The 10 Biggest Web Annoyances

7. Web 2.0 Help Doesn't Help

Aggravation factor: 49 percent

Web 2.0 technology supports the delivery of useful applications in snazzy interactive Web interfaces, but if you need help wading through the site, the help section is often a dead end.

That's because the answers to many frequently asked questions presented there are too generic or obvious to be useful. For example, an application may not work properly because an essential browser plug-in is missing or because other software on the system is incompatible with the new app; but the FAQ and help pages on most sites don't address these problems specifically.

Rather than posting unhelpfully generic help sections and FAQs that fail to answer real-world questions, companies could invest in easy-to-use forums, wikis, or chat rooms, and offer incentives to customers to assist each other in a community-driven environment.

8. The Expense of E-Books

Aggravation factor: 41 percent

Publishing and distributing books in electronic format should be a lot cheaper than doing it the old hard-copy way. No trees get pulped, and shipping costs vanish. So why should readers pay the same amount (or more) for the digital version of a book? Here's an example: At eBooks.com, Rhonda Byrne's The Secret retails for $15.29. Meanwhile, at Amazon.com, a hardcover copy of the same book (shipped to your doorstep) costs $13.17. Bizarre.

On average, publishers have set e-book prices for mass-market titles at between $8 and $16, the same range that they charge for the corresponding physical books. Supposedly, much of the sticker price goes to authors, who receive the same amount in royalties per book sold, regardless of the book's form. Publishers say they are still "working out the pricing models"--that is, figuring out what people are willing to pay for the novelty of an e-book and what effect e-book sales will have on sales of hard copies.

9. Disappointing Web Video

Aggravation factor: 38 percent

The picture quality of video delivered over the Internet gets better by the day, but the absence of top-shelf content continues to deter many would-be viewers from making the jump to online video.

Some major networks--especially ABC and CBS--have begun putting TV shows on the Web, but consumers are still struggling to find their favorite programs at a reasonable price.

In its 'TV Shows' section, Apple's iTunes Music Store offers episodes at $1.99 a pop, but Rafat Ali, who tracks digital media at PaidContent.org, says that not all shows are available because large content owners (including HBO) believe that making online versions of their shows available will dilute the market for their cable television offerings.

"I can't go online and buy the last season of The Sopranos because HBO won't put it online. That's a big disappointment for a lot of viewers who love HBO's content," Ali says. "There are still a lot of hesitant content owners unwilling to put everything online."

10. Boring Virtual Worlds

Aggravation factor: 9 percent

Given the promise and hype surrounding virtual worlds, or metaverses, like Second Life, we found it interesting how few of our readers care about them. More than half of our survey takers said as much, while another 25 said that they aren't bothered at all by the quality of virtual worlds.

Yankee Group analyst Christopher Collins points out that while social networks like MySpace and Facebook continue to show phenomenal growth, the biggest virtual world, Second Life, has experienced a lower rate of traffic growth since its October 2006 peak.

Newcomers to virtual worlds (many of whom were attracted by the media hype) often leave for good after struggling with the basics of moving their avatar around or communicating with others "in-world." Their efforts aren't helped by the sites' often-clunky user interfaces or by regular software glitches. As of October 7, 2007, according to Second Life's statistics, its virtual world had almost 10 million "total residents" (people signed up for the site), but only 1.3 million (13 percent) of them had logged in during the preceding 30 days. And only about 338,000 of them had logged in during the previous seven days.

To attract wider audiences, virtual worlds will have to become at least as user-friendly, navigable, and full of things to do as the real world. And they just might achieve that goal if the companies that operate them improve their software, introduce new technologies, and learn lessons from their users.

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