Friday, October 22, 2004

Mentally Correct Means Effective and Ethical

Posted by Hello

I spend a great deal of time yesterday debating an issue. The debate occured on a web developer's email discussion list.

"Pre-selection" of options on a form was the hot topic. As usual, I was the one who pretty much started the war.

You know what I mean: you register at a site, or sign up for an email newsletter, and you are presented with all these other options to choose from. Special offers from other advertisers, other newsletters and email alerts, etc.

Often certain items have check marks already in the boxes, and you have to click on the boxes to "unselect" them.

Someone had asked about code for pre-selecting choices on a form. But he meant post, not pre, selection. He refered to when a user updates a profile, and wants to see what he had already, previously selected.

I misunderstood the context, and dropped a bomb on "pre-selection" calling it an abomination. I was refering to actual pre-selection of check boxes on a form or function, forcing the user to "de-select" or "uncheck" the boxes, which is, in most cases, ridiculous.

Pre-selection, pre-checked boxes on a form or function violates the concept of the web: user empowerment, unconstrained by other parties, who may have dubious motives and agendas, greedy for easy income from unsuspecting people.

Someone actually argued that presenting users with unchecked boxes is coercive also: you're forcing the "No" option on them.

No: you're allowing users to decide "Yes" or "No". You are abstaining from forcing users to void your decision and replace it with their own.

That argument that unchecked boxes are coercive is like saying that not raping a woman is forcing on her the decision to not be raped, so it's just as brutal to not rape her as to rape her. Both acts are aggressive. What a pile of you know what!

I'll post a more in-depth article on this pre-selection topic over at my web usability blog, Vaspers the Grate.

But the lesson for all marketers and sales professionals is this: never bully or try to trick any customer into opting into something they don't really want or don't give their fully informed consent to.

I suspect that some unscrupulous marketers advocate the pre-selection of checkboxes in the hopes that users, who are nearly always impatient, inattentive to fine details, and in a big hurry, will not notice these pre-selections.

They hope some users will end up getting items or signing up for what the marketers want to push on them, rather than what the users knowingly opt in for.

Con artistry, manipulation, scamming, ripping off, lying, deceiving, misinforming, bullying, tricking, taking advantage of people is always wrong.

Unethical business practice is a guaranteed way to be miserable, to lose money, to ruin a company, to generate bad word of mouth, to turn public opinion against you, to acquire a lousy reputation, to attract negative forces into your life.

This is not "mystical" or idealistic or religious.

The Golden Rule: it's a proverbial, pragmatic truth that has been on the lips of the wise for millenia.

Treat others with respect, compassion, and truth.

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