This came to my attention via my friend and colleague Sean Christmann (@seanalltogether) from EffectiveUI, who writes:

The next time you're building software and think to yourself, "Don't worry, users will be able to figure it out," I want you to remember this blog post.

ReadWriteWeb recently published an article titled Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login. Being an interesting, timely article, it rose to the top of Google searches for "Facebook login." Then: chaos and confusion. Lots and lots of the people who use Google instead of their browser's address bar to access sites began confusing the ReadWriteWeb link with a link to Facebook itself, and began posting angry comments wondering why Facebook had been redesigned and asking when they'd be allowed to log in again. RRW posted a fascinating response to this bizarre event wherein they attribute the failure to Google, and note the disturbing security implications… makes for very interesting reading.

But definitely set aside some time to read some of the comments thread on the original article. It's really eye-opening. And if you haven't already seen it, check out this video of a Google rep asking random people, "What's a browser?" and "What's the difference between Google and a browser?" I'm betting the people who got those answers wrong are the same sorts of people who flamed the RWW post.

Remember these people when you're designing your products.


All of the commenters here, as on ReadWriteWeb are missing quite a few things:

1) The branding on readwriteweb was (a) a different colour, (b) nothing like facebook's, and (c) had "ReadWriteWeb" in big letters. To those that deal with UX, marketing and other such - this is a big deal. If these people are your average audience, then they don't notice branding at all - you've all screwed up.

2) The comment link (and the facebook connect - where they had to login) was well "below the fold". They'd scrolled down - not reading even one sentence (there was a large bold paragraph pointing out that this wasn't facebook) until they found what they wanted. This means that your users won't bother to read anything, so why bother to publish any text. Also, why optimise your design for above the fold - they'll still scroll down.

3) Users, presented with something unexpected, can't be bothered to even do basic analysis to work out if they might be at fault. Don't bother putting up error messages, just make sure everything works 100% of the time.

Now, obviously none of these things are really true about most users. Maybe 100-200 people commented on ReadWriteWeb. If we go with 60m people in the UK, and 300m in the US, that's not even 1 in a million users.

While you don't need to know about how a car works in order to drive, I'd hope that if the car won't start and a new light is showing on your dashboard that you think that perhaps the new light is worth investigating as it might be a cause of why your car won't start. If you don't have the basic reasoning skills to do this, you probably shouldn't have a licence to drive a car.

Are all websites really supposed to cater to 100% of users, or is 99.999% good enough?

This is a pointer to why Apple is succeeding I think. They know that no-one would bother to uninstall the OS from a PC and install a new one (most of them not having any clue what an OS is), so they design and build sleek looking hardware that has their OS preloaded - the only way to take market share off MS.

What concerns me is that every time someone publishes research demonstrating that most people are unfamiliar with the specific terminology of the web, a significant number of responses are nothing but sheer arrogance.

It's the users' fault. They're stupid. "Society needs a good cleanse," to quote one here. Even the title of the article suggest we should be "horrified", as if all this is something terrible rather than well-established, well-known human nature.

Two thoughts:

1. David, the previous commenter, is spot on. We have created vastly complex systems which change so fast that everyone who works in the field spends a significant portion of their time staying up to date. Yet we blame other people and call them stupid if they don't keep up? Such arrogance! A little more humility, please.

2. You mean there are people working in UX and the web industry generally who are not aware of what the video revealed? This was new to you? Then maybe spend a lot less of your time talking to "UX professionals" and having conferences where you show each other how clever you are, and a LOT more time talking with people whose lives do not revolve around building the web and who are simply trying to get on with their job and lives and who are trying to endure the confusion.

I completely agree. Most of the people in this video do not look stupid. Maybe they know a lot of things I don't about areas of life I never ventured into. For UX practitioners, the user is always right. If s/he is part of the target audience and can't figure out our smart stuff then it's the fault of the stuff, not theirs.

you're correct, but only to a point. nobody was asking these people to write html or even know what that is. they didn't even understand that to log onto a site you need to be at that site.

and the whole browser versus seach engine thing? wtf? its not 1993. weve been on the web for a long time now, how can you not think these people are stupid. its the same reason people can't point to [insert contry name] on a map. most people are VERY STUPID & LAZY. there is absolutely no excuse to have such a poor understanding of such an important communication tool in this day and age.

Spot on Stilgherrian, I couldn't have put it better myself.

Until the tech industry realizes that most people--including the tech inclined, and managers--know jack about usability (I call it the "everyone's a usability expert" syndrome), maybe we'll start seeing better products.

The elitist tone of the article and comments don't give me much hope of that happening anytime soon.

Thank you for propagating the delusion.

Is it that surprising that these users don't know exactly what they're using? How many people operate a car without knowing what a cam shaft or fly wheel are for (or that they exist)? How many times is a simple screwdriver (the tool, not the drink) used for something other than installing or removing a screw?

A classic example of how to get the flash Facebook game experience on the iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad is "bejeweled 2" app, this integrates the weekly competion with facebook allowing users to compete either in the facbook flash app or the iTunes paid-for app

A great read, thanks for sharing. Absolutely eye-opening.

programmers like to assume that everyone is a nerd. If I was a company and I hired some nerds I would tell teach them about making friends and selling products...because difficulty in using a product makes drastic differences to sales.

Society needs a good cleanse

I had the same experience today - I was trying to explain how to use Skype for video chat, after setting up a video camera for a friend. I was asked "So does it use the phone as well?"
This video, the Facebook login fiasco and today's eye-opener has made me totally rethink everything I'm ever going to develop. Plus, if this doesn't make people perform user testing with a much broader audience, I don't know what will!!

@Ryan: Those facebook users won't be able to do most of the stuff they do on Facebook with an iPad. If you haven't noticed, most people play games on Facebook. And more and more of those are moving to Flash. And Apple isn't going to support it.

And unlike videos or interactive webpages, there is not competing open standard for games. The closest you have is Java, and I know people who have never even bothered installing it.


@Alex - I disagree with your last point there. This sort of confusion raises a lot of issues with respect to usability.

We assume that people would know what a browser is. Becoz its a no-brainer, right? Well, we were just proven wrong. Its just luck that someone actually researched this and told us about this.

A whole lot of conventional wisdom gets shattered with these findings. As someone who works in a firm that provides web design & development, usability and UX services, this could have a lot of implications. It makes one wonder, what else have we taken for granted.

too funny.

I think we also have a branding issue. Google Chrome should be called Google Browser, simple and to the point. None of the browsers have a name which defines what they do except for Internet Explorer (maybe). Safari, Opera, Firefox, means nothing to most.

Plus, browsers are kind of a non-app. You use them as containers for other things, as chrome for the web. Kids don't use a browser 8 hours a day, they use Facebook or YouTube.

Thankfully, I think we've reached a point with Mac OS X and Windows 7 where computers are getting easier, or easy enough, so that everyday people can use them quite comfortably. In the end, who cares if they know what a browser is as long as they know how to find your site?

Finally someone who mentions the branding issue. Yes! Thank you. It's all about how it's marketed (or not) that makes the COGNITIVE difference to your users. If you don't understand how they THINK you will never be able to design for them, or market to them, positively.

Also, now Google Chrome (and i believe most other browsers) allow you to type search queries int he address bar itself. Just try typing a search string in an address bar and hit enter (not ctrl+enter). It will throw up GOOGLE search results.
Strangely enough, this happens even in IE.

Re: "What is a browser?"

Google encourages this confusion because it works to their advantage. If "browser" = "Google" and "Google" = "the internet", they cannot be beat. They are as much to blame as the users.

Computers are too complicated for average user. I don't expect users can see the difference between a search text field and address bar. They just want to surf.
On the other hand - when we already know, that people are not technicians - its sad, that so inexperienced group of customers have to rely on so buggy product as MS Windows.

People don't need to know what a browser is! They just need to know how to get to the internet. It's all in the education of using the process

lol @ sarcasm meter

I think this happened to me with one of my Flickr photos, entitled "Friendster Sign Up", which I posted after my negative experience with their sign up form some years ago.

I get the impression that search users are hitting my photo thinking it's the Friendster sign up page, and then sign up to Flickr instead to post a comment on my photo? I don't know really... it can't be comment spam because it's so trivial.

"Dave 13 February 2010, 14:04 (Permalink)

I didn't know Google was a browser and now I know."

Google isn't a browser, it's a search engine.

A search engine is the software behind the webpage you open on your browser which gives you the option to search for topics on the world wide web.

A browser is the program you start to get on the web, like Internet Explorer of Mozilla Firefox. Chrome is the browser from Google (the company behind the famous search engine), they recently launched it.

google chormme IS a browser...

Really. That is fascinating. Fascinating!

I think your sarcasm meter is broke.

Somewhat like the synonymous Web and Internet; I bet that will surprise 'users' when they learn the difference.

I didn't know Google was a browser and now I know.

Do not feed the trolls.

and again... Jesus.



You just made my whole day worthwhile. lol Thank you!

And this is why the iPad, in spite of all the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the tech community about how "closed" or "limited" it is, is going to sell.

Because these users, who represent probably at least 60-70% of the market, don't give a rip about whether the thing is "open" or "closed" or "made of kumquats" (they couldn't tell the difference anyway). Does it provide an easy way to see their peeps on Facebook, watch some YouTube clips, and find and play some casual games? Yup. Does it get viruses, stash their files places they can't find, and need to have the HD defragged or the OS reinstalled every 6 months? Nope.

Sure, it doesn't do Flash which will cause a few bumps. But I have a feeling enterprising developers will find a way around that quickly enough. (If people can't play your online Flash game that they like on a device they otherwise really want -- or bought without doing any homework -- that smells like an App Store opportunity to me!)

No enterprising developers have been able to "find a way" to get flash on iPhones/iPads or any other device by Apple - they can't - it's closed - that's what closed means - a good example of why being closed is so bad for us as consumers - Steve Jobs says we don't want to watch Flash video on Apple devices so no Flash, Flash Video etc. Thankfully there are OPEN devices coming, like Google's HTC Hero with Flash!

That's a lot of assumptions for a product that isnt even out yet.

Absolutely, Ryan. Spot on.

Quite simply, the word 'browser' is not at all self-explanatory. There's a guy in the "What is a browser?" video who says it's a search engine because when you're searching for stuff you "browse". Well, why not? Sounds logical right?

What I found really interesting about the video, is that it points to what Google is rapidly becoming, which is the average person's access point to everything online. I bet the Google managers were delighted by that video. As far as they're concerned, if the public perception is that 'browser' = Google then great! More dollars for the shareholders.

That's a great point about the iPad. I was thinking the other day about what it would take for me to actually buy one, and realized that if I was in the market for something like a Mac Mini, it would be completely preferable. Low-cost, easy to use, portable: not a lot more than that to look for in a computer, for most people. It also occurred to me that it would be great for students, especially kids, if they could have all their textbooks in electronic format. Save the school districts a ton of money after a couple of years, too.