Monday, January 16, 2006

Moving to WordPress

Yes, I am moving. No, I am not getting my own website/blog. Contrary to rumours, that will happen at some point. The new URL is easy to remember: and the feed can be found here . I apologise for the pain of switching URLs. I hope you'll join me at the new blog, which is actually the same blog. PS: I'll be updating the Feedburner feed address if that is possible.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Sensible Forms

Brian Crescimanno (A List Apart) writes about forms:
Computers are supposed to make our lives easier, not more difficult. As usability-conscious designers, we can make our users’ lives easier by thinking about the way people interact with our websites, providing clear direction, and then putting the burden of sorting out the details in the hands of the computers—not the users. It’s that last part that we’re going to focus on here. We’ve all heard and read about big usability mistakes time and time again: “Don’t use images or flash for navigation,” “Don’t use Javascript for links,” and I certainly hope we’re all applying those lessons in our work. It’s often the smallest usability quirks, however, that create the biggest annoyances for users, especially when it comes to HTML forms. Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be off to a good start.
Good stuff, go read the article: Sensible Forms: A Form Usability Checklist (via

Usability redefined

Brilliant stuff from usability expert John Rhodes:
OLD Ease of Learning: How fast can a user who has never seen the user interface before learn it sufficiently well to accomplish basic tasks? NEW Ease of Doing: How fast can a user accomplish the desired task? How much time? How much energy applied per unit of measured time? Why better? Takes into consideration users doing something versus knowing how to get it done; practical and concrete measures; accounts for situations where learning is not needed nor desired. Deliberately factors out the need for learning, education, or necessary assistance.
Read the full post: Usability Redefined

Friday, December 23, 2005

Simple error page

A superb example of a well-designed error page from that other browser you may have heard of--Firefox. While the experienced net users may not care about this page, it will be helpful to users who are not net savvy. The Try Again button is also a neat touch. Good work by the Firefox team.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Adding an email address

Let's say a friend sends you an email from her new address and asks you to update your address book. No problem, you try to add the email address in your Yahoo! email account. Sometimes you are faced with a problem. You get a message in two parts that says the following:
There was a problem: Not all the entries were added. Please correct the errors below: The entry already exists:
The problem is that the nickname that you've given has already been used for the old email address. Not a problem, you can delete the old address and hence nickname, right? Not so fast my friend, as a certain ESPN coach would say. To delete the old address, you have to go back to the address book, which means that you "lose" the new email address. So, you have to copy the email address to the clipboard (or go back to the original email again) and then create a new entry. Cumbersome. There is a simpler solution--use another nickname. But, the original problem still remains--the old email address is still there and needs to be deleted. Plus, you're likely to use the original nickname. Let's say that the email client (or application) allows you to use the same nickname for two different addresses. No, no, the nickname must be unique, I can hear some developers saying. Not really. Fastmail, an email service I really like, allows you to use the same nickname and they don't have problems. Gmail doesn't even ask you about storing addresses. So, it can be done. Why Yahoo! doesn't do it, I don't know--maybe because nobody's said anything about this. Having said all of this, I like using Yahoo! email. I just wish that they'd make some things simpler.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Confessions of a blog discriminator

I have a confession: I discriminate against certain kinds of blogs. I discriminate against blogs based on the background colour or the colour of the font used. I generally don't like to wear sunglasses when I am reading content on the web. I also discriminate against blogs based on the size of their fonts. I don't like text that is like the fine print on credit card applications, which is apparently read by people with magnifying glasses for eyes. I also don't usually visit blogs that have 750,000 links to other blogs and links to 150,000 sites where they are listed--it takes too long to load. Don't get me started on images. I also don't like reading blogs that link to a hundred different pages in one sentence. Apparently, someone I know hasn't been following his own advice (go here). I'm not saying that there should not be any links, but just that the number of links should be reduced, to make paragraphs readable. For example -- You don't need to link to popular sites (like Google or Yahoo!). I use the black background and white font on my blog because I find it easier to read. I used a white background on one of my blogs, but I didn't like the constant glare, so I shifted to the dark background. PS: Part of this post has been inspired by Maddox, whose site you can find on Google.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Waterproof vs. water resistant

I went to buy a knapsack a few months ago. (The following conversation is not verbatim.) Me: Is this waterproof? Sales Guy (SG): It's water resistant. Me: What does that mean? SG: It will resist water. Me: So that means it's waterproof? SG: No, it's not waterproof, it's water resistant. It will prevent water from getting through but in heavy rains water may get through. I bought the knapsack figuring that I wouldn't be holding it in heavy rain anyway. The knapsack is great for keeping stuff, it's light, well-designed. Except that the bag does soak up water nicely, even if there's a drizzle. What's inside isn't water-resistant, so it ends up getting wet. I looked up water-resistant on Merriam Webster. They pointed me to water repellent, and I quote: treated with a finish that is resistant but not impervious to penetration by water. This reminds me of the book 'A Walk In The Woods'. Bill Bryson talks about how he went to purchase a backpack for a hiking trip and he had to purchase a special waterproof cover for the backpack. Where did the company think people were going to hike? Inside? And what's next? Water-resistant raincoats? Next time I read the word resistant somewhere, I'll know what to do.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I have nothing against Adobe. I have nothing against PDF. Listen PDF, it's not personal. I'm just tired of PDF popping up as a ubiquitous format on the web. Everyone uses it now-a-days. Want to download something? Put it in PDF. I can take that to a certain degree. Want to display information? Put that in a PDF file. That makes me mad. What happened to HTML or some other language that your browser will understand? If you put information in PDF format, you can't read it unless you have Acrobat Reader installed on your computer. Yes, I know the Reader is free. So is the browser, and it usually comes with the operating system. The other problem is that when you just want to view something online, you can't do it so well with PDF. Yes, I know that you can download an extension (or whatever it's called) but that's the point, more stuff to do. I have no studies to prove this but in my experience the size of a PDF download is usually much bigger than a HTML download. Plus, when a visitor comes to your website, she is not interested in downloading something that might not be of interest. If she wants to download your article or whatever, you let her do it AFTER she views it. For viewing online, HTML is a good option to consider. The IBM developerWorks website used to allow you to view an article online through a browser and also download it as a PDF, if you wanted. Good design sense. And, just for kicks, go visit the Adobe website ( and see how many PDFs you can download from the home page.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The server that had an error

I understand that programs have bugs. I also understand that there are errors that programmers may not be able to anticipate. What I don't understand are messages like these:
Server Error This server has encountered an internal error which prevents it from fulfilling your request. The most likely cause is a misconfiguration. Please ask the administrator to look for messages in the server's error log.
There are so many things wrong with the message. First, even if I am interested in contacting the "administrator" I have NO way of doing so. There is no email address, no hyperlink to click, no phone number, nothing. Then, it's a question of which administrator: the server administrator, or the web page administrator? I don't know. You also have to wonder that if the message tells a user to contact the administrator, why can't the program tell the administrator directly? Why use me as the conduit? And, what does the user do in a situation like this? Try again later? Give up? Bang his head against the wall? (Correct answer: Blog about it.) Another problem with this message is that it doesn't offer the user a way to recover from the error. There is nothing the user can do and most likely the user will end up irritated. Irritated users don't stay as customers for very long, especially when there are other options. It's one thing to have a message like this in a back-end system, quite another to present itself to a user. PS: This is a real problem that I encountered a few minutes ago while trying to login to a website that wanted some information from me. I can't give the information because I can't login.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Word verification

Word verification is a cool way to prevent automated sign-ups and spam. The principle is that only a human being can "read" the "word" (which is actually a string of characters and not necessarily a word) and thus it prevent automated systems (like spambots) from doing damage. It's almost wiped out the comment spam on my blogs. There are problems with word verification though. One problem that I've faced is that in certain cases, it is extremely hard to figure out the string of characters in the image, because of the slanting and curvature on the letters. (I've encountered this several times at Yahoo and once or twice while commenting on blogs.) In these situations, you are reduced to guess-work and though I've been right most of the time I've got the "word" wrong a couple of times. (No, my eye sight is fine, thank you very much.) Also, for people who cannot see, this method is of no use. W3C has an interesting article about the problems with word verification technology and Wikipedia has an explanation of a captcha (an acronym for "completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart"). PS: I found through these links via this blog post (Ben Boyle Lives Here), which I found through Google.