SOMETIMES on the Web, it’s best just to leave things that don’t need fixing alone. This idea is becoming more important as new technologies give developers the power to make Web experiences more interactive.
Rich Internet Applications (RIAs), which typically use technologies and techniques like Ajax, Flash, Flex and soon Silverlight, can turn a once-static Web tool like a navigation bar, stock chart or financial history into a shimmering-drag-and-drop-roll-over-to-reveal-audio-pumping Web application.
Flash is also popular for video and multimedia, which often can be put together at low cost using widely available online tools and software. However, these same tools that can be extremely effective are also very easy to abuse. This is especially so when they’re used where they aren’t needed or they’re used out of context.
“Cool” is hardly ever hot
We are now just starting to see “improvements” using RIA techniques on investor relations websites. In most cases, these do little for users except increase the amount of interaction required to perform basic tasks that used to be easy. Fortunately, they’re still very much in the minority, but it won’t be long before one of the big cookie-cutter IR website providers decides to try its hand at something “cool.”
Thomson has already taken a stab with its all-Flash-no-substance iShowcase presentation product, which is sooo NOT the right product for the times. It’s hard-sell marketese in an era where users are looking for sincerity. Honestly, it makes me want to vomit.
So it was with great interest that I read the behind-the-scenes story about Microsoft’s makeover of Hotmail. As CNET News.com tells it, the developers were forging ahead with a funky Web 2.0 version of the popular Web email application when they decided to pull back mid-stream.
There’s another lesson in the story: if you are going to do something new, test it with users first. And test it again.
It’s an indictment on the IR website industry as a whole that new products are brought to market without ever seeing a minute in a usability lab.