Social Web – the good and the bad

Control Alt Delete

FIRST: A blatant plug for our favourite, not-very-well-known band (yes, we know someone in it) Iko. We don’t like them because we know them – we like them because we think they do really good music!

They are on the verge of releasing their second album and have just released a freely downloadable EP. Take a look over at To get the EP you’ll have to email with your name in the subject line.

The Social Web

Web 2.0, the social web, networking, life streaming…whatever you choose to call it I’m quite interested in how people use web-based tools to interact, and I’ve occasionally posted about this in the past.

Lots of people remain skeptical. Facebook is popular but anything else seems to raise eyebrows and questions about what the point is and why it’s so complicated. My wife is sometimes amongst these.

The Good – Ravelry

But for some there is this thing called the “Killer App”. The one little website or program that gets you excited because it has a real use. And some of my female friends (including Sally) have been getting excited about Ravelry. Ravelry is online social-networking for knitters. You can:

  • log what bits of wool you’ve got;
  • log what projects you’re working on and your progress with them – linking to the bits of wool you’re using in that project;
  • register who your contacts/friends are;
  • see what your friends are making and what their progress is;
  • view and download patterns.

And so on. There are lots of cool things you can do with the information on Ravelry too, such as, if you have some wool, you can look up what other people are making with that type/make/colour of wool and use it as inspiration.

I think it’s brilliant site. A really good example of how the web can bring like-minded people together to share ideas and inspire and encourage one another. And the best thing is that it’s NOT full of techie people and it’s drawn in people who probably wouldn’t normally use the web for this sort of interaction.

Well done Ravelry!

The Bad –

This is really an excuse for a website rant. I’m making a vague tie-in to the social-web theme by claiming that Amazon’s expansion into social-networking-type activities is killing it.

Well, actually, maybe it was already dead.

Let’s remind ourselves about Amazon. It was one of the first big online retailers, selling books, music, DVD’s and so on to the masses across the world.

It has since expanded to sell all manner of things, not just from its own warehouses but from a large number of other “marketplace” retailers. It has a complex product reviewing system and, wish lists and customized recommendations.

It was brilliant, quick, easy to use, and sold lots of things that you just couldn’t find elsewhere. And cheap too!

This is all well and good, but it’s starting to go a little far and, as a result, Amazon’s website is now complete information overload!!!

I’d love to paste screen shots but they’re technically copyrighted to Amazon, so I won’t. I will try to describe. There are some long lists here…for which I make no apology.

The homepage tells me about:

  • delivery (and restrictions on delivery)
  • VAT rates dropped
  • link to personalised recommendations
  • link to what to do if I’m a new customer
  • “Your”
  • Deals of the Week
  • Gift Certificates
  • Gifts and Wish lists
  • Search
  • MP3 downloads
  • Clearance shoes
  • Gift certificates (Again)
  • What other customers are looking at Right Now
  • Festive streals
  • New MP3 store
  • Gift certificates (in case I didn’t get it the first two times)
  • Clothing
  • Phillips Imageo candles (2 for £35)
  • and all that before I scroll down at which point I get to see Amazon exclusives, email settings, selling and buying stuff on Amazon, more to explore (do I need any more?), web services for developers, perfect gifts for him, UnderArmour performance apparel, Acer notebooks, best sellers in knitwear, shop kickers shoes, powerballs, health and beauty deals of the week, what customers are wishing for in DVD, a Sky TV advert, find great gifts for all the family, featured stores, where’s my stuff, delivery and returns, help pages, my recent history and a load of inter-site links.

Phew. Oh, and there’s a list of different shop areas to browse, like Music, Books, Electronics, etc.

Most of this is not what I want to see at all. I just want to buy a book and then track the order.

First thing then. I want to buy a book I’ve seen called “Living Africa”. A quick search for this is simple (hooray!) and results are shown in a nice clean search results page with little clutter. This is better. So I select the item I’m after.

One thing that bugs me about Amazon’s marketplace is that it’s not always clear if Amazon are going to ship you the item themselves or if it will come from a smaller retailer that hasn’t yet gained my trust. A small note informs me that this will be dispatched by Amazon (and it’s £15 than we saw it in the shops for…bargain!). While I’m hear, I think, I may as well check out the customer reviews, to see if it’s any good.

And…AAARGRH! I then get information overload again! Customer reviews is now 4 pages down the screen. Here’s what else I can see from the product page:

  • Information about the Amazon Prime programme
  • My shopping basket
  • 2 lots of information on delivery
  • Wish list, wedding list and tell a friend buttons
  • More buying choices (new and used from other retailers)….twice!
  • Details of other editions
  • Details of which promotions this book is a part of
  • Details of another book that is often bought together with this one
  • List of other things that people who bought this book also bought
  • Product details (a page and a half down) including more links to other editions and links to update product details and give feedback on images
  • Sponsored links
  • Product Description (now two and a half pages down)
  • Other Africa-related products
  • Tags (suggested by others and the ability to add tags)
  • What customers buy after viewing this item
  • Customer reviews (yay!)
  • Customer discussions
  • Listmania
  • Look for similar items by category
  • Look for similar items by subject
  • Feedback on the details of this product
  • Links to other Amazon “stores”
  • Sky TV advert
  • Where’s my stuff, delivery and returns and help pages
  • Your recent history

Flip! All I want to do is buy a book! Don’t get me wrong. Some of this is really useful. But there’s just too much on one page. I went back just now to look at the tags section and couldn’t find it in the 8-screens full of information. What good is any nugget of information if it’s drowned out by a forest of other text, links and graphics?

And why would I want to tag a product in a shop anyway? It’s great that Amazon remember things that I’ve looked at recently so that I can find them again, but why would I want to assign keywords to something in a shop?

There’s lots of duplicated information (mostly related products presented in a myriad of ways) and the basic information isn’t prominent enough.

OK, so I placed an order (which I’m sure happened without a confirmation screen), and I later want to check the status of it. I’ve since logged out and navigated back to the front page.

Now, where’s the
login button. Go on – check my list of what’s on the front page and see if you can see a log in link! There isn’t one! I either have to scroll to the bottom of the page and click “where’s my stuff” or, randomly, click on the text “personal recommendations”. Admittedly, this text is part of the sentence “Sign in to get personal recommendations”, but it’s confused by the fact that the linked text is “personal recommendations”, not “sign in”. Where do I sign in if I don’t want to see personal recommendations? It’s like writing:

Sign in to get charged by an elephant.

Well, OK, it’s only slightly like that. You get my point.

Having managed to log in, I find that Amazon have some old credit card details (for cards that have expired) and a load of old addresses that need cleaning out. Oh, and I can now add a user profile so that I can “Share information about myself” and “Connect with friends and other Amazon customers”. Quite why I’d want to do this I don’t know.

What I’m saying is that Amazon’s site is now plagued by chaotic design, seemingly pointless features and information overload to the extent that I’m reluctant to use it.

Phew. That was a long rant. Sorry.

Christmas is coming. And for once I think I might be jumping in my car to head to the shops rather than doing everything online. Maybe a few hours browsing Borders would be nice. Grab a coffee and get lost in the aisles of books and CD’s. Yes, that’s a plan.

Now if Amazon could deliver me a mellow, fairly-traded milky coffee in the next ten minutes without me having to leave the comfort of my sofa. THAT would be good!