Artemy Lebedev

§ 65. Skin addiction

February 24, 2001

Website builders have a buzzword—“customization”—which means implementing changes to meet one’s particular needs, e.g. selecting the block of information that will precede another or deciding whether it should be there at all. Websites that allow the user to hide or show the horoscope block or swap sports and politics locations are still in great vogue.

The most horrible thing happens when the customization bug gets into the minds of people making information and newspaper/magazine websites. You’ll have hard time making a case that the crucial goal of an edition is preserving its face and voice intact. The Chief Editor should always have the possibility to write an editorial and post it on the front page, not on page 16. It is the editorial office that should choose illustrations and topics, not the reader. The reader may only choose between editorial offices and their products.

Any attempt to give a person a specifically “tailored” product is doomed to fail: a person, apparently unsuspecting, is willing to be supplied unrequested information, trash, unsolicited advertising, articles by authors he doesn’t like and simply pass by newsstands with newspapers and magazines he never buys. Because it is trash that builds the background against which a person’s tastes and predilections emerge in all their distinctness and precision.

Obiter dictum

Word processor Microsoft Word 5 for Macintosh provided an option of selecting one of the two kinds of menus: “professional” and “simplified”. The new feature had to be aborted, since no user wanted to recognize that he was not qualified enough to claim the professional status. Of course, half of the problem might have been solved by a softer wording. But even the proposed variant that eventually became a standard for large and complex programs—customization of each separate item of the menu and lots of pictograms attached to functions,—is not a solution. Users still want to see ALL buttons.

People are mad about remote controls that look like a jetliner dash board. Therefore all consumer appliances teem with lamps and buttons, while professional equipment items have only two or three switchers on them.

But that’s what makes a consumer tick: he wants both buttons and a professional feel, wherein lies the source of all PRO prefixes and PRO endings. For instance, Karaoke Pro is an oxymoron in itself.

The availability of the information selection option (like reading news on “topics of interest” or watching advertising of “products of interest” only) is the quickest way to leave the user with an impression of information vacuum. That’s why the only feasible customization option in the world of information is the choice of a source.

However, it seems reasonable to give the user the opportunity to select outward looks. After all, if something is produced in ten different colors, users will beautifully split into ten interest groups. No one will get pissed off because of the form of an electric plug or go into a fit about the distance between its pins (but for an American traveling in the UK with a laptop). But in a store everyone will choose the plug he likes best.

A similar opportunity should be available to users of large websites providing diverse services, such as search engines, e-mail servers, subscription services etc. The users should never be permitted to alter the appearance of newspapers, news lines, presentation and corporate websites and online stores.

Only the creator of a service project, not the visitor, should determine the quality of information and the availability of this or that block, just as an apartment owner is not allowed to raze or move main walls, but may hang wallpaper or pictures on them. Again, nobody will ever hang one’s favorite wallpaper in a store.

Having outlined the range of projects where the availability of choice is appropriate, we’ve come to the form of its realization. Under no circumstances should the “Edit” or “Customize” buttons be posted besides the blocks. The user should never have a feeling that information may be removed just because he’s not interested in it at this point of time.

There are two possible ways of how the user may be given the site exterior selection option:

One. Give the user the opportunity to access several websites in different colors and formats. For example,,,

Two. Let the user make his own design under a condition that the number and contents of blocks remain unchanged. For example, the logo of the service must be kept in place. Providing several kinds of constructors—the comprehensive, the medium and the minimal—would also be reasonable. These three constructor options will be more than enough. Constructors may be located at addresses like On the other hand, the major address must be accessible, too, to shape the service’s overall identity.

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