I spend a ton of time talking about how important experience is and why it will make you smarter, stronger, and better in bed. Then I spend time on sites like MySpace and I wonder “Damn! Does it even matter?!?!” MySpace is a train wreck from a user experience usability standpoint. My latest annoyance is when you type in your password incorrectly you get this very helpful error message: “You Must Be Logged-In to do That!” Awesome. The pages are a disaster, the site is constantly erroring out and it uses almost no Ajax to speak of so the MySpace experience is: click…wait..white screen…terrible music/background/fonts…click..wait…white screen…even worse music/background/fonts…rinse…lather…repeat.
And despite all of this MySpace is still gigantic. According to compete MySpace’s traffic still dwarfs Facebook’s, which most people would agree has a better user experience. So what the hell is going on? Does UX not matter?
Part of the problem is that MySpace was first so it could be a crappy experience and no one cared. But they also made a very interesting use of rich media. Friendster (the real “first”) blew it and MySpace stepped in by giving people full control over what their pages looked like. That included customizing everything and adding all kinds of video and music no matter how annoying. People controlled their own experience and even if it was bad, it was still theirs, which is something to keep in mind.
Of course the experience matters. If it didn’t people wouldn’t buy fancy cars or overpay for Apple stuff. By nailing the experience you can set yourself apart from competitors and instantly build a brand. But there’s something to be said for letting your users control their own experience. As you build your own RIAs I think that’s something to consider. If you can give your users the tools to customize their experience in a way that keeps it usable, you’ll have hit on something very valuable.