Dear Higher Ed Administrators

If you’re in higher ed web development, you probably saw this article making the rounds criticizing university web sitesMelonie Fullick put this together along with the feedback of other Twitter users after trying to research some information from various sites. I, too, recently had some complaints doing some research on programs at institutions and finding it infuriating at times trying to get relatively simple information. I’ve talked with a couple folks about the article as well, and thought I’d give some additional commentary. Not necessarily counterpoint, or refutations, just an additional viewpoint as someone who spent years behind that curtain. Read More

Why Does Kickstarter Suck (Redux)?

Two years ago, I wrote a post about the numerous problems/opportunities I saw with the Kickstarter platform. I’m a big fan of Kickstarter, as a concept, and to date have backed well over 30 projects (for the record, I have an almost perfect record on picking good projects, as well). As a result, I’m on the site a lot, and looking for things that would interest me. After all this time,  I thought it would be interesting to revisit the last post and look at what’s changed, see where they’ve improved, and where they haven’t. Read More

Why Does Kickstarter Suck?

Does anyone else find the usability of Kickstarter maddening, especially for a site that makes money by trying to convince people to throw their money at something in hopes of getting something in return? You would think that the experience using the site would be so slimy and simple that money would just fall out of my wallet down their drains. And yet no.

For instance, connecting with people. If you have more friends that you are connected to, especially ones with similar interests, it stands to reason you’ll be more likely to invest in projects that you either didn’t know about, or were on the fence about. But apparently, you can only connect with people you are Facebook friends with (assuming you’ve set up your account using Facebook to begin with as well). If you don’t specifically hunt that information out, you’d never know though. You can look at someone’s profile, but it’s baffling to me that you can’t interact or otherwise connect to them. What is gained through that approach? And that’s not to mention the fact that you can’t connect other platforms, like Twitter or Google, to help with connections. Facebook only. Awesome.

Search. Christ. To start with, the inline results panel is maddeningly simplistic. Four things at a time, click, scroll. Then, there are no filters, so you can’t restrict the search to a certain category, or only completed projects, etc. There actually is a static results page, but if you don’t know it’s there, I’m not sure there’s a “real” way to get at it. It’s basically the most simplistic implementation of a keyword search they could get away with.

Recommendations and project discovery are possibly my biggest sore spot with Kickstarter. First off, after I’ve started sinking money into projects, Kickstarter should be building a crazy detailed profile of me. Where does most of my money go? Do I invest in popular projects, or smaller things? Do I invest more than the average contributor? What am I commenting on the most? What sections do I never even look at? With the wealth of information my buying habits generate, they should know what I want to invest in before I do. Instead, they just show me things my friends invest in, which frankly, is a pretty poor dipstick. Or worse yet, I have to rely on the Staff Picks section, which I’ll get to in a second.

Then there’s just browsing. Let’s start with tabletop games, because that’s where I happen to spend a lot of time. The page features four sections: Staff Picks, Popular This Week, Recently Successfully Funded, and Most Funded. The last two, while novel, are not really at all helpful, and are a total waste of real estate. If I can’t invest in them, why are they there besides idle research? How are they worth that kind of placement? The very first section, Staff Picks, is an exercise in futility. The page it goes to shows you nine projects before listing nothing but completed projects. The Popular This Week section is the only remotely useful section, and that page has no apparent order to the sorting that can prove useful, it comes across as being totally random. So maybe you think you’ll look at game projects ending soon, so you click the Ending Soon link in the sidebar. And no, that’s not game projects ending soon, it’s ALL projects ending soon. I dare you to figure out how to look at all tabletop game projects ending soon. I’m left feeling like virtually every project I’ve put money into has been by the chance that I stumbled across them. Where are tags? Faceted search? Sorting? Why do I have to work so damn hard to find stuff I like, Kickstarter?

As a user, why don’t they give me a dashboard to help me be a better “investor?” For instance, it’d be great if I could mark projects that I’ve received, and track things like average delivery date accuracy, project success versus fulfillment, my average versus global average contributions to projects, etc. How about satisfaction and reputation scoring, and a way to compare the scores I’ve given on a project to the project whole, vs the category, vs the overall site? So many metrics could be presented or created that would help me know if I’m making smart decisions. Then, you could go in before jumping on a project and stop to think things like “Gee, I invest in all these design projects from first time project creators, and the fulfillment rates have been really low, maybe I should reconsider.” Sure, that could be a disadvantage to first time project creators, but I think the advantages of knowing the risks better far outweigh the disadvantages – at least to my wallet.

And then there’s accessibility. Accessibility is really about usability, at the end of the day. For instance, I use my laptop in the living room a lot. I don’t want to play sound on videos when my wife is watching TV, but without captions, the videos can frequently be useless. Tabbing through the page? Hope you don’t want to use buttons, because there’s no :focus state to go along with :hover, so you can’t tell when a button is selected via tabbing. These are the little touches to a page that make them better for everyone. And it just shows some care and attention.

In the end, I’m just sort of amazed at the problems that continue to persist on the site. I’m generally fond of the principle of the site, and have had three of my projects come through as expected so far. But that endears the project creators to me, not Kickstarter. They can do better, and they should do better.

This is all that’s on the homepage. So I guess if you don’t want a jersey, or season/club tickets, you’re just screwed. Unless you just click randomly and discover their little logo at the bottom is the key.

The mobile site is just as bad. Basically just a news feed – no schedule or stats or anything else, and no way to go to the desktop homepage if you’re on something like a tablet. If the site thinks you’re “mobile,” it utterly traps you.

Okay JCPenny, this is your homepage. What the hell am I supposed to do with this? I’d love to know how you’re measuring the efficacy of this as your main focal point. Then for kicks, I clicked one of the things on the calendar and ended up at the second page. Nothing about this feels like a good idea to me.