Web Principles: Users hate change

If I was going to write book of web principles certainly one of my top ten principles would be Users Hate Change


If you’ve been on Facebook the day a change is made you’ve certainly seen it in your news feed.  Today, for example, Facebook changed up the contents of the primary feed, made the photos larger and added a widget to the right sidebar about what your friends are doing. If your friends feed is like mine, then it is full of all manner of whining about how people want facebook to switch back and hints on how to find the old interface. On the otherhand, I like it. It’s an improvement. I think it makes facebook more useful for me while removing steps I took in their old interface to see what I wanted to see.

If you’ve ever redesigned a web site, you’ve heard about how much people hate change. My favorite redesign story about how people hate change was when I worked at The Commercial Appeal a decade ago and we launched their new design in January 2000. The design eliminated frames from a Pagemill design and started to implement CSS– we designed the whole thing in Dreamweaver. It wasn’t a great design, but a huge step forward. Faithful readers of The Commercial Appeal’s web site reacted like we had dug up Elvis and moved him to a hidden grave.

One particular set of emails from a retired lady who had moved to Chattanooga stood out from the rest. The day after the redesign she reamed us for moving things around and messing up her daily return to Memphis via the Internet. Her email was pretty similar to the other 1000 or so emails we received about the redesign. What was unique about this lady from Chattanooga was the 2nd email we received from her two weeks later. She emailed to apologize for her first email and to let us know she actually liked the new design and now everything she wanted was easier to find.

So, the moral of the story is Users Hate Change, but eventually with a good well-tested design, they will come around and use the site.  I promise you all those people swearing at Facebook today will have forgotten about it in a weeks time.

For me, I like change– for better or worse. Innovation and improvement are hard. If you are unwilling to change you’ll never know if that next step is two steps forward or a step backward.

Jakob Nielsen has a great related post on how users are resistant to change: Fresh vs. Familiar: How Aggressively to Redesign

Launching CampaignTwit- listening to politicians tweet

I built a new web site over the weekend and launched it this morning– CampaignTwit. The site aggregates tweets from Arkansas politicians into a feed and page based on race.  Every race gets a page with all the most recent tweets from each candidate displayed on the page. The site provides context for each tweet displaying it with all the other candidates tweets. You can also tell which campaigns are more active tweeters and how each campaign treats social media– one way or two.

The site is built on WordPress with all the feeds pulled in using the RSS widget. WordPress uses iThemes Builder Astro child  theme customized with the builder style manager plug-in.

Newsday explains paywall

After revealing they only have 35 online only subscribers and their traffic has dropped by half, a Newsday exec sent out a memo explaining their paywall strategy in two basic points.

“Therefore, Newsday’s web strategy has two parts: 1) to provide Newsday’s print subscribers with a rich web experience that goes far beyond what they can get in the newspaper alone, thereby motivating them to remain, return, or choose to subscribe to Newsday; and 2) to provide Cablevision’s high-speed Internet customers with reasons to remain with Cablevision, reasons to return to Cablevision, or reasons to choose Cablevision.”

Unfortunately, the memo doesn’t mention their mobile web strategy which happens to be wide open for anyone to visit completing discouraging anyone from ponying up the $5 a week subscription to their full fledged web site.

Sim newspaper web revenue & Newsday’s results

If you want to be really wonky about newspaper paywall’s audience and revenue numbers, Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab has released a paywall simulation that let’s you play with revenue,  audience and subscription numbers. It’s a lot of fun if you know what the numbers mean.

Along the same line of thought, Newsday is three months into it’s paywall experiment charging $5 a week for access to their website (print subscribers and Cablevision Cable subscribers have free access) and they have 35 paid subscribers. In the three months since starting the experiment Newsday has lost over 50 percent of their web traffic peaking at 1.5 million visits per month in July 2009 down to 460,000 visits in December 2009.

Paywall math doesn’t add up

Steve Yelvington with Morris Newspapers has done the math on a soft paywall as proposed by the New York Times (we discussed this last week).  Steves figures that a newspaper should be prepared to give 35 to 55 percent of their advertising inventory by implementing a soft paywall because power users account for 3.5 percent of an online newspapers audience creating 35 percent of their pageviews. Last week Yelvington addressed how a soft paywall isn’t really a paywall at all for users who have a little tech knowhow to clear their cookies and look like a new user to the paywall.