Ten Years of Alertbox - Thanks Jakob
Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox is 10 years old.
Jakob's Alertbox was one of, if not THE first usability column I started reading after taking a 5-day GUI design (UCD) class from Susan Weinschenck around June 1996 (she's now at HFI). I was designing web sites and had to keep asking Susan about how UCD concepts (or the design guidelines presented) would apply to a web user interface (WUI). Susan was very helpful (having consulted on some web projects). She left us with a list of "other resources" which included useit.com...and so I found Jakob.
In those days, the Alertbox was very informative, discussing web design issues I was dealing with on a daily basis...and I read it religiously every week and learned a great deal. Reading the Alertbox lead to more reading, and more learning from other experts in the field.
As the web/ecommerce thing "boomed", Jakob's public persona moved from mentor to "guru". He formed NNG, wrote lots of books that sold in huge numbers, and the Alertbox seemed to become reduced to a marketing vehicle: a way to sell research reports, books, and training. Meanwhile, Jakob was being interviewed by every tech publication imaginable, along with newspapers and traditional media. Jakob was on CNN TV news one night. Jakob became the poster boy for web usability. This earned him the ire of many practitioners and web designers...yet raised the awareness of usability nonetheless.
Jakob should get a lot of credit for the attention he's brought to usability issues and practitioners trying to address usability issues. Of course, I'm sure, Jakob's made a pretty penny along the way, and good for him...he's also happy to claim credit for improvements in web usability. Of course he's done his share of the work on that, but there are also tens of thousands of other practitioners out there spreading the "gospel" and doing the work.
I can't say I know Jakob well, but I have traded email with him a few times, chatted with him at conferences, and found him to be a decent fellow. While his public persona might come off as an egotistical, critical know-it-all, I like to remind myself and others that this is just his public face...probably not his real personality. My blog readers don't know the "real" me either...not that I become some Hyde to my everyday Jekyll once I hit Blogger...it's just that people only see bits and pieces of me through the pinhole which is my blog. So I try to cut Jakob some slack, and acknowledge that he's done me (personally) a lot of good not only by offering advice and opinions, but by being the visible, seemingly "know-it-all" guru of usability.
I don't read the Alertbox regularly anymore, but stay aware of what Jakob's talking about. Even if *I* don't learn much, or disagree with him, the fact is many people *read* Jakob's stuff, so I want to be aware of what he's talking about.
In his 10 year anniversary Alertbox article, Jakob said (emphasis mine):
"When I conducted my first user tests of websites and intranets in 1994, I was probably the only person in the world with this esoteric interest. Web people didn't care about usability, and usability people didn't care about the Web. After years of incessantly promoting user research findings for websites and intranets, the situation has changed: thousands of people now work on online usability."
Jakob helped educate me about usability, and ended up helping me convert from a "web person who cared about usability" to a "usability practitioner who cared about the Web." Now I'm helping to convert others. I feel like saying "the Alertbox is dead, long live the Alertbox!"