This morning I ran acrossed a very interesting article on wired.com. (actually in is from the rss feed) Apparently a math student named Matt who found the web site of his favorite movie theather chain hard to use, so he made a version that was more usable and hosted on his site.
So in my opinion Matt did a good thing. He created something that should of made the theather chain reconsider the design of their site and redesign it with usability being the first consideration and design being the second right? Nope, they sent Matt a cease and desist order. Okay so why did the lawyers get involved and not the web developers/designers? There is a disheartening trend among corporate websites. The flash intro/Ad, and navigation that is almost hidden. These sites take an extremely long time to load and even more time to find the information you desire. The other trend I have noticed is that many site are virtually "IE Only Sites", meaning that if you are on a browser other than Internet Explorer that you either can't view the site at all or have limited functionality with the site.
These trends can't continue and I don't believe they will be allowed to continue for several reasons. First, the statement that the Department of Homeland Security made about Internet Explorer. "There are a number of significant vulnerabilities in technologies relating to the IE domain/zone security model, the DHTML object model, MIME-type determination, and ActiveX. It is possible to reduce exposure to these vulnerabilities by using a different Web browser, especially when browsing untrusted sites" The recommendation was to using another browser like Mozilla. The second reason would be Section 508 accessibility. It is going to become necessary for financial institution to make sure their sites are Section 508 compliant.
The question that pops into my mind is, why is it that websites in 1997 were easier to use then sites in 2004. I can come up with a couple of reasons. First, there were some elements that all sites had. Everyone had a links on the top and bottom of their pages. Another element was site maps. Site maps helped you cut through the paths that the design team/marketing department wanted you to go through and get right to the information you needed. Also Flash wasn't as prevelent. While Flash is a great web technology, it doesn't always have designers that create the most usable web interfaces.
Something that I have found interesting is that usability and easy of publishing are coming back around again. Blogs have been at the for front of this movement. People are using pre-build, simple yet effective designs, and the easy to use publish tools that are offered. This is reminds me of what made the Web great to begin with. That just anyone with a text editor and a couple of hours could learn to write their own web page and express themselves in this "new media". I hope that the trend of usability and easy of use, so that everyone can publish to the web continues.