Nielsen/NetRatings recently announced that it will be scrapping its long-time ranking of Websites based on the number of pages that people view on the site. Why? Because many applications now use rich Internet application (RIA) technologies like Flash and Ajax to build Internet applications that don’t need to load a new page every time a user does something. So the measure of “page views” no longer accurately reflects the actual usage of a Web site (in this new environment, for instance, a person could spend an hour just on one “page”).
Let me be the first one to say: good riddance to Web pages. When it comes to user experience, the Web was a major step backwards. It reminds me of a graphic that we created for a report that I worked on in April 2002 called The X Internet Revives UI Design:
Don’t get me wrong, the Web page has been incredibly value. The simple paradigm of a Web page has taught hundreds of millions of people how to use a digital interface. But the simplicity of the basic Web page has used virtually none of the capabilities of today’s powerful computers. As a result, we end up waiting for an entire new page to load everytime that we try and do something on the Web. Believe me, there are better experiences to be had.
But, alas, nothing comes for free. As we leave the era of the basic Web page, we’re likely to live through a lot of usability nightmares. Why? Because creating dynamic interactions that are easy to use requires very strong design and usability skills — much more than is required for simple Web pages. And our research shows that many companies don’t even do a good job designing basic Web pages. But in the hands of a good team, these new rich Internet applications provide a lot of great capabilities.
We evaluated RIA and HTML applications in each of four categories: hotel search and reservation engines, mapping tools, PC configurators, and product finders. We found that, on average, RIAs outperform HTML interfaces; at the same time, RIA usability can fall prey to basic design mistakes. To make the most of their investments, firms planning to invest in RIAs must apply design best practices and run multiple tests on their RIAs before – and after – they go live.
The bottom line: Nothing changes overnight, so we’ll still see many, many basic Web pages even in 10 years. But RIAs will continue to pop-up, creating many usability miscues along the way — heading us towards a much more dynamic Internet experience in the future. A word to the wise: Treat your good RIA designers (in-house or in your agency) well, because people with those skills will be in high demand.