Archive for March, 2011

How Sir Richard Branson defended against angry tweets

Posted on: March 28th, 2011 by Fransgaard 1 Comment

The launch of today had a shaky start.

I don’t want to go too much into the political details but if you don’t know what I am talking about have a look at Creative Review’s post on the subject or have a look at the spoof site it triggered only hours after launch.

Lots of angry tweets was instantly launched against #startupbritain:

  • #startupbritain seems main advice for branding is to spend money with US companies
  • Well-trodden today, but #startupbritain linking to a lousy crowdsourcing co. that’s not even UK-based for ‘design’ is an utter embarrassment
  • But all the useful information already available from Business Link. #startupbritain seems to be all about ads for big cos
  • I’m self employed and just beginning to expand the business- #startupbritain is a shallow load of tripe that will end in tears
  • #startupbritain seems to have shit the bed somewhat
  • #startupbritain? Naaaaaaaah

The battle for #startupbritain commences

To be fair there were some positive tweets as well but the majority of the initial twitterstorm was negative… At least to start with.

Then suddenly the following tweet appeared from one of the poster boys of the site; Sir Richard Branson:

Now is the time for young, enthusiastic & nimble companies to set up and thrive. #startupbritain

Within minutes that tweet was retweeted enough times to make it a top tweet which meant it would appear first when looking at the hashtag regardless of how old it is.

And at the time of writing this (3 hours after the tweet was posted) it is still a top tweet having been retweeted more than 100 times probably a lot more.

The tide of the battle turns

In fact, that single tweet was retweeted so many times it thinned out the negative tweets. At some point every other tweet was a retweet of this single positive tweet.

Was it a balanced view? One positive tweet against the hordes of angry tweets?

I personally think it was. As a Tweeter, when you retweet something you can personally vouch for it and you are in agreement with it (unless you state otherwise ofcourse). So while it was the same tweet over and over, it had the backing of a group of individuals agreeing with the meaning of the tweet.

Does it matter that many of the people retweeting probably wasn’t aware of the heated debate on #startupbritain? Not really. They still stand behind the content of the tweet.

It was starting to look like the positive sentiment was winning.

Battle won?

But was it winning?

I started to notice more and more eggs, the default profile picture of new Twitter accounts.

I then started looking into the retweeting Twitter accounts and found many of them where in fact scam or spam accounts leeching on the popularity of Richard Branson’s Twitter account and possibly the sudden surge in the #startupbritain.

Suddenly part of the winning positive sentiment was in fact represented by hollow bots having no opinion or interest in the real topic at hand.


I don’t have any concrete data on how many positive or negative tweets there were. Nor do I know how many were real voices and how many were bots.

I did watch the development closely from the outset and I can put my name to the account above.

Was the conversation hijacked? Not completely, but at some point I didn’t feel the conversation itself had lost. Lost to the pointless bots ruining a heated, but healthy discussion.

Did you witness or participate in the event? What do you think?



Mind the user experience gap

Posted on: March 28th, 2011 by Fransgaard 1 Comment

The original version of this article can be seen at the Capgemini – Capping IT Off blog.

According to Race Online 2012 there are “9 million adults in the UK who have never used the Internet“ that’s a fifth of the adult population.

Back in the good old pre-Dot-com-crash days we, as web designers, used to make fun of how little the clients understood, but the truth is we were all just insecure and learning about the possibilities of this new digital world in parallel with our clients. The Internet was new to all of us.

Today is different. We are either experienced veterans or young web professionals with a degree in interactive design. We lead the way for other power users including our clients who are all web savvy as well by now.

As such it is easy for us to forget that the Internet is still a new frontier for many people. There are still a significant number of entry-level users facing the same obstacles we did… or worse.

It is easy for us to forget that the Internet is still a new frontier for many people. There are still a significant number of entry-level users facing the same obstacles we did… or worse.

Today’s websites are often geared towards power users with next door to no patience. We provide nicely designed portal sites with lots of options for the web savvy user. But what looks like a great collection of helpful road signs to you and me might as well have been hieroglyphs written upside down to a person who have never accessed the Internet

And while the veteran web users have had the chance to grow up with an increasing complex web experience, entry-level users are thrown into the deep end. The equivalent would be to ask a person who have never even driven a car to fly a multi-million fighter jet while being attacked by a fleet of Martians.

No I am not exaggerating here’s an example:

The day I deleted the entire Internet for my dad

Some years back, after spending a significant time teaching my dad how to use a computer mouse, I created an email account for my dad on one of my domains. A while later I needed to move servers so asked him whether he was using his email at all. Having never received an email from him the answer “No” came as no surprise.

I wiped my domain and moved it to a different server.

A few months later my dad called complaining that the Internet was gone. After a bit of questioning it turned out that the Internet to him was the links inside emails from his friends. If he wanted to visit a website he would find the appropriate email and click the link.

He had no understanding of the difference between emails and browsers. To him his emails were the Internet. I had effectively deleted the whole Internet for my dad when I wiped his emails!

What can we do to help entry-level users?

Just because a person has never used the Internet doesn’t mean they are stupid. Nor does it mean that they no experience with digital surfaces.

Ofcourse we can create user journeys and a web interface based on the assumption that everybody coming to the website are entry-level users, but realistically that is never the case so we have to maintain some sort of complexity not to scare (or bore) power users away.

The first step is to look at interfaces the entry-level users are familiar with from their everyday lives and there are loads:

  • TV – Very few people have televisions without a digital interface or a remote control.
  • TeleText – An obvious extension of the TV interface.
  • Games consoles – A lot of money goes in to developing super simple interfaces everybody can understand.
  • Kitchen appliances – They all come with digital interfaces these days.
  • Car dashboards, toys and work machinery also give hints to good interface designs.

We can also help by creating a less scary digital environment and really it is the little things that help such as:

  • Phone number – Nothing is more comforting for an insecure user than to know they can call for help if needed.
  • Chat facility – Eventhough it is a digital entity, entry-level users appriciate the ability to talk to a real person. Fact is, this can even work with a virtual assistant system as long as the illusion of a real person isn’t compromised.
  • Accreditation – For example If the site sells travels, make sure to have industry logos such as ABTA or ATOL. It all goes to create a comfortable environment.
  • Clear labelling – Yes, power users know the logo goes to the homepage and know the box top right is the search box. Entry-level users do not.

And let’s not forget the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. Things like readable fonts, clear links, copy written in plain English all helps entry-level users beomce more confident in their online choices.

It is our responsibility to help

According to Race Online 2012 four of the nine million non-web users are among the most disadvantaged in society (39% are over 65, 38% are unemployed, 19% are families with children).

It is our social responsibility as web professionals and website owners to help them confidently navigate online. And we need to help now as the Internet is rapidly becoming embedded in everything we do and everything we use.

Further reading

Have any experience with helping entry-level users? Or have an opinion on the subject? Please share your thoughts.

The Interactive Stasi – A disturbing trend in social media

Posted on: March 24th, 2011 by Fransgaard 7 Comments

Originally I named this article “Disturbing trend in social media: The interactive big brother is watching you”. But the term “Big Brother” is somewhat washed out and has lost its true dark meaning.

The term “Stasi” hasn’t lost its potency. Stasi was the notorious East German state security department that spied on everybody and turned neighbours into informants. They created a world where nobody could trust anybody not even their closest family members.

Nasty stuff and that is what I want to get across in the title.

We have all heard of people fired for saying something “stupid” on social networks. We’ve also seen some of these actions being overturned in court as companies oversteps the boundaries of privacy. It is painful, but all part of everybody coming to terms with a new world of widely accessible information.

However, I recently heard a new branch of this tree of evolution which I find quite worrying.

Friend the boss or you’re fired!

A friend of mine is not happy about her boss being a Facebook connection. Ofcourse I suggested just to unfriend the boss. After all Facebook is still a personal network eventhough Mark wants to make it more.

But she told me she couldn’t as it was an unwritten requirement at her work to Facebook friend the boss!

Let me spell this out: If you do not friend your boss on Facebook, you do not get (or keep) the job! And this is not just a single crazy individual; it is expected across the organisation which is one of larger organisations in the country and one that actually should know better than to nurture this kind of behaviour.

Many of you will instantly think: “Why not create a filter that blocks the boss’ view?” But this is not practically feasible because:

  • My friend is not a power-user and creating privacy filters in Facebook is rocket science for most.
  • The boss would eventually figure this out unless she would fill her Facebook with bogus updates.

There is no way around it. There are no supporting laws, no cultural guidance… and the real worry here is that the story takes place in Denmark, one of the countries in the world with most supporting laws and organisations for employees.

If a trend like this can flourish in a protective country like Denmark what chance do the rest of the world’s population have?

Following this trend into the near future

It is easy to imagine where this will go: My friend will started censoring everything they do on Facebook. She was an avid Facebook user before but entries will start to dry out and the few left will be ghostly shades of their real intention.

My friend’s social profile will wither and die along with her trust in social networks. It is as simple as that.

Looking even further ahead it is easy to imagine new unwritten requirements demanding employees to post favourably about the company. Social media’s real value is the trust between its members. We have all seen examples of hidden agendas and ghost posting on various networks and they immediately remove that trust and make us unfollow the culprit.

But if it becomes a widespread phenomenon holding employees social opinions as hostages what value does social media have left?

I’d love to hear from you if you have come across anything similar or have an opinion on the subject.