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How Betty, Who Is 89, Gets Her News (melodykramer.github.io)
347 points by luu on Mar 11, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 249 comments

I'm barely a third of Betty's age, and I have the same problems browsing the web on mobile devices.

I click on things by accident, I have trouble scrolling on some websites, sometimes the text is too small and crammed into a column that is too small for it, pop-ups and strange noises happen constantly.

I too would like it if more web documents were available as simply formatted blocks of text and pictures, with links that I didn't accidentally click constantly.

I think the biggest problem I have is clicking or the wrong link because some banner thing finally loaded at the top of the page and pushed everything down. (I don't have great internet at home.) It drives me crazy, because then I have to back up and wait for the page to reload again.

Another tip for helping people with slow internet: don't break your article into multiple pages! I think the primary reason for doing this to get more ad traffic, but I promise I will leave when I see that your list of ten items is separated into ten pages.

I feel the same way, it feels very deliberate the way the ad loads just enough to shift a call to action I to an accidental ad click. It cannot think of a solution to resolve this type of blackhat trickery.

The simplest solution might be to use the "Reader view available" button at the top left of the iPad / iPhone. It tends to show just the text and relevant images when it works well.

This is the only way I find it possible to visit news websites anymore. Otherwise they are all filled with banners and popups. If the article isn't available in reader view I click back and don't bother with it.

Is the "reader view" generated locally, or does it send the URL to an Apple server for processing?

It's done locally.

Perhaps have the browser disable clicks within the human reaction period during and after a layout reflow?

That's a super cool addon idea. Appended to my TODO list.

The NoScript add-on can help ... on desktop browsers, anyway.

Unfortunately they have the data that shows that breaking up the pages increases ad impressions even with the lost users.

And then a little while later the added revenue is lost due to more adblockers being used on their site.

My parents go out of their way to install iPhone apps on their iPad. With retina assets (and the fact they still have non-retina screens), it's not crufty looking anymore.

Problem is many apps have universal binaries now so you can't force the lower-res (larger touch target) UIs.

Accidentally clicking a link wouldn't be a problem if you got the chance to back out early once you realized you'd touched it. For example, touch and hold might work. You press on the link, and it starts visually zooming into the link to alert you. If you keep pressing for half a second, it takes you to that page. If you let go, it zooms back out - no harm done. If you drag, it zooms back out and scrolls.

   I too would like it if more web documents were available 
   as simply formatted blocks of text and pictures, with 
   links that I didn't accidentally click constantly.
That's probably not going to happen. For my part I would be happy if I could recover quickly from an accidental click. That would be a start.

Safari on iOS is my typical example: Click on link by accident, notice your mistake, go back to original page, Safari does a full reload. If you have no network you can't continue reading. Why can't Safari cache the page and allow quick navigation, like any desktop browser?

Better yet, you go back, and the same page refreshes, because it hijacked your back button. It's 2015 and this problem has still not been resolved in any of the major browsers on the market.

I realise that in those situations I just have to click fast twice, so that the second click takes place before scripts have been loaded - but I'm sure Betty does not know that.

> I realise that in those situations I just have to click fast twice, so that the second click takes place before scripts have been loaded.

Oh, that's why rapid clicking works! Funny how for some problems I only want a solution and don't bother at all thinking about how it works.

At least I think so...

On desktops a new "feature" is to continually spam "pop ups" whenever I highlight text. I am aware that not everyone repeatedly clicks/selects/de-selects as they read (I used to think I was the only one...) but with no way to turn that shit off I'm stuck. And on any new site where it is encountered I end up spend more time undoing accidental clicks on suddenly appearing windows than I do reading.

The FT is a good example, the site is unreadable for me. So I no longer visit it.

I feel your pain, and you are not the only one to do the weird select-then-scroll thing (it's also how i copy text into my clipboard). Does NoScript (for Firefox and friends only i believe) perhaps solve your gripes? I find the modern web unusable without NoScript and RequestPolicy installed (plus AdBlock Edge for good measure, but in principle just the first two should suffice).

Fanfiction.net disabled selecting text. I stopped using it. It's just so frustrating.

Fortunately the only story I read there is available on its own page (hpmor.com).

I bet you're looking forward to the last episode of HPMOR on Saturday.

:) obviously.

I do the selecting thing as well, and hate Wired for hijacking ⌘→ (sends you to next article).

Reading about the new macbook, and its pressure sensitive touch pad, and the pressure sensitive keyboard cover Microsoft sells for their Surface range, makes me wonder if something similar would be possible for screens.

Yep, it is something of a throwback to resistive screens. But with resistives at least there was a distinction between resting the finger on the screen, and interacting with a on-screen object.

Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I've noticed with older folks that it becomes more difficult to apply granular amounts of pressure to objects (especially if you have a motor control disorder like Parkinson's). I don't believe pressure sensitive touch pads would help in this regard.

This is true, but I'm not sure it's relevant in this case. AFAIK old people generally have more trouble controlling how far they push things, but the only distinction we're interested in here is whether they're pushing or merely resting their hand.

This still wouldn't be enough for people with diseases that cause major tremors, but I'd imagine it's enough for people who have lost fine motor control, because we're only trying to distinguish pushing from not-pushing.

Nope. The older you get the less mechanoreceptors are left in your skin. This has 2 effects then: You actually do feel less pressure or vibration from touching something and You can't control your fingers as well because the feedback system has less input for fine motor control into the cerebellum. You cannot feel nor control as well.

Additionally, human touch sensation is incredibly good in the fingers, hypothesized to be related to our use of tools. That we can at all use such a touch screen is a miracle in the animal kingdom. Replacing this is not possible at this point in time as we age. However, larger and more clear buttons will help, along with a training period and good motivation for the person. As we age, we need to have the motivation to access the world and the opportunity to do so. The future requires all participants of every age.

A good place to start on the sources is here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2563781/ . Let me know if you want a .pdf and cannot access the site past the abstract.

>That we can at all use such a touch screen is a miracle in the animal kingdom.

Chimpanzees can also use touch screens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JkNV0rSndJ0

Excuse the pun, but HOLY BANANAS! That is amazing! Thank you for that vid and the info. That is so cool! I had no idea the chimp could be trained like that. Amazing! Thank you!

Bonobos, a similar ape species equally related to humans, can actually play video games, drive golf carts, and all kinds of cool stuff.


Skip to 15:52 if you want to go straight to the one playing Pac-Man.

It would seem they also have far better short-term visual memory than typical humans. Or maybe that's the result of practice. Time to find out...

Oh wow, this is amazing! Looks like it only need a split second to remember the positions of the number in sequence - Unbelievable!

That crazy ape go fast.

Well it does not have to be using all tiers, just that you have to make it deliberate. the details has to be worked out, and likely you can't make one size fit all given the wide range of age related issues.

MS didn't carry the Touch Cover through to the SP3, so it's down to just the mechanical keyboard now. Too much of a learning curve maybe? I only ever tried it out in Best Buy, but I couldn't type on them.

There are tactile buttons in development for screens, if you haven't seen it yet:


Unless they manage to come up with a fine mesh grid that allow them to work with a arbitrary underlying UI, not interested.

Agree. I think the mobile world is facing a very hard problem: how to show meaningful and relatively large amount of content in an elegant way on a 5" screen. Squeezing the content of a 13" laptop screen into a 5" phone screen just screw it up, even if the phone has a larger resolution. On the other hand, if I have to keep scrolling to see just a single sentence, then I'd rather give up.

This is a great point in that design for an older demographic is not actually about 'designing for an older demographic'. It's a call to go back to the principles of understanding intent and purpose. The end result is good design, not just good design for older adults.

I recently watched a 65 year old woman use an iPad for the first time. One thing I noticed right away about her interaction was she struggled to realize that many blue text words were actually buttons (see the Send button in this screenshot[0]). IMO, this has been one of the biggest design failures of recent Apple software.

[0] - http://313e5987718b346aaf83-f5e825270f29a84f7881423410384342...

Apparently the relevant design/usability term is "affordances", which are the "sensory characteristics [of an object that] intuitively imply its functionality and use"[1]. Affordances in UI design have evidently gone out of style, which effectively means that people are just expected to learn the arbitrary (and ever-changing) rules of how to interacting with computers (and other computing devices), instead of having the computing devices cater to how people expect them to work.

I think this also leads back to the idea that the touchscreen as a user interface is absolutely awful in every way except for the one huge advantage of its reconfigurability. (I forget the source for this, but there's a specific article I'm thinking of.)

[1] http://www.usabilityfirst.com/glossary/affordance/

What kills me is how car radios are getting touchscreens now. What good is a touchscreen in a car radio? The whole beauty of the traditional design is you can operate it without taking your eyes off the road.

I had a 2012 jetta that had this. It was complete touchscreen with only a couple basic function buttons. I found it extremely annoying to use. To make matters worse, when the flimsy screen got a tiny crack in it, I lost all control of the radio because I could no longer touch to interact with it. I guess that would be a big deal breaker from me if I had means to be in the market for a tesla. I'm not big on having everything in a touchscreen. The lexus I recently purchased uses a mouse essentially to interact with the screen which I find pleasant to use and also offers a full range of buttons for the radio and climate control. I find this to be a much better experience for myself.

Still, the 'mouse' seems like a poor choice. As the op said - isn't the idea of big dumb buttons that we don't have to take our attention off the road to interact with them?

I have a 2012 Mazda3 and it has a knob and buttons and it works great whether or not I'm looking at it. What a concept.

Just wait a year or two. You'll see configurable hardware. Aka "software wrapped in plastic" (Brad Feld)


Go through the products available at a site like sparkfun or adafruit and tell me you couldn't make some awesome customization control panel system? Larger buttons for smartphone-specific functions, some with their own small (and low-cost) discrete display perhaps?

A modular control system, featuring 100% plug and play elements (knobs, sliders, mini-displays, buttons) mountable in a range of simple chassis (19"rack, keyboard size, mini desktop box, mixing-console-size control center) that can be configured by a trivial to use piece of software and thereafter control any device (PC, tablet).

I've been wanting this for twenty-five years.

There are things that do some of this, but not very well, and not very cost-effectively. There is software that simulates this on a touchscreen (grr). Anyone fancy a hardware startup?

I realize this probably isn't quite what you want, but have you looked at using MIDI? A lot of modern MIDI gear is quite cheap, connects to your computer over USB, and with the appropriate software can be used to control anything on your computer. There are MIDI devices with just about any kind of physical input you could want - pots, sliders, pedals, buttons, pressure-sensitive pads, optical and sound-based inputs, and much more.

There are a variety of development boards (Livid Brain, uCApps MIDIbox) designed to allow semi-technical users to build their own MIDI controllers. It's also reasonably straightforward to configure an Arduino Micro or a Teensy to work as a USB HID interface. If you can use a soldering iron and a drill, you can build a custom controller.

Absolutely. I've been known to break out the breadboard to that end. But soldering irons and arduinos are a level of too much... erm... wires, for what I'm thinking. Not to mention that making it control what you want takes time and debugging and perhaps a sympathetic operating system or app.

How about forgetting the electronics, and seeing controllers as just another UI problem. Software, implemented in plastic.

What would you want to build if it were that easy? Custom controllers for games? Custom games? MIDI Instruments? Dashboards with physical elements? Home / media center controls? POS interfaces? Hardware usability testing prototypes? Kitchen gadgets?

Maybe I'd be the only market, but I think it would be a big blurring of the line between hacker and maker culture.

Recent developments allow software to make the configuration itself programmable which is going to be great I think.

Pressure displays (2009): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Smai_Z_galE . I can't believe they didn't attempt to build "pixels" of some kind though. More recently, a lot of ultrasound tech (2014): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaoO5cY1aHk . Tangible displays from MIT (2013): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvtfD_rJ2hE .

I could see any of this being feasible for interacting in a non-mobile setting (car,desktop) with some adjustments.

I am one of the fools who bought an optimus popularis - it's optimus lame.

Also those relegendable knobs and sliders are very popular in the music industry already 0 - so it would be fairly trivial to bring it to a consumer device.

Are they getting touch screens mainly to support CarPlay and Android Auto?

That's a big feature IMHO. My use of the car radio is essentially to toggle it from AUX to BT. Integration of my phone would be even nicer.

What a great article. Our culture does seem to believe that touch screens are the ultimate interface and must be installed everywhere.

Yep, that's the one.

Not touchscreen related but monitors used to have dials for brightness/contrast control. But now we have these pain in the butt multi-function buttons that you gotta use to pull up the OSD, scroll through a bunch of menus and then finally you can adjust a setting.

Same thing with volume controls, used to be dials now it's buttons. Maybe I just like dials.

You like dials better because dials provide more relevant affordances than buttons for adjusting things on a continuous scale.

Aren't most affordances just arbitrary rules that most people can be expected to already know? I'm not sure that an adult introduced to computers for the first time in their live would figure out convex-looking buttons much faster.

Affordances aren't arbitrary. The idea behind affordances is that the tool fits the user, not the other way around. If something is meant to be gripped in a person's hand, then it should be the right size and shape for a hand to grip it. Conversely, if something is the right size and shape to grip in a hand, that intuitively suggests that it is for gripping.

True, but affordances on screen are a different story. There's nothing to grip there. There are just pixels on a flat surface, that may or may not simulate a 3D effect. And you operate them using a mouse, which itself is a layer of indirection. So I don't buy the concept that affordances in software are not arbitrary - they don't refer to somewhat fundamental concepts for human (like grabbing), they refer to the last 100 or so years, when physical buttons became a common element of the environment one lives in.

I see learning UI in computers as a process that begins with a new user having basic UI concepts explained to him, and then just following the changing trends, where a new trend usually makes "affordances" refer to the previous trend.

I strongly disagree. It's how the world learned learned GUIs.

When my daughter was two and a half she could use the iPad pretty efficiently, because it was always pretty obvious where you should click. At nearly four she now struggles to click things or to even know what to click. It's a terrible regression for a debatably minor improvement in overall appaearance.

I'm glad it's not just me. Somebody made one of my websites beautiful, but with 'flat' buttons. People became confused on how it worked, and I had to go back and give the buttons depth.

Not to excuse or justify the design decision, but you can in fact re-enable highlighting for buttons. It’s in the accesibility settings.

Edit: Just realized we are talking about websites here. Sorry, forget what I said!

Huh, thanks - I found the option, and enabled it for her iPad. At a glance, nothing much changed, there are just too many flat button-like things throughout the UI for this to help, but we will see.

This is one of my pet peeves -- designers hate styling links so they're underlined, but the underline provides a valuable UI cue to the user that the text is clickable/tappable/whatever. So stripping it out makes a site actively less usable.

(You can try to invent your own UI cue to take the place of the underline, of course, but then the user has to learn a new cue for each separate site, whereas the underline is still common enough for people to have already learned it somewhere else.)

At work they introduced a page once with links that were not only not underlined but also the same color as the regular text. I sent them a hoary old Nielsen article or two describing why that's a bad idea and people don't want to play Minesweeper with text but they dismissed the article as "too old" and no longer relevant to today's tech-savvy users. Then they had to change it within a couple weeks because no one could find the links.

"We're going to make a door that's perfectly flat and seamless, and we're going to paint it white just like the walls. It's going to be the most awesome door ever and people will love using it."

If web designers could actually stop and think about the virtual things they do in physical terms they might be able to see how foolish they're being, but I don't expect that to happen any time soon.

Stackoverflow was one of the biggest offenders to me. They would state that something was a duplicate of something else, with no link to the other thing. Except there was a link. I just couldn't find it without 'view source.'

I must confess I've been guilty of it too. I 'invented' a style of link whereby the link has a border on all four sides and is filled with a transparent pastel. I've even seen this around some (apparently it is kind of an obvious idea). But all in all, I've gotten away from trying to invent my own UI.

I'm an Android user since v2 and have watched it become so much less usable over time. The average person has no idea what is clickable and what is not in v5. This causes fear and confusion. My wife (aged 30 and intelligent) cannot reliably send SMSs on her Nexus 5.

Agreed, I loved the old iPhone 3 UI, since then, it has gone to hell. Android is also in that hell, with the "Flat UI", and my brain hurts trying to find what's clickable.

Damn you flat ui!

>> Agreed, I loved the old iPhone 3 UI, since then, it has gone to hell. Android is also in that hell, with the "Flat UI", and my brain hurts trying to find what's clickable.

The whole point of going with raised buttons and such was to provide a visual cue as to what was clickable. It seems UI people who missed the early 90's are getting to relearn this lesson. When I saw flat I just shook my head.

It really seems to go in cycles. We've gone from flat UIs (think ncurses-based) to using texture and shadow (90's - mid 2000s), and now all the way back to flat again.

I'll never understand why these designer types think that discarding all of that context is a good thing.

It happens in all areas of everything. I'm convinced. It comes in cycles, because of generational retirements/career transitions. Younger/newer folks don't have the experience to know what the older/more experienced folks do. The older/more experienced folks do a bad job of documenting their experiences for the next group.

I'm thoroughly convinced I'm correct, but have no data to back it up.

We should do a head-to-head competition between two Grandmothers, one armed with an iPad2 using iOs6 and another one using iOs8 and let them do the same tasks, and measure the time it takes to do those tasks.

Count me in!

IMO, Android 4 was the pinnacle of stability and usability in their lineage. I had a Moto X and 2012 Nexus 7. The upgrade to Android 5 on my Nexus was saddening; it was different for the sake of being different, and it fixed problems that didn't exist (and introduced many new ones).

Even 4.1 was much better than 4.4 - all the migration from text and contoured buttons to symbols. an open eye for "turn off snooze" on the alarm is indicative of what I think is really poor design.

I haven't used v5 so I cannot comment on that transition. However I was around for the transition from v3 to v4 and I'm pretty sure the common sentiment was it was strides more usable. Also, without malice, I find it pretty shocking your wife cannot reliably send an SMS.

Apple seems to rely on long term user training sometimes. I knew that was a send button because I have used previous versions of iOS, it's never even occurred to me that it doesn't look like a button at all. Similarly, I was late to the iOS party, I joined around iOS4-ish, and there were features I discovered completely on accident. Like double clicking the home button on the lock screen to bring up audio controls. Great feature, but I had no idea it was there. People joining in the next few years probably won't know to swipe from the top or bottom until they do it by accident.

>People joining in the next few years probably won't know to swipe from the top or bottom until they do it by accident.

This happened to me, I went from ios 5 to 8. I had to google "where is spotlight ios 8" to learn to swipe down.

What would I have done if I were a novice user who didn't know spotlight existed? I might not have found it for months.

I just noticed, the "Button Shapes" accessibility option helps a bit.

I definitely agree that the UI of buttons in iOS is broken now. The blue is only a useful hint if you are 1) a long-time web user, and 2) not color-blind.

Settings ▸ General ▸ Accessibility ▸ Button Shapes ▸ On

You don't have to be 65 to have that problem, at first I couldn't tell, flat UI isn't accessible in any way, is definitely a step backwards in accessibility.

I agree 100%. But I also remember posts on different forums about how button shapes are a skeuomorphic anachronism that nobody needs anymore. So if Apple didn't address that audience, they'd still be screaming about Apple's backwards design.

I've been looking for a particular quote about this, and just found it. I thought it was a random forum poster, but it was actually John Gruber from Daring Fireball:

"The design of the iPhone software was entirely informed by the fact that this was a new experience, it was nothing like using an existing smartphone, nor anything like using a Mac or Windows PC. It needed training wheels to get people up to speed. Thus, to name one small example, why iOS buttons have tended to look so very button-y. To inform the user, as clearly as possible, that this is a button that can be tapped.

Look around you. Any street corner. Any office. Any shopping mall. Any restaurant. You will see people tapping on touchscreens. We all get it now. iOS-style computing is no longer novel; it is now the standard interaction model for personal computing.

The primary problem Apple faced with the iPhone in 2007 was building familiarity with a new way of using computers. That problem has now been solved. It is time to solve new problems."

I remember a few years ago here there were lots of front page posts criticism skeumorphism, and commentors criticized it as well. Flat design was all the rage.

...or that there are buttons at all. Have watched countless seniors struggle with interfaces because to them it's all just a 2D space.

THIS! "What is clickable" is one of the first things the mind wonders when presented a new page. If the true answers aren't obvious in 0.3 seconds, it's a bad design.

The latest UI trends to remove "button style" and go to "flat" and just text is a prime example of how we've gone the wrong direction.

The backlash against skeuomorphism has really led to some serious regression in design affordances. In a similar vein, there are text inputs in the latest OS X that are indistinguishable from labels. I'm not anti-fad but these are real usability issues.

And she was getting a bit frustrated and worried — that by clicking on something, she was going to install malware or not be able to return to her story.

This is how the news site makes their money and the reason why it's free to view the articles. Betty needs to purchase a subscription to view articles ad-free (if the sites she browses offer it)

Although, one potential option for someone like Betty is SmartNews https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=jp.gocro.smart... That app offers a "SmartView" which scrapes the news sites they link to and provides text-only versions of the articles.

News sites that offer paid subscriptions, in the main, still show ads to paying users, in much the same way that when you subscribe to a print newspaper or magazine it shows up with ads in it as well.

The reason is the same as in print: ad revenues generally bring in much more than subscriptions do. Here's some data for the newspaper business, for instance: http://ajr.org/2014/02/27/big-shift-reliance-reader-payments... You can see how even with the collapse of newspaper advertising over the last decade, ad revenue is still generally somewhere from 50-70% of overall revenue. So ad revenue is critical, even for subscription pubs.

This is even more true online, because if you make your publication ad-free for subscription users, you're cutting the ads off from the eyeballs the advertisers want most -- the eyeballs of engaged, frequent readers/viewers/whatever, since those are the very people who care enough to buy subscriptions. So doing so drives down the overall value of advertising in your publication.

    > The reason is the same as in print: ad revenues
    > generally bring in much more than subscriptions do
If that's true, wouldn't it be better to not have subscriptions to improve viewership?

"Betty needs to purchase a subscription..."

Now Betty needs to "login" to her news site every time in order to disable the ads (not to mention pay, and renew service each term) I don't think that will improve the process, and it ad more steps with potentially confusing instruction to her process. Even if the site was able to store along term cookie for Betty, I doubt the sublt difference between versions would do much as there is typically a lot of other "junk" (around the article) that can distract the user.

It's even worse than that: not only does she need to login, she needs to remember a separate username and password for each site (which, good luck), or she needs to use a password manager. And if she uses a password manager, she needs to know how to select a usable/secure one, load her passwords into it, integrate it with her browser, sync it across all her devices, keep its contents secure... which, good luck.

In practice, of course, Betty will do neither of these things; she'll just use the same username and password everywhere. So then it's just a matter of time until a hack on one of the sites she visits opens her up to all kinds of new problems.

Username/password authentication is so, so utterly broken.

Agreed. OAuth isn't a whole lot better and has it's own cons. I have seen SQRL (https://www.grc.com/sqrl/sqrl.htm) but not being much of an encryption expert couldn't say how secure it is, and it doesn't seem to be gaining any adoption. But it is at least a novel approach.

Also, don't most news sites with subscriptions still show adds to subscribers?

Pretty much this. Paid placements in the article are the only tolerable ads on mobile. I used to build news sites for a living, the whole ecosystem runs on the fact that there are users who will click anything. It's dirty, and I liken it to making money by selling free trials that people forget to cancel. Which is why I stopped doing it.

I don't think it's so much that Betty need to buy a subscription, most people just aren't willing to do that, they would rather just deal with ad filled pages. How many people for example pay for gmail? Same problem.

The main issue is how do news websites make money? Other than spamming us with ads, which itself has low ROI, no news website has been able to figure a good solution. And if you point to sites like NY Times, ask yourself first if they are really succeeding if they also didn't spam us with ads too...

Why does it have to affect only 89 year old people? This crap happens to me all the time and I'm 29. A page is loading slowly and I click what I think is the actual content, right as an add is being rendered.

Even worse is when an add overlays the entire page and I can't click around it. It's infuriating.

It peeves me somewhat just how consistently people talking about design for people who are not tech savvy invoke older people and more often women than men. "So easy your grandma/mom could use it" does convey a lot of information but only because I know about the cultural sexism and ageism that is being employed to make the point.

And in this article I think their ageism lead to a logical failure: they say the number of old people is growing, as if people are losing their abilities as they age (which is of course true but not really relevant to "have you chosen to learn to use computers"). Amusingly, they similtaensously make this logical error and acknowledge it by saying eventually all old people will be digital natives... But in the meantime the population is growing.

I'm the same age, and I have this problem too. Beautifully illustrated by the Guardian's website (sorry for Vine, it was the easiest\quickest way to share this with a friend when i made it): https://vine.co/v/hKOBYhVB2mH

Lifehacker does this to me more often than I'd care to admit (when accessing it from my phone).

The cynic in my thinks this is on purpose.

or really good A/B testing.

"Our A/B testing shows that this design increases ad clicks by statistically significant amount"

Yeah, with the elephant in the room being that the increase of ad clicks come from tricking users into doing something they don't want to.

Well, realistically, manipulating people is what the entire advertising/marketing industry is based on to begin with, so that is hardly surprising.

True, though sometimes I do feel that a lot of people in there don't realize what they're really doing. It's a kind of a reality distortion field I see around marketers; some of them really seem to think that what they're doing is valuable for the consumer.

Well, it's their job to make those numbers go up. Which, yes, is in direct conflict with the best interest of their users. But when metrics are set and their livelihood depends on making people click ads more... there you go. The reality distortion field allows them to remain relevant in the eyes of management, as well as feeling a sense of purpose in their role.

The lesson from that is: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that men are separated from good by enough layers of abstraction.

It isn't just Betty who has problems.

I once went to the Amazon.com homepage and counted the number of clickable regions on my screen. The total was over 100. Practical navigation with such an interface is impossible without a highly trained mental/visual filter. Those who have developed such a filter find it easy. Those who haven't, suffer. Those who can't, suffer endlessly.

So throw a typical web interface in front of people with certain kinds of troubles with attention or sensory processing, and you get a disaster.

And even without those troubles, and with the mental filter, how often do you click the wrong thing? Be honest. Pretty often, I'd say.

And then there are the intentional distractions. I've been webbing since '93. I have never had a problem with ads, per se. I've never run Adblock. But I always run Flashblock. Without it, much of the web is a chaotic mess of blinking, beeping nonsense. The future creeping toward us -- with HTML5+JS animations everywhere while I'm trying to read -- is scary indeed.

So think about the ideas in this post for all of us, not just for Betty.

Oh boy, this rings close to home.

I recently got my dad an Android One device. He lives in semi-urban India and has never had a smartphone before. I installed WhatsApp and Skype and watched him interact and find his way through.

Most of the functions/idioms we take for granted were totally unintuitive to him. Some of the examples:

* After opening a chat, how to type when there's no keyboard visible? There is no way to know that touching the text area brings up the keyboard.

* After typing and pressing enter, how to send the message? The traingular 'airplane' icon didn't make sense to him.

* How to access settings and hamburger menus?

I wish there comes a time where UX designers stop quarreling over flat vs skeuomorphic and focus on real usability.

This being said, interfaces should be designed for 'usual users', not 'complete neophytes' (and of course, not 'tech wizards' either). A computer is a complex item; designing an interface so that it can be used with no training and no cultural precursor is designing for an outlier.

The interface should be appropriate and accessible, but it shouldn't make life harder for the normal user in order to onboard neophytes. I think it's reasonable to expect users to get some minor training - after all, what might signify 'next' to a semi-urban Indian might be utterly meaningless to an an elderly recluse in Poland or a scatterbrain in Argentina. Expecting to come up with a universal UI that onboards neophytes with zero training is probably a bit much.

And here's the solution: http://www.w3.org/TR/WCAG20/

Accessibility is for everyone, not just people with "special needs".

True! And I'm pretty certain that things will only get better once a substantial fraction of the people making web sites gets into this age and have the same problems.

I am skeptical that anything the w3c puts out is "a solution" to anything other than increasingly complex design-by-committee recommendations that no one ever fully implements. How about just good graphic design?

Reasonable people can disagree on what constitutes good graphic design. Further, it has little to do with UI/UX. Even further, most UI/UX designers nowadays are focused on the result (the page), rather than doing a lot of the foundation work of creating the interaction model, etc.

I have little visibility into this field, but it strikes me as one with an awful lot of people stretching their self-description. Even amongst the hard core practitioners (UCD/HCI/human factors people), there are many charlatans who cargo cult.

My Great-Uncle (~89) has a Windows laptop. He virtually never uses it. One time I decided to start it up, and it literally had about ten updates that each required a restart. It was a disaster for me, and I do this for a living. I just can't imagine how they expect someone like him to use it.

I have a windows laptop that I use 2 or 3 times a week and sometimes I have 10 updates pending (2 of which fail repeatedly until I uninstall them and re-download them). This is a huge downside of continuous delivery to something that isn't cloud based.

If you want to avoid most of this, use news sources that don't need ads to operate. That means NPR, BBC, CBC, and similar.

I use the NPR news app on my phone, and rarely encounter an ad. Nice benefit is that most of the stories have narrated audio if she wants to switch modes.

Unfortunately the government continues to the cut funding for the CBC.

And the CBC doesn't help its public perception (who have the power to advocate for increased funding) when they give leeway to their stars like Jian Ghomeshi and Amanda Lang that would be unacceptable in other companies.

And it's even considering selling it's Toronto HQ amid staff reductions and budget cuts.

My point? Enjoy CBC while it lasts. Because in a decade or so, it may not even close to comparable to the likes of NPR, BBC, et al.

Major market NPR affiliate developer here. We need ads (digital) and underwriting (OTA) to operate. Member donations are great but don't make up the entire budget.

Still, it's at least not a news source purpose built to drive ad revenue. The culture and mission is different, and it shows in the interface design.

If you're in a position to suggest, let people donate to NPR to get a version of the app that never shows ads as their reward.

I noticed mine recently started very occasionally showing ads down on the bottom, but surely the ad revenue from delivering them to a single person is smaller than the amount a typical NPR listener will donate (if they donate at all).

If you're not in the UK, BBC news has ads mid-article in a lot of their articles. I use the site several times a day and some of the ads are that awkward height where you have to scroll carefully past it to avoid clicking.

This is about more than reading news. It is about how the web works currently and the/a direction it should take.

Your problem isn't "are there ways for her to get the news" - your problem is "is there a way for her to get her news for free". The answer is no. The people who produce that content need a salary so they can feed themselves and potentially their offspring.

If Betty wants the news without all the ads and redirects and other things you list, she can subscribe to any number of publications that will provide ad-free/redirect free content. For a fee.

Yep. Subscribing to the New York Times is just as viable of an option for getting the news as it was in Betty's youth.

Sad (to some) but true.

She reads the NYTimes / New Yorker on her iPad. (I'm the author of this post.)

Does she use a browser to access them, or the Newsstand?

The Newsstand applications for both of those publications seem remarkably un-terrible, compared to their mobile websites. I agree that many news websites, even the mainstream ones, seem full of booby traps, and that it is a problem in general — just that there does seem to be a solution for this specific case.

Newsstand. Both have ads in-line -- and she didn't always remember to click "Reader View" in Safari for the Times.

Also interesting: moisture in hands helps with scrolling. As you age, moisture decreases.

Testing it out, I can't find any ads in the New Yorker app. However, the New York Times app has ads on the side near the bottom of articles, and most annoying, inline links to related NYT articles.

The problem with the links to previous articles is that clicking on them (accidentally or not) takes you to the NYT website. Suddenly you start getting the regular annoyances without it being obvious what you did wrong, and you are not automatically logged in so you will also begin getting notifications about using up your allowed number of free articles.


Betty, who is 89, has likely seen technology make what must seem like monumental changes. My nephew, who is 6, has never seen a world without the internet, smart phones, tablets and other things. Betty, who is 89, will likely be dead within the next decade. My nephew, who is 6, statistically will very likely be alive in that same time.

While I think it's honorable to use better designs to solve real problems for real people, I think we much too often attribute age as a factor in both understanding and operating technology. It's just not. Eyesight, dexterity, lucidity, etc. are factors that may change with age, but don't assume that means you can design for an age bracket. Design for color blindness, shitty internet connections or what have you, but not age. It's stupid, judgemental, and a waste of time.

The sad fact is that most news sites are very intentionally optimizing the minute details of their pages to generate the most ad clicks possible.

The problem of confusing pages that trick you into clicking ads - which, as has been pointed out, is an issue for many non-elderly people as well - is not one of usability ignorance. It's a calculated business decision.

I'd say I'm pretty decent at not accidentally clicking banner ads. But for some reason I've been redirected to the Uber app installation page a dozen times when I was just trying to scroll through text (on the same sites). Either I have some adware or uber is paying to js/meta-redirect me.


Disable 3rd party URL requests and on most sites you will be presented with plain old HTML. It'll look like the web of 20 years ago. It will have big text, consistent styling and affordances, be responsive - basically everything which as been lost after 20 years of the web's evolution.

I do it with uBlock: http://www.ghacks.net/2015/02/08/ublocks-all-and-third-party...

I don't have the impression that the browser extensions can be installed on the mobile devices.

Firefox Mobile allows extensions:


But you could install a custom browser app that does likewise. Only not on an iDevice because Apple says so.

As long as you have "real" Firefox you can install extensions. So you just need a device which runs Windows or Linux. There are plenty of powerful, inexpensive x86 tablets to choose from.

Seems that Readability/Pocket/Instapaper go a long way toward that goal. Safari has a reader view too.

So perhaps it’s simply a browser or setting to always use the Reader view.

And, fwiw, Medium is doing essentially this. Perhaps ads, which hurt usability in obvious and non-obvious ways, are enough of a detriment that they will trend down. Or, perhaps web ads will be more like TV commercials, where nobody mistakes them for the main content.

My mother (67) told me yesterday that her iPad is the best and most favorite thing I've ever given her. She spends more time with it on the couch than on her actual PC.

When the iPad 2 came out I bought her a refurb original iPad, then eventually gave her the iPad 2 and then the original iPad Mini - but she prefers the iPad 2. A refurb iPad Air 2 arrived today as my latest gift for her; mostly because it's lighter.

I've been out of step since the '80s when Apple decided that a picture of a box of Kleenex was more intuitive than the word "print".

"File > Print" is in text and how you'd indicate you wanted to print a document. This brings up a dialog, which then had a Print button, with bold borders indicating it was the default so you could just press the enter/return key. Maybe you're thinking of the Chooser port selection which was a printer but did sorta look like Kleenex box.



"Print" needs to be localized.

Consider that one has to look up the Kleenex box to see what it means; it's worse than looking up "print" because there are no dictionaries for icons.

I found that Flipboard does a pretty good job of presenting stuff really nicely, on Android and iOS. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/flipboard-your-social-news/i...

Agreed, Flipboard does make the reading experience nicer with less junk/UI.

However they have ads within articles now, including some full page ads between article pages.

Most software is still very complicated for older people. I recently helped my 90+ grandfather download a Word document attached to an email, edit the document, print a copy, and reply with the edited version attached. You would not believe how much prerequisite knowledge this takes for someone computer-illiterate.

I think there is a big hole in the market for software that is designed to be as easy as possible at the expense of power/flexibility. The article talks about people 75+, but I think the cutoff where a majority of people have a hard time with computers is younger than that. I bet that someone who really tried hard to make an integrated suite of senior-friendly software would do well.

Most software is still very complicated for people old or young or in between.

No kids these days are so much smarter, they just get this technology.

I think they're just less afraid to break things.

I take it you haven't heard that exact thing from parents or the sarcasm didn't make it through the wires.

Yes, the reason is the kid doesn't have to worry about paying for it when it breaks, so they don't care.

Seeing as this thread is about software, I think the point might be that kids know they can't really break software, so they're more willing to experiment.

Informing my mom that she should just try stuff out on her Mac b/c she isn't going to break stuff was huge to help her get over her fear that she's going to click a wrong button and break something on a very expensive device.

[This doesn't address the issue of malware, of course, which is (in a sense) "breaking" your security by clicking a link]

Breaking things can mean many things, from physically breaking it to loss of data.

Either way, kids don't care yet and just plow on doing whatever.

Ah, I was indeed talking about software, and about people breaking things by accident.

I had the same issue with my mom, it became better when I told her that the computer will ask before doing something irreversal (and even then it might be fixable), and I will only help her after she thinks she broke it.

While I was happily taking apart the OS as a kid. The only thing that really broke was a game that switched to US layout after I checked it out in a hex editor. (The Sims, you can read the comments in the code, quite neat. :) )

Seems like an RSS reader could fix all this. You don't even need a subscription to a service, just download a decent RSS reader app for the iPad and subscribe to a few news sources.

A $5 RSS app aimed at having a wall of text with as few bells and whistles as possible could be a good product idea for someone with nothing to do this upcoming weekend.

Problem is, all these suggestions that would make news sites better for Betty, would make news sites better for EVERYBODY. News sites variously depend on people clicking ads, refreshing pages, getting distracted, etc, so that they can make money / keep attention.

Also - if this sort of mode was popular, people might start linking to IT instead of the normal content. Note how the printer-friendly layout of news articles at the large sites is handled in CSS now, where it used to be a link to a separate page. In the past, people shared links to the print version, out of an abundance of courtesy.

Are there better ways to design the news for them? Have you seen something that would be well-designed for Betty?

This might not be in the right spirit but I think there is.. the radio. BBC Radio 4 thrives on this sort of audience who wants to be informed and entertained with the least complication possible.

Maybe as an extension of that answer, a voice controlled audio experience of sorts could work longer term. If Betty wants to know the latest news about Obama, say, she could just ask for that and get the latest audio report.

I'm less than half Betty's age, and I have many of the same problems, both on mobile web and on my laptop (which has a touchpad that does gestures and multi-touch).

Zooming/resizing, in particular, pretty much just happens at random for me. I can't avoid it when I don't want to resize and can't make it work when I do want to resize. I didn't love the old "+|-" UI elements in the old Android (way back in the ~1.3 days, I guess), but I didn't hate them, the way I rage about random resizing. And, it's universal, too. It's not a thing that is unique to Android, or iOS or Windows, or Linux; I have these problems no matter what OS I'm using. Multitouch interfaces are really difficult for me to use.

My mom has an iPad, and she has a hard time with this kind of stuff, too. But, then again, the mouse was also hard for her...she managed to almost entirely miss the desktop/laptop computer age, by leaving my dad in charge of all computer-oriented activity, but now that he's gone, she has had to learn.

Anyway, it's clear that most technology is designed by and for able-bodied people in their 20s and 30s. Everybody else just kinda has to figure out workarounds (my dad used to have the resolution on his display set really low in Windows, so that everything would be big, so he could read it...there are ways to make Windows use large fonts and such, but not all software respects those settings, so he found the most universally consistent way to get big fonts was to work at a very low resolution).

Somehow that whole description reminded me on the Drudge Report approach to design. Just super clear, easy and functional and forgetting about anything else.

For me, it is simple design at its best. This article from 37signals in 2008 hits the nail on the head...

Why the Drudge Report is the one of the best designed sites on the web... https://signalvnoise.com/posts/1407-why-the-drudge-report-is...

HN submission... https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=9188663

I'm about half Betty's age.

All I want is text. I don't want links, I don't want ads, I don't want dancing clowns, email sign-up sheets, click-to-advance slide-shows, or any of the other 14,000 ways websites seek to suck me in. Just give me the fucking news.

It's frustrating. We're turning every part of our lives into some weird spinoff of an X-Box. I can't have a transactional relationship with a site. Let's say I want to travel. Can I just speak into my phone and tell it where I want to fly to, then have it set up the flights? Heck no. Instead I end up on a responsive, immersive, gamified POS that's one missoin in life is to keep me around and keep me coming back. Guess what? I don't want to be around, and I don't want to be coming back. I just want the stupid flight.

I don't think being a digital native has anything to do with it. This is all about what kinds of relationships we're going to expect and demand from our technology. So far the trend is not good. If somebody will fix this for older people, count me as a customer too.

I really don't quite get this. My parents are 83 and they don't live a different digital life than my friends (who like myself are in their late 40s). They send emails, they browse the web, they use smartphones.

My parents, having more time, edit wikipedia entries, which I'm pretty sure most of my friends have never done or wouldn't know how to do.

There's nothing special about being over 80. Your friends are dying all around you, and you start thinking about death more. But if you don't lose your head to Alzheimer's, you still can think, you still can learn. And you certainly can use tech objects like computers and tablets.

Ads are an abomination for everyone. The one improvement for tablets would be the ability to install Adblock at the device level. That would help all users, not just "seniors".

It seems likely that for the people designing such web sites, these "bugs" are actually features, since they get paid by the click, accidental or not.

Not sure I should promote the competitors, but SmartNews is doing a great job with their offline read mode (just double tap on the news, instead of a single tap).

By direct experience, at Theneeds the majority of the complains that we receive from users are about ads - and we have no ads, we just embed the original sources into an iframe (which is of course something the average user doesn't understand - for him, we're putting ads).

I'd be interested in understanding what does Betty (or equivalent) think about a recommended stream approach, where you can at least have a preview of several news without incurring in ads/abnormal things... and ok, you'll have ads if you want to read the full article.

Another major problem with mobile devices is it is very hard to hold them without accidentally interacting with them. My Dad has this problem on his Android phone, and I notice this too whenever I try to hand my phone to someone to show them an article or picture. Of course, having a rubber bumper around the phone helps quite a bit, but somehow they need to come up with a way to differentiate a grasp that touches the screen, vs. a deliberate button push on the screen (maybe by filtering out screen presses when a similar pressure is detected on the back of the phone/tablet in the same region?)

Sounds more like a browser than a website. E.g., like a screen reader. And/or add a service part of it, where filters aid in delivering the content more cleanly. Actually it sounds like Instapaper. I would start there.

May I share how I solved this "Betty problem" for myself? I am not that old but still worry about these issues.


Your gateway headlines page is great, but they still all lead to articles on web UX hell ;)

Yes agree, but that's a second layer problem. I am solving the first layer problem for myself.

Nice work, I like it.

Thanks. It has also been practical for me as I use it daily to quickly scroll through the front page, when I don't have enough time. But when I do have enough time, I look at the individual pages and feeds section. I would only click on any link(s) if I find them interesting enough to read further. The front page quickly gives me birds eye view of the daily news from various sources.

If you bought a real domain for this, I'm sure people would find it to be useful.

The solution, in the medium-long term, may be voice interface:

* "I want to read the New Yorker"

* "Open the article about traveling in India"

* "Open the email from Jennifer"

* "Open the attachment"

* "Attach the document I just edited to a reply to Jennifer"

The problem is that mainstream consumers don't want nor need voice control. Voice recognition is good enough, but handling of free-form commands is a problem we haven't solved sufficiently well for mainstream enjoyment. Old people is rarely a target demographic for anything.

There's a project called Saulify being worked on over at Assembly which re-formats articles for a cleaner, responsive design.

I'd be interested in forking it or a similar project to better adapt it to this use case.

On a related note a friend of mine is the co-founder of a company aiming to fix this very problem. Their approach is portal software that allows users to interact with common services through a more simplistic, and better age-targeted service. Check it out here[1].

[1] - http://pleasyweb.com/

My grandparents have a stylus for their iPad and that helps a whole lot!

+1 My 93 year old Dad uses a stylus for him iPad Air and it really helps him. He also has a Mac Desktop Pro (for his video editing and 3D animation) and has less trouble with mouse and keyboard.

The a good small device skill is the "soft touch" because then only a small part of your finger is making contact with the touch screen. My Dad seems to have problems doing this.

What an amazing mini-case study here. Really good point regarding news and links. Generally in newspapers you don't read part of an article, move to another one, and then to another one similarly to how a hyperlinked article is laid out.

This is one of the main reasons Google is moving towards a focus on mobile usability. One of their biggest warnings I see site owners get slammed for is "links too close together" and this is a great example of that.

>Generally in newspapers you don't read part of an article, move to another one, and then to another one...

I actually do this more when reading a physical newspaper than reading newspapers online. With several articles laid out on the same physical page and articles jumping from one page to another mid-article, I read articles uninterrupted beginning to end much less frequently than when reading on the typical newspaper website. Or am I misunderstanding what you'er saying here?

News blogs have started to out and out change the subject by putting a break in the article and then a "SEE ALSO:" link to a completely different story which may or may not be related but probably won't cause you to understand the current story any better. It's very distracting and is also very self-serving as they are just trying to get more page views out of you.

Take a look at the Accessibility Guidelines at http://www.w3.org/WAI/intro/wcag

Read it. Remember it. Not everyone has perfect eye sight or hearing. Not to mention this woman, at age 89, probably has some form of (bone, nerve, skin, muscle) deterioration like arthritis. Which means, pressing tiny buttons on a small screen considerably more difficult.

The problem with slower internet and refurbished tech for the elderly or poor is that it is slower.

Slower means people think the computer isn't doing anything.

That means clicking more. Which means the computer gets slower.

If anything, the poor and elderly need faster internet and faster computers. We geeks know how to deal with a slow computer (even if it's frustrating). We know when to stop pushing it and what a thrashing hard drive means to its performance.

The entire industry is intentionally trying to distract her from the story, to get her to click on something that she didn't intend to, and to install trackers and malware on her computer.

People aren't delivering her the news primarily out of concern that she know or passion that she understand why they believe what they believe; it's for the income that results from convincing her to click on particular things.

> Here’s what I’m picturing:

a site with simple resizable text + photos with links clearly differentiated in some way (maybe links are at the bottom or in a clearly delineated box) or a site with text and photos and no links no pop-ups, no overlaid ads, no bait-and-switch links easy and big scroll buttons maybe two-steps needed to leave the page

I'd like to use this version of the internet too! Where do I sign up?

I know there's a valley startup - http://www.grandpad.net/ - making a hardware/software solution for this style of need. I'm not sure if they have the software part for this part of the application yet. I'll see if their live chat can weigh in...

Firefox Android's "Reader Mode" goes part way to solving this problem.


But of course, that's another random piece of UI to memorise.

Serious question: I have watched my mother struggle with the internet for years. Latest was gmail: it is completely incomprehensible to an older person: a v complicated UI full of hieroglyphs and complex or unanticipated concepts (threads/conversations), email auto categorised into different folders/tabs (social etc), cc & bcc hidden, replies rendering below the fold, tiny buttons, links hidden in menus that don't look like menus (sign out etc), distracting/confusing links elsewhere (g+).

I often struggle with gmail.... for older people it's near impossible.

I can't wondering if there's a market for a ridiculously simple, clear email interface offering just the basic functions.

As the developer of Red Stamp Mail I can tell you that there is in fact such a market, albeit small (or perhaps I just suck at marketing).

The problems you describe are exactly what I tried to fix, and users seem very happy to have a simple email application that is free from advertisments, and does not get a "face lift" that makes everything worse every few months.

There's also PawPawMail, which is even simpler and caters to users who need a family member to help them (e.g. manage their contacts list).

http://redstampmail.com http://pawpawmail.com/

Very interesting. I imagine marketing to an older age group requires leveraging more traditional channels though.

Probably a trade secret, but what is your most successful marketing channel?

Well, I made an initial decision to keep Red Stamp Mail very affordable. It wasn't built to make money, but rather to help people. But I did not want to make it totally free for various reasons - I wanted it to at least cover its operational costs.

So the subscription price is very low - $18 per YEAR. This means that most marketing channels are simply too expensive (customer acquisition cost > customer lifetime value).

I gave Google Adwords a very serious try, but the results were unimpressive. Other guerilla-ish marketing attempts also did not succeed.

So basically the most effective channel is ranking high in search results for relevant terms (e.g. "email for seniors").

Something else that bothers me immensely about such interfaces (admittedly i avoid Google mail but i have another paid email service with a similarly misguided modern web UI) is that my browser blocks @font-face CSS directives (security-motivated), and these days the fashion is to load “icons” from external fonts. This leaves me with a Unicode box-character, forcing me to hover over buttons to discover their meaning, or guessing based on their placement. I would go as far as to say that this trend (of fonts-as-resource-repositories) is perhaps my least favourite Web n.0 evolution: most evils (e.g., popups, blinking lights, horrible stylesheets) i can circumvent relatively effectively with NoScript or whatever, but this truly has me stumped.

Needless to say i use a proper email client on my own machine as much as possible, but obviously this isn't an option 100% of the time.

Do you also want a ridiculously simple interface for darker skinned people? Or for women? Gmail is probably too hard for them too. </sarcasm>

Ageism is not cool.

Before Amazon jumped on the touchscreen bandwagon, I would have suggested a Kindle with a new subscription, whether something that's paid, or by rolling your own via Calibre.

Now, not so much. Maybe find an older Kindle keyboard (or 5th Gen) and have stuff delivered onto it. Doesn't quite give her the same sense of pulling content, but it might be less fraught than browsing on an iPad.

Another option, though, might be to find the feeds from the sources she likes, run them through a full-text feed generator, feed that into an email delivery service (e.g., blogtrottr) and have those added to something like Readability or Instapaper. Would work well on the iPad and there would be very little to mis-click.

I did http://yaxero.com which has THE simplest possible layout to consume news (although tech and gaming subsections are the most active, not sure if Betty is interested in that).

I watched my mum, who isn't even close to Betty's age but is not exactly part of the new tech age, unwrap her Nexus 7 (2012) tablet for the first time and go through the introductory tutorial. After correctly doing everything on the screen, she still didn't know how to use the device.

I gathered that despite the focus on certain tutorial buttons, she wasn't reading the text beside it because it was long sentences with small text which she paused to read for a short time. I guess she read it but didn't really understand what they meant?. So she was just following the big blue buttons 'Next'.

Give Betty one of those silly little touch pens for her browsing. My elderly father uses one of those and he swears by it.

It improves his precision not just by being familiar but also because it lets him be accurate and precise.

From an overall design process, strong consideration needs to be given to the functional reason as to why someone who didn't grow up with with technology would decide to use it. It could be as simple as a need to communicate with grandchildren who live far away, or it could be as complex as finding ways to retain independence and being self-sufficient after moving into a retirement residence. This question needs to be asked before venturing down the design-path, "how much closer does this service get the user to fulfilling their need?".

Oh, come on. I am not 89 and I would like to get my news that way already.

> She kept accidentally clicking on the ads

You know this is the primary business model when Slashdot moves to putting four huge ads right below the summary and fills the screen right to the absolute edges. I don't know how many times I've clicked on the Cardashian game by accident. Is there even one person who reads Slashdot and would play any of those advertised games? Slashdot must expect tons of accidental clicks, though I don't see why the game publishers would want to pay for them?!

The BBC News mobile app is a good example. Each article is predictably laid out. There are no ads. Nothing happens if you accidentally click the photos while scrolling. Give it a try!

There are ads if you use it outside of the UK :)

I've used it as my main source of getting news from back home. Ignoring the quality of the editing (I spot a spelling or obvious grammar mistake almost daily), the app is decent.

It's straightforward. I can pick the categories I want. It just gives you the top X articles per category, nothing more. Doesn't link you elsewhere. One headline, one thumbnail image, sometimes 1 image embedded in the article. There's are very few buttons to be confused by. One of them is font size. I'd say it's pretty grandma-friendly!

This was true until the recent update - now there are massive great images and you have to scroll around an infinite canvas-style arrangement before you can even find the article you're looking for. Fails the grandma test immediately.

Odd. I am outside the UK, and I don't see ads on the Android app at all.

Each article is predictably laid out. There are no ads.

If you're in the UK, yes. Otherwise, there are ads.

A browser is the correct application to read the news, but all the mentioned issues are related to the spammy nature of news websites. If I redesigned their web layout, Betty would have no problem reading the news, especially if her browser has a setting to increase the default font size.

However, news companies would lose money and go out of business since heavy advertising is their business, but should an entity relying on borderline spam have any necessary reason to stay around?

I only use my ipad occasionally. For me the most annoying thing is that it constantly thinks I am trying to highlight text for copying. I have never once actually tried to copy text on an ipad (where would I paste it ? It's not really a device for editing text). Infuriating. Maybe there's a setting somewhere that I could change.

TLDR; The more things change the more they stay the same. Developers still struggle to build systems that suit more casual users.

> with links clearly differentiated in some way (maybe links are at the bottom or in a clearly delineated box)

Back in my day links were blue and they were underlined and we liked it.

Add a system wide toggle to Force Touch(TM) all links/buttons to avoid the accidental taps.

Personally I think there should be some learning algorithm to seamlessly calibrate the threshold for Force Touch(TM) by evaluating when something has been misclicked - such as taping on a link and then back before the page is loaded - and increase the force threshold. I really hope Apple will implement this in Safari for their new Macbook.

Really surprised no one has mentioned Flipboard. They take many of the best news sources from the web and reformat them for great mobile viewing.

My biggest pet peeve with using a mobile device on the web is when a site appears to have loaded but it's not, it's just waiting on a crappy CDN so as I'm clicking on something, the page shifts and I click something else entirely. And this is on a fast 4G connection!

It's easy to say I should be patient. Sure ok. But I think designers need to pay attention to the speed of their site.

"But I think designers need to pay attention to the speed of their site."

How is this the designer's fault? Perhaps the CDN or the developer or whomever is mandating 37 different tracking scripts be loaded onto each page ... but I'm not sure how the designer should be faulted unless they're creating very asset-heavy webpages.

"I'm not sure how the designer should be faulted unless they're creating very asset-heavy webpages."

This is tending towards the norm.

Edit: Maybe I should include and/or replace designer with developer?

Maybe the designer should think about what speed connection the person who is accessing the site is using before they use a couple hundred kilobytes of web fonts on their page ?

There really should be some latency in mobile browser between when a clickable component appears and when it is actually clickable. I don't know how many times I've tried to click something and an ad has appeared under my finger milliseconds before I click, pushing the content down. It's infuriating, especially on a slow connection.

I don't think it exists.

Here's something that comes close: http://news.myway.com/index.html

This is less useful: http://www.newsisfree.com/pages/power/?cat=1

The really interesting thing is this largely a demographic with disposable income and without the belief that everything should be free. It seems like this would be a decent niche market to try and break into if you could provide enough content for a subscription.

The problem is they tend to be more isolated than other customers might be. It's hard to go viral with old people - I suppose you could try advertising on Fox News.

I think confused (older) person accidentally clicking on ads is a pretty viable business model

This website may help Betty. https://www.readability.com turns any web page into a clean view for reading now or later on your computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Been there. Large bookmarks with mobile website versions. Adblock proxy on wifi router (even /etc/hosts blocking could do). Advanced version is GreaseMonkey with some scripts/styles to customize often used websites.

I have same problem, i really really would like to go back web 1.0, just text with minimal design and max pictures. living in this JS heavy world and using http and html for something it was never intended to be used is silly.

She's already on an iPad why not use the built-in "Reader View" in Safari? This is exactly why it was built, to simplify web pages for reading. No need to build a custom solution to reformat websites.

Makes one wonder if we were better of with teletext, where one had to explicitly type the number of the "page" one wanted.

And do memory fail me, or did the early web work in the same manner?

It wouldn't be the web if it didn't have links.

Why doesn't she just subscribe to a newspaper? The main reason her experience is so bad is she's getting her news for "free" (paying with her accidental clicks).

However she gets it, hopefully she takes it with a grain of salt.

The article doesn't answer how she gets her news currently.

Technically it does - on an iPad with a slow connection.

Granted, it's a little lacking in peripheral details, like whether that's her only news source...

It is. (I'm the author.)

I would have thought something like Pulse or Flipbook, or even the BBC News App would be right up Betty's alley.

most of the bigger news outlets have very nice mobile apps. you can buy subscriptions on there and read the news without ads.

since this is obviously not really working (yet?), i am really curious on how future journalists will generate revenue other than ads (eventually something will come up i guess).

Hell, make this for the rest of us. You don't need to be old to want that kind of internet.

How about an RSS feed for Betty. Lots of news feeds don't have ads in their RSS.

Ironic that a post about usability has a typeface that's really hard to read.

I love that Propose Change Feature of Github. It's natural and easy to use.

My mom says she wants a "jitterbug tablet". She would pay for simple.

Many of the sites have the same issue and people are getting duped into it.

Amazon Echo: "Alexa, what's the news?"

Circa on Android fulfills a lot of these criteria.

I'm feeling the same way as Betty.

NNTP worked really nicely for information distribution until two people called Canter and Siegel shit all over it. I've thought for some time that the primary virtues of NNTP were that it was text-based and client-centric.

You don't need a whole lot of stuff in a news article. Text, basic formatting, images, references, maybe a table or chart. Just because you can make elaborate interactive graphics doesn't mean that you should, most of the time. HTML is way overpowered for news and (more to the point) it makes it too easy for publishers to distribute crap to downstream users like Betty.

This brings me to the other side of the equation; the client. I do not just want an embedded browser. I've grown to hate the way that publishers, and their minions, the designers (^_^) have slapped CSS all over everything in order to brand every aspect of the web experience. I actually have preferences of my own about fonts, layout and so on, and I really miss being able to configure client software to display things the way I liked to look at them rather than the way some Jolt-chugging framework addict with a me-too manager wants to show it to me.

There are huge untapped opportunities in news delivery, of the sort I'd be willing to pay for. Why is there no way, for example, to pull up a globe that shows me where the hottest news stories are right now, or to use the same mapping layer for all geographic data contained in news stories, or build and share correlates, or set rules for source integrity to filter the obvious content farms that keep cropping up in my Google news feed, and so on?

News is ever-changing, but it's also consistent enough in lots of ways that it should super-enhanced by machine learning by now: the action and outcomes of individual sporting fixtures is highly unpredictable, but the context and seasonal progress of sporting fixtures is nearly invariant. Likewise, I don't know which country in the world will supply next week's most consequential events, but I do know that the list of countries and their associated geographic features vary very little over time. All stories involving weather take place in the context of seasonal variations over annual and decadal timeframes; by extension so do a vast number of economic news stories that involve commodities, and monthly and annual cycles are inherent to all sorts of economic and commercial activity. For a good many topics, there are only a few interesting facts worth parsing out of a 500-word story; much of the content is just contextual boilerplate. And yet when I go to Google Finance all I get is this mess of news headlines, uncorrelated data series, and market weathervanes. There is a great set of tools in Google Trendsbut there doesn't seem to be any systematic undertaking to integrate them with the feed of news.

My best guess is that most people are simply not interested enough in news to see a viable subscription-based model, or even an ad-based one based on carefully managed ads (like Google search results rather than the hideous eye candy that pollutes most news websites). I'll shut up now rather than waste an hour and thousands of words sketching specifications for how digital news ought to operate.


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