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Hurting your users, and knowing when you’re doing it

For far too long, users of software have been marginalized by poor user experiences and interaction design. In turn simple usability flaws can introduce risk to the potential for growth in online services. If Enterprise software is your game, where employees are forced to make due with the tools they are given, nothing less than the product reputation is on the line.

I registered for a new social career networking site called Zerply yesterday. What started as a routine journey through another online registration quickly turned into a struggle when I was required to upload my profile picture on step three of the signup wizard.

First, Zerply lets you import a profile picture from Twitter or Facebook (great feature!), but unfortunately either there was a glitch or my profile photos were too large on both of those sites. So I resorted to my local hard drive and began the search for a suitable profile picture. If you’re anything like me you have about a gazillion pictures of your kids on your computer, but not so many of yourself.

So now, registration incomplete, i’m in Finder spelunking for a profile photo. At this point, the odds are good that many users will abandon, however, I persevere.

I find a profile picture that works, and begin the upload process, relieved that I’m over this hurdle. But alas, an error message: the image is too large – there’s an 800k limit. After the fact, I realize that the limit is clearly articulated under the ‘upload image’ button. So I set off to resizing the image using a desktop application. Another speed bump.

Finally, after about 15 minutes I completed the registration process. This brought to mind a few questions

  • How many users has Zerply lost on this step, and are they aware of the problem?
  • Is this one glitch undermining adoption of what seems to be a really cool and possibly highly valuable service?
  • Do you have data to show where users are spending their time?

So, how to fix it? Well, i can think of a couple specific things:

  • Don’t make the profile image required (turns out this is actually the case, just wasn’t obvious to me)
  • Resize images for the user on the server – there are APIs that allow you to easily incorporate this functionality into your site (for example)
  • Drop the on-screen guidance around size limit – most users won’t know what that means unless you are trying to limit your site to only technical users

But these suggestions are beside the point. Bugs are going to happen and usability flaws will occur. It is the ability to understand, in real time, that step three is problematic and quickly course correct that sets great sites apart from mediocre ones. There are great tools out there that allow us to Measure Anything, Measure Everything in our software products. The goal of instrumenting software is so that you can see that users are getting held up and abandoning on step three, and take swift, corrective action to remove the roadblock.

As it turns out, Zerply doesn’t require you to complete the entire account creation process before using the site. This wasn’t readily apparent to me on my first visit, so that’s something else I might change. I do believe that Zerply offers a unique take on what’s become a somewhat bloated LinkedIn experience. As a social network Zerply will increase exponentially in value as the number of users rises, so it’s important for Zerply as a company and for me as a user that users don’t abandon the signup process like I nearly did.

Categories: Product Development, Product Management.

  • Justin

    Hey Jay, thanks for taking the time to document your experience with Zerply. We value this feedback, and the photo uploader has been an issue for us of late, we will take your points under consideration, as we look to tweak the sign up process. Thanks for hanging in there, and i hope your experience from now on, is pain free :)

  • Jay

    Justin, thanks for the comment. I think the service is cool, just would hate to see more users not make it in.

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