For this third post in a series for PRFU 2340, I’ve been asked to research the self-proclaimed usability guru/king, Jakob Nielsen. He’s Danish. I’ve been to Denmark and enjoy pastry and Lego. Let’s get together, Jakob!

Web designers don’t seem to much care for the guy. Several have pointed out the sheer awfulness of his Alertbox site, in terms of user aesthetics, and readability. For example, if the Web is such a visual medium, then why doesn’t the man use some illustrations? Cartoons are nice, but I think Nielsen has about 10 that he’s using over and over again. Most of his articles seem to be a block of text with no headings, minimal line spacing, and only a bit of boldface to signpost the reader’s way through article. And would it kill him to include a bit of white space on either side? (I really my design is hardly perfect either, but in my own defence, I don’t claim to know what the hell I’m doing.) This is a man who charges (allegedly) $35,000 for a half-day of advice on usability?

Perhaps Nielsen has done some damage control, because most of the most virulent criticism I found on him is dated circa 2003/2004. I wonder what’s happened since then, since Nielsen is still happily publishing his web usability gospel on that awful-looking site. Could it be that the much-hyped Web 2.0 (that is, the rise of user-created content) is making advice on reaching out to the passive masses much less relevant?

In Web 2.0, the users are no longer just info-greedy lumps of busy fingers and scanny eyes, but active participants in creating content. (I might have stolen that metaphor from Darren Barefoot, I’m not sure.) Usability for them has to mean making it easy to get that content out there. Sure it would be swell if everyone heeded concepts such as white space, proper spelling, and labeling of links, but it’s all anarchy on the info usability front.

I hate the concept of an “authority” on how the Web should be One/Won. If it were 1994, I’d be out of here singing Rage Against the Machine…

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