Why Your Web App Sucks

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    The reason it is so hard to make a great web application is because it is so easy to make it suck. The greatest ideas do not always translate into the greatest applications because of poor execution. What makes them so bad though? Let’s take a look.

    Easy is a feature

    Easy is always the #1 feature people look for when using a web site. Therefore, it makes sense that you have decided to make it feature #101 which will be implemented next year. A great example of why wikis never really took off is because they aren’t the easiest apps in the world to use. Imagine using the technology and design behind Writeboard to power all of the pages on Wikipedia.

    Learning a new syntax (yes, even HTML is new to most of the world) requires investment and in most cases wikis do not offer a great return on investment (ROI) so there is absolutely no reason to use them. A great example of easy design is Digg. One of the major reasons for its success is that Digging (and unDigging) an item is as easy as can be. So easy in fact that it becomes addicting.

    Undesign isn’t a feature

    It’s 2006 yet you think your 1997 design makes sense. FranzFred wondered why Reddit didn’t make the Top 10 Web 2.0 Winners list and one of the reasons is due to its design. I know the site works similar to Digg and I have read in many places it is superior, but when looking at the site I’m not even sure what is going on. This doesn’t mean it isn’t a great application after you spend time with it, but when you aren’t the only game in town how much time do you think someone is going to invest when there are visually superior (and no worse technically) solutions around?

    You can come, but you can’t leave

    You don’t feel the need to open up your data to the masses or to allow them to control the experience. We are living in an era where mashups are found on every street corner. MySpace isn’t an open system because they don’t offer RSS feeds nor the ability to export your friends list. They are an open system because they allow others to create widgets to use on their pages (and if they crack down on this they are insane).

    Offering something as simple as a RSS feed can get your data on other sites, which in turn will drive more traffic your way. If you offer an API, developers will create fun and interesting tools to make the site experience even more special. Passionate users are willing to take that extra step to make the experience better so why not give them the tools to make it happen?

    The cliche

    Release early, release often isn’t a phrase meant to represent trips to the bathroom. There are always improvements to be made to your application and more than likely some features that will make it better. However, you are content to sit around and do nothing.

    I ragged on Bloglines (which doesn’t suck) on the Top 10 Web 2.0 Losers list for seemingly being static with regards to updates. Apparently they have pushed out a small visual update that goes a long way in improving usability. That’s all most customers ask for.

    Be different

    How many people will argue that their app X differs greatly from app Y when the general user can’t tell the difference? At a time when blog networks were the hottest trend, we at 9rules went a different direction and decided we weren’t going to own the sites and we haven’t looked back since.

    Being different can be scary because you aren’t sure how things will work out, but that’s what will make your web app special and that’s what people will appreciate. These sites and application dared to be different and look at the outcome.

    User-generated content FTW

    You think user-generated content creates itself? Users have never had a problem creating content for sites when they feel they are getting something equal or greater in return. It doesn’t have to be money and in most cases when the reward isn’t money the value is much greater to the user and the content will reflect that.

    For even more things that can kill your web application make sure to checkout 10 Things That Will Make or Break Your Website. Do your part and make sure your web app doesn’t suck. Thank you.

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      1. says

        I agree that Reddit isn’t as visually appealing as Digg at first glance, but I actually find myself spending more time there (and actually reading the comment threads and submitting stories and using the save/hide features).

        I don’t think my girlfriend even bothers with Digg (probably because she doesn’t care about all the tech stories), but I know she checks up on Reddit during her free time. I don’t know what that has to do with anything, but it seems worth sharing, haha.

      2. says

        I believe MySpace is huge because of their impeccable timing and dumb luck, contrary to a lot of people giving them so much credit as social networking geniuses.

        If they created an API, and/or even RSS feeds, MySpace would become the Microsoft of social networking and we wouldn’t even be talking about Facebook and the others. MySpace could dominate for years but they haven’t so much but lifted a finger since it got big. The same horrible interface, the error page of death (that happens more often than Windows 95’s blue screen of death), the spam. The pedestrians put up with this only because they don’t know better and once somebody else breaks through (whether it be Facebook, or whoever) people are going to move away from MySpace. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen.

      3. says

        @Rhee: Yeah, that’s what I am hearing from a couple of people. I could only imagine what a little love and care to the interface would do to the popularity of the site.

        @Griffin: MySpace is popular for a lot of reasons, many of them discussed on this site, and one of them definitely stems from the fact that you can add widgets to the page to personalize your profile even more. Sure people might move away, they do it all the time, but they won’t move because of the lack of openness.

      4. Randall Randall says

        It would be very easy to screw up Reddit’s interface, but it’s clear that it’s a better interface for what it does than Digg’s. I just loaded the front page of each, and Digg only has 5 stories that appear above the fold, where Reddit has *18*. One way to make Reddit better might be to have a preference for two columns of headlines, since there is a lot of wasted space on the right. Digg could improve immediately by simply reducing the default font, but even with that, there’s a lot of clutter around each headline that makes it hard to make the page usefully dense.

      5. says

        So here is a question: Is the playavarice.com ‘sandbox 2′ preview headed in the right or wrong direction? (I know it hard to judge as we don’t know what user-interaction will be; but the idea is it will be open to users for expanding the site via content, images and widgets? Open-Development?) -

      6. says


        That may be true that openness might not directly affect whether a person will flock away from MySpace, but the widgets you can integrate into MySpace are somewhat of a hack, just like changing the layout.

        When companies like Facebook offer functionality built in to the system, or via the API, it will open the doors to a lot more cool things than what MySpace can offer in its closed network. If MySpace doesn’t offer an API then MySpace has to create all the new features in-house, and like I said in the previous comment, MySpace hasn’t changed much of anything in the last couple years.

      7. says

        On my laptop, I get 3 (!!) stories listed on the digg homepage and 15 on reddit. Both sites should work like feeds with voting capabilities and be designed for that. Reddit looks like a feed and digg more like a start page with ads and graphics and limited data. For those that use and understand feeds, reddit is the clear winner, but I can see how your common user would get a good feeling out of the more traditional look of digg.

      8. anonymous says

        it’s sad that I have to post this anonymously…

        You’re 100% right, btw.

        the only reason I prefer Reddit in some ways is that the founders do not seem corruptable.

        I’m sure you’ve read many of the recent stories about corruption at Digg and burying stories, not to mention all the ones from many months back.

        Think of it like the NY Times. For the longest time (until Jayson Blair), their reputation was untouchable.

        Meanwhile look at Fox News. They are the laughing stock of the media/news world (regardless of how much $$$ they make).

        So in some ways, despite all the ‘democracy’ at Digg, they are still more like Fox News, whereas Reddit is like the NY Times.

        (sorry for being OT, btw!)

      9. says

        On the subject of Wikipedia, I’d imagine WYSIWYG isn’t implemented as a small hurdle to keep the lowest common denominator out of the site. Quality is important, particularly on Wikipedia, and sites like MySpace prove that if you make it very easy, you’ll get some very stupid people on-site.

        I’m not saying I agree with the POV, if it’s the case – I do because I run sites and have to deal with some very stupid people; I don’t because it’s overly-elitist and there are better ways to deal with abuse – I’m just speculating that it may be one reason why they haven’t gone out and out to make it easy to use.

      10. says

        Redit sucks the big one. It may work for sado masochists who like spending inordinate amounts of thier time trying to figure out how it works. As it stands the first page is totally incomprehensible as to how it works or even what it does.

        Only losers who follow the geek crowd will ever even attempt to use it.

        Redit gets my nomination for the most user un-freindly site of the year.

      11. says

        Yeah, I also don’t really see much to improve on Reddit’s interface. It might not have the same bubbly design as every other trendy social site, but it gets the job done. It’s fairly straightforward, and Randall has a valid point.

      12. Jimmy says

        It’s not the design or feeder’s listings… People and creators put too much details and dangerous stuff.

        1. They have full of sh*ts on their web.
        2. They even scare the sh*t out people’s head.
        3. Here’ the list of scariest website I’ve been to:

        iwon.com, excite.com, lycos.com, dogpile.com, search.com, search.aol.com, and all the websites. We go to beta websites because it’s much safer than spying webs.

        4. They put some spying habits on people’s harddrives. Ad Cookies; fake click frauds, click frauds, hijack cookie CC#.

      13. says

        Reddit vs Digg is an interesting argument. They usually have the same articles and both have their share of helpfun, intuitive comments as well as trolls.

        Personally, I like Digg better because of the interface. I read on slashdot a while back that our brains decide within a second if we like something based on its visual appeal. for most people, it doesnt matter what features are in each application… what matters is the initial visual appeal because even if App 1 offers 10 times more features and is 100 times easier to use, if App 2 looks pretty … App 1 wont get the love it may deserve.

      14. says

        Another factor that makes web apps suck, is not realizing that the web is a different medium and trying to work within the medium. It’s like using oil paints and water colors, if you understand each medium and work with in the medium, you get great results.


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