There’s a saying in the world of politics that applies to those
who suffer from swelled egos and an intense self-absorption that rubs
common folk the wrong way: “they’ve been reading too many of their own
press clippings.” In other words, too many politicians dote on media
attention and begin to think of themselves as ‘celebrity’ at the
expense of humility and modesty.
In an over-zealous celebration of his 200th Alertbox column
(Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox, September 29, 2003), the former Sun
Microsystems usability engineer and usability guru
raved about his success citing stats and kudos while condemning what he
calls “usability’s enemies” while trumpeting his own patriotic duty to
“defend humans from overly complex technology. Defending “humans” from
“usability’s enemies”? Whoa….Jakob Nielsen has been reading too many of his own press
Spanking Jakob Nielsen
“We must consider that Jakob Nielsen is too myopic about the
benefits of usability to the point of being just plain wrong,” says
John S. Rhodes, in his column “Spanking Jakob Nielsen”.
is selling us a dream,” says Rhodes. “However, I'm terribly
frustrated with some of his fantastic and unrealistic claims.”
Rhodes in particular was taking issue with another bizarre Nielsen
exaggeration to the effect that "if we improved all the intranets in
the world to the usability level achieved by the best 25% in our study,
the world economy would save $311,294,070,513 per year” – for those
counting the zeros, that’s 311 trillion dollars (U.S.).
Rhodes does go on to compliment Nielsen for all of his
contributions to the Web and in particular, the subject of usability,
as he should.
Nielsen is a web pioneer, the father of usability, and one of the
Internet’s most important contributors. However, the Internet’s
reputation suffers from too much volatility, uncertainty and even fear
sparked by the dot-com meltdown, online fraud, spam and viruses, etc.
What the Internet needs is credible, reasonable and rational champions.
We need Jakob Nielsen’s brain power and his insights into ways of
making the web more friendly, usable and accessible. What we don’t need
is another huckster and ‘guru’ making outlandish,
exaggerated claims that would embarrass even a terrorism adviser to
George W. Bush.
Usability in Context
Usability is extremely important to the success of Internet,
intranet and extranet sites. However, it’s only one of many necessary
working components or contributions to a successful site. When
evaluating the value of a site to an organization or person, I look at
six major attributes (Prescient Digital Media Evaluation Methodology, ©
2003 - 2008):
Tools & Innovation
Planning & Resources
Usability is just one of half a dozen criterion, with content,
planning and resources (the intangible, behind-the-scenes operations
and governance of a site) arguably the most important of the six.
Usability plays its part, but it’s far from being the most critical
Millions have read Jakob Nielsen’s work and thousands have paid
for his insight and with good reason – he is a web authority, pioneer
and one of its biggest VIPs. I applaud Nielsen and his contributions
and will continue to read his work. However, crazy exaggerations and
incredible claims do nothing to enhance the reputation of a medium many
of us have come to love and on which we depend.
Two words of advice for Jakob Nielsen: chill out! Your work speaks
for itself and is helping to shape the future of one of the world’s
most powerful media. But, as Jack Nicholson said in As Good As It Gets,
“Sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here.”
Toby Ward, a former journalist and a regular e-business columnist
and speaker, is the President and Founder of Prescient Digital
Media. For more information on Prescient’s CMS Blueprint
service, or for a free copy of the white paper “Finding ROI”, please contact us.