of JMR, which was titled something like "I Hate When That Happens; or, Why Anyone Would Subject Themselves To The Peer Review Process"), but useit has never existed in a peer review space. And maybe I don't know enough of what it was like pre-97, but I never even thought it was in an -academic- space... Even within academia, there are journal publications where peer review is an intense process, and publications where it's not. I never thought useit was even that... It was (is) one man's soapbox, grounded in very strong background... I don't recall any reports being sold in the "Flash: 99% Bubonic Plague" alert box, but for me that lack didn't enhance the credibility.
IMO useit is kind of comparable to Paco Underhill's "Why We Buy": observational science and recommendations, makes a lot of sense, and disregard it at your own risk.
Controversy sells. Folk-loric appelations like "Usability Guru" sell (as unfair as they are).
I have never considered content on the Internet gospel, no matter who its from. Even if it's Gospel, you have to worry about the translation :-)
I think we will both continue to disagree on this, though I have enjoyed the exchange, and am glad we have both been able to clarify our opinions... (Thank you, John, for the forum.)
It -still- would have been nice to see your complaints about what JN actually -wrote-.
My complaints? OK, IMHO, the article is short on specifics. Ahhh, I guess I have to buy that pesky report.
I simply do not believe the assertion that "seniors easily lose track of where they have been" when visited/unvisited link colors are not used. Many web sites have done away with this distinction (especially in navigation menus, which are increasingly graphical), and so the convention is dying. It is no longer a reliable user tool, and so users are not depending on it.
I suspect a person who relies on link color changes would also be confused when links are not blue and underlined. They are trapped in a world that existed in 1996. Remember, Jakob claims seniors are getting lost, which means they are relying on the color change.
I believe the infrequent and inconsistent use of link color changes is responsible for an increase in interlaced browsing (managing multiple browser windows, especially for launching new windows to navigate a site). Users are beginning to adjust their browsing behavior to cope with a negative, industry-wide shift in web design.
Also, I suspect people use their "back" buttons 500% more (or whatever) than they did in 1996 because web sites are more complex, confusing, and slow-to-load. As such, when they hit "back," any link color change is not seen. So even sites following this convention are not fully reaching users who may look for it.
I do not see the color difference being taught in "Intro to Internet" courses anymore. (Ever try instructing a senior with rules that do not universally apply?) Where are techno-novice seniors learning to browse the web?
How did Jakob arrive at his amazing conclusion? I am not willing to pay $125 to find out.
Re the Jakob Nielsen article. If you are wondering if web designers are really young (compared to seniors), try this simple test: Ask youself how many people working in the web industry today have already retired.
That should give you the answer you seek.
As usual, Jakob's article has *some* useful and interesting points in it, but he comes across as such an annoying, patronising old fart that most people prefer to disregard the research. Sigh.