The state of UX: my Top 3 web UX complaints in 2013
These are my biggest web UX gripes at the moment (with naming and shaming and I'll add websites to the list if I get a chance).
If your mobile site has a Desktop/Full Version link which takes me to the homepage, you're doing it wrong. (E.g. Forbes, Reuters, CNet, Telegraph, Business Insider, etc.)
E.g. Reuters.com has a "Go back to desktop" link in the footer of the mobile site, which is essential e.g. just to get to the social/sharing buttons or comments. But this link takes you to the homepage! So, you hit the back button to get to where you were, but guess what? You're back to the mobile version again -- because the URL starts with the infamous "mobile." subdomain. I call this mobile-desktop ping-pong. Ultimately, you have to manually change the URL from "mobile." to "www." It's farcical.
E.g. The mobile version of the Telegraph's website has no commenting feature, therefore you have to click the Full Website link in the footer for that. But the link always goes to the homepage, so you always have to use the back button. Again, if I wanted to go back to the homepage I could navigate there myself! Like Forbes, Telegraph uses a query string, this time the more meaningless "?source=refresh1", and again, this already works on every page of the site. Thus, as with Forbes, it would be trivial to fix this obvious UX failure.
E.g. Forbes' mobile site displays comments but offers no way to add your own. But when you click the Full Webite link in the footer from any page on the site, it takes you to the homepage inseatad of the page you were on. The link works simply by linking to the homepage with a query string of "?view=pc" and then setting a cookie. All they need to do to fix this is use the URL of the current page for the Full Website link, with the query string -- because the query string actually works for any page on the site already! (Incidentally, Forbes' mobile site has a sticky ad at the bottom of the beneath the "Desktop version" link separated by about 1 pixel, so it's almost impossible to click the link without instead clicking on the ad).
E.g. The "Desktop version" link on the footer of Business Insider's mobile site always takes you through to the homepage, notwithstanding the fact that it works by simply appending a query string "?unmobile=true" to the URL -- which works on every page if you do it manually. So you have to hit the back button again (like you did to get back to the article after logging in) to get back to where you were 5 minutes ago. You end up having to navigate to and load the page you wanted three times -- once after clicking on the link that took you there e.g. in Twitter, then again after choosing desktop version to comment and ending up on the homepage, then again after logging in and ending up on the homepage again! Arguably the worst mobile-desktop/commenting UX of all tech sites.
Reported: Forbes, Telegraph, CNet, Business Insider.
If I try post a comment and your login form takes to the homepage instead of the page on which I was trying to comment, you're doing it wrong. (E.g. Forbes, CNet UK, Business Insider, etc.)
E.g. Even on CNet UK's main desktop site, when you log in (e.g. to post a comment) you'll notice that it ignores where yuo were and redirects to the homepage, so you always have to use the back button. Its' basic functionality for websites to remember the URL of the page you were on, so there's no excuse. If I wanted to see the homepage (again) I'd navigate there myself!
Reported: CNet UK, BI.
If your mobile site lacks features (e.g. comments) or is buggy so I need to find the desktop version, you're doing it wrong. (E.g. Facebook, Twitter, Guardian, Mashable, Forbes, Telegraph, CNet, Business Insider, etc.)
E.g. The Guardian's mobile website lacks commenting and other features. So, you click the "Desktop version" link on the footer. I usually do have to log in, despite never logging out. You get a minimalist mobile version of the login box. And logging in takes you to the homepage! So, you have to hit the back button. But, the page then loads from the browsers cache -- with the "log in" link instead of the comments I wanted! So, I must now refresh the page. Come on. Really? Really?? Yes, every time. Having said that, oddly, if you do log in after already being logged in, instead of refreshing, in this scenario the login does redirect you back to the page you were on. The desktop link works by adding the query string "mobile-redirect=false" which works on any page. Incidentally, the desktop site login has a handy box to tick to "remember me" andstay logged in -- though it doesn't work well for me. Yet the mobile site has no such option. Why? Is one less line of HTML meant to save me 4G bandwidth or something? I need the checkbox on mobile more than desktop, and it's my phone not a public computer.
E.g. Twitter in the early days did display a "Desktop site" link in the footer, allowing users to get to the full website from the mobile site -- but this feature no longer exists, and neither does the redirecting URL which set a cookie to make it work. Yet the best judge of whether or not I want to use the full site is me, not them! Just give me the choice! Do not hide your desktop site from me and prevent me from reaching it, like a parent trying to keep something out of reach of a child.
E.g. Facebook in the past did display a "Desktop Version" link in the footer allowing users to get to the desktop site from the mobile site (in the footer which dissapeared when infinite scrolling was introduced) and the machanism still works for many pages including your main feed (homepage) and anybody's profile pages -- whether or not this is intentional. You can achieve this with an easy manual URL hack: just add the query string "?m2w" to the end of the URL and remove the "m." mobile subdomain or replace it with "www.".
Reported: Facebook, Twitter, Mashable.
Other common and potentially related problems include:
- Forms (login, comment, etc) on mobile sites which submit by posting the form old-school style, reloading the whole page, so when the connection drops while you're submitting you lose what you wrote -- especially when the back button loads the previous page with an empty form (e.g. The Guardian, the world's most popular newspaper website). This is in stark contrast to many other websites which just make proper use of basic Ajax type functionality and store your comments (e.g. in a cookie) as you type so it's there even if your mobile browser crashes or battery runs out. (E.g. Facebook comments work well on any website and are so simple anybody could implemet them. Engadget is a good example of a website with another third-party commenting [Livefyre] done well, as is The Next Web [formerly Livefyre], and so is TechCrunch [LiveFyre] although here comments are enabled by appending a querystring "?icid=tc_comments" to the URL.)
- Certain content/features are loaded by Ajax which only makes one attempt, so if the connection drops you have to manually refresh the whole page -- which as an added inconvenience sometimes losing your place e.g. on infinite scroll pages. The loading of affected content/features (e.g. comments) can be handled more gracefully, e.g. by handling errors or failure events or checking for success and retrying.
- Pages/browsers that refresh when you switch tabs, especially on mobile sites/browsers (e.g, Wired UK).
We all encounter these basic problems routinely on some of the world's biggest news and tech websites. In most cases the same problems have persisted for years on these websites. I've contacted these websites myself repeatedly over the years with polite change requests, and I'm probably not the only one. So no more Mr Nice Guy, now I'm gonna call it how it is: guys, there's no excuse. Clearly, these problems can be interrelated, exacerbating each other in a synergy of lameness. The problems are readily fixable, and IMHO should be fixed. It seems corners are often cut on mobile.
Perhaps in the future progress in areas like responsive design (promising but not yet realising its full potential) will help to encourage the use of the same templates and core features on both mobile and desktop.
*** End of Rant ***
Why the rant?
With UX Camp London approaching, the topic arose in one of our chatrooms at work, so I'd already written it and thought I might as well paste it into a blog post out of it.
18 June 2013