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The Internet

How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility? 141

theduck writes "Ever suspected (or feared) that web users are mostly mindless sheep evaluating your website more by the eye candy than your carefully crafted content? Well, it appears you were right. A study resulting from a collaboration between Consumer Webwatch and The Stanford Pervasive technology Lab reports that even though consumers say that they look for content first when evaluating the credibility of a website, they actually focus primarily on design look and information design/structure (i.e. ease of navigation). Of course, the study's methodology might have something to do with the results..."
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How Do People Evaluate a Web Site's Credibility?

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  • by novakreo ( 598689 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:03AM (#4631633) Homepage
    What good is the best content in the world if it's difficult to navigate your way through it?

    In real life communication people are able to get much non-verbal information from the speaker, giving hints as to whether they are passionate about their topic of conversation, or even whether they really believe it or not.

    While ultimately the content itself is paramount, having a well-designed site will show visitors that you at least care enough about it to put some effort it.
    • The most-common thing potential clients say to me right off is "I loved your site, it's so easy to get around in!"

      THEN some go on to say they liked all the good information. But that's seldom their first remark.

    • People seem to think that design is all about making it look pretty. It's not. It's as important as the IA behind it. What's the point in having good AI if the layout is design confusingly, and mixes the wrong elements together? or it's unclear where the sections are in a page etc?
  • Easy (Score:5, Funny)

    by Compact Dick ( 518888 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:04AM (#4631636) Homepage
    They view the source to make sure only valid XHTML and CSS are used. Those that do get top scores :-)
    • Re:Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Fweeky ( 41046 )
      Not quite.

      They also turn off CSS to make sure it degrades well, read the source to make sure it's not just a soup of DIVs or TABLEs and has some decent semantic content, make sure it doesn't use javascript: links, see if any links are not seperated by only whitespace, see if visual media is also provided in a text form, and check to see if they serve application/xhtml+xml to accepting clients.

      What? Why is everyone looking at me funny?

      Oh, right, I forgot the "then steal anything that looks good" step. Sorry :)
      • Re:Easy (Score:5, Interesting)

        by dtobias ( 262347 ) <dan@tobias.name> on Saturday November 09, 2002 @02:01PM (#4633014) Homepage

        A few of my "turn-offs" that lower my estimate of the cluefulness (and hence credibility) of the site's developers:

        • hardcoded-pixel-width tables instead of sites that gracefully adapt to any window width
        • microscopic fonts for main body text
        • pop-up ads (though since I've set Mozilla to reject them I don't actually notice which sites have them any more)
        • notices telling me to "Get a Better Browser" or change my resolution, etc., to whatever their clueless developer prefers
        • pointless splash pages before you get to the real content
        • main site content or navigation that's nonfunctional without some feature not present or disableable in some browsers (JavaScript, Flash, PDF, sites opening pop-up windows to put all their main content in -- the latter often show as blank pages to me due to my Mozilla configuration to disable popups)
        • stupid or careless title text for pages, like "Untitled Document" (it's amazing how many pages out there have this as their title), or just mindlessly replicating the site name alone as the title of all pages, or trying to spamdex keywords for search engines -- these things result in a useless and stupid-looking set of titles in the browser back-button history and when you bookmark a page in the site
        • images with no ALT text
        • images with stupid ALT text, showing a lack of understanding of the purpose of this attribute
        • frames (almost any use of them)
        • any use of A HREF="#" as a link; the "#" pseudo-URL seems to somehow be trendy as a dummy link element when developers are really using the anchor tag to hold JavaScript events; they should instead put a meaningful URL there for graceful-degrading purposes. At any rate, the JavaScript events should always end in "return false;" so that the URL isn't actually gone to; otherwise you get an unsightly jump to the top of the page and add another URL to the back-button history.
        • any use of ".htm" as the extension for HTML documents instead of the more proper ".html" -- that's a dumbass Microsoftism dating from ancient and obsolete operating systems that couldn't take four-letter extensions. It's HyperText Markup *Language*, dammit.
        • links back to the site's homepage, or to subdirectory default indices, using A HREF="index.html" or A HREF="subdir/index.html" (or other default name) instead of the more elegant and consistent use of the directory alone like A HREF="./" or A HREF="subdir/".
        • links to subdirectories that omit the trailing slash, forcing an extra server redirect (NOTE: Both this and the preceding item cause links to show in the unvisited color even when you've already been there, due to the URL variation.)
        • sites that muck around with the link colors so as to make visited and unvisited links the same color, thus suppressing a useful feature of the browser's interface
        • sites that try to disable parts of the browser's controls, like the back button or the "Save As" feature, perhaps to "stop people from stealing their content".
        • domain name abuse, like sites that are clearly noncommercial in nature but insist on using a .com address, or sites that are chapters or branches of parent entities but use stupid unnecessary domain names of their own instead of logical subdomains of the parent site, or sites that keep registering ridiculous flavor-of-the-month domain names for every last marketing gimmick they come up with, when it all could have been done perfectly well through the domain they already have.
        • sites that have their own domain name but for some inscrutable reason use something stupid that's not in their own domain as their contact email address -- the use of (gag, vomit) aol.com addresses in this manner is somehow rampant.
        • Given all that, are there any sites left out there that you can actually look at?
        • hardcoded-pixel-width tables instead of sites that gracefully adapt to any window width

          Yes, these are often quite lame. I don't mind some of them, but I'd have to have a really excellent reason to do it myself. Like being paid to do it that way :)

          microscopic fonts for main body text

          Annoyingly rampant; and they're often set using px, meaning IE users can't resize them. I personally hate anything smaller than 12px for body text. Sites which set it in the body { } CSS rule and use offsets from that in other rulesets are slightly less lame, since I can at least override it easily.

          pop-up ads

          All forms of popups annoy me, including interactive ones launched from links. I can open my own new windows and do not like being forced to do so. Ever.

          notices telling me to "Get a Better Browser" or change my resolution, etc., to whatever their clueless developer prefers

          I especially hate ones on CSS-designed sites where they generally appear in blocks set to display: none; as if they need to appologise for not making a site look wonderful in an ancient browser.

          Of course, if their site doesn't serialize properly and lacks the semantic markup to make it readable without CSS, they have a lot to appologise for :)

          main site content or navigation that's nonfunctional without some feature not present or disableable in some browsers

          Yeah, I just *love* it when pure flash sites just display an empty white page when I load them. It gives me a nice warning that it probably doesn't have much worth looking at.

          any use of A HREF="#" as a link

          Yes, showing a huge lack of understanding on the developer's part. javascript: links are just as bad; the HTML event model is there for a reason!

          any use of ".htm" as the extension for HTML documents instead of the more proper ".html"

          Personally I'd prefer a lot fewer extensions everywhere. Especially on CGI/PHP/JSP/CFM generated sites -- I don't care what scripting language your site uses, nor do I want your links to all break when you decide to change CMS or reorganise your scripts. URL's are an abstract resource namespace, not a command line to your filesystem.

          sites that muck around with the link colors so as to make visited and unvisited links the same color

          Other means of identifying them can work quite well, but I do dislike sites which remove the underline from normal links though. Without colour that's about the only way you can identify links.
          • In Mozilla, fonts are resizeable with Ctrl-+ and Ctrl-- no matter how they're specified... I've actually run into sites where I had to step up the fonts two levels this way to make them comfortably readable.
            • I know. Opera goes one step further - zoom scales *everything*, including images, tables, CSS measurements, etc.

              Mozilla has a nice option to set a lower limit for font sizes too; Appearance -> Fonts -> Minimum Font Size.
        • Maybe you should not be aiming all of these at the developers but at the markeing people to?
          There are quite a few things in there that the developer may have no say in.
          • Yeah, marketing types are always worth a few attacks... Recently I stumbled on a website called marketingforidiots.com (selling spamming tools and other crap like that) and my immediate thought was that their domain name was redundant.
  • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:10AM (#4631643) Journal
    ...and what they're looking for. Obviously a site that is impossible to navigate is't going to be very popular, but the savvy user who knows what he/she is looking for will certaintly be more focused on content than presentation.

    Of course, the 'internet surfer', who is typically not looking for anything specific, is more likely to be captivated by 'shiney things'. Given the nature of the study's methods, I'm thinking that was the case.

    Since there was no guarantee that the person in question had any interest whatsoever in what they were showed, how could they honestly judge the page based on *content*?
    =Smidge=
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ...and what they're looking for. Obviously a site that is impossible to navigate is't going to be very popular, but the savvy user who knows what he/she is looking for will certaintly be more focused on content than presentation.


      To point it out to the content-is-almightly people, lousy organization and lack of understanding of audience is part of content. Well organized content with easy to use navigation is a direct reflection on the quality of the content.

      Poor navigation demonstrates the lack of understanding of the audience and how to properly organize content.


      Since there was no guarantee that the person in question had any interest whatsoever in what they were showed, how could they honestly judge the page based on *content*?


      That's very true.
    • agreed.

      the "savvy user" is not hunting around the internet for scrolling marques or 150kb animated gifs - they want content and usability. a good web site should be able to stand alone, without needing endless "pretty" crap to keep the surfer interested.

      google is one of the most visited sites on the internet, and what's on its home page? very little. it loads fast, is highly usable, and serves it's purpose excellently. there are very few sites on the internet that do this well.

      i think most web designers realise this. most pages for the "savvy user" (slashdot being an example) are functional, and really cut through the crap. check out a web site for a less particular demographic (how about disney [disney.com] - oooh! pictures! sounds!), and the site design is certainly different.

      and web design brings about another sore point - browser compatability. seeing as most of the world uses ie now, nobody seems to care about what the pages look like in different browsers. i'd never use netscape (personally, i use opera [opera.com], but i wish they'd get their game together just so there'd be more variation in browsers. those responsible for making the browsers would have to stick to the standards [w3c.org] more closely, which would lead to greater browser compatability for all sites (hopefully!).


      chris.
  • Um (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Content is important, but if you make it hard to get at it'd be bad. I don't think people go to a site looking for info, say 'this is ugly' and decide to try and find a prettier site to get their info from. If you're a web designer or a graphic design guy, and your webspace looks bad, then the content would have more to do with it...it really depends on your sites focus / intended audience.
  • Mindless sheep (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jukal ( 523582 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:12AM (#4631646) Journal
    Of course, the study's methodology might have something to do with the results...

    Yes, if you invite mindless sheep, it is quite likely that it is reflected in your results. In this case, it turns the whole study into a very good case of black humor :)) From here [consumerwebwatch.org].

    We began recruiting participants in May 2002 by contacting nonprofit groups, such as the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation, and offering a $5 donation for each supporter who completed the study

    *** Why not read an analysis of the Slashdot Effect [openchallenge.org] instead :))

    • Re:Mindless sheep (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jukal ( 523582 )
      Of course, the study's methodology might have something to do with the results...

      Oh one more thing. Atleast I have noticed that I tend to nowadays first have a look in the methodology used to do the study, especially if it is related to the internet. Otherwise, you might just after reading a gazillion of pages realize that the whole study is absurd.

    • *** Why not read an analysis of the Slashdot Effect instead :))

      Why do you incessantly plug that page? Just put it in your sig and get it over with. Putting it at the bottom of each post in addition to your sig is pretty annoying.
  • and people look at the pretty colors? 85% of my online time is learning new things, researching topics, etc. I don't give a rat's ass how "pretty" the page is....Hell, I use w3m half the time (in emacs)..
  • by WolfWithoutAClause ( 162946 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:15AM (#4631651) Homepage
    The design/look of their consumer webwatch website is much too poor for me to ever buy their conclusion. ;-)
  • by The J Kid ( 266953 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:17AM (#4631655) Homepage Journal
    Simple.

    1. Does it have what I'm looking for.
    2. Is it easy to get there.
    • Um, on what basis do you say that? Doesn't that contradict the study? Maybe you're able to tune out all the visual stuff, but sounds like most people form an opinion about credibility way before they get to the content.
      • ah, but that is just the thing....

        all the 'visiual stuf' should be clearly pointing too the content and clearly indicating what type of content.

        And even if text is considerd 'less visual' by most people (you know what I mean) it's still dramaticly powerfull and should be used with care, just like images.

        It's important as a web-dev too realise that because some devs still have the notion of "text is small so lot's of that, images big so little to none of that" which is completely against all web-design rules.
        This is not as bad as "I got broadband, so I put lot's of pics on!!11" which some silly people are thinking, even when designing public info sites!

        The thing is too look clean and purposefull, just check google.com [google.com] for an example.
  • NO FLASH (Score:1, Interesting)

    by spoonist ( 32012 )
    Sites that do not use Flash [macromedia.com] get my Seal of Approval [nwsource.com].
    • Optional Flash (Score:5, Insightful)

      by evenprime ( 324363 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:27AM (#4631670) Homepage Journal
      Spoonist said: Sites that do not use Flash get my Seal of Approval

      I don't have a problem with sites using flash liberally, so long as they provide a non-flash way to get to the same information on the web site. This is especially important for an index page...you ought to allow people into the site without them having to wait for your animation to download.

    • Re:NO FLASH (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:48AM (#4631707)
      Its all about what's appropriate.
      I know some people who hate all web applets on principle. I know a lot of people who hate all flash on principle. But what the whole thing really boils down to is this:

      Does it add anything to the site, without taking anything away?

      Flash with no way to avoid it detracts from the site because people with slow connections are inconvienved. Fancy applets everywhere detract from the site because not all browsers can handle them.
      But applets that add optional extra usability, or flash navigational elements with a HTML alternative are fine by me.
      • And often times, if flash is used correctly, things like navigation bars can end up as a much smaller download than if they were implemented with images, making it better for people with slow connections.
      • Using HTML 4 and CSS you can do the same as 90% of what people do with flash applets, and it's compatible with most browsers except the older ones; and in that case, it degrades gracefully. E.G. it might not look good but it works.

        Flash is undersupported on Linux. Makes browser crash and stuff quite often. Annoying.
      • The reason why I detest Flash by default is that if I have ever seen a use of flash where it actually adds something to the site without taking something away, I can't remember it.

        True, Flash can make downloads of, say, navigation bars smaller by using vectors rather than bitmaps. But there is an easier way: Use text in your navigation bars!

        The Art of Illusion [sf.net] page is an example of what I'm talking about. When it was being renovated, they made the logo smaller so that you could see the content easily while still seeing the logo. Then the nav bars on the top and bottom were added. It's a nice clean design, very compatible with other browsers, even though it isn't much to look at if you associate pretty pictures with quality.

        • Re:NO FLASH (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          I have a short attention span. I need moving and flashing things to attract me.

          The Art of Illusion page borred me after the first sentence. So I still don't know what this site is about, since I continued elsewhere my quest for more exciting eye candies.
      • Saddly, flash is rarely used well, and even when it is, it is still DIFFERENT than using ordinary html.

        First, I wait for the page I was previously viewing to disappear.

        Then, I wait for something, anything, anything at all to appear.

        Something renders on the screen... usually its a nav bar or something uninteresting I've seen before, but I look at it anyway because I'm still waiting.

        Finally, useful information appears and I begin looking at it.

        However (on most sites), as images and other stuff comes in, it all reformats and moves around, so I don't get a good look at it yet.

        Finally, everything is loaded and (at most sites) something is animated and highly distracting. Most people learn to ignore it... I personally use Mozilla and set it to stop animating after one loop, and I use use junkbuster to filter most of the crap. But sometimes I use someone else's computer and I'm reminded of what an annoying mess most web pages are.

        But eventually, the animations stop or are ignorable, and I can start actually reading the page, looking at its photos or illustrations, interacting with a form, or begin looking for a link to take me to what I ulimately want, or do whatever it is I'm actually going to do with the web site.

        But not if it's Macromedia Flash... the waiting game has only just begun....

        No, not with flash sites. I've already suffered through waiting for the page to load, waiting for the browser to finally format everything where it goes, and I've managed to ignore the advertising in one way or another. That ought to be enough, but not for flash.

        Now I have to look at some additional "still loading", usually with nice pretty animation, but I'm still waiting with nothing USEFUL to look at.

        Once it finally is finished loading, do I get something useful as rapidly as my computer can render it... NO. That's too easy. With Flash, it's always got to roll, fade, or somehow come into my field of view in a slick, animated way that takes too damn long.

        But it's not over. I'm not a fast reader (many people are), but nearly all flash applets choose to slowly present me with more stuff. Usually it's because they'll remove the previous thing as they show something else. Often it's a long progression of things.

        I simply don't want to wait. I already waited for the page to load, which is longer than normal due to the applet being larger than html/jpg, and then I have to wait as the applet loads more data, and even then I have to wait as it animates slowly. And all that, often just to end up following a link to get to what I _really_ wanted.... all flash ever seems to do is slow me down. Even with infinite bandwidth, it's still TOO DAMN SLOW.

  • by jhol ( 301546 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:18AM (#4631657) Homepage
    It's a combination of the two, design + content, that makes a site sell and be credible.

    A site which has no content but has a nice design is pretty worthless, and a site with a lot of content but no way of finding the information you need easily is just a way to scare off customers.
  • Very obvious (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tanveer1979 ( 530624 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:19AM (#4631659) Homepage Journal
    Looks count. So if your webisite aint good to look at content can take a walk. This is a simple truth in this world. Suppose a merc looked Like Lada(that russian car you see in bond movies) I doubt if many people would pay the moolah.

    Of course a pretty webpage is no excuse for bad content. Just looks will ensure that people visit your front page and dont really come back. For the invitation you need the eye candy, for the substance you need content. so you need balance.

    However some webpages are all eyecandy and everything else is a pain. A proper balance is needed. A good example of balance is this site. [slashdot.org]

    Then CNN [cnn.com] is also an okay example though it gets a bit cluttered.

    Sadly, most webdesigners use some invalid M$ only code in their website, and non windows ppl have a problem surfing. These guys realize that 95% of surfers wont mind the nonsense.
    This is web democracy majority rules. Most sites which are coming up new are focusing all on eye candy.

    You have other extremes too. Some people want to make it easy for lynx users, result, sites look good only in lynx! This is going too much over the board. IMHO a good site should have valid HTML, and simple valid javascript. Also a site map is a must. I really hate those sites with lots of clutter. Looking for info is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Perhaps if they put some good search engine on the front page. As far as that is concerned even /. is horrible. The search engine can take some serious work. Otherwise I just love it, its simple, has never crashed my browser and dosent take too much time to load.

    • You have other extremes too. Some people want to make it easy for lynx users, result, sites look good only in lynx! This is going too much over the board. IMHO a good site should have valid HTML, and simple valid javascript. Also a site map is a must. I really hate those sites with lots of clutter. Looking for info is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Perhaps if they put some good search engine on the front page. As far as that is concerned even /. is horrible. The search engine can take some serious work. Otherwise I just love it, its simple, has never crashed my browser and dosent take too much time to load.

      First off, HTML's primary use is to tag info; it's not a display language, there's no way you can control display in all computers/browsers. The idea here is using CSS; you'd want to seperate design from content.

      Second, most intra-website-search engines simply suck. I recommend Google; you type your keywords and "site:yourwebsite.com". It works, unless the info you want is behind passwords etc.

    • by evenprime ( 324363 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:48AM (#4631705) Homepage Journal
      tanveer1979 said:
      Looks count. So if your webisite aint good to look at content can take a walk. This is a simple truth in this world.


      I don't believe that holds true for all users or all types of information. The more detailed the information you seek, the less concerned you are with the look of the site. Example: I've been thinking about building a guitar, and have literally spent hours reading articles at Frank Ford's site [frets.com]. That's one of the plainest web pages you could imagine, but the information there is pure gold.
      • by bjfogg ( 624376 )

        (Finally, after years of lurking here I post . . . )

        As the lead researcher on the web credibility paper, I can say that we were a bit surprised and disappointed that people were so influenced by the design look of the web site. We'd hoped people would be more rigorous. But the data said otherwise.

        Not *everyone* focused so heavily on the visual design. Some people in the study said design didn't matter. Yet the reality is that most people evaluate politicians and TV news in this same superficial way: style over substance.

        We didn't include this variable in the study, but it's likely that people with "high need for cognition" (e.g., folks who spend weekends doing research or reading slashdot) evaluate sites differently than people who spend the weekend watching TV.

        Beyond the psych variables, web cred evaluation also hinges on user task and context and a bunch of other factors that have never been studied. The web cred study we did with Consumers Union is a broad overview -- and certainly not the final word.
        • I don't see why this is surpriseing. If the content is hard to find on a site or hard to read people will go elsewhere. I thought that this was self evident.
        • These are my thoughts:

          It takes a skilled designer to make a page look nice, clean and proffesional, much much harder than most people think.
          A skilled worker would get paid lots of money.
          Usaly, only large, creditable and sucsessful companies would ever spend lots on the look and feel of their site (since when was the last time you saw a nicly layed-out pr0n site?).

    • Uh,... slightly off topic, but NOBODY I know ever called the car "Lada" in USSR. It was called "Zhiguli".
      Lada was the brand name they invented later to be able to sell the cars outside USSR. (I believe the story went that the term "Zhiguli" sounded really improper in Hungarian). And the cars in Bond movies were all old models (newer ones are now called "Lada" even in Russia, but the ones you refer to are old models, predating that).

      On-topic. Eye candy in web design wins over content. 100% proven by my own sad example at work. And not for Joe Schmoe, but for high level managers.
      -DVK

      -DVK
    • Lada(that russian car you see in bond movies)

      The Lada models I know were licensed by the Soviets from Italian Fiat. Then they maybe added those wipes for the lights.

      Niva (4x4) and Zil (limousines) were original Soviet designs, I think.
  • by Subcarrier ( 262294 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:19AM (#4631661)
    ...and neither are you. That's why we're both reading Slashdot.
  • In my experience most times the usability and the content of a side are proportional

    While there are exceptions, of course, most pages with good content don't concentrate as much on stupid layout-questions (how many i-frames can I use on the square inch and should this border be one pixel to the left or to the right) but focus on making the content accessible.

    Only pages with nothing worth to look at concentrate on eye-candy.

    (As I said, there are exceptions this is more a general observation)

    • While there are exceptions, of course, most pages with good content don't concentrate as much on stupid layout-questions (how many i-frames can I use on the square inch and should this border be one pixel to the left or to the right) but focus on making the content accessible.

      But the best websites seem to do both. e.g. amazon.com [amazon.com], cnn.com [cnn.com]. They make truly extensive use of tables and images to present headers, trailers, footers, concurrent columns, etc in a very appealing eye-candy way. They are even navigable from browsers like lynx, because they've avoided imagemaps and flash (which I regard as truly unnavigable).

  • Google and Design. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Cydonian ( 603441 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:30AM (#4631676) Homepage Journal

    Here's an alternative thesis.

    Is it possible to say that poorly designed websites reflect a certain apathy on the web designer's part? Surely (the argument goes), if designers didn't care enough about the design, they wouldn't have cared enough about the info they provide.

    Now, that's a statement that wouldn't apply to me. I use Opera 6.05 to navigate, so I get more than my usual share of poor design (bad html, javascript, MS-proprietary tags etc). However, personally I don't care; my focus has always been on finding the info I want, for which I use the excellent the find-in-page and the google search buttons that Opera provides.

    Bottomline: It's probably not poor navigation per se, but a bad impression on the viewer.

  • Ever suspected (or feared) that web users are mostly mindless sheep evaluating your website more by the eye candy than your carefully crafted content?

    well, that's how i evaluating /., it has so many cute icons...Einstein, penguin...to mention just a few...
  • by NBarnes ( 586109 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @07:49AM (#4631708)

    Code that runs perfectly but is uncommented, undocumented, and mostly consists of one 3000 line file titled main.cpp with five methods == bad code

    The distinction between information and data is critical. If Site A has the data I want, but Site B has it and has already intelligently decomposed it into information for me, then Site B wins. It's not even a distinction that only matters to non-power users; any thoughtful person will prefer to spend less time digesting data into information and more time applying that information in interesting ways. This is a dynamic that is seen in good coding practice, in (G)UI design, in web design, in short, in any sort of content presentation.

    This is not to defend presentations that _obscure_ the information being presented, but rather to highlight the importance of _correct_ content presentation. Clarity of presentation is a creature of balance; neither too little nor too much. If Flash can make your information clearer, use it. If Flash obscures your information, ditch it.
  • Sus about the name (Score:2, Interesting)

    by LordLucless ( 582312 )
    After three years of researching Web credibility, the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab...

    Persuasive Technology Lab sounds a bit ominous to me. I think the real agenda of this group is to come up with some sort of "persuadatron" a la Syndicate.
    This "webpage design" survey was just a test run to see how many pointless sites they could "persuade" people into appreciating.
  • Apparently when we speak, 80% of what is heard is how we say it, and the rest is a mix of everything else, with the actual message taking a thin piece of the pie. Maybe that's a factor?
  • geek.is-a-geek.com [is-a-geek.com]

    I don't know whether to prefer the content or the presentation!

    (p.s. it's funny)

  • YUCK! (Score:2, Funny)

    by dolo666 ( 195584 )
    Who in their right mind would be able to read a site [consumerwebwatch.org] with that horrible tone of blue? And they aren't using PHP so we know the report is bogus, right guys?
  • Well duh! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by croftj ( 2359 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @08:06AM (#4631735) Homepage
    Of course they judged the books first by their cover. We do it with books, with the people we meet, with stores at the mall and around town!

    We need to do that. It helps us decide whether we want to pursure things further or move on to the next thing. Otherwise we would have to fully investigate everything.

    Does it work 100%? No, but it works well enough that nobody is going to stop doing it.

    • Re:Well duh! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bjfogg ( 624376 )

      Deep thinking is hard work, so most people avoid it whenever possible -- including on the web. The fact is that we humans are "cognitive misers."

      Imagine if we were compelled to investigate everthing in depth, no matter how trivial. This compulsion would likely lead to mental illness or multiple graduate degrees (or even worse -- both!).
  • 98 pages!!!!!!! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by melonman ( 608440 )
    So has anyone actually read the article before posting, and, if so, what are they on?
  • Well.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by FrostedWheat ( 172733 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @08:15AM (#4631744)
    Banner adverts really lower my impression of a website ... *ahem*
  • "No-one claimed to be from Idaho, North Dakota, or Wyoming" (p14). Well, would you?
  • by limekiller4 ( 451497 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @08:23AM (#4631756) Homepage
    michael writes:
    "Ever suspected (or feared) that web users are mostly mindless sheep evaluating your website more by the eye candy than your carefully crafted content? Well, it appears you were right."

    Thanks, michael.

    In other news. water is still wet, the sky is still blue and yes, Barbara Streisand still sucks.
  • And requiring flash or cookies to be enabled doesn't help either.
    • I agree that any site that requires Flash or cookies gets a big thumbs down. I don't think it's the credibility that's harmed, though. It's the usability (principally because of the download times for us modem users in the Flash case).

      If the same site let me see a simple front page with the same content but no Flash animation, so I can download it and use it some time today, then maybe I'd rate it very highly if it still gave me the information I wanted easily.

      If a site provides reasonable defaults without cookies, which it should be able to do if it just uses them to store my preferences as they were intended, then again, WTP? If I want to store the preferences, I'll enable cookies for the site. If not, I won't.

      Even ads don't damage a site's credibility in my eyes, if they're done responsibly. I don't mind a banner ad or two that support a page. I find pop-up ads irritating, but these mostly seem to be put there by web hosting companies rather than the actual authors of a page I'm reading, so I tend to discount them as well. The only ads thing that really hurts a page in my eyes is being nasty about it. If I visit a travel agent's site, and when I've finished I close the window to find seventeen different ad windows for holidays I haven't even asked about, I'm never going back.

      I guess you could argue that even this last case is really usability, but there comes a point where a site is sufficiently hard to use, or disregards the feelings of its visitors to such an extent, that it becomes a credibility problem as well.

  • Totally agree.

    I have reasonably popular LJ - but thought I spend the most time writing longer essays on serious topics, my traffic always spikes around silly stuff like the Photoshop matrix spoof [livejournal.com], my whimsical story on credit-card fraud [livejournal.com] or random picture of a cute asian girl [livejournal.com].

    Content is dead. Long live design!

    *Shrugs* :P

  • No surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Tyreth ( 523822 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @09:04AM (#4631853)
    I have always expected and known this to be the case. It's the same with operating systems. Kde and Windows XP have a professional, clean, consistent look. Even if they both crashed frequently (not saying they do or not), users would still likely favor the one that looks newer, cleaner and more professional.

    When viewing a website that has been carefully constructed to look nice, then you feel like the person has put in a lot of effort. You *think* this means that it has been worked on longer, and more people have had time to view the content, and more thought has been put into it.

    When you see a website with a black background, yellow text, and out of place images, you feel like the person has not put much effort in, and therefore the credibility of the website is suspect.

    Sometimes this may be true, sometimes not, but I'm certain that this should have been obvious without a survey.

    This is why some password thieves spent a lot of time on a fraudulent e-mail that they sent out to many ICQ users, myself included. It looked just like an official ICQ e-mail, every single link and image was loaded directly from the icq.com domain. The only exception was one link - the submit form. So while 99% of users would look at it, click a few links and see it goes to the icq.com website, and see the professional layout - a few would notice it was suspect purely because it was asking for our password because of some security problem.

    We've come to associate professional design with companies, and to us that means quality. Brand name merchandise, clean stores, open spaces, etc. When a website is unclean, it feels like it has been done by a small business, someone without the greater know-how. Problem is, the open-source movement has very few good artists compared to programmers :)
    • "I have always expected and known this to be the case. It's the same with operating systems. Kde and Windows XP have a professional, clean, consistent look. Even if they both crashed frequently (not saying they do or not), users would still likely favor the one that looks newer, cleaner and more professional."

      This is flawed, because then Mac OS X would accelerate tremendously in market share. Unless "professional" means jagged unantialiased crap fonts, gradients in the UI and everything else in dark gray, animated 8-bit gems and what have you (and in the case of KDE, nothing is consistent).

      Mac OS X is the überbabe of operating systems. It's got the sexy looks, but people yet seem to prefer dull looks, frequent crashes, a plethora of viruses, constant security breeches and so on. Must be because of the one-button mouse, or because "2.4 GHz must be better than 1 GHz".
    • "Kde and Windows XP have a professional, clean, consistent look."

      Win2k would probably be considered more "professional" in the eyes of the masses than XP. Many have complained that the latter's default look is a bit Fisher-Pricey. (I thought the look was okay, though.)
  • by digitect ( 217483 ) <digitect@dancinO ... inus threevowels> on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:30AM (#4632086) Homepage

    Is it just me or does everyone interpret sites with tiny font sizes as credible? (The article in point, too.)

    Perhaps it's just a pet peeve, but I would much rather have a sizable (not hard-coded) font size rather than a miniscule one where I can't resize it. To me, usability reflects a level of expertise and understandingand is more likely to garner my optimistic impressions ("credibility") of the site's owner.

    My $0.02.

    • Is it just me or does everyone interpret sites with tiny font sizes as credible? (The article in point, too.)

      On the contrary. Like you, I regard sites that use small font sizes and fix them there using stylesheets as being irritating rather than useful. Like many computer users, I don't have perfect vision, and appreciate a clear layout that I can read without eye strain. I simply won't attempt to read through an article of any length in small type. If a site provides an alternative stylesheet, or defines its font sizes relatively so that I can adjust them to be comfortable, it scores bonus points. Otherwise, it had better hope it works with Moz, where I can override the "fixed" font size anyway.

    • The blame for fonts set in pixels shouldn't really be placed soley on the designers (even though they should be aware of browser bugs). The Browser makers are to blame also. The W3C says that a font defined in ANY unit should be overridable by the browser, that includes pixels.
  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <moiraNO@SPAMmodparlor.com> on Saturday November 09, 2002 @10:41AM (#4632120)
    What's this talk about credibility???
    I go for Sites that have quality!
    www.bbspot.com, for example, looks like crap, but the humors great. If I want satire, I go there.
    www.deviantart.com has near to zilch user communication exept from "Hey, great picture!" but the Art just plain rulez. If I want Art, I go there.
    www.xfree.org looks like someone got paid to make an extra crappy website. But if I want to know more about xfree I'll have to take it.
    www.nosepilot.com has exactly zero user interaction but is the ultimate flash-vector-animation joyride. I look at that movie twice a year. It has credibility for being one of the references in flash.
    slashdot.org and journalisim are wide and far between, but they tend to talk about the stuff I'm interessted in - as far as 'picking interesting stuff' goes, I guess /. is credible. No?
    Quit generalizing.
    But yet again, expierience tells me that good looking sites tend to be good.
    • Anyone who visits xfree.org can pretty much be wiped off the average user list.

      They didn't say every person jugded a site by it's look, it was the majority. /.ers and people who go to sites like xfree.org are clearly in the minority of web users.

  • If a Site offers what I want I'll use it. If not As far as I know everybody else does the same.

    And to all the freaks here jumping to conclusions about good-looking sites == no quality: You don't know squat what you're talking about.
    • And to all the freaks here jumping to conclusions about good-looking sites == no quality:

      Um... Who was that?

      I've seen lots of people indicate that they prefer content to style. (The /. population might well not be representative of the overall population in this respect, of course.) I don't think I've seen anyone suggest that a quality site can't be good looking as well, though.

      • Read the artical again. It says that the majority of people say they judge a site by it's contents, but in reality they're judging it by it's look and AI etc. That different to what you seem to be arguing against.
      • I've seen lots of people indicate that they prefer content to style.

        Your doing the usual mistake here and overlooking a simple fact:

        They way content is delivered (aka "Style") is a subtancial part of the content itself.

        If I write an Essay and print it out in the Font "Impact" you'll know what I mean.
        The, in this case visual, quality and appearance of Data and Information are essential to wether Information can be transported or not.
        • They way content is delivered (aka "Style") is a subtancial part of the content itself. If I write an Essay and print it out in the Font "Impact" you'll know what I mean.

          Ironically enough, you make my point for me. If you don't like an essay that's printed in Impact, you can change the style to print it in a more readable font without affecting the actual content at all. The presentation is improved, without changing any of the information contained within that presentation.

  • Appearance is extremely important, that is why you put on your "sunday best" to go to church, temple, mosque. That is why you wear a suit to an interview or to meet an important client. It has long been shown that attractive people are viewed as more credible than unattractive people.

    We all know that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression," and that applies to websites also.

    The content is not as important as the "believability" of that content. The credibility of that content is based upon the appearance of the site presenting it. If the site is not presenting itself in a professional manner, then a second rate website will be considered to have second rate content.

  • Lemme put it this way the only things I trust less then the web are newspapers, politicians, and lawyers.
  • You can have the greatest content in the world, but if your site requires javascript for simple things like navigation, then you're an schmuck and I'm hitting the 'back' button (or closing the tab, etc).

    There's nothing worse than going to a potentially interesting site and finding that I can't get anywhere because of all the links are of the form "javascript(open_page(lame.htm))". OK, there are a lot of things that are worse than that (murder, John Ashcroft, etc) but I like to overstate things.

    Haven't you guys ever heard of "a href"? It's a perfectly good mechanism for linking, and every browser that supports even the smallest subset of HTML should support it.

    I don't see the point of crippling your interface for the sake of having a fucking picture of a badger flying across the screen every time you follow a link.

  • by mlas ( 165698 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @11:35AM (#4632339) Homepage
    While this study produced some food for thought, I will ingest it with a liberal amount of salt. Whenever you ask people about their comments on a site they just visited, you will invariably get a fair amount of what they think you want to hear. This is why focus groups are suspect; it's an interesting truism that people are bloody poor at articulating what they really want.

    Even with 10 sites per category in several categories to choose from, it's doubtful that any of those sites have content people really want at the given moment. Without providing content that will satisfy a perceived need, of course people are going to respond more positively to the shiny, candy-like buttons...

    The only way to really understand what makes people's web site experiences a satisfying one is to observe people as they surf, and watch their results. Good web design is more like gardening than anything else: plant the site, watch traffic grow, remove some weeds, water with fresh content, fertilize with fresh design. A good strategy is to post alternate designs often, and then watch your traffic logs to see if clickthroughs increase. Amazon, whatever your criticism of them, is great at this... their site changes features and layouts just about weekly. Not enough to make people lost, but menus move, contract, expand; buttons move from GIF to HTML and back; layouts widen and narrow. Then the proof is in the traffic, and the visitor never gets a chance to tell you what they think you want to hear.

    I'm glad to hear the conclusion that good design has value (I'm primarily a designer), but I think this survey is an oversimplification of reality which leads to an oversimplified conclusion.
  • A study resulting from a collaboration between Consumer Webwatch and The Stanford Pervasive technology Lab reports that even though consumers say that they look for content first when evaluating the credibility of a website, they actually focus primarily on design look and information design/structure (i.e. ease of navigation).

    Thats like saying women focus on personality and intelligence first, but we all know that is not true. Looks come first!! .... and that's why I'm single, they dont find me "credible".
  • The modern literature association has some very good text on evaluating a web sites credibility. I expect that most college students had to do with MLA by now. Never the less, they do have good documentation. I suggest getting the book "The everyday Writer"
  • We all know that the average human is one step above a herd animal, that bells and whistles sell much better than reliablity and dependability. The computer monitor is too closely linked with the TV screeen and people have a blind spot ( induced or programmed) with normal truth/veracity verification of things presented via TV. Thanks network advertisers and broadcasters for years of social conditioning, and our government for failing to look out for consumers rights while ensuring profit models for large business's.
  • seeing as money is the root[1] of all evil, the owners must have no revenue from the site. therefore they must be living in their parents attic with ripped and stained jeans and cheap haircuts...

    oh wait, that includes the rumor mill geek sites too :)

    [1] no pun intended
  • by Mustang Matt ( 133426 ) on Saturday November 09, 2002 @01:26PM (#4632865)
    http://validator.w3.org/ [w3.org]

    Go there now... Make your site compliant... Resistance is futile... (Slashdot doesn't pass)
  • Most (it could said all) of the people in my high school (students and teachers alike) judge the web site based on the eye candy. On one occasion, a teacher told us to look for truths about Canola oil. Well, most students found some pretty interesting reads that they though to be pretty true, on websites like urbanlegends.com and truthorfiction.com. I was all over that computer lab trying to convince the teacher that the articles were just opinionated, but to no avail!
    I even lost a girlfriend because of this. She was a major animal rights activist and had found a website that showed a few pictures and a few "facts" about animal abuse. The page was done completely in flash so it looked nice, even if it was basically someone's homepage. Well, you might be able to imagine I was against her saying this was real and this is what really happens... It didn't end well.
    It should be required in grade-school to teach kids about the difference of creditable sites and personal opinions!
  • It is the perSUasive not "pervasive" computing lab.

    Persuasive tech is about "psychosocially active" computing (and other) technologies, ie. that affect motivation, persuasion etc. The paradigmatic example is "Baby think it over" [btio.com], the doll given to teens to make them think twice about getting pregnant. (There's even a special "crack baby" model I think.)

    But in the last couple of years BJ Fogg (the guy behind persuasive tech) has completely focused on web trust, which is a lot less interesting than the original program IMHO.

    Pervasive computing, in contrast, is another term (originally IBM:s I think) for Ubiquitous Computing [ubiq.com]. Something quite different in fact.

    www.research.ibm.com/thinkresearch/pervasive.shtml [ibm.com]
    www.computer.org/pervasive/ [computer.org]
  • A study resulting from a collaboration between Consumer Webwatch and The Stanford Pervasive technology Lab reports that even though consumers say that they look for content first when evaluating the credibility of a website, they actually focus primarily on design look and information design/structure (i.e. ease of navigation).

    Well, duh!

    This is how any recognition process works.

    A better question would be "what is it that turns users off of a sight when they've been there for a while?"

    As for me, once I see the first spelling error, the site credibility takes a nose dive.
  • --my criteria preferences are content and useability. Obviously I want the content I am seeking, but I dislike sites that use active scripting for links. C'mon, is this really necessary? Sucks. I cruise with javascript and images (most of the time) off for instance, I detest having to go turn it on and reload the page just to go to the next link, or freeking image buttons with no alt text so you can't see what they are supposed to link to. That's just freaking lazy on the webperson's fault. Pure lazy.

    Besides that I don't mind ads at all, sometimes there's something I want to look at in an ad, I'll go there. I have animations set to run once, so that fixes that. If flash won't let me proceed, too bad, I trash the site, their loss. Rest of the time if it's something I'm not interested in I ignore it, same as television, it's never bothered me. Frankly, I appreciate the advertisers helping to pay for content. that's how it works, well, until the ISP's stop ridiculous restrictions on private hosting, and until it's as easy as installing one program to bypass using an isp at all and just lease the wire for joe user. It sure would be bogus to have to actively pay for every web page and log in with another cookie and etc, there's enough of that already. The only other thing that is mildly annoying are websites that assume everyone makes 100 grand a year and lives in some urban nirvanaland and is on a broadband connection with a multi gighz processor machine and some near-wallsized monitor, now THAT is annoying on an older slower computer. I know that a several year old computer is considered ancient now, but uhh, why is that again? what for? A website that's bloat-coded for just new and fast is the same as telling me I can't use the road unless I own a brand new ferrari, that elitist crap can go blow too. Screw that site. And the browser/os specific pages, puhleeze, go away, just say no to internet monopolies.

    I guess that'senough of a rant, what I LIKE is decent modest sized pages, not too many graphics per page, no automagical plugins, I want to CHOOSE via clicking if I want some doo dad to run, and I want "truth in linkvertising", I want a link to take me to what is really claimed to be there,no more and no less, not a tease, popup, pop under, or other nonsense of that type. In other words, don't choose for me, let ME choose please.
  • Contrary to popular /. belief, good design does matter, and here's why: If you were a website owner and planning on generating traffic and gaining a good reputation, you would make sure you have two things - good content, and good design. When users go to sites by big companies they know will be around for a long time like IBM, Dell, Yahoo, etc., and see an attractive and professional layout, they begin to associate that with trust. No-one believes that these companies are being anything but completely honest on their websites. Compare that with teds-sweet-deals.com with crappy layout and an ugly page. It looks like a fly-by-night operation and it certainly doesn't look like Dell.com, so who are you going to trust?

    That being said, I think users know the difference between an e-commerce site and a personal non-profit site, and there's lots more leeway in the latter case, which can actually backfire for companies that like to astroturf. An example of this is websites for Amanda Latona [ms-amanda.org] (a wannabe pop diva being groomed by the major labels for commercial success). A lot of the "fan" websites seem a little too slick to be real.
  • When I'm looking for information, I use many of the same methods to determine the credibility of the information as I would in real life:
    • Who wrote the information?
    • Would the author benefit in some way from misinforming me? (If I'm looking up the molecular weight of iron, I probably don't need to worry about intentional misinformation.)
    • Does the author use objective language where I think he should use subjective language?
    • When the author talks about things I already know about, is he correct and does he seem to be unbiased?
    • If it's a news article, do I trust the editors of the newspaper and am I aware of any bias that the newspaper has?
    • Is the information reasonable?
    When I am considering purchasing from a site, I'm reluctant rely solely on its content and looks, because both can be stolen from other web sites. Instead, I do one or more of the following:
    • Check for a nice-looking domain name and URL.
    • Use the Google Toolbar to check the site's PageRank.
    • Search Google for the company's name to make sure the first result matches the URL I have.
    • Make sure contact information is easy to find.

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