Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E


web user applications users

Shawren Singh
University of South Africa, South Africa


The term “Electronic Commerce” (EC) conjures various interpretations. Figure 1.1 shows some of the different types of EC, of which there are many, such as Business-to-Business (B2B); Business-to-Consumer (B2C); Consumer-to-Business (C2B); Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C); People-to-People (P2P); non-business EC; intrabusiness (organisational) EC; business-to-employees (B2E); government-to-citizen (G2C); exchange-to-exchange (E2E); collaborative commerce; ultimate commerce (u-commerce) and mobile commerce (m-commerce).

A certain basic infrastructure is required for any type of EC to function efficiently. Key components of this infrastructure are networks, Web servers, Web servers’ support and software, electronic catalog, Web page design and construction software, transactional software and Internet access components (Turban, Rainer & Potter, 2001).

The infrastructure on which the EC application is built will affect the users’ experience of that application. It is generally accepted that any EC that does not provide the user with such experience will not thrive (Brandt, 1999). The traditional approaches of enticing a purchase in brick-and-mortar commerce, such as atmosphere, placement of goods, lightning and so forth, cannot be applied to online commerce. Nielsen (1999) contends that a “bad” user interface is one of the reasons for EC failure. Interaction and participation are the emotional hooks for EC, and the developers of EC sites should bear this in mind.


As companies realised that their EC ventures were not as successful as they had anticipated and were prone to failure, they began to investigate alternate development strategies to deal with this rapidly changing environment. One such approach that has won favour amongst Web application developers is agile development methodologies (ADMs). ADMs do not have prescriptive processes and do not define detailed procedures on how to create a given type of model. Instead, they provide advice on how to be effective as a modeller. As opposed to the traditional development approaches, ADMs are not hard and fast. ADMs can also be seen as a craft and not a science (Ambler, 2003).

With regard to the World Wide Web (WWW), Pressman (2000, p. 8) states: “What worries me is that this major new technology has become a breeding ground for important Web applications that are hacked in much the same way as important application software was hacked a few generations back—in the 1960s and 1970s.”

Pressman (2000) goes on to say that the current basic Web development philosophy is that Web applications must be developed within days or weeks. The argument is that time frames do not allow for anything but a rush to the finish line. Web applications are constantly evolving. The argument, then, is why spend time on specifying what is needed and designing how to build it when everything will change anyway? Web applications are inherently different from other application software. The argument is that the content (text, graphics, images, audio and video, for example) is inextricably integrated with procedural processing.

Pressman believes that people who use Web applications are more tolerant of errors. The argument is that users really want exciting Web sites that are up and running in days. He argues that it is almost impossible to know what Web applications users really want, because the demographics of Web visitors are so hard to predict. We believe that as Web applications are becoming an integral part of life, users’ fault tolerance is becoming much lower. The people who build Web applications are different. Web developers are free thinkers, who certainly would feel unduly constrained by the old ways. In fact, talk of a disciplined approach, other than “build it, test it to death (if time permits), and then put it online,” usually results in grimaces all around. The development of applications for the WWW, therefore, has its own set of unique problems. No current theory adequately addresses how to effectively create Web sites for online selling.


Usability refers to how usable a system is from a user’s point of view. Usability concerns are not about presentation, but a whole gamut of exchanges that form human-computer interaction. Below are some issues that need to be considered to improve usability.


Some people dislike computers or are made anxious by them; others are attracted to or eager to use them (Kotze, 2000). Often, members of these divergent groups disapprove or are suspicious of members of the other community. Even people who enjoy using computers may have different preferences for interaction styles, pace of interaction, graphics vs. tabular presentations, dense vs. sparse data presentation, step-by-step work vs. all-at-once work and so forth. These differences are important. A clear understanding of personality and cognitive styles can be helpful in designing systems for a specific community of users.

Another perspective on individual differences has to do with cultural, ethnic, racial or linguistic background (Kotze, 2000). It seems obvious that users who were raised learning to read Japanese or Chinese will scan a screen differently from users who were raised to read English or Afrikaans. Users from cultures that have a more reflective style or respect for ancestral traditions may prefer interfaces different from those chosen by users from cultures that are more action-oriented or novelty-based.

The term “culture” is often wrongly associated with national boundaries. Culture should rather be defined as behavior typical of a group or class of people. Culture is conceptualized as a system of meaning that underlies routine and behavior in everyday working life. Culture includes race and ethnicity as well as other variables and is manifested in customary behaviors, assumptions and values, patterns of thinking and communicative style.

As software producers expand their markets by introducing their products in other countries, they face a host of new interface considerations (Kotze, 2000). Little is known about computer users from different cultures, but designers are regularly called on to create designs for other languages and cultures. The growth of a worldwide computer market means that designers must prepare for internationalization. Software architectures that facilitate customization of local versions of user interfaces should be emphasized. The simplest problem is the accurate translation of their product to the target language. For example, all text (instructions, help, error messages, labels) might be stored in files, so that versions in other languages could be generated with little or no programming. Hardware concerns include character sets, keyboards and special input devices. Other problems include sensitivity to cultural issues, such as the use of images and color. User interface design concerns for internationalization are long and full of pitfalls. Whereas early designers were often excused for cultural and linguistic slips, the current highly competitive atmosphere means that more effective localization will often produce a strong advantage. Nowhere else is this more true than in the e-commerce environment.


Dix (1998), for example, put forward principles to support usability in three categories: Learnability , flexibility and robustness. Learnability refers to the ease with which new users can begin effective interaction and then attain a maximal level of performance. Usability principles related to learnability include predictability, synthesizability, familiarity, generalizability and consistency. Flexibility refers to the multiplicity of ways in which the user and the system exchange information. A user is engaged with a computer to achieve some set of goals in the work or task domain. Usability principles related to flexibility include dialogue initiative, multi-threading, task migratability, substitutivity and customisability. Robustness refers to the level of support given to the user in determining successful achievement and assessment of goals. Usability principles related to robustness include observability, recoverability, responsiveness and task conformance.

Shneiderman (1998) also focused on this aspect. He advocates three groups of principles when he discusses user-centered design. Many of these over-lap with the principles proposed by Dix et al. (1998). Shneiderman’s (1998) principles include recognition of diversity, use of the eight golden rules of interface design and prevention of errors.

All applications require user interfaces, the design of which is not a trivial matter. The same is true for e-commerce and any other Web-based applications. Shneiderman (1998) states that within the ocean (WWW) of information “there are also lifeboat Web pages offering design principles, but often the style parallels the early user-interface writings of the 1970s.” The problem of early user interfaces, ignoring the abilities and preferences of the users, is therefore still present.

Nielsen (1996) focuses specifically on the user interface and the usability of Web applications, and identifies 10 common mistakes that Web page authors make: Using frames; gratuitous use of bleeding-edge technology; complex user resource locations (URLs); long scrolling pages; lack of navigation support; non-standard link colors; scrolling text, marquees and constantly running animations; orphan pages; long download times; and outdated information.


Following usability principles would not necessarily guarantee a successful interactive system, but would go a long way towards preventing major disasters or failures of e-commerce activities.


User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or