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Labun Jordan: A Beginner-Friendly Web

03/26/12 5:55PM By Helen Labun Jordan
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(Host) Everyone who uses the Internet has their pet peeves about websites, things like graphics that don't work on slow connections, or text that gets jumbled if you use the wrong browser. In her work, commentator Helen Labun Jordan helps Vermonters make better use of online tools, and she thinks its time to take these grievances more seriously.

(Labun Jordan ) Websites can be very annoying. They’ll ask you to open an account, with a password, just to get information. They have this new fashion where links don’t look like links and some features don’t show up at all until you hover over them with the pointer... if you can keep it hovering in the right spot.

Ads pop open unexpectedly. You get stuck on sites that won’t let you go back to the last screen. To back up and try a different option, you have to return to the beginning.

Websites will give you all sorts of online contact forms, but no number to call so you can talk to an actual person. And, of course, websites freeze, browsers crash, and warnings appear, advising us to install the newest version of Explorer, Firefox, FlashPlayer, JavaScript, Adobe or who knows what before the site will work.

Those who use the Internet on a regular basis know what I mean. And once we’ve finished complaining about these issues and a dozen more we go right back to using the same sites that annoy us.

This wouldn’t happen in the real world , where we wouldn’t accept people snatching our papers away before we’d finished reading them, classrooms where the instructor left every few minutes to refresh his coffee, or businesses with no phone line. But expectations change once we’re online. There’s still a mindset that getting online is a convenience we should all be grateful for - and not complain about too much.

It’s true that we’re lucky to have the technology that lets us access services and information pretty much any time, from almost anywhere. But using the Internet is no longer just a convenience. It’s becoming the primary, sometimes the only, platform for many things. Whether you’re applying for a job or logging a timesheet, getting your GED or participating in a college class – the expectation is that you can do so using an online platform. And the list is only going to grow.

As essential activities go online, using the Internet becomes essential too. People will have to get online, and, as these beginners navigate websites for the first time, flaws that were once simply annoying can become real obstacles. It’s hard enough to learn to use a new tool; the learning can seem impossible when that tool doesn’t function properly.

As beginners are pushed online, the websites they’re being pushed onto need to become beginner-friendly. That means a layout where links look like links, navigational buttons are clear, and menus don’t require high dexterity with the mouse to hover, drag and click our way through. It means a simple design that can run on any browser. And no one should have to open an account unless it’s absolutely necessary. In short, it means real commitment to customer service.

Everyone using the Internet today knows how frustrating some websites can be. Now it’s time to prevent those frustrations from becoming true barriers to the online world.
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