Tuesday, 4 September 2007

RIA L.o.a.d.i.n.g...Does Usability Outweigh The Wait?

We all know RIA applications can present users with a great experience and provide superior usability. Significantly, one of RIA's main goal is to improve usability by offering seamless state changes on the client, which requires preloading of the core application, as well as initial images and data. But once this is done all manner of data filtering, animations, and screen changes can be performed without call backs to the server for new pages thereby drastically speeding up interactivity, improving productivity and enhancing end-user experience.

There is evidence suggesting users dislike silly flash introduction animations to web sites, or worse, poorly designed totally Flash'ed web sites that take forever to load. It appears users do not expect a totally Flash'ed web site, rather, a nicely placed Flash ad and the optional animation demo, where appropriate.
When they arrive at a web site and see ....L.O.A.D.I.N.G.... .... ... horrified and panic struck, they aim for the back button.

Has Flash (or Adobe) inadvertently created a problem (perceived or otherwise) for serious RIA web developers in that users arriving at these arguably 'much more dynamic and brilliant' web sites, turn back, because in their mind they think they're going to get a Flash animation - or something equally vulgar or useless.

Is the loading issue really the issue? Ironically, well designed RIAs may cause some marginal delay, but the benefits of not re-requesting data from the server every time a user clicks poses a radical gain in usability, efficiency and experience. It also reduces the payload on the web server as far fewer requests are being made.

I recently converted my web site www.klikhir.com into a totally RIA web site.
From a usability point of view I hope it presents the user with a great experience, and is very user friendly. But I have put up a notice in the Flex/Flash preloader to indicate to the user that the wait is worthwhile. I have also removed any ideas that unsophisticated users may have upon arrival that they are loading a Flash application.

Flex provides an incredible opportunity to create the types of application you've seen in Tom Cruise's Minority Report movie - far beyond what's possible with HTML or AJAX. I just wonder whether users will give RIA's a chance or whether they are destined for corporate use only rather than the general web surfing public.

I will be monitoring klikhir's traffic performance over the coming months more closely to see whether its up or down. If you see regular web pages again in a 3 months time, you'll know the RIA failed.

What do you think about Rich Internet Applications - does the potential gain in usability outweigh the negative perceptions that it's, 'god-forbid', Flash, and that it takes 'forever' to load? Are visitors panic struck by totally Flash'ed web sites and more eager to escape? Is it worth the wait when the application is useful (how would the user know up front)? Would the user prefer the same functionality in HTML/AJAX? And given the option, which option would they end up using more?

I look forward to your thoughts on this highly relevant subject (relevant because RIA's have advanced and matured - i.e. Flash has grown up)

Maybe its just something you love or hate.

(footnote: Flash apps that have been loaded once before are much quicker at reloading than html pages are.)

1 comment:

Ryan Stewart said...

I'll be really interested to see what the stats are (hopefully you'll drop a comment back here).

I think the loading time is a big issue. Hopefully with broadband it will become less so, but it's still something we should think about.