<TFM> 1.01: Knock, Knock, Can I Come In?

Number 1.1
About TFM | Archives | Number 1.1 (originally published Jan 2001)

Knock, Knock, Can I Come In?

Sometimes the Web is like a bad “knock, knock” joke. But instead of treating us to a bad punchline, it acts as though we don’t exist.

Take Guinness, for example.

In mid-January, a colleague on the PRFORUM list posted a note raving about a new commercial for the classic Irish brew. I (and many like-minded folks) were inspired to follow his lead, since this Canadian communicator has provided us with links to “way cool” commercials before.

I first tried to access the site using Netscape Communicator 4.76 for the PC. I was greeted with a “sorry we didn’t design for your browser” message:

error message

Big sigh. Especially since the site clearly states that it supports version 4 and above of the browser! Grumbling, I switch to Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.5. Guess what? Same error message!

So I tried on my Mac — again, the Web site didn’t like my first choice (Netscape Communicator 4.76). But that didn’t stop the marketing folk from having their way with me — a popup window invited me to “join” and create “My Guinness” account.

marketing pop-up

The site does like Mac MSIE 5.0, however. I was presented with a window asking me to certify that I am “of age” to purchase alcohol and to select a country. Since I’m American, I picked USA.

Once inside, however, I could not find the commercial! The listserv posting said that the link was on the home page. Heck, there was nothing about ads on the home page. Mousing around, I discovered a link to ads — but the image over which I moused was “black” like the rest of the page — in other words, invisible.

To summarize, the first “knock, knock” was the site home page — which remained locked to most of my attempts to enter. The second “knock, knock” occurred as I tried to find the link to the online ads.

In disgust, I posted a note back to PRFORUM outlining my frustrating experience. Several other listserv members shouted “ditto!” [the only people who gained access from Windows machines used Communicator 4.0 or Internet Explorer 5.0].

Oh, Canada!
One problem was easy to identify. The splash screen asks the visitor to pick a country. The original poster had entered “Canada” while the rest of us had entered “USA.” After finding the “change country” link (found on the home page – and the link back to the home page is obscure) and traveling to Canada, behold! There was a link to the commercial!

But even this wasn’t easy sailing, since the resulting popup window had several choices – one had movie in its name and one had ad in its name. Guess which one I picked? Guess which one was the link to the ad in question?

confusing links

Bottom Line
For all intents and purposes, Guinness has a shop that’s open — lights are on, employees are inside — but the front door is locked. All the knocking in the world won’t open it, because the employees inside can’t hear the knocks. And only a few select customers have the right key.

No business in its right mind would act like this in the “real” world. So why would a business tolerate this behavior in their virtual business space?

To compound the aggravation, once inside, the “aisle markers” are ambiguous. Too much time spent trying to be cute and not enough time spent figuring out how the site visitor thinks: otherwise known as using sound information architecture and confirming designs with usability testing.

What are my recommendations?

  1. The first one is easy. Scrap the browser-detect code (or fix it). I found nothing in the site that my blocked browsers could not render. And how did I test this? I used URLs from the “noframes” section of the site and immediately “passed go.”
  2. Ditch cute writing. For example, “Fancy a change?” does not, at first glance, make me think this is the way to look at a different version of the site (versions are based on country).
    On the other hand, I’m not Canadian — maybe this makes sense to that group. Know your audience(s).
  3. Functional links must be clear. The link choices for the Canadian section ads follow. Although it appears that there is only one ad, there are two: one under the video link and one under the ad link.
    • see the video
    • screensaver
    • on location
    • swim black ad
  4. Recognize the limitations of using pop-ups. If you want people to come to your site, make it easy for them to forward URLs to fun content. Using javascript to pop open a browser window annoys some visitors; more importantly, it makes it impossible for someone to forward a direct link to interesting content.
  5. Test image loading. The USA version of the site has an invisible link to ads. If you did not know that the site hosted Guinness commercials, could you find them based on this screen capture? (Parenthetically, guess the home page icon.)
US home

The design of the site reeks of money. And ad agencies. Sizzle. It’s clearly a marketing site. The technical glitches suggest that there was little substantive discussion between IT (web tech) and communications (advertising types).

If ever there was a site that reinforces the need for communications professionals to understand techology, this is it. Web teams must be cross-functional for success, and web communications professionals must understand the technology so that they can converse with IT.

Otherwise, (expensive) PR blunders like this one will continue ad nauseum.

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