Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mad about MySpace, or "How do I change my profile picture?"

"How do I change my profile picture on MySpace?"

What started out as a simple task turned into a huge ordeal, highlighting everything I hate about MySpace. These are a few of the reasons I've been avoiding MySpace like it's some sort of Digital Detroit.

I was on my way out the door this morning to meet up with my brother and sister in law for Thanksgiving, and decided to update the status on my Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, and MSN accounts. That's when I noticed that the profile pic on my MySpace account was out of date, and wanted to update it with the same pic on my Facebook account. I saved the pic from one site, uploaded it to MySpace, then went about to set it as the profile pic. Alright, no speed bumps yet.

I started out looking near the profile picture for a link that should say "Change profile pic" or something to that effect. Nothing. Then, I searched the menu for something under the "Profile" menu. Nothing there. Then I remembered that some sites actually have that option on the destination picture, rather than on the current profile pic. I looked on the page with the picture I wanted as the profile pic, and again, came up short. In all reality, I spent about 15 minutes searching, hunting and pecking for something that should have taken at most 3 clicks.

After wasting too much time with that crap, I started to run late, and gave up. Upon returning from dinner, I found a Yahoo! Answers post referring to this problem. For some awful reason, MySpace calls this functionality "Set as Default."

The "Set as Default" button is used to change the profile pic.

What kind of lessons were learned by this example, besides the fact that MySpace is an atrocious website?
  1. Make the simple tasks easy. Take time to understand what your users are actually doing on your website, and optimize your site for that core set of tasks. As a web developer it might make sense to bury an option under 3 layers of menus, but think of your end user.
  2. Do usability tests early and often. Companies that care about making their site easy to use will perform usability tests on their website. This consists of having a set of scenarios or end goals, and having a user try out your site and see what kind of success they have with accomplishing their goals. You can do this with low-fidelity "paper prototypes" or mockups of what your site might look like. Or you can also do this with a nearly finished or production quality site. The risk is that any usability bugs you discover become much more expensive to fix.
  3. Use web analytics tools to understand the behavior of your end user. You can sometimes use web analytics tools to understand your users' behavior on the site. There are tools like Omniture that can analyze "click streams" and see what the common tasks are. After making a small change, you can then analyze the users' success rate with their end goal. Additionally, you can also define reports or alerts for important pages on your website. If you see fewer users on your login page, or fewer users getting from the login page to the login success page, then this tells you there might be a bug on your login page.
The true question is, should MySpace really care that much about the usability of their website? Here are three tactics that MySpace could have applied to find this usability bug, but in the end, I eventually succeeded. Plus, it's not like they have to care about revenue generated from purchases. However, their value is based on their user base and ad impressions. Users are fickle, and you shouldn't give them yet another reason to leave your website for one of the competitors. Hence, bugs like this are still important enough to fix.