Friday, September 14, 2007

New age web messages

The new age web sites/applications (the so called web 2.0) have all evolved for good and one of the many things which have changed for good is the copy writing for error message or in that case any message. I think it’s the advent of blogging which made the web world change the attitude towards its communication to users. They chose to speak the human language as the new web considers the users as an integral part of their growth. Most of the services go live and is thrown open to users before being steady and the developers fine tune the performance according to the user’s feedback. There are more instances of the services being down every now and then but what I have noticed is that, the users have become calm. And its only coz the users are made to know what exactly is the reason behind the downtime. It’s all about transparency. You let your users know what’s happening with you and they will be ready to help you out if you are in need. The better you explain the more they understand.

Even old websites used to give out simple and understandable messages before but they used to be very formal. Now the language has become more informal and more personal and it works. It helps to keep the situation light and in control. And it also shows how much you care for the users.

I think it all started with Gmail. A message which says “Hooray no spam here” was a big surprise for me at first. Even though I liked it, I used to wonder why they kept it like that. Then when I started seeing messages like “Grr something went wrong with the connection, try sending the mail again” I started feeling comfortable rather than getting irritated. I liked the way Gmail spoke my language.

Cleartrip is one of my favorite sites and their message copy is outstandingly human. Once their site was not loading and I got this

And once my flight booking failed to go through

Oh this message from Squirl, once when i tried to upload an image actually made me laugh

But of course the weird ones just refuse to go away. I got this message when I tried to disconnect my internet connection.

I think it’s high time all of us understood the importance of good and more human copy writing in application development. It’s just a simple attitude change from our side which is needed to achieve a better user experience. Recently a developer friend of mine and I were browsing through Google reader and suddenly we saw the message “Grr something has gone wrong”. He said
Hmm if I put Grr into my error message I will be told to take it out immediately saying its not good. But if google says the same, its great communication.


Sowmya Karmali said...

I like your point, Umesh. I think most traditional s/w products could do with more user friendly messages as well. One needs to strike a balance between sounding cool and formal at the same time, and that's easier said than done.

I'd like to put up this post on my Usability Blog with your consent.

Anonymous said...

hey... I love Cleartrip myself.. and have used them about 5 times... and with those messages , I think I can connect to them even more :-)
I love their user interface is so google.. Crystal clear do your darn serach book and be happy.. Unlike other travel sites gosh!! they are so flashy even a theatre site like PVR or Fame aint that flashy :-) Can they please learn something from Cleartrip.. Cheers!!!

Unknown said...

@Sowmya: Please go on and use it as you like. Spread the word.

@Anonymous: Yes Cleartrip is neat and tidy and very user friendly. Their UIs are inspired from 37 signals product UIs.

Anonymous said...

Like the cleartrip messages.. though I think squirl kind of took it too far :)

Unknown said...

@vinodh: It all depends on the image the service projects. But basic idea is to speak friendly language. If your app is not very formal (orkut, flickr, squirl), why not have the copy a bit wacky? Flickr had their login button saying "Get In" long back (Now they are using the yahoo login page).

Cleartrip messagaes are informal for sure but they have tried to be more friendly but not wacky.

Eg when you make a software for children you should speak their language. To say "your inbox is full" you might have to put it in a way the kid understands. May be even change terminologies like Inbox = Mailbag or something like that. You might have to explain the idea of inbox getting full by a metaphor of a demon eating up the mails or something like that (Havent thought much about it).

The idea is to speak the user's language. Ofcourse type of users change from app to app and so should the language.

Unknown said...

Check out Work Hack's (A simple to do list) Faqs. Especially the "I can’t edit my tasks?". :-)

Sunil Shinde said...

:) I think it is pretty cool.

I would test water before taking it to mainline applications though.

BTW, noticed? Vista has many a friendlier screen messages nowadays (no wit though :))

Unknown said...

@Sunil Great that you understood the point. Thats what i meant by the simple attitude change...

Anonymous said...

Congrats that you are featured on Cleartip blog !

Hmm if I put Grr into my error message I will be told to take it out immediately saying its not good. But if google says the same, its great communication

In the companies like Google I don't think the verbiages are coming from devlopers' desk. They are phrased by Technical Writers and are sent to Leagal Department's approval and finally comes to your screen.

- Raj

Anonymous said...

Uff. Great recognition for great posts. I truly liked this one! :). Congrats on the cleartrip feature! Keep writing such wonderful tech reviews.

I think I'm becoming a whitespace fan too (after NBS of course!) after reading them - earlier, I used to think that the tech jargon on WS was only for you Usability freaks ;), and the internet-java community (alien to me since I belong to the .NET community - hehe :D).

Unknown said...

@Raj: Thanks and WO the google messages have travelled all the way through all that?

@Shikha: Glad that you find WS interesting. In whitespace i try to simplify things. The idea is not to talk great usability stuff using jargons. And its not only about usability. Its about everything that matters to me outside the realm of NBS :-)

Anonymous said...

Why do you think Java & .Net are two different animals ? I think they are not.