Barnes and Noble, Blackberries, and Human Nature

October 16th, 2007 · 4 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

There is nothing like October — the falling leaves, the shorter days, the endless aisles of Christmas ornaments. Around here, October says “Goodbye old year, hello new!” Or, people, it’s nearly time for me to stop staying, “People, it’s 2007.”

Publishers and online retailers and content providers have this fascinating love affair with partnerships.

Stay tuned for next year’s catch-phrase, “It’s 2008, what are you thinking?*”

Today, in my normal reading, I stumbled across a press release from Barnes and Noble. In nearly-2008, “the world’s largest bookseller” has opened a Blackberry-enabled storefront. Yes, you read that right. And I know what you’re thinking. I thought the same thing.

“You mean they didn’t have one already?”

Blackberries (or, if you live with a user, Crackberries) have been around for just under a decade. We had a client who was an early adopter. She persisted in calling it a Blueberry; she also demanded that her website look good on her Blueberry. We couldn’t give her that, but it worked beautifully on her Blackberry. This was my first realization that mobile email was a dangerous thing. I have not changed my mind on that point.

While email remains the favorite activity for most of my Blackberry-using friends, web surfing is becoming increasingly popular (weird how my friends simply don’t do more of it). Those who surf have a fairly common complaint: websites do not look good on the Blackberry. This is bad, bad, bad.

A while back, the notion of websites that degrade gracefully was all the rage. Basically, this meant that the sites looked good on all devices (yes, that is a vast oversimplification of the notion). You’d get your website filled with bells and whistles for those who accessed the site using Firefox or Internet Explorer or one of the dozens of other browser options. For those using non-graphical browsers, the content would be served up in a neat and logical manner — no pictures, sure, but a well-organized site nonetheless. For blind users (more later), the underlying code would present a machine-readable site. For Blackberry users, ditto (presumably you have caught the pattern by now).

As mobile phone users began to take baby steps on the web, “mobile” websites made appearances. Basically, good coding allowed the website to deploy on a variety of platforms, meeting a wide range of needs, without a lot of additional effort. This kind of standards-based web development lead to maximum flexibility.

Mobile phones still offer all sorts of promise for extending online content. iPhones, certainly, give users a great web browsing experience (even with ATT’s Edge network). Blackberries, in some areas, in every hand. Mobile web is not a future promise. It’s now.

Thus I was taken by surprise by the following tidbits:

  • That Barnes and Noble hadn’t already optimized its website for mobile users.
  • That Barnes and Noble had to issue a press release to tell the world that it had finally created a Blackberry-specific storefront.
  • That Barnes and Noble thinks average Blackberry users will read said press release.
  • That, apparently, a partnership with a content aggregator is “enough”.

In near-2008, it is essential, a requirement, that websites do not exhibit the fatal flaws of 1996-era sites. So many do. It hurts. Those old-fashioned, poorly developed, horribly built sites look awful on Blackberries and phones. If you don’t make a good impression, you’re losing customers/readers/whatever. Build your website right.

I noted that I’d get back to the blind user thing. As Target recently learned, the Americans with Disabilities Act applies to websites. Making your website accessible for blind users is, not surprisingly, part of the same efforts that make your website accessible for other devices. It all gets back to good web development. And while I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again (because based on my general use of your websites, it needs to be said), the biggest blind user on the Internet is named Google. This good coding makes you Google friendly.

And by Google friendly, I mean every search engine on the planet. If you want to see how bad coding can affect an industry, try to find an architect using a search engine. It’s sort of like someone sold the entire profession on the concept of badly coded Flash sites. Architect websites are notoriously un-Google friendly.

We’ll skip to the end of my little list to discuss the truth about humans. Many of us believe that other members of our species behave in rational, predictable ways. This is so not true. Humans do the craziest things. Just because you tell them to go somewhere to get something, they’re gonna do things their own way. They. Will. Not. Follow. Instructions. Some don’t even read the instructions. Anyone who has ever spent time with a human knows this.

I think it’s great that Digby (not the political blogger) offers Blackberry users a great online retail experience. They have formed a partnership with one of my personal favorite online retailers (see image at the top of the page and guess), plus at least one of my offline retailers (some things need to be seen on the wrist). They are creating a unique experience for their users. Life is how it should be.

However, until Digby becomes the by-word for Blackberry online shopping, online retailers and content providers need to keep their options open. Remember: humans do crazy things. You cannot trust them to behave in the expected way. If you do not believe me, hand your mother your Blackberry. Ask her to find something online. Heck, hand your mother your mouse and let her play on your computer. I did this. I learned a lot about my mother. Some of it, she will never live down.

Publishers and online retailers and content providers have this fascinating love affair with partnerships. Like, oh, sometimes they enter into exclusive deals with service providers. Yeah, that’s the ticket, signing with a single mobile phone service. Talk about limiting your audience.

Your job, as I’m sure you know, is to cast the widest possible net. Partner with Digby. Partner with the moon. But make sure that people like my friend Paul can type into the little address bar of his Blackberry and get a living, breathing website that is readable and usable. Bells, whistles, widgets, whatever, they are very nice, but when I’m using my too-cool new iPhone, I like a site that loads fast and lets me find what I want without too much thinking or effort.

Oh, and while you’re at it, make your RSS feeds full and complete. I admit it, I didn’t for a while, and I am ashamed of myself. I know, I know, you’re worried about page views and all that stuff. But since I’m now using the world’s most expensive RSS reader, I am realizing that truncated feeds coupled with bad leads equals, oh, me wondering what I ever saw in certain blogs. If you’re not doing full feeds, you’re focusing on the wrong problem.

Happy Tuesday!

* – Subject to refinement and out-and-out change.

[tags]barnes and noble, digby, blackberry, iphone, mobile content, mobile phone, rss, target, ada, accessibility, section 508, wcag[/tags]

File Under: Back To Basics

4 responses so far ↓

  • Barnes and Noble, Blackberries, and Human Nature // Oct 16, 2007 at 5:10 am

    […] post by Kassia Krozser and software by Elliott […]

  • mobile phone service » Barnes and Noble, Blackberries, and Human Nature // Oct 16, 2007 at 11:17 am

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  • Joe Wikert // Oct 18, 2007 at 9:39 am

    As a longtime Blackberry user, some would even say “addict”, I can tell you that surfing the web can be a challenging experience at best. Some websites offer a great mobile experience. ESPN is a wonderful example. Others, well, it’s nothing short of awful.

    The problem I have with most mobile views of a site has to do with customization. You’re forced to look at what someone else decided is best for everyone. That might work just fine on a full screen display, but give me options on my mobile device! Let me decide what elements I want and don’t want, then save those setting for my return visits.

    Have you tried Digby yet? It’s not a bad service, but it too is very limited. It’s basically a quick way to make a purchase, but try and use it to get all the product specifics, compare items, etc. If you know what you want before you find it you’ll love Digby, but if you’re looking for a way to browse B&N’s online bookstore you might just be better off going to itself and deal with the challenges of viewing it on your mobile device.

  • Dolen // Oct 22, 2007 at 11:23 am

    I use my Blackberry to browse websites like while I’m in the used bookstore. It reminds me of what I need on my shelf.