I’m continuing this particular Twitter-originated conversation here because, yanno, some conversations are best held without a 140-character limit … despite the fact that I think that Twitter is a wonderful tool for many purposes.
For those of my readers who are not @PhotoEphemeris on Twitter, and haven’t been following this particular Twitter-based conversation, I’ve provided the above snapshots of tweets so that you can have context for this particular blog post. Here are links to the original tweets between me and PhotoEphemeris: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that, based on the way that the PhotoEphemeris person or people have interacted with me so far, it may very well be that tweets two, four, six, and/or ten may wind up being deleted in response to this blog post, which is part of the reason why I’ve taken graphic snapshots of them (and, in any case, it’s already a public conversation). But then, that’s just a wild guess. I may be wrong.
@photoEphemis: I initially reported that your website is rendering strangely for two primary reasons: partly because its incompetent design left me unable to find basic sales-driving information, and partly because I think that putting one’s best foot forward, as it were, is important. I’d become aware of your product due to a positive review on a website whose feed I follow. It looked like a useful product, and I wanted more info, but was unable to find it because of heavily overlapping objects and other rendering weirdnesses on your website.
I pointed this out to you not just because I couldn’t find the information that I wanted, but because it makes you look bad. Because, after all, the thing is that, regardless of what add-ons I’m using in Firefox, well over 99% of websites display correctly, and it is, in fact, possible to create websites that display properly regardless of how I’ve configured my standards-compliant browser, and to design websites that degrade gracefully under suboptimal browser configurations. No, I don’t necessarily expect you to design for every possible browser and browser configuration, and people who are using Lynx or Lunascape or AOL Explorer 1.3 or Billy Joe Bob’s Minimalist Web n’ Sister’s Shower Webcam Browser are going to be used to seeing that some websites don’t display as the designer imagined that they might. But we’re not talking about Lynx or Epiphany or Opera or Safari here: we’re talking about Firefox, a browser used by nearly a third of those browsing the web (and, incidentally, about 85% of Firefox users use at least one add-on). Website design is a time-consuming process — I understand that — and it involves choices: I also understand that. What I was pointing out is that, as it seems to me, your desire to use a fairly complex layout that invents HTML tags and attributes and disregards basic HTML structural and nesting rules, and your desire integrate Twitter widgets and similar pieces of web 2.0 trendiness, seem to have eclipsed (what I take to be) one of the basic purposes of your website: to drive sales. More generally, it seems to me that you’ve chosen layout coolness over the actual presentation of information in a useful, readable format.
After all, I’m a busy guy who works 80+ hours a week, and photography is a hobby for me; my free time is precious, since there’s so little of it, and although it might be that using a different browser and/or a different computer would result in an acceptably rendered website, I find the necessity to do this annoying. You lost a potential sale here because I’m not willing to start up a second browser or borrow my girlfriend’s laptop and check whether a website that uses the mythical <emphasis> tag might — just might — happen to render correctly under those circumstances: my free time is precious to me, and I’m not going to spend five minutes, or even fifteen seconds, of it working around your web designer’s incompetence. My assumptions were that, if I’m having this problem, it’s almost certainly not unique to me, and that you may be losing other sales as well. I thought you might appreciate knowing this. What I got in return was a set of defensive tweets insisting that (a) it was my fault for not reading your web designer’s mind and knowing that only bleeding-edge versions of the two most popular operating systems are “acceptable” viewing scenarios, and that (b) pointing out your web design problem hoats yo’ po’ whittow feewings.
I pointed out your presentation problem for the same reasons that, if my department were hiring, and I saw a nervous-looking stranger in a suit waiting outside of the department chair’s office, I would let him know if his fly were open: not because I’d be hoping that he would whip out a wad of cash with which to reward me, nor that I’d hope this would lead to a beneficial professional relationship, nor even that I think I’m entitled to live in a world without open flies, but just because it’s the decent thing to do, and because I hope that someone would let me know if I were in that situation. Do unto others, yes? I hope that someone would tell me if I were about to go into a job interview with my fly open. That’s what I was trying to tell you: your fly is open, and your potential customers see their pre-sales interactions with you as a job interview.
Moreover, I’ve interpreted the conversation that we’ve had as a sample of how your company deals with (potential) customers and (potential) tech support situations. Going back to the fly-open-before-the-job-interview metaphor, I’d expect someone for whom I’d just done the favor of informing him of that particular presentational problem, if not to thank me, then at least to look into the situation and correct it, and to behave decently to a stranger who’d just done him a favor. What I got in exchange in was the equivalent of “Hey, my fly isn’t down. Maybe you should check the configuration of your glasses" and "Well, feel free to zip my fly up for me if it bothers you so much, dickhead.” Or, to re-invoke my earlier claim that you have to make a choice between devoting time to functionality and devoting time to coolness, it’s as if you told me to go screw myself, because all the cool kids are walking around with their flies open these days, and what fucking business is it of mine, anyway? — and, in this case, I’d certainly make sure that the chair of my department knew about our interaction, because I think that, in that circumstance, he might want to know about how the job candidate had interacted with a stranger who’s already in the department. (Treating the attempt to gather sales as if it were a job interview is, I think, a fair metaphor in many ways. This is a secondary motivation for me to write a blog post on the subject: I have a sneaking suspicion that our interaction is a fair indication of your company’s attitude towards customers, and other potential customers might want to know how you’ve interacted with me, so I’m grouping together our [already public] conversation in a set of images above and commenting on it.)
If I were to purchase your app, and it didn’t work for me, would I receive a better response from your company than what I’ve received so far? Or would I get a “here’s the source code, don’t hold back from fixing it for us, you interfering asshole” or “oh, this particular app is not guaranteed to work on iOS devices on which the last.fm app has ever been installed” — a rough equivalent to “oh, our web site is only designed to be viewed on browsers with a particular (non-publicized) configuration and that support tags our incompetent coders have invented on the fly”? Are you more likely to treat me decently after I’ve already given you money than you do when I’m merely a potential customer?
If you feel that I’ve been unfair or snarky, well, then, I apologize. But I might point out that some of your replies have been equally snarky; and I note that our conversation has ended with you blocking me on Twitter. While you can, of course, treat your web presence in any way that you’d like, I wonder (again, in the context of imagining potential future tech-support conversations) about the wisdom of paying money to a company that shuts down dialogue it finds unpleasant, rather than dealing with the issue at stake in that dialogue. You have competitors, and I’ll do business with them instead. Perhaps other readers of this blog post will as well.
In any case, you asked, “why all the snark?” and I’m assuming you actually want an answer — that your question was not merely rhetorical posturing allowing you to play to an audience. This has been your answer.