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[Stumblings in the dark] - a sporadic weblog

Thursday, 11th of February, 2010

The internets are hard for some people… (1:43 pm)

Yesterday, ReadWriteWeb published an article about the new changes at Facebook, including their new arrangement integrating Facebook into AOL Instant Messenger, and also the implications of Facebook Connect. It's a good article, but had the strange misfortune (one might say) of getting onto the first page of Google results for "facebook login".

As we say, here on the internets, hilarity ensued. The comments thread was almost instantly deluged with people who appear to login to facebook by typing "facebook login" into Google, clicking on some high-up link, and then… trying to login. They are then confronted with RWW's blog post, seem to find their way to the Facebook Connect button, and believe they are thus logging into Facebook.

It's really hilarious. You should read the thread, or as much as you can bear. Pages and pages of it.

1. Ok If I have to I will comment,I love facebook so right now just want to log in if thats ok with you..lol Keep up the good work…
12. I just want to log in to Facebook – what with the red color and all? LOLLLOLOL!!!!!111
91. Ok so just when i thought I had about 65% learned facebook, you go and change stuff. No fair.

And so on. All the above are authenticated Facebook users.

But it's more than just hilarious. It's a good lesson for those of us for whom the internet comes easy. It brings the message home even more strongly than the stupid email forwards and Facebook memes and phishing scams. This is what we're dealing with.

Sure, Facebook Connect is a slightly complex concept: it's one of a number of ways that people can tell any site who they are; you say to that site (RWW in this case), "I'm Peter Hollo at Facebook", and prove it by authenticating with Facebook Connect. The site gets some confirmation direct from Facebook, and says, "OK, you're now Peter Hollo (Facebook) over here and can comment away".
Facebook thus becomes a kind of centralised identity provider, and they're in competition with Google, Twitter and others in this regard.

Trouble is, the people we're dealing with in this comments thread are miles away from understanding this. They don't seem to even understand the URL bar – and one begins to see why phishing scams are so successful… They recognize the branding of Facebook, but take little else from the page they're presented with. Google said it was a "facebook login" page, so why is it all red? Where's my Farmville?

I'm not sure what the ultimate lesson is here, but we should at least remember that there are an awful lot of people out there who are essentially internet illiterate, and are trying to get by in this fast-moving, intertextual, inter-connected world. And it's hard.
Let's have a little laugh, and then have a think about the implications – for site design, for more general web strategising, and of course for education.

2 Responses to “The internets are hard for some people…”

  1. Jessica says:

    Yup, I've seen some pretty strange behaviour from people whose jobs are basically un-doable without the internet and who you'd expect to know how these things work. You're 100% right about the address bar. I've seen more than one person make a habit of typing the address they want into Google and then click through.
    For these people Google *is* 'the internet' and they are clinging to what little they know for dear life!
    As a member of Gen Y who took to the internet like a duckling in water it's hard to realise that this impersonal, context-sensitive mode of communication is inherently abstract and thus as confusing to people whose existence is inherently material and concrete as their communication is for me.
    But there it is: we all communicate differently. And some people really are going to continue being really bad at the internet…

  2. Michael says:

    Can't remember the exact number, but Google reported that a reasonable percentage of searches could have been typed into the address bar directly to get the desired result.

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