Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

We tend to talk a lot about new technologies here on the Scholarly Kitchen — new devices, new services, thoughts about often complex tools to create new ways to present information.  And then, something like this comes along, a stark (if hilarious) reminder that for many, things are already too complex, and the tools we take for granted have not yet been mastered.

Yesterday, ReadWriteWeb posted an article discussing Facebook’s new partnership with AOL and how it connected various popular services.  The problem is that, at least briefly, the article became the top result if you typed “Facebook login” into a Google search.  Why is that a problem?  Well, believe it or not, there are still lots and lots of people out there who haven’t quite figured out how a web browser works.  They don’t understand bookmarking, or even how to type a URL like “” into the address bar.  Instead, they go to Google, type in what they are looking for, and click on the first result.  And so, the comments on this innocent ReadWriteWeb article are filled with angry complaints mistaking the blog for Facebook, wanting to know why the design has changed so much, and why it won’t let them login to their accounts.


It’s a good reminder of the insularity of online communities, and how we tend to take things for granted because everyone we interact with in our small online world thinks about things on the same level.  While we spent days arguing over the shortcomings of the iPad (No multitasking!  No Flash support!), John Gruber notes that we may be barking up the wrong tree:

All this argument over whether the iPad is too simple — if anything it’s probably still too complex.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]
David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is a Senior Consultant at Clarke & Esposito, a boutique management consulting firm focused on strategic issues related to professional and academic publishing and information services. Previously, David was the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He oversaw journal policy across OUP’s journals program, drove technological innovation, and served as an information officer. David acquired and managed a suite of research society-owned journals with OUP, and before that was the Executive Editor for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, where he created and edited new science books and journals, along with serving as a journal Editor-in-Chief. He has served on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc., as well as The AAP-PSP Executive Council. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.


3 Thoughts on "A Technology Reality Check — The Fable of the Facebook Login"

There seems to be a pernicious law in product development that I call the “Law of More” (not to be confused with Moore’s Law). Each new version of an app, website or device has more features than the last, presumably because some users want each new feature, or just because we can do it. As a result the overall complexity of use goes up. Total complexity roughly equals the complexity of each feature plus the complexity of each useful combination of features.

The problem is that each user only has so much time to put into learning how to use the thing, especially new users. (I call this the cognitive budget.) The net result is that usability, measured as the fraction of actually usable features to total features, goes steadily downward. Frustrated users retreat into a niche of simplicity.

A good take on the story is here, suggesting that it should be more of a humiliation for interface designers than for the hapless Facebook users.

Comments are closed.