We have subscribed to and read The Wall Street Journal for several decades and depend on the quality and timeliness of its coverage. But there are some exceptions. On December 15 I received an “Introducing WSJ Recipes” email from The Wall Street Journal. It showed recipes for Chicken and Dill Stew with Eggplant and Squash, Fudge Cookies, and Tomato Rice with Favas Chickpeas, and Fried Onions. Each of these had a button. Additionally, there was a “Discover” button. None of these buttons were live. We tried to alert The Wall Street Journal, saying “Your email is useless because I can’t click on anything. I love the WSJ but this was clueless, and the folks at Survey Monkey should know better. “ For our efforts, we were rewarded by an automatic reply “Thank you for contacting Dow Jones. Unfortunately, this email is an automated notification, which is unable to receive replies. We are happy to help you with any questions or concerns you may have.”
Google presciently bought YouTube from its founders in October 2006, “betting that the popular video-sharing site will provide it an increasingly lucrative marketing hub as more viewers and advertisers migrate from television to the Internet.” Silly us. We thought that YouTube was something that individuals could use to entertain ourselves, and that popular ones would bring their originators (and Google) some (or a lot) of money from ads.
Well, Google sure isn’t making it easy for individuals, thanks to the messy combinations of accounts, email addresses, channels, and browsers that makes it a nightmare to find videos once you have more than one of each of these four entities. And to make matters worse, Google threw its failing Google+ social network into the brew. Using Chrome we find three channels (or are these accounts?)—Wilddancer, Beekeeping (thus far empty as we try to sort out the whole mess), and Bill Coggshall—associated with one email address, and two channels—Car Tunes by Coggshall (which started out as “Car Tunes” that YouTube allowed me to reserve then reneged and forced me to add “by Coggshall”) and email@example.com (strange-looking channel, no?)– associated with a different email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). Using Firefox we find two channels (or accounts?)—Car Tunes by Coggshall and email@example.com—associated with email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Internet and the Worldwide Web have arguably changed the path of history. And they have made companies like Google into mega successes. But those companies have also caused much consternation among their millions of users. Why? Apparently they don’t bother to check with many (or any!) of those users to see how logical and self-evident their websites and associated tools are for their target audiences. Examples abound, and we will be posting some of the more egregious. But the Internet giants could have been even more successful, and keep website visitors on their sites longer (where they would be exposed to more advertisements) if their user interfaces were less opaque. The goal is usability, which is not rocket science. Two of most used tools are the Chrome browser and YouTube, which we will discuss in separate posts.
Tech companies would do well to heed this time-proven advice to investors. They are truly greedy these days, forcing themselves on users. The most recent push-back by a journalist that we’ve seen is from Patric May at the San Jose MercuryNews, who tried to unsubscribe from the firehose of unwanted emails he was receiving. One thing he learned was that using “Unsubscribe” was like pouring gasoline on a fire, because it confirmed a valid email address to the sender, who could then sell it to dozens or hundreds of other companies, all of whom could then bombard him with THEIR emails.
There are lots of other self-serving ploys from other companies. Does Dropbox really care all that much to protect your files by reminding you to use it, or is it because they want you to use a lot of storage that they can charge you for? And why else did they immediately upload all your photos to their site other than filling up your “free” storage so they could start charging you for the additional storage. Apple does the same thing to a new iPhone, whether you want them to or not. Did you really want your thousands of carefully-cataloged photos dumped into a single big tub? We thought not.
Do other mere mortals attempting to set up pictures for their new YouTube channels or avatars for their new Gmail accounts have the same troubles we have been having? Or do they want to discourage users other than advertising customers from having graphics? Or what? For starters, there is no initial guidance given as to desirable or acceptable ranges of pixel counts. (Does Google not believe that we mere mortals know what a pixel is?) Then when we try one of our set of pictures with different resolutions, the gatekeeper deems it too high resolution. On the next try, it is rejected for being too low resolution but now it tells us what the lower limit is so on our third try it is accepted and we drag its corners to fill the target provided. Success! Nope, now the gatekeeper plays another one of his/her tricks. For the YouTube channel picture he/she decides to crop it, apparently to some resolution du jour. For the Gmail account he/she instead says that he/she can’t set it up today so try again later. Huh?! Are Google’s computers tired or something?