Thought for the Day:Time for a standardised Web

Research wizard Peet Morris gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.

Research wizard Peet Morris gives his personal take on the hot issue of the day.

One of the reasons that Windows is so popular is that it more or less enforced a standard user-interface on us all.

This makes applications a little easier to learn. You know where you are to a large degree. You expect to find "Print" on the "File menu" and "Copy" on the "Edit" menu. And you know how to access and use these features with the click of a mouse.

Why doesn't the Web work like this? The original plan behind HTML pages was that they should provide a rapid access mechanism to shared documents - research papers, for example. Moreover, through hyperlinks, these documents could provide a mechanism for referencing other works: so, the plan was to create cross-referenced documents: all through a simple and well-understood user interface.

Not any more. How often have you played "hunt the Next button"? Putting that another way, how often have you been presented by a Web site and had to "discover" what devious navigation method this one employs? Perhaps the "buttons" (if they even look like buttons) are to the left, or perhaps along the top - perhaps they float in when you move the mouse pointer over some graphic - perhaps the buttons are the graphics themselves - those smiling nice people perhaps?

What's even worse is that the situation is poised to get even more bizarre. Macromedia has recently released Flash MX and, it won't be long until we see entire sites/applications written using it - now you might not even have a "Back" button to press on your browser.

Now, I'm not against artistic-licence or creating a certain unique sense of identity, but what does the average user want? My mum and dad have enough trouble dealing with Notepad - let alone the Internet. But, if they went to pay their gas bill, say, on a site that "meant nothing to them", well, they'd give up. Good news for the Post Office as they'll carry on using stamps but bad news for the gas board probably.

Customer relationship management should start with thoughtful user-interfaces designed to give people what they want in the first place - a user-interface they can cope with: sometimes boring (predictable) is best!

What's your view? Should we standardise Web navigation? Tell us in an e-mail >> reserves the right to edit and publish answers on the Web site. Please state if your answer is not for publication.

Peet Morris is a software developer and research student at Oxford University where he is working on software engineering, game theory and computational linguistics.

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