Thursday, May 26, 2016

How to fail at mobile user experience

Some posts I write because I am curious, and some to share a project I have worked on, or a security risk to be aware of. And then there are posts like this, written out of sheer annoyance.

It began with a simple link to a news article, shared by a fellow Central Texas security pro:


At first glance, I thought the article pertained to a story I have been following (and have written about) - a series of coordinated ATM heists over the past few years, involving large numbers of stolen payment cards and large numbers of hired hands, stealing millions of dollars from thousands of ATMs at once.

Alas, I could not read the story.

Clicking the link in Twitter's client for my Android phone did not open the story on the ABC web site. Instead, the link opened Google Play Store, asking me to install the ABC News mobile app.


Few things will turn me off to a media outlet faster than not being able to read a story said media outlet has published. A pet peeve of mine is publications that mistakenly detect certain safeguards as being advertising blockers, and demand a fee to access their website.

In this case though, the the source of my consternation is a bit different:


ABC News makes use of "Twitter Cards" - a sometimes-useful way to enrich content shared through that social media platform. Used properly, Twitter Cards have their place. I personally find it useful to see a lead photo and brief synopsis of an article before choosing to read the entire thing. When sharing a link, it means I can use the entire 140 characters (well, minus the 23 characters consumed by a URL) to give my thoughts on the subject, without having to also describe the content - knowing the card will contain the article title and preview text.

Summary cards, photo cards, and (as long as they do not auto-play), video and audio player cards are one thing.

Twitter also provides a card type to represent mobile apps - perhaps appropriate if the tweet is promoting an app, but infuriating if the tweet is sharing a news article. And therein is the trap that ABC News fell into.

When using the Twitter web client on a desktop or laptop client, the link included in the tweet is the actual URL that the original poster shared. However, when using the Twitter app for Android, or iPhone, or iPad (though not, in my testing, if using a web browser on those same platforms), Twitter reads the meta tags included in the website, and replaces the article URL with a redirection to install the mobile app for that platform.

If I want to install an app, I'll go to my preferred app store and find it. But if I want to read a news article about an event I have been following, I want to see the article - I don't want to be bounced to your mobile app. Worse still, there is no way to bypass the app and go to the story.

What is my point? Consider how your audience will react when making design and UX (user experience) decisions. Using an App Card for your news site doesn't drive installations of your app. Rather, it drives readers away from you and to other, more reader-friendly, websites.

Troy Hunt wrote a beautiful rant earlier in 2016, about the annoying ways websites drive customers batty. Just add this to the list.

Do you have something to add? A question you'd like answered? Think I'm out of my mind? Join the conversation below, reach out by email at david (at) securityforrealpeople.com, or hit me up on Twitter at @dnlongen

Whois David?

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I have spent the better part of two decades in information technology and security, with roots in application developer support, system administration, and network security. My specialty is cyber threat intelligence - software vulnerabilities and patching, malware, social networking risks, etc. In particular, I strive to write about complex cyber topics in a way that can be understood by those outside the infosec industry.

Why do I do this? A common comment I get from friends and family is that complex security topics give them headaches. They want to know in simple terms how to stay safe in a connected world. Folks like me and my peers have chosen to make a profession out of hacking and defending. I've been doing this for the better part of two decades, and so have a high degree of knowledge in the field. Others have chosen different paths - paths where I would be lost. This is my effort to share my knowledge with those that are experts in something else.

When not in front of a digital screen, I spend my time raising five rambunctious teens and pre-teens - including two sets of twins. Our family enjoys archery, raising show and meat rabbits, and simply enjoying life in the Texas hill country.

For a decade I served as either Commander or a division leader for the Awana Club in Dripping Springs, Texas; while I have retired from that role I continue to have a passion for children's ministry. At the moment I teach 1st through 3rd grade Sunday School. Follow FBC Dripping Springs Kids to see what is going on in our children's ministries.