This post has been moved to my new home on the web The post itself can be found here. 23Musings is going to remain dormant for now and some of its more popular posts will be transferred to the blog at my new site.

My reason for moving and not taking the years of posts with me is the need for a fresh start, 23Musings had been dormant for long enough for me to feel it was time to start my blog from scratch.

Don’t forget to check out my new blog!


Having a poor website has never been excusable, if you want to have a presence online then you need to make it engaging, simple to use and easy to grok (understand). You want to have minimal barriers to conversion in your UI and you need to have easy routes to allow feedback and for your customers to talk to you.

In the past if you did screw up and disappoint a user or customer they’d generally talk to you about it through the usual channels of email or a phone call (if you’d been sensible enough to put a phone number on your website) where you could deal with the customer’s issue as best you could and at least half on your terms.

Now you’re more likely to get talked about in places where you have no control and possibly very little influence as customers vent their frustrations at a poor online experience on various social channels. A new survey by Tealeaf and Harris Interactive shows that the number of users who encounter an issue on a website and then share that experience on blogs and social networks has doubled from 6%-12% of the people they surveyed in the last year. While use of social networks as channels for letting off steam is increasing the same survey shows that the number of people who would try to contact a company through their website or call centre has dropped.

Help I hear you cry, does this mean we’re (brands) losing control of our relationship with our customers? It may well feel like it and any brand who’s experienced the power of crowd opinion on social networks when they screw up without being prepared will tell you it can be a scary experience. And preparation is what it’s all about.

Obviously you need to iron out the kinks in your web experience to try to stop complaints happening in the first place, optimise your customer care processes and make sure you have clear ways to contact you on your website.

If you really want to meet this new threat* head on and be ready to douse the flames before they get too hot, then the best way to prepare yourself for a situation like this happening is to embrace social media and make it a part of your business. Open up, interact and join the conversation so that you’re right at the hub of the discussion about your brand, ready to solve peoples problems, admit your failings and generally provide great customer service through social channels. It’s not just usability (as in making your website or product easier to use), it’s about social or brand usability (as in making your brand sociable, approachable, responsive and interactive).

*Of course this isn't a threat really. It's possibly the best opportunity you 
have ever had to really generate loyalty and brand alignment amongst your users and customers.

This post has been moved to my new home on the web The post itself can be found here. 23Musings is going to remain dormant for now and somke of its more popular posts will be transferred to the blog at my new site.

My reason for moving and not taking the years of posts with me is the need for a fresh start, 23Musings had been dormant for long enough for me to feel it was time to start my blog from scratch.

Don’t forget to check out my new blog!

This post has been moved to my new blog and can now be found here.

There’s so much talk about news at the moment with the moves to bring back paywalls (as I’ve written about previously here) and the general nervousness among old media houses that the likes of Google are stealing their thunder (and their ad dollars). Everyone is musing about how this will play out, who will be the winners and what is actually the best way to deliver news to web users. A couple of things have struck me in the last couple of days that deserved a blog post.

Firstly, Google have launched a new product from its labs department. Google Fast Flip is being touted as a new way to read the news, that brings the web experience more in line with newspapers. Basically Google has taken screenshots of web pages containing news stories and put them into a neat user interface that allows you to flip between stories and zoom in on them before deciding whether to click through to the original article.

Google Fast Flip

Google Fast Flip

It’s a really nice way to browse and a great UX to find serendipitous content as you might stumble across something you’re interested in. Of course there’s also Google’s search power under the hood so you can narrow down the content available, isn’t there?

No, it seems that Google hasn’t put it’s search power to good use by letting you search the full content of the articles available (I’ve tested it by searching for specific content within the stories). It is actually just a nice UI to flip and browse through news stories, it doesn’t put that UI on top of the power of Google News though.

Secondly, Microsoft recently unveiled a vision of a ‘Next-Generation Newspaper’ as part of a response to a request from the Newspaper Association of America asking for ideas about ‘monetizing digital content’. The next-generation newspaper delivered as part of their response is remarkably similar to Tweetdeck, as noted by Nieman Journalism Lab today.

Microsofts idea for a 'next-generation newspaper'

Microsofts idea for a 'next-generation newspaper'

The news-deck delivers content in an RSS reader kind of way using a stack of Microsoft technology, content and advertising products. It looks good, and the promise of semantic search, personalisation and contextual awareness is promising.

So, are either of these a ground breaking new way to consume news and do they hold enough promise to herald the future of web based news reading? I don’t think so. They both offer nice solutions to different types of user scenario in my opinion.

Google Fast Flip is a great UI that allows for casual browsing of the news in a similar kind of way to which I read the Sunday newspapers. It’s a coffee and bacon sandwich type situation, but not a serious trawl for information experience for me. It’s too much detail upfront with not enough ability to refine for anyone serious (or used to) discovering content online or even using RSS readers. At least with an RSS reader you can make your choices of who to subscribe to and read articles based on headlines or quick glances at the content. Yes, this is a quick way to thumb the pages but it’s a little gimicky for me and doesn’t fulfill my needs for consuming information. Google partnered with top newspapers to create this but I don’t think it helps them. Digital news content is consumed in a different way to paper content and I think this needs more work before it could ever become the norm for online news reading. Must admit it’s nice on an iPhone though!

Microsoft’s  news-deck aproach suits my needs much better. It has the search and refine type features I’d demand and a familiar UI that works for dashboard type experiences. Is it the future? I don’t think so. I actually think it’s a little lame of Microsoft to propose a solution like this to the challenge from the NAA, it’s too similar to RSS readers and looks too like a cross between Netvibes and Tweetdeck. In fact if you read the details of their response (available from the Nieman Labs post) it really does just sound like next-gen Netvibes to me. It’s not really the future, more what we have now mk2.

Now I’m not sure what the future of news consumption is but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it. If you could combine the two you might be getting somewhere, if Fast Flip allowed me to search and read all the content and not click off to the news source it might be better and if Microsofts dashboard wasn’t just a rehashed Netdeck/Tweetvibe it might get me more excited. Personally I’m seeking something more intelligent and with better data mining possibilities to satisfy my search for news (and I wouldn’t limit it to news, any solution should be my medium for information consumption as a whole).

One thing this does make apparent though is that as much as the newspapers and old media want to pull their content in and keep it close, they are going to have to relinquish their hold and let their content free as whatever the user experience of the future is it will demand that.

I’ve blogged a couple of times recently (here and here) about declining levels of customer satisfaction with online travel websites. Now another survey reports their declining further.

Detail is here at but in a nutshell this seems to suggest that the old model of ‘booking engine only’ websites is losing favour as users want a richer, more immersive and customer focused experience rather than simply a one size fits all approach to buying travel online.

The online travel industry has dropped 1.3% as a whole, Expedia lost 3.8% and now scores 75 (the highest).

The next generation of travel websites can’t be far away, hopefully the advances in technology will allow customer satisfaction to be dramatically improved through the use of advanced usability techniques, customer profiling and tools which enable rather than just sell, sell, sell.

Maxymiser have published a paper on improving the holiday buying user process online. It’s obviously a sales pitch but has some useful hints and tips that are worth a read. The paper talks about all the good stuff such as multivariate (A/B) testing which we should all be doing. Down load it here.