The new browser controversy

The most successful Web sites are devoid of anything too slick. Because the only thing the average user can be counted on knowing is that the back arrow cycles back a page.

The most successful Web sites are devoid of anything too slick. Because the only thing the average user can be counted on knowing is that the back arrow cycles back a page.
By John C. Dvorak, PC Magazine

25 July 2000 - It's interesting to try to predict the future of the Web's look and feel. While many forward-thinking companies are banking on broadband and rich media, others are telling us that Web pages should be uncomplicated, and made up of mostly fast-loading text.

The biggest booster of simplicity is ex-Sun honcho Jakob Nielsen (author of Designing Web Usability). I've interviewed Nielsen many times in the past year or two. He hates frames, hates Javascript, hates Flash, and hates big JPEGs and animated GIFs.

Though few Webmasters pay much attention to the simplicity issue, preferring the fanciest footwork, the most successful Web sites are fairly devoid of anything too slick.

Yahoo is the perfect example. Let's consider a popularized gimmick found at many Web sites. It works like this: You click on a link and the link opens a new browser, then puts the linked page into the new browser.

A friend of mine told me long ago that of all the Web gimmicks he hated, he hated this most. I personally have never found this to be that offensive.

Jakob Nielsen also hates it, and has a few interesting reasons why this gimmick should not be employed.

First of all, he says that not everyone is using a big monitor with a lot of real estate. Often the new browser opens directly on top of the old browser, leaving a novice user confused because the back arrow button on the new browser does not go back to the old page.

We often fail to understand what the majority of users are doing, and according to Nielsen, the only thing the average user can be counted on knowing is that the back arrow cycles back a page. That's it.

The command to open a new browser, which is incorporated in all modern browsers, must have had some original rationale. A fancy site that can open a mini-screen for, say, a stock ticker or some such thing probably seemed a good idea long ago.

The first thing I saw the new browser command used for, however, was to open miniature windows with annoying ads for the various sites that gave away free Web page space.

And more often, if you happen to stumble onto a porn site that you want to shut down, you're flooded with new windows. More and more new windows are opened, exposing you to more porn. You can't shut them down fast enough.

One original use of the new browser command was to keep the main site "sticky". If you wanted to link away from a site, the site would open a new browser in the hopes that you'd shut the browser down eventually and find yourself back at the window from which you left.

The sticky concept, which people are banking on, doesn't work for me.

The Web is basically a mechanism for linking all over tarnation, period. Even AOL, a site that goes beyond sticky and is actually a closed loop, gave up on the idea that people would never leave. It was forced to incorporate a browser that took people away from AOL. AOL's good fortune did not begin until it took this more realistic approach. Go look at the charts.

Yahoo, though it tries to be stickier than other search engines, is still best known for its links to the world outside of Yahoo.

Although the experts will tell the brass at Yahoo and elsewhere that "sticky" is where all the money is, there is no real evidence that this is true.

I personally think there is a psychology to this that is not understood. People are looking for useful information or something fun to do on the Web. They love it if you - Web site experts - help them attain this goal, which doesn't always mean trapping them in one place.

You lose their trust if they see you as tricking them. It's likely that the gimmick of opening a new browser contributes to lack of trust. It's a practice that should be discouraged.

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