Jakob Nielsen needs a makeover. And a “fun” gene implant.

Jakob Nielsen, apparent guru of accessibility and usability, has been getting his teeth into Web 2.0, in particular the issues around AJAX and what it does to the user experience. I think this is a very interesting area – Brian and I picked up on it in our paper for Museums and the Web:

…couple this with the fact that technologies such as AJAX actually change the way that people interact with a page (and hence change visit analysis), and things become much more complex: an AJAX style approach to pages means that the relationship between page views, visits and hits are skewed in as-yet unknown ways.

Consider for example forms which post on-page or a drag and drop shopping cart– these are exciting developments in terms of in-browser capability. Ajax is starting to push the browser into the domain of the desktop in terms of the user interface. But with this kind of capability there are always downsides, and debates. And ‘ol Jakob is always going to be there at the forefront of the discussion…

So how should we react to this kind of stuff? What does it mean to us, as people who care hugely about accessibility and usability? Is Jakob right in his criticism?

Here’s the rules as I see them. It’s the same with Flash, Second Life, whatever new technology the world chucks at you:

  1. Does the technology do something which improves the user experience? Does it make navigation easier, the site faster? Does it help the visitor get something which they’re looking for? Does it actually add to the experience?
  2. Does the technology do something which can’t be done in a “lower common denominator” way?
  3. Can the technology work for people with a range of abilities, disabilities, browser capabilities (ouch, rhyming..)

That’s it.

So, is this “looked great, terrible to use” territory of .com 1.0? Personally, I don’t think so, at all. Which is not to say that people aren’t abusing these technologies just because they can rather than applying the rules above. It’s also not to say that we aren’t on the verge of .com bubble 2.0. Michael Arrington seems to think so, anyway – and with the ridiculous VC funding being chucked about it certainly all feels a bit BOO.com.

But – Jakob is unfair to align ajaxyness and web2.0 ness with bubble 2.0. I think we owe it to our audiences to push at the boundaries and look to ways of embracing these new technologies, provided they work with the rules above. And anyone who has added a tag to a flickr page will agree: this adds to the user experience rather than taking away from it. And it can be done so it degrades gracefully: for example, the WordPress editing page I’m using to write this post looks great on my PDA, and works well too – but in a browser I’ve got AJAXy tagging going on which is so much easier than a form postback.

I’ll be doing some more posting on the issue ‘cos I think it’s an important one but meanwhile, there’s some great articles on AJAX and accessibility out there.

And Jakob? Well, I’ve got an entire rant stored up for him which I’ll let loose one day on another post. For now, let’s just say I’d have about 400% more time for him: 1) If his site didn’t look like utter, terrible, boring **** and 2) If he ever sounded as if he actually enjoyed using the web…

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