Sunday, November 21, 2004


Fake filters

I'm getting concerned about the emergence of "fake filters" on sites that appear to be user enhancements but actually hurt the user experience.

Users increasingly want to see content only relating to their needs, and no one else's. So web developers increasingly offer users different options to filter content on their sites: things like profile questionnaires and product selectors. So far so good. But this information has some valuable market intelligence for the site owner. They can see not only what page was visited, but how users classify themselves, and their needs. That information can be useful to improving the content for users, to see the users' priorities. The information can be valuable for other marketing reasons, and if not tied to user content, can degrade usability.

A simple example. I was looking this week at the web site of a US telecom. It asks the user to first indicate what size firm it is. The user might reasonably expect to see information tailored to companies its size in return for the extra effort of answering the question. But the question turns out to be bogus. Regardless what the user clicks, he is taken to the same content. Perhaps it was just a stupid gimmick to make the user feel special. Or perhaps the telecom wanted to find out the number of employees of firms visiting the site. Either way, the user gets nothing for his effort.

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