Learning Not-So-New Technologies

I’m working on new tasks related to electronic publishing. If you follow any discussions on line, experienced users complain about the tools; new users blame themselves for their own confusion — just like the PC world.

The tools are new incarnations to support project and publication tasks that I’ve been doing for several decades. Here’s what I’ve learned about the new tools and processes I’m mastering:

Lots of important websites suck.
Lots of websites with wizard-like processes also blow.

This quick summary focuses on sites where you pay for services.
I’ll have another post about free sites soon.

Bowker Identifier Service (for purchasing ISBN numbers)

  • Design standard: Windows XP applets
  • User experience: Ugly, awkward, slow.
    My press business is small. I can’t imagine the pain this site must present for large publishers.
    Focus: “Buy now!” (not: “Let us help you.”)
  • Help: “Here’s our FAQ of randomly organized topics, pasted from the writer’s doc into HTML, with 4 links for navigation.” Line width for text is about 7 inches; no resizing with screen size.
  • Technology/Estimated Web era: 1999-2001

Update July 2013: Bowker has decided that it should try not to be retro ugly.
Improved fonts! Cute animal pictures!
— Annie Pearson

U.S. Electronic Copyright Office

  • Design standard: “Hey, you! Unpaid intern! Convert our paper process to Web 1.0”
    … And please add all Help text and notices in red, bold, 12pt
  • User experience: Homely, awkward, slow.
    Send users to another site for payment collection, with a different UI.
    Focus: “Do it right. Don’t screw up. We’re warning you!”
  • Help: Explain the obvious in an alphabetical list of topics:
    Hyperlinks appear as blue text that becomes underlined when you move your cursor over it. A hyperlink provides one-click access to detailed or additional information for the underlined text.
    Explain actual tasks in confusing text on a different part of the screen from the user action.
  • Technology/Estimated Web era: 1997
    Not Chrome or Safari compatible; requires Adobe Reader to view/print documents.

CreateSpace  (print-on-demand service purchased by Amazon)
I had been so burned by an assortment of paid and free tools that I approached CreateSpace with trepidation, but found solace and success.

  • Design Standard: Standard but well organized marketing site.
    Primary user action above the fold, actions clearly labeled.
  • User experience: “I can do this!”
    Focus: “Let us help you. Here’s more information.”
  • Help: Choose Expert or Wizard. Help at each step, with option to move to wizard.
  • Technology/Estimated Web era: 2013.

For U.S. Copyright: it appears that if the government has a monopoly service, the website can be tended by gnomes. However, they charge for the service. The fees should include maintaining the service to modern standards.

For Bowker: They have competitors now (Amazon and CreateSpace supply unique IDs for free). They are part of the publishing industry. Surely they could create a Web presence with better aesthetics than a plumbing supply house in Saskatoon.

My opinion (so far) about basic tools supporting the digital publishing revolution: Web design has been a science and a serious professional practice for 15 years. You should demand better design from your unpaid summer interns.
And thank you, CreateSpace, for paying good professionals to provide design and information architecture.

About EAStewart

Author of the Accidental Heretics series

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