Mark Curtis

n the rush to be first with the latest gizmo, Web developers and clients are in danger of trying the patience of would-be customers and should bear in mind that less is more. Mark Curtis is director of interactive media specialist CHBi

The first thing marketing is meant to teach you is to be customer-focused, not product-led. Ironically, on the World Wide Web, where user choice rules, this maxim is in danger of being forgotten.

This is especially true when it comes to the technology being applied to create dynamic and “interactive” Websites. Sadly the driving forces behind this are Web developers keen to show off their skills and clients who like to be first with the latest gizmo.

A visit to the Virgin Radio Website a fortnight ago demonstrated what happens when sites become overloaded with technology at the expense of ease of use.

Using Netscape Navigator 3 (the latest version of the most popular browser) on a power PC, I saw a page of Virgin graphics topped by computer code which clearly wasn’t right.

After using the reload button three times I reached the homepage. A “Java applet” began to download onto the page; it took three minutes. It showed the other graphic I had seen but the rotor blades on the helicopter turned round, doors opened and shut and the radio waves changed colour occasionally. For this I waited three minutes?

Then when I did get in, the live audio refused to work as my audio application (which I downloaded in June) is apparently out of date.

I’ve simplified this story but it went on for about half an hour before I lost patience. I have no bone to pick with Virgin. This is an award-winning site, and the competition, Capital FM, is similarly complex – its site requires use of three plug-ins to make it fully operational.

There are too many sites committed to the cause of bigger, bolder and better. But there are enough problems already and most users don’t have the time. Reuters recently published a report highlighting how many people are suffering from information fatigue, especially those who use the Internet.

Increasingly we make snap decisions about the value of information that is presented to us and whether or not we have the time to fully absorb it. A fancy piece of Web trickery that doesn’t work is a sure fire way to send people elsewhere.

Instead, Web developers should be concentrating on servicing user needs and introduce gimmicks when they work with the least amount of expense and hassle. For the time being, less is more.

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