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I'm designing a web site where I would expect the intended audience to have limited computer skills.

An important part of my site's functionality will require the end user to copy an URL that my site generates and use it in emails, or social network postings, or on their own web site.

I could write the URL to the clipboard when a button is pushed (like tinyurl.com does). However I'm wondering whether the average user even understands what that means and how to use it.

Any guidence will be appreciated.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

From your description, it doesn't matter whether they know what a clipboard is. All that matters is that you can explain to them that they can press a button to copy the content so that they can later paste it into something else.

I would bet that 95%+ of computer users know how to copy and paste, so just go with that.

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Copy and Paste is a pretty common concept, and I think it is fine. The fact that they don't understand the clipboard or the process behind it is irrelevant. –  Schroedingers Cat Sep 28 '11 at 11:47

No, an average web user does not understand the concept of the clipboard. But I do believe an average user understands the copy/paste concept, which is all that you need.

Now you say that your audience is people with limited skills, thus not an average user. I think that copying would not be a big problem, because you can foresee a special button for this on the UI. I think that pasting can be an issue, there is nothing that you can foresee for this. A user does not see in his e-mail program that a URL is on the clipboard. The problem will be bigger on mobile devices (iPad for example), most users don't know how to paste something.

Maybe you should go for a hybrid solution here:

  • Foresee a button for copying to the clipboard (but don't mention the word clipboard)
  • Foresee a button named "e-mail this" which would either open up an e-mail program or just allow you to enter a message and recipients (take a look at YouTube for example)
  • Foresee extra buttons "blog this", "put on my facebook",...
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Agreed. The problem could be the 'paste' operation (most users probably have learnt C&P but some might not, particularly if they've only used the net rather than done wordprocessing). Agreed, don't actually use the term 'clipboard' with the users either. –  PhillipW Sep 28 '11 at 10:09
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+1 for the extra mile of thinking of the user's next step. The kind of thinking that differentiates between UI design and UX. –  Dvir Adler Apr 30 '13 at 7:30

Assuming your users understand what the Clipboard is may be jumping the gun a bit. The feature that you're explaining assumes that the end user knows how to paste the URL that they're copying, let alone know the technical term that is used to temporarily store the URL.

Why don't you emulate what coupon site Retail Me Not (www.retailmenot.com) does and simply use the word "copy" (to see this in action, head over to their site and hover your cursor over a yellow coupon code)?

As a side note: The term "Clipboard" will be understood by any one who has used a word processor. The idea of a "Clipboard" (with a capital C) as the place that data is held temporarily while being moved from place to place has been around since at least 1984 with the original Macintosh.

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+1 for pointing out the retailmenot.com example. –  Aheho Sep 28 '11 at 19:00

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