Ah, yes, Livemocha. If you haven’t heard, Livemocha is a site that allows you to learn languages with the help of a community. While it does offer exercises and quizzes that are similar to Rosetta Stone, the most powerful feature is the fact that other users review your submissions. That alone is worthy of a recommendation, so check it out if you haven’t already. The community support goes a long way towards motivating a person, and also ensures only native speakers of a language are the ones reviewing. This idea is a very powerful one, but unfortunately, the interface that they offer – the website – is flawed in many ways. Today, I’d like to share my experiences with one of these flaws, which, in my opinion, is a major usability issue.
Consider this Livemocha e-mail notification:
Alright, so “maxwevictor96” sent me a message. The name is a bit weird, so I’m pretty sure it is spam – but there’s no way for me to read the message content from the inbox. If I click on the link, I’m forced to log into Livemocha before I’m allowed to see the content. Seeing as Livemocha also offers paid learning services, I can see why they might want us to log in as often as possible. After all, the more time we spend on the site, the more time we have to consider paying for advanced services. Of course, I’m just speculating – it’s possible they didn’t intentionally design it with that in mind.
Anyway, provided I do log in, I’m brought to the message:
So, yeah, definitely spam, and it’s up to me to either flag it, or ignore it completely. In an effort to improve the services that I use, I usually go out of my way to flag spam. Notice the Report abuse button on the left? Seems clear enough, so let’s click that.
A gray overlay appears over the site, and after about 2 seconds of loading, the above dialog appears. So far, I can’t really complain – apart from the long load time. The form seems pretty standard, so I select Spam from the Category dropdown, and click Submit.
Instead of the dialog disappearing, an error message appears, telling me that the “Message cannot be blank“. Apparently, saying the e-mail is spam is not enough. I actually have to type something in the comments box… but what do they want me to enter at this point? The first few times, I wrote “This is spam”, what else do they expect? Seems to me that the form should not require comments if you’re simply flagging spam. After doing this on many separate occasions, and cursing at the unknown designer that came up with this process, I actually caught myself adding random characters to the Comments textbox, just so I could submit quickly. In other words, I spammed the report spam feature, to save time – all because of this bizarre design choice. It reminds me of the Windows Server 2003 dialog that appears whenever you boot, where you have to explain why the machine was taken offline. Sure, it can be useful in specific environments, but for a simple test machine – I really don’t care when it goes offline, so I learned to enter random garbage into that textbox just to get past it. Funny how design choices can turn well-intentioned users into annoyed pseudo-spammers.
Anyway, provided you spend time entering something in the comments box, you can successfully click Submit. Then, this message appears:
I get thanked for keeping Livemocha clean, and it tells me my report has been submitted successfully. Okay, fine – then I’m told the dialog will disappear in 5 seconds, so I don’t need to do anything. They offer a small close button, but it’s far enough away from where my mouse cursor is (after clicking Submit) that I never actually felt like it was worth it to try and close the window early. If at least they would count clicks outside the dialog, I could hide it immediately by clicking the gray zone. But no, instead, I’m subject to time-limited target practice – if I can click the little Close button quick enough, I can save maybe 2-3 seconds. That, or sit idly and let the 5 seconds elapse – after all, once you’ve read the message one time, there’s really no value in re-reading it.
So why do you feel the need to waste my time, Livemocha? I lose 2 seconds waiting for the dialog to appear, then I have to select Spam, enter redundant information in the comments box, click Submit, and then wait 5 more seconds. I have a suggestion, guys – how about a Report Spam button with no questions asked?
Update: I posted a feature request on LiveMocha’s feedback site.