Villing & Company

Three Lessons We Can Learn From Websites That Failed

It’s important to learn from failure as much as success. Often, failure can provide insights that would otherwise be difficult to discover. Throughout the life of the Internet, there have been plenty of high-profile failures, and nearly all of them are useful case studies. The following are three such failures and what we can learn from each.

1. Design for your audience, not for yourself (Digg)
From 2006 to 2010, was a major force in online Internet traffic. Similar to Reddit, Digg was a user-curated, social news website where users could vote on stories to increase their visibility. In 2010, however, Digg redesigned the site to put more control into the hands of publishers, rather than users. While this move was theoretically good for Digg as a company, it was nearly universally hated by users.

This is a classic mistake made on many marketing projects. Often, we have a tendency to make creative and strategic decisions based on our own preferences, rather than considering our audience’s perspective. It’s important to consider the audience’s perspective at every point of a project, from strategy to design to implementation. Otherwise, it’s possible that your communicating a message that’s only effective for your own team.

2. Make it as simple as possible to accomplish basic goals (Google Reader)
Google Reader was a great RSS feed reader that I used daily until it was discontinued last year. Although it had a loyal fan base, it never became mainstream because the concept was too complicated and required too much effort for most people.

We often run into this when building websites when companies want to include too many fields on their online forms or require user accounts for features that shouldn't need them. This is often done to collect sales leads, which can be beneficial to the company, but come at a great cost to the user experience (see lesson 1 above). We always attempt to accomplish the business objectives in a way that is as seamless to the user as possible. Require the minimum effort necessary for your visitors to accomplish their goals.

3. Don’t let creativity trump standardization and usability (Myspace)
The victory of Facebook over Myspace is legendary and there were many factors involved. One major difference between the two sites, however, was the level of customization that was provided to the users. Myspace allowed a lot of creative control, which resulted in profile pages that were “creative” but often unusable. Facebook, on the other hand, locked down profile pages to a single, consistent layout for everyone. Some might even say that the layout was ugly and utilitarian. However, the consistency of the experience and the improved usability helped Facebook become the social juggernaut it is today, while Myspace has continually struggled to remain relevant.

This reinforces the importance of adhering to web conventions and standards in any normal website design. It’s important that visitors immediately know how to use your website and can quickly find what they’re looking for. If you’ve accomplished that objective, there is a lot of room for experimentation and creativity.

There are always a lot of factors that contribute to the success or failure of a project. If we can take the time to learn from both, we have a better chance that our future projects will be successful.

Filed Under: social media

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