Legal Websites Failing To Make The Grade

Got passed a link to a page on legal gossip site rollonfriday (ROF) today which exposes some dreadful websites. Firstly, the incomprehensibly bad Fletcher Lewis site. Explore the solicitor profiles by clicking the three chaps' faces (Jason, Jeffery and Matthew) ... worryingly this site makes use of sound ...
Though that was bad, it's so bad that it's quirky. What's worse is when you see a site like Turner Parkinson who have clearly seen the involvement of an agency and the end result is a fish-orientated theme with, as ROF puts it, "end of the pier caricatures" on the lawyer profile pages. The ALT text on the menu says "booLawyers", "booTP" and so on ... and their Terms and Conditions page asserts "Before entering our Website you should read carefully these terms and conditions," despite this being on a page accessed in site-furniture rather than on a gateway. At least Surrey-based solicitors Buglear Bate scatter their clumsy offering with no little sarcasm.
finally, just to prove they can get it right some times, Wragge & Co. seems, on the surface of it, to be quite effective. I just don't like the grey on white text contrast.


A provincial town reflects on the news

Tim Fenton, an Ipswich local and BBC journo reflects on the effect of the recent events in Ipswich on the townspeople: "Community faces unwanted glare"
I used to love going for a run in Levington in the summer, riding out through Nacton and looking out for Copdock off the A12 on my way home from my parents' and in-laws' houses at the weekend. All locations featuring heavily in the unfolding events. As Tim touchingly writes "These are our places and we don't want them on the news."
:: Back to usability and user-experience articles tomorrow.


Ipswich Murders

It's late at night and as I sit here typing away on my blog I'm waiting for my fiancee to arrive back from a Christmas party. Ordinarily these things are par for the course at this time of year and yet the recent news of murders in a town I grew so fond of in the past few years means that her trip home feels longer and more vulnerable than it should have done.
Of course, at present, the crime is restricted to a localised area and to a particular segment of society though this makes it no less obvious that it has been comitted upon young women lured into a situation in which they were compromised.
Tonight the airwaves resonate with phone-ins and new analysis about the implications and scale of such a local serial attack but for me, and for all its faults, I'm dwelling on the thoughts of the people of Ipswich. Derided tonight on the BBC as a "small market town", Ipswich has, in recent years, done much to shake off a crumbling reliance on industry and ailing agricultural manufacture. At a time when the town so desperately wants to stand out on the map of the British Isles with its committment to technology, sport and commerce, it hits the headlines for a sordid crime involving the oldest trade in the world, and the friendly Suffolk townies who competed admirably with the amiability I experienced in my years at York, are left mourning the loss of three daughters.


Questioning if price is everything: The moral low-ground of price comparison.

So, uSwitch are in a bit of trouble. It appears that there may have been an attempt to encourage users of their site to switch providers by artificially presenting the results. To me this highlights a a growing concern about comparison engines and aggregators which is that they are not providing the sort of philanthropic experience to which they allude, and may actually produce inaccurate quotes/cover. These sites encourage you to compare primarily on price, they have commoditised - particularly in the insurance aggregator market - bespoke products. They encourage customers to compare apples with oranges and don't seem to take into account the all-important ancilliary factors such as customer experience, product features and loyalty discounts. By fueling a market where everyone switches all the time to the cheapest provider all that happens is that prices fall and margins are squeezed tighter and tighter to the point where the service you could have expected to receive in the past now resides in a poorly trained off-shore call centres, costs £s per minute to call and is increasingly unsympathetic to your individual needs.

Users and customers seem to be forgetting that sites like uSwitch, moneysupermarket and Confused have to make money. They make money when people switch and comission gets paid. Companies are rapidly wising up to this fact and are paring back their loyalty discounts and long-standing service standards to hack money off at the front-end and encourage more footfall through the front door.

Analogous to this have been the supermarkets. You can go into Tesco and see the price of an item compared to the equivalent in Sainsburys and Asda. The price transparency is thus designed to show how great they are at providing value for money. But once again this price-led marketing ignores the human at the heart of the shopping experience. Humans are not calculators and choose to buy a product through a subtle blend of price, product and emotion. Focussing all the attention on price leaves us all the poorer in terms of product and emotion. Take the current TV promotion for Iceland's frozen Christmas food range (feat. Kerry Catona). Touted as a cheap alternative to the traditional Christmas experience the marketing encourages us to spend less and indulge in a christmas of re-heating re-constituted meat and preservative-laden deserts, insisting that this must be better than the wholesome creation of a well-cooked dinner full of natural, fresh well tended meat, vegetables, sauces, spices and so on.

There's no doubt about it, premium insurance products, traditional utility products and organic food are all over-priced products that could do with having a tighter squeeze on them. The problem lies in the mass-market, middle-england purchases for which price transparency serves only to blinker the customer into considering short term financial gain and not lifetime value.

Emerging on the horizon to provide an alternative to this approach is a site called Wesabe. Wesabe is a community-based site for the review and dissemination of advice around personal financial services (read the Wesabe FAQ). A site that takes customer generated content to provide appreciable human comparisons of such products without dwelling on price, price price. Currently a touch US-centric, an increasing number of British and European visitors will bolster the relevance of the advice and experience for the rest of us. To me, these are some of the most encouraging uses of Web 2.0 thinking and I only hope that they gain traction and compete amongst the emotionally impoverished comparison engines.