Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Point of No Back Button

My endless trek across the once-barren, now-lush lands of the interwebs have brought me to this point. I realized it just this moment. The feeling sank in my gut, chewed holes at every web usability study I've read, and screamed at my very world view: I don't use the back button. Ever.

Does it surprise you? It surprised me, for a moment.

What does your browsing experience look like? If you're like myself and a growing number of the web surfing public, you've probably hung up your surf board by now. Actually manually browsing around websites is boring, time consuming, and just gosh-darn unproductive in todays where-the-hell-is-Noah flood of information. The ark hasn't been built yet, but we make do, for now, with our dingy-scale feed readers. Heck, Google Reader even comes with an oar!

So as I browse down a single, long list of new gumdrops to read this day, a lot comes up I might want to look into further. Maybe I want to comment, follow up on some links, or just abuse the Firefox browser's tab functionality as a reading queue. A huge heaping majority (I'll guesstimate 95%) of the actual web pages I open actually have their back buttons disabled, because they have nowhere to go back to.

Now, exceptions are abound in the world of software (the monkeys in the audience will laugh in a muttered way and get a depressed feeling of omg-im-a-geek). Yes, I do use the back button. I use it quite rarely and I think the majority of the cases where I actually use it can be attributed to poor and annoying website design. A recent example case would be download links for GIMP for Windows taking me to the annoying SourceForge download pages, and not the file itself. I only used the back button to return to the Win-GIMP website to download the next file. So, if we attribute all the cases where I do but shouldn't have to use the back button, I might guesstimate even 99% of the tabs I have open never get their back buttons exercised.

I understand this is not the norm, but neither are the blog and feed devouring web lovers of the world, yet. Most of the information digesting public do tend to remain on the roaming plains of the network. Their numbers are dwindling, I suspect, in ratio to our own numbers. (Does anyone have numbers about this?)


2 comments:

Paul Boddie said...

I use the "Back" button all the time, but then I've been using the Web since around 1993/1994. It wouldn't surprise me if many people hardly ever use it, but it's still probably impossible to navigate effectively without it, and alternative browsing tools such as navigation history trees arguably provide a more intuitive interface that might be more useful even to people who shun the "Back" button. So, I don't think such things are obsolete by any means.

Fuzzyman said...

I use the back button quite a lot as well. Often I just want to quickly glance at a page that is linked to, so rather than open it in a new tab I use the link followed by the back button...

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I am happily employed by the excellent Caktus Group, located in beautiful and friendly Carrboro, NC, where I work with Python, Django, and Javascript.

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