Potential cheer as well as tears from Boo hoo-ha

Opinion

Potential cheer as well as tears from Boo hoo-ha

The Boo disaster could be good news for the Web industry. But that depends on everyone, from HTML coders to venture capitalists, recognising the main reason for its failure: the online shopping company's Web site was awful

Opinion

Jack Schofield

For the past three years I've been slagging off Web sites for using frames, Flash intro pages, pop-up consoles, over-heavy graphics and similar rubbish. All these are signs of Web designers indulging their egos, to the detriment of the usability that Web surfers actually want. I'm not saying that every frame is bad, or that every graphic is useless. But given today's bandwidth, most of them are.

When it was finally launched, Boo's site used "advanced 3D technology" that allowed visitors to spin products round and view them from different angles. But if you actually wanted to buy something, it was quicker and easier to go somewhere else.

None of this is a secret. Just look at the design of really successful Web sites, from Amazon to Yahoo!, including my own favourite - Google.

Recently, eye-tracking studies of news sites at the Poynter Institute in the US have confirmed what Web users already know. "Where do eyes go initially after firing up the first screenful of online news? To text, most likely. Not to photos or graphics, as you might expect."

The Web is not about fancy graphics - it's about delivering what users want, fast.

Boo's other big mistake was to fall for a lot of twaddle about "building a brand" before its site was even running.

What it should have done was get its site running properly under a different name at a different address before it even thought about talking to the press or spending millions on advertising.

It could have switched later - on the Web, redirection is easy.

Since the Web is a superb feedback mechanism, Web companies will eventually learn these lessons, even if they have to do it the hard way.

However, I am less confident about my colleagues in journalism. The ones who wrote stupid articles puffing Boo can now write equally stupid articles about its failure - without penalty.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of The Guardian

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This was first published in May 2000

 

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