Rob Zolkos

I'm Rob Zolkos: Web Developer, business aficionado and technology enthusiast.

Not What It Looks Like

Print design is about how it looks. Web (and product) design is about how it looks and about how it works. They are different.

Greater Market Share does not always mean Better Product

Use of a particular operating system on any platform is largely a matter of personal choice. Sometimes, that choice is made by a business or corporation on behalf of their employees, and other times, individuals can make the choice themselves. I’m often seen tweeting or facebooking the virtues of Apples operating systems and products, often citing increased sales statistics or my own experiences in my message that Apples products give me a better experience than any of the alternatives. However, I often see mention that Android must be better because it has a higher market share. Or Windows is king because it has a higher market share. Higher market share does not always mean better product. A number of variables play part in determining market share. There are many cases where a product with lower market share, is simply the better product.

I will use the analogy of the car market. Australias #1 selling car, the Holden Commodore, sold 45,956 cars in 2010 (in Australia). Ferrari, on the other hand, sold 6,573 cars last year (worldwide). That’s an almost 7 times increase between one model of car from one manufacturer compared to every single car sold from another. A classic example of a better product (in terms of experience, luxury, and in most cases performance) having a lower market share than a competing product.

It is not business rocket science for a vendor to saturate a market with cheap product and grow market share. Selling cheap android handsets is a clear example of this. Numerous reviews have showcased the horrible experience a cheap android product provides. Yet, people continue to quote Androids stunning market share growth as a clear example of a superior product. Not so.

A similar case can be made for the ongoing debate of whether Microsoft Windows operating system is better than Apples OS X. A windows PC can be bought for a mere $199. The same is not true of Apple hardware. It stands to reason that Windows market share will be higher. This does not mean that it is a better product. If you’ve ever had a blue screen of death, had to re-install due to a slow down, or the computer crashing or catching a virus (even though you already had an anti-virus installed), then you will know what I mean.

So, next time you hear “High Market Share means better”, have a think about all the factors that have contributed to the market share number. Product quality and overall joy of use may not rank high in contributing factors, and it may in-fact be a terrible product to use.

Know Your Customer

A few weeks ago, I finalised some new code for a new section of an existing website. I always code websites using web standards and always test on the latest versions of Chrome (v10), Safari(v5), Opera(v11), Firefox(v3.6) and Internet Explorer(v8). In the case of the latter two, I test both the current version and the upcoming version. So the site is also run through its paces on Firefox 4 and Internet Explorer 9. As for mobile, I test on iPhone and iPad too. As you can see, it’s a pretty comprehensive test. However we began getting customer feedback that they couldn’t log in to the new section of the site.

I looked through the logs and couldn’t even see that they’d made an attempt to login. Very weird. I went back to the tests and everything worked. Then some users were able to log in. But the majority couldn’t. We started to get some screenshots and feedback and discovered that it was a browser issue. Internet Explorer 7 to be exact. The jQuery login popup we had implemented didn’t render correctly on the old Microsoft browser. Hence it didn’t work, and no entry was made in the logs, as the customer wasn’t even able to submit the form.

I had a look at the analytics data for this group of users and found that 89% of them were using Internet Explorer 7. A browser not in my test suite but used by the vast majority of our users (of this part of the site). The fix was easy once we knew the problem. And all customers can now log in.

Suffice to say that Internet Explorer 7 is now part of our test suite. We don’t test that things “look” the same. We just test that the site “works”. Internet Explorer 7 has 5.7% of the worldwide market share, and Internet Explorer 6 has 3.8%.

But the main lesson learned, is that when developing for a closed group (like an intranet or a internet site that is locked to certain users), make sure you know the browser statistics data. Not only will it ensure that what you’re developing works, but it also provides the opportunity to give them a better experience through harnessing the power of that particular browser.

Websites are like fashion

Facebook is like fashion. It never ends.

I was watching..or re-watching….The Social Network the other night and my ears pricked up as I listened to some dialogue between a young Mark Zuckerberg and his equally young financier, Eduardo. They were celebrating the fact that The Facebook was about to “go live” and Eduardo asked if the site is “finished”. Mark shot back, “It’s never going to be finished. Facebook is like fashion. It never ends.”

Not quite sure if Zuckerberg ever actually said that, but it’s an interesting and bold point, not just for Facebook, but all web sites or web applications. I’ve always been a big believer that a website is a continual improvement process. Sure you can launch and leave it. But the site then becomes stale. It’s design becomes stale, its content becomes stale. And visitors stop coming back.

How many sites have you been to lately where the “news” section was last filled in 3 years ago. Where the site looks odd when you look at it in on your smart-phone? These are the sites that suffer from “launch and leave”. Like a neglected yard, the weeds start accumulating and people just see your site as a wasteland.

Often times, we as designers/developers, need to share the blame for this with our clients. We build sites to a budget that doesn’t take into account ongoing maintenance, post-launch reviews, or even educating the client on how best to keep the content on the site fresh. And I think it is up to us in the design/development community to lead the way in, at a bare minimum, communicating this message to our clients. Keeping them educated on the pitfalls of stale content, on the importance of re-visiting the site for design updates on an agreed interval, or reviewing that the site is keeping up with the goals it was originally designed to meet. Surely these points are something we should be looking forward to doing, not shying away from.

A young Mark Zuckerberg was right, and had he left Facebook as it was when it originally launched, it wouldn’t have over 500million regular users that it enjoys today. Websites are like fashion. Never finished. Never done.