Rather widespread, apparently. When a ReadWriteWeb article on Facebook’s collaboration with AOL became a highly-ranked Google search result for “facebook login”, hundreds of Facebook users descended on that article and used the Facebook Connect button on that screen—which ReadWriteWeb provides so that people can leave comments using their Facebook account—and then became extremely confused, not understanding why they weren’t being brought to their usual Facebook home screen.
So they left comments—lots of comments—complaining, many apparently under the impression that they had logged into Facebook and had been presented with a new design for the Facebook home screen.
Of course it’s amusing, but it’s also rather sad. The fact that users—daily users—of Facebook don’t understand the concept of different sites, don’t pay any attention whatsoever to the URL, and can completely ignore an entire article while scrolling a page looking for the one thing that seems familiar (the Facebook logo with a login widget) is quite depressing. That their habit for logging into Facebook is to search for “facebook login” and then click on the link is one thing, but that they’re unable to understand what happens when presented with a scenario where that doesn’t work is somewhat mind-boggling to me.
That’s part of the problem, though—it’s very difficult for me, a programmer who’s been professionally involved with the web for a long time, to put myself in the mindset of a new (or naive) user. It’s hard for me to pretend that I don’t know what a browser is, that I don’t know what a server is, that I don’t know what a URL is.
Part of that is knowledge, but part of it is also attitude. I don’t know if I could use a browser for any extended period and not start wondering about at least the basics of its operation, not start trying to find answers to questions like “how does this work?” and “what’s going on here?”. This comes back to a fairly familiar argument that’s been present in computing for a long time: should users have to know anything about how things work, or should everything (OS, applications, filesystems, whatever) do whatever the user needs without requiring them to understand anything beyond the extremely narrow confines of what they’re trying to do?
Both sides generally bring out analogies, e.g. people shouldn’t have to know how an internal combustion engine works in order to operate their car. The counterpoint is that having some clue of what’s going on can be incredibly useful—like knowing enough about how a car works so that your accelerator gets stuck down you can consider shifting into neutral . You don’t need to know how a web browser works, or a web site, but you should know that you’re using a web browser, and that a web browser connects to web sites… but that’s just my opinion.
The problem with that opinion is that it’s a question of degree, and it’s hard to get to agreement. I’ve been in the position of those users, kind of. I’ve been in the position of wanting some piece of software to simply do a task, and of not wanting to know anything about its internals—and sometimes I’ve simply been completely wrong about what the software actually does. I’ve gotten quite irritated at those times, and I would have had no interest in someone telling me that I needed to learn more about some (to me) obscure technology in order to progress. On the other hand, none of those times have involved things I do or use habitually.
ReadWriteWeb has a followup article, in which they take the stance that the internet has to be made to work for people like those who confused the original article with the Facebook login page. I have no doubt that they’re right from a commercial and/or pragmatic perspective. But is that really the answer? Isn’t ignorance a problem that needs tackling? Isn’t deliberate ignorance something that should be discouraged? I say “deliberate” because, if you have access to a browser and you run into problems like this one, you already have access to most of what you need to learn. ReadWriteWeb argues that the people in question have “chosen to be smart about other things”, which may be true, but isn’t that the same as saying that they’ve chosen not to be smart about how to use the internet? If so, should the internet have to adapt to the consequences of that choice? Or should the users in question have to accept occasional frustration as a consequence of “choosing to be smart” only about other things?
|||This is not to say that the driver in this case was at fault; the Lexus was at fault. Nor am I comparing the driver to the confused users commenting on the ReadWriteWeb article; I’m just pointing out that that knowledge could have been useful at the time.|