Web Applications are like a Box of Chocolates…

You never know what you are going to get when you open them….

If you were to believe everything about WebApps, you might come to believe that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Many only talk about the positive aspects of web applications and the bad stuff is hardly mentioned or brushed over as being inconsequential. The fact of the matter is that there is plenty of bad stuff related to web applications. It is like the bear in the room, no one wants to talk about him or acknowledge him, but he there is nonetheless and is ready to devour you one day if you are not careful.

Let me start with issue #1 with Web Applications, you no longer play by fixed rules. The rules change anytime.

Why is this such a bad thing?

Consider a regular software application that you own and use on the desktop. It comes with a base set of features that you use everyday. Love it or hate it, everytime you open the application you know exactly what you are going to get. The exact same user experience you got last time. Therefore, as a result, you know that unless you upgrade (for a fee) you will always get the same experience. If you were happy with that experience, you could decide to defer upgrading. While on the other hand, if you are not happy, you could choose to upgrade to fix the issues you do have.

The important thing about this is the choice that you have. The choice in making the decision on what you want.

On the other hand, consider Web Applications, everytime you open the application you are not guaranteed a certain level of experience. Most times, it is the same, sometimes it can become
better, othertimes it can become worser. Much worser.

In this case, you actually don’t have a choice on what you are going to get. Now as Tom Hanks says in Forrest Gump, “Life is a box of chocolates, you just never know what you are gonna get.”, it might apply to Web applications as well. And although that particular truism fits the ups and downs of life quite well, it is not exactly what you particularly want to hold true in software applications.

Software applications exist to fulfil one purpose. To make someone’s life easier. They don’t exist by themselves in a vacuum or exist just because they can. Therefore when there are
two applications that can do a particular job, one is better than the other simply because of the superior experience it offers than the other. So the user experience is a fundamental metric by which applications need to be measured (while often they arent, which is another story).

But coming back to lack of control in the user experiences with Web applications, here’s why that happens. Since the application logic is completely in control with the web application company, they can change the behavior, experiences for all users in one single switch. It is not a choice.

 But this is actually a good thing..

The web application developers will argue, that upgrading everyone actually is good because you now get the latest bug fixes and the latest features with a single refresh of the browser. You no longer have to download and laboriously update applications in your computer one by one. But you not only get the latest features, you also get complete rearrangement of the UI that you just got familiar with. You not only get the latest bug fixes, you also get additional slap in your face ads in new sections of the UI that used to be ad free. You also get more features, more links, more junk that you don’t need as time goes by.

Now if the application is frozen then you might be fine, but that is hardly the case. Application developers and companies behind them never rest once they have a fairly good product, they cannot resist adding more features or adding more ways to milk the cow. Because if they rest, they will be swallowed in the arms race of their competitors on who has the most number of features. This problem applies to desktop applications as well, as each successive iteration makes it bigger and “better” (Remember Adobe Acrobat Reader 8?). But with desktop applications you do have a choice.You can for instance uninstall Reader 8 and install Reader 7 or better something even earlier. For example, we froze the version of MS Money that we got about 5 years back and have never found a reason to upgrade it. It works well enough.

That lack of choice is the most disturbing thing about Web Applications.

To segue into a couple of examples.

I have used Yahoo Mail for my primary email over the last 9 years or so. Mostly over that time I had a Yahoo Mail Pro account (courtesy of using Verizon DSL), the Yahoo mail pro account was nice because there were no ads, there were larger mail attachment sizes and other benefits. With the new Yahoo Mail, I liked the experience so much to remain committed to Yahoo mail, even though GMail came out. So imagine my surprise a couple of weeks back, when I logged into Yahoo mail to find that starting immediately, Yahoo will now show ads for my account. Small discreet ads might have been ok. But these were huge flashing ads right on my email pane. And even if u minimized it, everytime you clicked the check mail button, a new ad would appear and the ad panel would get maximized (if you had minimized it). It is driving me nuts. I either need to go get the real Yahoo Mail Pro account or switch. My email user experience just went down several notches.

Yahoo Mail annoying ads
Google Search is the epitome of simplicity and usability. Nothing to distract you from what you were there for. Information. A quick search, a few clicks and you were done. No fuss. And now what do I see when I am logged into Google, many new “features”. For example, now I can promote and remove results. Why? Those extra links are now distracting enough to make the page onerous and the user experience less stellar.

Google UI Complexity

Similarly, more links for adding results, a Search Wiki etc at the bottom. hmm. Is Google forgetting the key reason they became number one? I have to wonder.

Google Search UI Complexity

We think Tonido will not be a box of chocolates. We hope you will too.

One Response

  1. Timur says:

    I very liked this post. Can I copy it to my blog?
    Thank in advance.

    Sincerely, Timur.

Leave a Reply