Providing a ‘Rich User Experience’ is of high importance when developing an online service or application, after all users are the driving force for company growth and by providing them an in-depth, rewarding user experience you can be reassured of their return. The concept of providing a Rich User Experience (RUE) is based on the concept of combining the best elements from desktop and online applications.
Desktop application are renowned for providing a highly interactive and responsive experience with rich, graphical user interfaces. However now using web-based software no longer means sacrificing the quality of the user experience, as classic client applications can be moved to lightweight browser based applications which support continuous interactions. Therefore users can be provided with the processing power they require along with the benefits of web applications (such as wide availability, multiple platform support and networking features).
This post will concentrate on how Gmail’s take on email applications has superseded the traditional desktop email application service due to the following methods of best practice that will be discussed in-depth below.
1. Combine the Best of Desktop & Online Experiences
Desktop applications are traditionally known to be quick, powerful and provide a large array of functionality for the user, where online applications are traditionally known to be easy to access anywhere, multiplatform supportive and easy to use. By combining the positive elements of desktop applications with the ease of access of online applications, Gmail has been able to create a RUE as an email provider. Users are able to view, open and save emails all without navigating to a different page, as well as being able to view their emails from any computer with an internet connection. This is a major improvement on the classic Microsoft Outlook email service which although equally powerful, is only accessible from a single computer.
2. Usability and Simplicity First
The most important element for any application (desktop or online) is that user engagement, efficiency and effectiveness come first. As clearly demonstrated by the simplistic design of the Google search engine, functionality and usability come before a fancy user interface. And this is also demonstrated with the Gmail service, where emails are shown in the common layout that most users are familiar with, with access to inbox and viewing emails the top priority.
3. Search Over Structure
Commonly users will want to navigate immediately to what they are looking for, in the traditional way this required them to click through menus and links, however now users are familiar with using search functions to find things. This is especially important with an email service as users will often want to look for a particular sender or topic in email, this is where Gmail provides a search box where users can find anything said within the email (including the sender, topic or body).
4. Deep, Adaptive Personalization
Just as with desktop applications, it is important for online applications to provide an adaptive environment to users to increase efficiency. This has been done in Gmail through suggestive text in search boxes and allowing users to select senders to always be moved to different inboxes. These features help anticipate the users needs and by remembering their preferences, they can adapt to further fulfil the requirements of the user.
There are however also some issues and debates about incorrectly used RUE’s which will also be explored below.
Compatibility and Complexity Issues
A major problem with application development (both online and desktop applications) is to make the program available for multiple platforms. By developing Gmail as an online application it has removed the need to develop alternative versions for different operating systems, however it has added the problem of different browsers. Gmail has overcome this by developing their program to work on the majority of available browsers, however problems can arise due to the different ways each browser processes the application code.
Potential Performance Issues
A well designed RUE program can improve performance by decreasing the system and network loads, however poorly constructed ones do the opposite. Therefore it is of vital importance that research into the development and creation of these systems are undertaken to ensure the effectiveness of the application.
Uncertain Impact on Web Analytics and Advertising Metrics
Advertising has become one of the largest sources of revenue for online companies and therefore how the advertisement is displayed needs to be understood when creating a RUE. Due to RUE’s remaining on the same page to perform multiple tasks, ad refreshes and page counts need to be implemented correctly with the new system.
It is evident that creating a RUE is an important step in moving from the traditional Web 1.0 (click and wait) pages, to the new seamless Web 2.0 web pages and is a vital part in creating a competitive online company.