Lightweight in situ editing of page content
December 5, 2005
Sites adopting AJAX and other interactive techniques are increasingly giving users the ability to express preferences or change settings in situ, without having to navigate to a separate page just to change the way things work. This direction seems promising, but until standards emerge it's also fraught with the potential to confuse users or simply get in the way.
The wiki vendor JotSpot, for example, allows a user to rename a page by hovering over the page title:
An earlier generation of web sites required the user to travel to another page to make such an edit in the text box of a web form, then submit their changes. Here the interactivity is lightweight and allows for quicker changes.
In a similar vein, various web portals let the user personalize the look and content of their home page by directly interacting with page content. The customziable Google home page puts links in the corner of each blurb to customize the blurb's size or remove the blurb entirely:
To my recollection, MSN was one of the first portals (if not the first) to offer lightweight editing on its own customizable home page. This interactivity is still there today, albeit with some heavy visuals and advertising:
The main issue with all such lightweight editing facilities is the possibility of interfering with the average user's use of the product. If the user is just trying to read something, the editing controls can be distracting. At worse, they can throw the user into a mode that they didn't want to be in—or into a mode they're not even aware they're in. The situation will improve as more conventions emerge for lightweight editing of page content, but until then it's worth incorporating such interactivity cautiously.