These Are Our Users

Computers shouldn't make people feel like idiots.

A post from Signal vs. Noise titled “Computers shouldn’t make people feel like idiots” has been open in a tab for nearly a week.

Reading it, and other iPad coverage, has me torn. I know that I exist in a world populated by geeks, and I know that many outside this world are uncomfortable with computers. I have seen these people IRL and helped them.

But how uncomfortable are they really? Comfort is impossible to quantify, Sleep Number bed notwithstanding.

Well, this post helped a lot. You should read it.

The short version is:

  • ReadWriteWeb posted “Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login“.
  • Google indexed the post.
  • The post became the top result for the keywords “facebook login”.
  • People using Google to find their way to Facebook were misdirected to the post.
  • The comments on the post were littered with unhappy people, unable to login to Facebook.

There are more than 300 comments on this post, the majority of them from confused Facebook users.

Despite the fact that RWW added bold text to the post, directing users to Facebook, and the fact that the post is no longer the top result for “facebook login”, people continue to arrive there by accident, looking for Facebook.

I wonder how many people made this mistake and didn’t leave a comment, either giving up or recognizing their error.

Thousands? Tens of thousands?

It’s easy to laugh, but take a second to read the Signal vs. Noise post now, or read it again. I’ll wait.

I think it’s fair to say that computers shouldn’t make people feel stupid. After all, they dominate our lives more every year, both at work and at home. It’s impossible to avoid them.

The people who made the Facebook login mistake should be frustrated and angry. They had figured out a way to get to Facebook, and it wasn’t working anymore, without warning.

Turns out computers are hard and using the intertubes is no exception. Remember when Google asked people on the street what a browser is?

These are our users, like it or not.

Thoughts? Find the comments.

Posted via email from Thoughts by Jake




  1. First I read the original ReadWriteWeb post, then I read the post at The Last Podcast. After reading the latter, and the comments that were posted there, I began to wonder who the stupid ones were. Allow me to quote from the comment that I left at The Last Podcast:

    “Hold it! Wait a minute…There seems to be an underlying assumption that the 200 commenters were the stupid ones because they didn’t realize that they were at ReadWriteWeb. Actually, things are reversed. Facebook, ReadWriteWeb, Google, and all of the rest of us are the stupid ones because we were unable to design an intuitive interface. Take a step back for a second. If you type “facebook login” into a box, SHOULDN’T our highly-vaunted technology be smart enough to log you into Facebook? So, who’s the stupid one here?

    Read more:
    Under Creative Commons License: Attribution Share Alike”

    Yes, one could argue that someone should have a minimum level of understanding before they start surfing the web, but the last time that I checked, Costco doesn't make you pass a computer literacy test before you buy a computer from them. If nothing else, this episode shows that our so-called “intuitive” systems have a long way to go.

    (Re your previous post, I guess this is an example of where I've expressed myself via comments, but perhaps this may end up becoming a post at some point.)

  2. Exactly. Just because we've learned how to use a browser, doesn't mean it was intuitively designed. After all, search engines exist only because the domain system had no directory.

    Like it or not, the root behavior here is very common, i.e. most people find sites by searching Google, not by direct navigation. When this doesn't work, people are frustrated.

    The same can be said for every interface redesign. Change may be good, but it's often frustrating, even if the changes are made to simplify.

  3. Blaming “us” (Facebook, ReadWriteWeb, Google) for the confusion of these users is similar to blaming Mercedes for your car accident because they didn't tell you the gas pedal was on the right and the brake was on the left.

    Web browsers have been pretty ubiquitous parts of our lives for the past +10 years. The fact that these people are able to get on facebook at all should signify how (pardon the phrase) “idiot proof” technology has become.

    These people don't know what a web browser is, but they regularly use a real-time streaming social network filled with status updates, wall posts, pokes, and picture tagging. So no, it's not Facebook or Google's fault. It's no one's fault really. These people have chosen to be this naive about technology and will continue to be so.

    What's so noteworthy about this is not the naivete of the user… just that 'the animals ran the zoo' for a bit. Normally, due to their extreme lack of understanding of their googly bar, these people never travel far from Youtube, Facebook, or occasionally wikipedia. It just so happens that this time they stumbled onto a nerd watering hole and made fools of themselves.

  4. The car analogy doesn't fit completely in this case b/c presumably the keyword search used to lead to Facebook. So, I would blame the car for an accident if gas and brake were switched overnight.

    The underlying problem is that technology is too hard for the people it should serve, whether consumer or enterprise.

    As a designer of software, I want people to walk up and use, but increasingly, that feels like a myth. I'm interested to see how the iPad does, if only to see how a simplified experience can be achieved.

  5. One fascinating part about the reactions was the users' assumption that Facebook had done a stupid redesign AGAIN. Facebook has introduced redesigns in the past, which have resulted in loud complaints from their user base. So from that perspective, it's understandable to assume that Facebook did a HUGE redesign this time around and changed everything, even the name of the service (hmm, they're called “ReadWriteWeb” now…).

    And before one assumes that such a negative reaction is confined to the technically illiterate, remember the negative reaction when FriendFeed introduced real-time and other changes? And THAT negative reaction came from people who are considered to be technologically savvy. No one likes change…

  6. There's no one to blame… but if you had to, I'd say Google. People have come to rely on Google as their “browser.” So when that browser leads a user astray, it's the “browser's” fault, right? Lots of lessons to be learned here, but the main thing I take away is that we have a long way to go to make things “simple” for everyone. We're so different from people who don't use computers everyday and it's that fact that we need to remember every time we build something on the web.

  7. The challenge that developers face (and I think this has been noted previously at is that a developer has to address users with a wide variety of skill sets. Even if you are developing an enterprise application, the potential users of your application are going to have wildly varying levels of knowledge. When you're developing consumer applications, that variance increases. (Maybe.)

    Even within the category of people who “use computers everyday,” you have a wide range of users. Perhaps someone uses computers everyday to tend his/her farm. Others may type things into Disqus and watch them propagate to Google Buzz. Still others are coding. And as the definition of a “computer” continues to morph as automobiles and ovens need to be reprogrammed, the possibility of relying on one common set of knowledge for computer users goes out the window.

  8. Very true. The future is the app model, focused on units of work. You have a simple device with access to a catalog of apps. Each app does one thing, presumably very well b/c it's focused.

    This works for consumer (see iPhone, iPad) and for enterprise. In the enterprise, you simply download the apps required for your job function.

    We can learn a lot from Apple's decision to build out a closed and simple OS, accessible to more users. One ring systems are crumbling under their own weight.

  9. I wonder how many used the Google “I'm feeling lucky” button ? If they'd spent six weeks typing in 'facebook login' and hit the lucky button and got where they want, it isn't surprising they get confused when the same 'instruction' does something different. That button is a navigation button and not a search button. If the it suddenly navigates to somewhere different, I see that as a Google issue.

  10. But that's the entire point of a search engine: it changes; it finds new, popular content based on a given search term.
    What you are proposing is that Google turn from a search engine to a glorified address bar.

  11. Could be, but from stats I've seen, the “I'm feeling lucky” button is very rarely used, at least compared to overall Google traffic. I actually heard it was on the chopping block at one point. Plus it bypasses all the ads, which costs Google money.

    This is an interesting case if you want to place blame. Any of the parties could be at fault, but IMO the base issue here is that computers are too hard.

  12. I'm not proposing that behavior. It's fact. People use Google to find base domains vs. entering them in the location bar. I've seen this numerous times from non-technical people.

    So, to many, Google *is* a glorified address bar.

    Besides, I disagree that the entire point of search engines is to change and find popular content. The original requirement for a search engine was to provide a directory of the Internet. Google added the popular and new dimensions with PageRank, making them enhancements to the original purpose.

    Another funny piece here is that RWW's SEO defeated Facebook.

  13. I am confused and angry… I keep trying to get to my website I created about how “Computers make me feel stupid” but google keeps bringing me to this page!! Did you redesign my webite?!

    < jk 😛 sry couldn't help maself >

  14. Eddie Awad linked to an Igor Ovstrosky post that looked at what happens under the hood when you navigate to a particular URL. The URL in the example?

    Today (February 22) I re-executed the Google search for “Facebook login” to see if the order of the search results had changed. The RWW article is currently 9th on the list, and Facebook itself appears as the first item in the list. So someone, either at Facebook or at Google, got their act together. (Or maybe the RWW article had declined on its own as it became more dated.)

    Interestingly enough, result number 3 is a site called that presents news about Facebook, surrounded by a bunch of ads (“Meet the Hottest Singles on Zoosk!”). Oh, and down on the right side of the page is a “Join me @ FB” button with the Facebook logo on it. And one of the comments on one of the posts leads to a site called – interesting.

    At least the ReadWriteWeb redirect was an honest mistake. facebooklogin[whatever].com does not appear to be malicious, but the sites are obviously designed to appear high in specific search results.

    What happens if someone has true malicious intent and harvests passwords and other information from people who think they're logging in to a redesigned Facebook? Do we blame the so-called “stupid” users who don't know enough to type hppt;; or htpt)) or whatever in the heck it is, or do we blame Facebook for not optimizing its page for search, or do we blame Google/Bing et al for sending us to the wrong site?

  15. Interesting post and very detailed. I knew most of the high-level stuff already, but appreciate the deep dive. Also, couldn't miss the MSFT bias 🙂

    I'm not surprised there are dubious sites sitting on the “facebook login” keywords. That's classic search manipulation. I'm sure there are also malicious sites that spoof FB Connect and phish for credentials.

    Re. fault, Google does more to point out suspect links now, plus the browsers help too. I'm guessing Facebook does their part too to keep their pages high on PageRank. The sad thing is no one *has* to do anything. Like 419 scams, phishing, etc., this is a “thar be dragons” problem; it's the user's fault.

    Not that I don't feel bad, technology should be easier, but it's not.

  16. Why do you expect the intelligent hard working people to cater to the lazy stupid ones? Who do you think you are?

  17. Right. Others devote their lives to studying and working and researching and inventing. And you devote your life to cheap meaningless babble.

  18. I assume you're talking to me. Intelligence is not proven or disproven by the ability to use a computer.

  19. Alan, I've seen the three comments that you left this afternoon (two to Jake, and one to myself). Both Jake and I work for software developers, and when you're trying to sell software, you need to make sure that your software fits the needs of your customers. You don't have the luxury of forcing your customers to fit the needs of your software. Imagine if Apple customers had to have the technical understanding of Steve Wozniak; if that were the case, there would be no Apple customers.

    As time has passed, computers have become better and better as labor-saving devices – which is, after all, what they are supposed to be. But the whole “Facebook login” think has proven that the computers that we think are so intuitive are anything but.

    As for intelligence, Jake put it very succinctly.

  20. It's now June, and someone on FriendFeed (with a private feed, so I'm not linking to the FriendFeed item) just wrote, “Told someone to go to He loaded Google, put the info in search box, then clicked on the link in search results. Uhm, huh?” Someone replied to the original writer by mentioning this whole “Facebook login” thing. Again a reminder that computers are hard. (And yes, I added a link to this post to help put things in perspective.)

  21. Nice. Thank you for the link love. Have you seen Snarky? Yes, but sometimes applicable. Even though we should <3 our users, it's often tough love.

  22. It's now June, and someone on FriendFeed (with a private feed, so I'm not linking to the FriendFeed item) just wrote, “Told someone to go to He loaded Google, put the info in search box, then clicked on the link in search results. Uhm, huh?” Someone replied to the original writer by mentioning this whole “Facebook login” thing. Again a reminder that computers are hard. (And yes, I added a link to this post to help put things in perspective.)

  23. Nice. Thank you for the link love. Have you seen Snarky? Yes, but sometimes applicable. Even though we should <3 our users, it's often tough love.

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