Jakob Nielsen wrote a good review of the Kindle usability. All his comments match my experience.

I haven’t been bothered too much by the shortcomings that Jakob found on the Kindle, probably because my expectations are low in the area of non-linear navigation and I’m fully aware of the current limitations of electrophoretic displays. Still, Amazon should take note of these comments and try to improve the overall UI experience for the next version.

Having said that, I still find Jakob Nielsen’s web site pretty ugly. Functional, yes, pleasant to read, no. Which is paradoxical for someone who takes web usability so seriously. The most offending aspect of his articles are the frequent bold face uses.

Here is an excerpt of Nielsen’s article:

To me, these highlighted words are like high-pitch screams in the middle of a soft-spoken speech. They make me feel like I’m opening a brand new book and finding random words highlighted in yellow marker. It’s not just distracting, it actually goes against my reading because my eyes can’t help being attracted toward the emphasized words despite all my efforts to force them to follow the natural flow of the text.

If you want to communicate some kind of synthesis of your articles to your readers, take the time to write a real conclusion (or introduction) instead of resorting to this lazy word highlighting.

Overall, Nielsen’s Kindle article is still reasonably readable compared to some of the other web defiling atrocities that he usually commits on his web site (take a look at the useit.com landing page to see a good example of a web page that is functional but ugly).

Another major web offender is, of course, Paul Graham, who persists writing his columns with a hard formatting at 70 columns. Check it out, he actually inserts <br> tags manually. It’s quite comical.

The problem with this is not just that it shows utter disrespect to your readers (try resizing your window horizontally or reading his articles on your iPhone) but that it shows that Graham just doesn’t understand the underpinnings of the presentation layer of the web. On the web, you are supposed to write the content, provide a default presentation (ideally specified in CSS) and then let the consumer of your text ultimately decide what it will look like.

That consumer can be a human on a big, medium or small screen. It can be an RSS feed or a phone with a twenty column display . You just can’t know ahead of time, which is why you should perform as little formatting (especially line formatting) in your text as possible. Paragraph breaks should be your only formatting instructions, and then you leave it up to your readers to interpret what these breaks mean and how they want them formatted.

The same remark applies to emails, by the way: you should not use the return key to end your lines. Just type your text continously and when you are done with your paragraph, type return twice. If you insist on providing your own formatting, people who read your email on, say, a phone, will see it completely mangled.