Don't pretend you know who I am...

Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a friend of mine who is involved in the redesign of a website at a large university library in the U.S.:

Another one of those “things that people think will make websites easier to navigate but almost never does” is the “let’s have a different doorway for different types of users.” In your case this might manifest itself as “Students,” “Faculty,” “Alumni” and “Visitors.” In my world it often comes up as “Canadians” and “Americans” or “From Prince Edward Island” and “Visitor to Prince Edward Island” or “Business” and “Consumer.”

The thinking goes that you can “custom target” each of these for the “particular needs” of each “user community.”

The problems with this are: (a) hardly anybody fits neatly into one “user community.” At Trent University, for example, I was, at various times, in each of these categories, sometimes all at the same time; (b) your assumptions about what is interesting or relevant to one group will probably leave out a lot. For example there’s probably a lot of interesting stuff that you would target at faculty that would also be useful and relevant to students and alumni, even if it doesn’t technically fall into the “information for students” category; (c) this stratification means that you have 1/3 (or 1/4, or 1/5) of the energy needed to properly organize each section and this usually means that this organization doesn’t get done properly. In other words you end up relying too much on the initial doorway categories, and just dump in a whole mess of stuff afterwards and finally (d) some people get turned off by having to make an initial “this is who I am” distinction. I will leave any e-commerce site that asks me, before I even look at their catalog, whether I am American or Canada; partly this is irrational, but partly it’s a suspicion that the other guys (i.e. whatever I don’t choose) is going to get better pricing.

In the end you are far better to place your energy in coming up with a well-organized site that works for anyone than to try and figure out who your users are and custom-fit your website around them.
As their site builds out, I’ll keep you up to date on their progress.

Fun with Korean

When I was on vacation in Korea in 1998 I picked up a CD by the Korean artist Toy. I stuck this CD in my iBook this morning and this is what appeared (blow-up of text is my doing):

In other words, iTunes understands and renders Korean titles from the CDDB database just fine. I think this is neat, although I can’t tell you why.

And the winners are...

The winners of our very first contest, for a carload pass to the Brackley Drive-in for this weekend, are:

  • Mitch Cormier
  • Charles Pritchett
  • Andrea Ledwell
  • Heather Mullen
Winners have all been notified by email. Honourable mention for “entry from furthest away” goes to Oliver Baker from California.

Wright & Shelby Amendments

There are two airports in Dallas: Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and Dallas Love Field.

Dallas Love Field was the original airport, and when the new International Airport opened in 1974, the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, presumably in an attempt to see it succeed, tried to stop interstate flights (i.e. flights from Texas to some other state) from flying out of Love Field.

In 1979, however, the U.S. Congress passed the Wright Amendment. This allowed large aircraft to fly from Love Field to to locations in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico. This was expanded by the passage of the Shelby Amendment in 1997 which allowed flights to Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi as well.

This is relevant (and I use that word in its most limited sense) primarily because of how it affects Southwest Airlines, a major U.S. discount carrier. Southwest uses Love Field as their airport in Dallas and, as such, cannot fly from Dallas to anywhere outside of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Mississippi, and Alabama.

If you look at Southwest’s route map you can see that Dallas, a large metropolis, is smack dab in the middle of a lot of the U.S. (see the photo of the U.S. from space on this page to see this very clearly). And thus not being able to use Dallas as a jumping off point to the rest of the U.S. is a logistical problem for the airline; it even warrants its own page on their website.

I experienced this restriction personally back in the early 1990s when I wanted to fly from El Paso to Detroit on Southwest. I was routed El Paso, Austin, Houston, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit. If you look at the map, El Paso to Dallas would have been the logical first step, the law notwithstanding.