I was thinking about this the other day when I submitted an update for a typo that had to be done quickly. Some development teams prioritize fixing a typo or content mishaps as a level 4 bug - it's very low on the priority list. Realistically, typos don't impact functionality, and most users understand what is meant by the transposed characters - so typos are not showstoppers, just annoyances. This made me wonder why the discovery of a typo is always a fire drill.
My answer: it's the embarrassment factor.
Typos are symptoms of less than perfect character traits - sloppiness, carelessness, being in a rush, not paying attention to detail, focusing on getting something done rather than getting something done well, not learning how to spell and proofread what you type. Nothing is more embarrassing to a copywriter than the typo, because, at least to him or her, the typo shows either the copywriter didn't care enough to get it right the first time, he or she didn't do that one last review or run spell check, or he or she doesn't know how to spell. A typo can be perceived as being worse than a grammatical error - at least a grammatical error proves that a team of people don't write English properly (and looking at most of today's adults, not many native English speakers really do use proper grammar). With all of the spell check tools out there and the number of people reviewing content - a typo proves that no one got into the details. Not even a machine.
But a copywriter should not be the only one embarrassed by a typo. Most corporate sites have an extensive team involved in writing and managing site content. There could be between 2 and 50+ people on a team to create site content. Yes, that's right - potentially 50+ people work on a site's content. That's over 100 eyes.
Let's follow the life cycle of a typo, which may give you more insight into how embarrassing it really is for the team for a typo to make it to a live site:
- Someone writes copy
- Copy is reviewed and edited by the team
- Copy is approved by one or more people for posting to the site or inclusion in a database
- Developer copy/pastes content and checks to be sure it follows conventions to layout properly on the page
- QA people and others review the content on the site
- Developer edits any content or functionality as outlined by bugs
- Site is approved to launch
And there are cases where content is syndicated and it appears on multiple sites. In these cases, content is created, added to a database (Site A), and then pulled into another site as its own content (Site B). Not only should we consider Site A's content creation/review process where up to 50+ people missed a typo, but let's add on another 2 to 50+ people from Site B and their review process. That's a total of 52 to 100+ people (or 104 to 200+ eyes) not catching that there is a typo on the page.
That's a lot of people missing a typo.
One could also suggest that a typo got introduced to the site during the process. That doesn't change the fact that up to 50 people, yet again, saw it and didn't do anything about it. It's just in this case, people saw that typo maybe once or twice, not up to 10 times, before it got launched. That means there was still time to fix it pre-launch.
Once a typo launches, even more eyes are on it. And let's face it, users and customers are not so nice about a typo. Some user responses could be:
- Not notice it and say nothing
- Laugh about it and not say anything to you, considering you or your company to be careless
- Point it out to you through public channels and make fun of you while doing it (if it's that funny of an error)
- Point it out to their friends and never tell you
- Point it out to you and be nice about it
And I'm sure that there are more responses that I haven't thought about yet. If you ask me - those aren't great options - except for the last one. Further, most people don't report typos. It's not like a user can't complete a task on your site, or can't read the instructions. It's a minor mistake, but nevertheless, a mistake that is public and in plain sight, and sets a perception about your company.
Let's say you find the typo and want to fix it RIGHT NOW. Although admirable, what does doing this really achieve? Let's just take a look at some of the numbers. By the time you find a typo to fix on a live site, how many eyes do you think saw that typo? Look at your site logs. That many people saw the typo. With that in mind, in all seriousness, what would happen if another 5 or 1,000 eyes saw it? Exactly. Just 5 or 1,000 more people may perceive you as careless compared to the number of people who already saw it. At that point, what's another few over the course of a day or two? Is it really all that harmful?
A team fixes bugs using a priority list for how important it is for a feature is to work properly. Often, bugs get released to the public because they are in less used features and therefore, are not as visible. Allowing a major feature to be buggy makes a company look careless - and who wants to buy something from a careless company? Also, such bugs can bring embarrassment to the company. With this in mind, one could say that the prioritization of bugs is based on an embarrassment factor.
Keeping in mind that minor bugs are released and launched, it makes you wonder why people claim that fixing a typo is the most important thing. It again goes back to embarrassment. The copywriter is often embarrassed the most because it's his or her job to prevent such silliness from happening. However, the entire team of 50+ - from the QA analyst to the VP responsible to the content - should be embarrassed because they all were slackers and let the little typo live on, never noting it as something to fix, or just not realizing it's a typo (which should get you to wonder about your team). The embarrassment factor of the typo's existence makes it THAT urgent.
Realistically, any typo isn't that urgent to fix; the urgency comes from the embarrassment associated with a typo - how it got there, why it's still there, and why no one sees it until after a site is launched for weeks. Sneaky typos.
Oh - and if you notice a typo in this or any of my blog entries, please let me know. Only one person with 2 eyes work on them.