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Usability and Design of WiFi Interstitial Pages

You’re out somewhere, maybe a coffee shop or an airport.  Suddenly, a man falls to the floor – you need to know – what’s the antidote for tricyclic antidepressants*?  You grab your laptop or mobile and use the local WiFi to look up the answer –

Only to be annoyed and inconvenienced by the interstitial “terms and conditions” page that the coffee shop and/or airport redirects your browser to.  Time is of the essence!  Why do they need a 2-minute flash animation to load an “I agree” button?

Thus ends my attempt to make a relatively boring subject seem interesting.  In any event, I can’t be the only person who’s noticed that WiFi login or “terms and conditions” pages are often way more complicated and annoying than they need to be.

In the hope that someone, somewhere will do a quick search before implementing one and come across this blog, here are some guidelines.  These all follow logically from supporting the user’s goal, which is to get info quickly, and the business’ goal, which is to attract and keep customers.

Do not require Flash, ActiveX, or god forbid Silverlight.  Nothing you could want to do here could possibly require it, and there are lots of WiFi-enabled mobile devices that don’t have it.  Do you really want to poke a finger in the eye of every customer with an iPhone?  If we’ve already bought iPhones,  we obviously like spending money!

Make the checkboxes / buttons large enough to click on a small device.  So that people with touchscreen PDAs, Blackberries, iPhones and G1’s will be able to touch it on their screens.

Make the page and any server-side code fast.  Stay out of the user’s way as much as possible.  If your code can’t accept a form and do some logging without dragging a user’s browsing session to a crawl, you need to go yell at your devs.

Once users agree to terms, save it in a cookie for a reasonable amount of time. Many mobile devices don’t allow programs to run in the background, which means session cookies can expire every time the device dozes off.

Once users agree, redirect them back to where they were trying to go.  And use a real, server-side http redirect too, not a fragile javascript redirect.  Many people set up their browsers to ignore those.

Make the legal terms and conditions as readable as possible.  Readability is an interesting topic, with lots of research into measurement formulas and the like.  I think we can all agree that an iframe with 1700 words of legalease is not readable or useful.  And while we’re at it, why not add some actually useful information, like bandwidth limits, disabled protocols, etc.  If you are blocking POP and IMAP, let me know so I don’t waste time trying to check my email.

While the crazy scenario at the beginning of the post isn’t very likely, this isn’t just a list of gripes.  Why are you providing WiFi if not as a service to customers or a way to differentiate?  Well, coffee shops with WiFi aren’t very unusual anymore, so you should look at it as part of the who customer experience.

* Why did I pick tricyclic antidepressants?  I did a Google search for poison antidotes and picked the first one with an antidote I thought you might be able to find, in a mad rush to save a beloved minor character’s life, like in a TV show.

EDIT:  thanks to Wysz for pointing out the massive numbers of typos.

I Love Hospitals With WiFi, or Twittering Childbirth

When we were looking for hospitals and doctors offices for little Athena, wifi wasn’t really on the list so much as reputation, compatibility with our insurance, and other concerns.  In retrospect, though, thank goodness Stanford Hospital and Palo Alto Medical Foundation have wifi.

We live more than 2,000 miles from most of our family.  Not all of them could make the flight to California for the birth.  We also have too many friends around the country to possibly make all the phone calls we’d have liked to have made that night.  In addition, we had several thousand people all over the world wondering which name we would pick for our baby.

Because of internet connectivity, I was able to do a fair job of including all of them in the process:

1) With my iPhone, I was able to take and post photos during labor and delivery.  Photos of my mom’s new granddaughter were available for her, on Flickr, within minutes of birth:

Wrapped and swaddled

I’m not sure I can properly express here how much it meant to her and the rest of our family to be able to see Athena so quickly.

2)  Using the Twitterific App on my iPhone was was able to post updates to Twitter throughout the whole labor.  This is a perfect example of what Twitter is good for.  Liveblogging while my wife endures the pains of childbirth would be ridiculously insensitive, but there were always minutes of downtime here and there to tap out a few words describing what’s going on.

live-twittering

3)  Using the Twitter App for Facebook, my updates showed up on my Facebook status as well.  This was a big help, since so many more friends and family use Facebook than Twitter.

A fourth option, which we didn’t use but might have had the labor been longer, was videoconferencing with Skype.  We’ve been using Skype to keep in touch with family for some time.  It is currently my grandmother’s favorite thing to do.  Since we’ve been back home Athena has become the star of many family video sessions.

One final thing I have to mention is YouTube – we certainly weren’t going to share the gooey miracle of life with the world in streaming video, but my wife followed the videos fo several other women during pregancy up to and including labor.  We don’t know a lot of other couples having kids right now, so that gave Ann a personal connection with their stories and helped her through some of the tougher times during the last 9 months.  She could see that other people were going through the same things she was and that was an important comfort.

The common theme here, which I think goes a long way toward explaining the growth of the internet as a whole, is communication.  Because of almost universal connectivity, we were able to turn a deep personal experience into a social experience as well.

The Biggest Reason Not to Buy an iPhone: AT&T

Not happy with AT&T right now AT&T owes me $650.

Before I go on, keep in mind that the standard disclaimer applies, and I am writing from the perspective of a frustrated AT&T customer.

My wife and I both have iPhones. I just happened to check my AT&T wireless bill online, and it turns out that AT&T has been overcharging us since March. Apparently when Ann got her phone and we went to a family plan, they added a data plan for her but removed the data plan for me. No one knows how or why. You’re not supposed to be able to get iPhone service without the unlimited data plan

I’ve run into bugs and frustrations with the iPhone before, but bar none, the absolute worst problem with the device is the service from AT&T.

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