Tag Archives: usability

Joel Spolsky Webcast on Creating Social Web Resources

Joel Spolsky webcast on creating Stack Overflow (with the goal of providing answers to professional programmers) using ideas from anthropology. Once again he provides great information. This is particularly interesting for software development but also just a good presentation for understanding the importance of customer focus and systems thinking.

What they focused on and did:

  • Voting – Reddit… (see our management Reddit)
  • Tags – lets you see what you want and to block tags you don’t want to see.
  • Editing – letting users edit the questions and responses. For a technical question and answer system this is very useful (based on my experience).
  • Badges – people like to earn “credit” (psychology)
  • Karma – “people are willing to do for free what people are not willing to do for small amounts of money” (psychology)
  • Pre-search – provide quick view of previously answered questions
  • Google is UI – Assumption: “the front page is Google search” – build based on the idea people will search via Google
  • Performance – 16 million pages a month with 2 web servers. They are using the Microsoft stack, not open source.
  • Critical mass – they focused on getting a large user base on day one of the beta site

Related: posts related to Joel SpolskyDell, Reddit and Customer FocusInformation Technology and ManagementWhat Motivates Programmers?

Customer Friendly Terms of Use Language

The Aviary web site provides a very nice example of customer focus. They provide the legalese version of the terms of use and then explain what this actually mean in is simple terms. Good job. Legalese example

2. SITE CONTENT. The Site and its contents are intended solely for the use of Aviary Users and may only be used in accordance with the terms of this Agreement. All materials displayed or performed on the Site, other than content developed or posted by User (“User Content”) including, but not limited to text, graphics, logos, tools, photographs, images, illustrations, audio and video, and animations (“Content”) are the property of Aviary and/or third parties and are protected by United States and international copyright laws. As between you and Aviary, however, you own and retain sole and exclusive right, title and interest in and to all of your User Content (subject only to the limited license therein granted to Aviary under this Section 2). The Services may enable Users to develop derivative works based on other Users’ Content. In the event you use the Services to develop a derivative work of another User’s Content with that User’s permission, as between you and the User who developed the original work, you own and retain sole and exclusive right, title and interest in and to your derivative work, and the User who developed the original work retains the sole and exclusive right, title and interest in and to the original work. In the event you permit other Users to use the Services to develop derivative works based on your User Content, as between you and the User who developed the derivative work, you own and retain sole and exclusive right, title and interest in and to your original work, and the User who developed the derivative work retains the sole and exclusive right, title and interest in and to the derivative work. All trademarks, service marks, and trade names which appear on the Site (other than those appearing in any User Content) are proprietary to Aviary and/or third parties. You shall abide by all copyright notices, information, and restrictions contained in any Content accessed through the Services.

Readable example

  • We own our website.
  • You own your content.
  • If you allow another user to make a derivative, you still own your work.
  • Please don’t disregard our copyright notices. 🙂
  • Some content may be licensed under Creative Commons.
  • You can download anything on the site for personal, non-commercial use only. Other uses are not OK (unless you purchased the work from the creator).
  • Just because we let you use our applications doesn’t give you any property ownership in the applications. You are just granted a license to use it.
  • Aviary is allowed to display within Aviary, any work you make available to everyone to view.
  • Additionally, we can allow the work to be used by a third party in a way which promotes Aviary (for example, using the work alongside a newspaper article about Aviary).
  • The content you contribute may not infringe on the property rights of others.

Related: Making Life Difficult for CustomersGobbledygookComplicating SimplicityUser Happiness with Search Engines

Disruptive Innovation Example: Eliminate Your Phone Bill

Clayton Christensen’s ideas on disruptive innovation are very powerful. I have written about Innovation Thinking with Clayton Christensen previously. Here is an example of such innovation. All you need is a broadband internet connection and you can Kiss your phone bill good-bye:

The Ooma service uses so-called Voice over Internet Protocol (or VOIP) technology to deliver calls to your existing phone using a broadband connection. Consumers need only to buy a $249 Ooma Hub (it was a hefty $399 when the service launched last year); all domestic calls are free. (Ooma charges a few pennies a minute for international calls to landlines and 20 to 30 cents a minute for overseas calls to mobile phones. Calls from Ooma box to Ooma box are free.)

Replacing your phone service is, of course, just the start for Ooma. In some ways, calling is the Trojan horse to get the box in your house and then figure out other services to sell, like enhanced network security or kid-safe Web surfing.

I ordered mine from Amazon for $203 and have been using it for a month, it has been great. Relatively easy to setup (they had a pretty good customer survey and I recommended they use colored cables – they color cables in the drawings in the users guide but give you 3 white cable to use – they are different types of cables so it isn’t tough to figure out but that would make it a bit easier).

I have been using Vonage for awhile and it is ok, but I don’t see any reason to pay each month when Ooma doesn’t charge a monthly fee (even on the lowest option on Vonage the bill is over $22/month). When I tried to cancel Vonage they refuse to allow it through the web site. Then forced me through voice mail maze only to then say we only answer the phone for you between 9-5 EST on workdays (that is about 75% of the time they are unavailable). I called back a week later, when I got a chance and they forced me through 10 minutes of wasted time but at lest I was able to get it canceled – once they refused to allow cancellation over the web site I was worried the customer disservice would be greater than it was.

Related: Six Keys to Building New Markets by Unleashing Disruptive InnovationSave Money on FoodThe Innovators Solution by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael E. Raynor – Using Google to Eliminate IT Costs

Lame Move by Google

Google does great things and makes good decisions most often. However a recent move on their part has ended very lamely. As part of what their 10th anniversary celebration they provided a search of the 2001 index (the oldest index they could find to search now). This was extremely cool.

Now if you go to find it so you can try it out you will be disappointed. Search for it on Google you will find a link to Google Search 2001 which gives you a page that says: “The page – www.google.com/search2001.html – does not exist.” Is it amazingly lame that Google took the search down, has it has the first result on searches, and has no explanation on that page of what it was about.

It would be cool for them to leave it up (it was interesting). And I would think they could make a great deal of money showing ads (I can’t remember if they did show ads). But not leaving a page at that address (which was linked to over 95,000 times) explaining what the page did and that it is now offline is very lame. Breaking 95,000 links is bad enough for some pointy haired boss that believes the internet is made up of tubes but for a well run internet company to do that is pitiful.

This move shows Google in a similar light as Gap when managers shut down the Gap’s web site for days (in 2005). Google failed when exiting the video business (DRM issues), then realized their mistake and recovered. The fix for this would take all of 1 hour. Someone just has to put up a page discussing what the page was for and that the search has been discontinued.

But really they should explore if it is better to just make it live – maybe it doesn’t but I would certainly want to look into that option. If not, I would put up some interesting results from the experiment (though if the choice is just a 1 hour solution or nothing then just put up a page in 1 hour) and link to commentary about the search and interesting things people found. This would be an interesting task for an intern, or someone else, and could provide an interesting and popular page. but most importantly at least not breaking 95,000 links (plus all those who go to the page from search results pages) is the minimum Google should do.

Related: web pages should live foreverSearch Share Data Checking the ACSIWays for Google to Improve Continue reading

Making Life Difficult for Customers

Companies seem to think technology is an excuse to provide bad service. Or maybe they don’t need any excuse at all to do so, based on how often they provide bad service. My latest experience with lame pointy haired boss technology came while looking to watch a football game online. Years ago you could listen to any Wisconsin Badger game over the internet – very simple, no special software (just the simple free Real Audio plugin). In subsequent years (just to play a simple audio stream that had worked in previous years they kept requiring upgrades and their ever more complex required software would fail very often). Then the option of listen to online radio broadcasts disappeared altogether (for schools that chose to prevent this anyway).

Now sites that provide video seem incapable of making it a simple process. They chose not to use standard open software solutions. Instead they require you follow their desires to use this or that and then the whole operation fails quite often. Google, no surprise, is an exception (yes it worked prior to Google, they were just smart enough to buy it and not break it). YouTube just works. Can others copy this, idea? Some can, but many phbs decide that really everyone that uses their web sites should be happy to try and download special software and make configuration changes… to get their site working on their personal computers.

The idea that playing video online is solved problem and just making it more and more complex is not a good idea for users no matter if they want to add some bullet points to their boss on why they should get a larger raise this year because they got the engineers to add on some additional new feature that no-one actually wants. Granted This solved problem is a bit lame now, so I am all for improving it. But this should be a process that goes for simpler solutions, not more complex ones. And certainly any timed to the operating system of the end user is too idiotic to consider.
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How is this for Gobbledygook? Your home banking access code is expired! You must change your access code at this time. Your access code:

* may be between 4 and 20 characters in length
* must not have been changed within the last 0 days
* may not be one of 3 previously used access codes
* must not repeat the same character more than 0 times
* must not contain 0 characters from previous access code
* must contain at least 0 non-alphabetic character(s)
* may contain the following special characters: !”#$%&()+,-/;<=>?[\]^_`{|}*’
* must contain at least 0 alphabetic character(s)

1) What does “must not have been changed within the last 0 days” mean?
2) How about “must not repeat the same character more than 0 times” ?
3) Or “must not contain 0 characters from previous access code” ?

This kind of stuff is what makes people think computer programmers are crazy. I am sure the software allows users to set criteria. Then this screen is suppose to explain the criteria to users. It seems to me, if the selection is 0, then the correct procedure is to not display anything about it to the user.

Really I am not sure how “must not contain 0 characters from previous access code” is even to be applied if an positive integer were used. I guess you could not allow using any characters from the last access code, which seems crazy to me to begin with, but setting a number seems totally bizarre. I could see setting a requirement that says no repeat of the same sequence of x characters. I think that would probably not work well, but at least I understand what it would mean.

Related: Change Your NameBad Software Visual ControlsComplicating Simplicityweb usability resourcesSchneier on Security

Don’t Do What Your Users Say

In, Don’t do what your users say, Hanford Lemoore, provides a nice illustration of why customer focus is important but must be done with care.

in UI design it’s important to understand that what a user says and what a user is telling you can be two different things.

I got a good variety of comments back. Constructive thoughts. But I noticed an interesting trend: The most common thing suggested was “Add an undo to the game.” It seems almost everyone who tested the game had asked for an undo option.

I wanted to find the root cause of the “undo” request. I had some friends of mine host a playtest party at their house

During the party I got a lot of great feedback. Just watching someone play my game and see them learn from their mistakes was an incredible experience. But mainly I was watching closely to see if and why anyone was going to request an undo feature. What I saw was surprising.

After the user test is was clear to me that the root cause for undo requests was that the controls were too sensitive for the average player. There were a few other things that were revealed too. People really loved solving the puzzles in the game — the first time. But if they had to restart, they really did not enjoy redoing the puzzles they had already solved. This was another cause of wanting an undo in the game.

This is a great example of looking for the root cause and going to the gemba. You must focus on customers but you must bring thought into how you react. Just doing what they say is likely a bad idea. Ignoring them is also bad. But listening and learning and then adjusting is good.

Related: Pleasing CustomersConfusing Customer FocusWhat Could we do Better?Good Customer Service ExampleFind the Root Cause

Businesses Tell the IRS They Are Not American but Executives Stay in USA

I have previously written about the ethically challenged companies that claim they are not American to avoid paying the taxes that they owe. For some reason the executives, often seem to stay in the USA though? It is sad that such behavior is tolerated.

10 Big Businesses That Have Moved Their Headquarters Abroad to Pay Less U.S. Taxes [the broken link was removed]

Halliburton: Houston-based Halliburton, which offers a broad array of oil-field technologies and services to upstream oil and gas customers worldwide, announced the opening of a corporate headquarters in the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai on March 12, 2007. The company, which was once led by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, said that its relocation was part of a strategy that it announced in mid-2006 to concentrate its efforts in the Middle East in order to attract business.

Yes the same company taking billions in Pentagon no-bid contracts (Company Official Defends No-Bid Army ContractHalliburton Contract Critic Loses Her Job – Halliburton’s Fleecing Ends — Or Does It? [the broken link was removed]).

And that isn’t all – read this on how they don’t pay social security or unemployment… taxes since they are not an American company when they hire American’s to work for the US government in Iraq. Top Iraq contractor skirts US taxes offshore – “Kellogg Brown & Root, the nation’s top Iraq war contractor and until last year a subsidiary of Halliburton Corp., has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in this tropical tax haven.”
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Pleasing Customers

Why is 37signals so arrogant? by Don Norman

The Brash Boys at 37signals Will Tell You: Keep it Simple, Stupid. Brash is an understatement. I was quoted in the article because of my article arguing that simplicity is highly overrated: the tasks that we do require tools that match the requirements, and these add complexity.

Yes, they are arrogant — and proud of it: “Arrogant is usually something you hurl at somebody as an insult,” Hansson said. “But when I actually looked it up — having an aggravated sense of one’s own importance or abilities’ — I thought, sure.” Park concludes his article by saying “Call it arrogance or idealism, but they would rather fail than adapt. ‘I’m not designing software for other people, ‘Hansson says. ‘I’m designing it for me.’ ” “I’m not designing … for other people.” I think that simple phrase speaks volumes. Thank goodness most companies recognize that this attitude is deadly.

I don’t agree. Not compromising leads to solutions that are unlikely to be all things to all people. But with an intelligent and knowledgeable leader will lead to excellent solutions for those that share desires. Now I don’t think this is the best strategy, especially for growth. But it can be an excellent strategy for startup, innovators and those seeking 1,000 fans.
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Great Visual Instruction Example

antibiotic visual instructions

This does a great job of explaining what you need to know clearly. While this presentation for Azithromycin doesn’t prevent a mistake it sure makes it much more likely that the process can be completed successfully. We need more effort in creating such clear instructions.

Visual clarity is more important than lots of words. Applying that concept is not as easy as it sounds but it is a very important idea for instructions to end use and instructions for processes in your organization. Expecting people to read much is just setting yourself up for failure when they don’t bother (you should consider psychology, and how people will actually use your instructions not how you want them to).

via: Prescription UI

Related: Using Design to Reduce Medical ErrorsVisual Instructions ExampleVisual Work InstructionsStandardized Work InstructionsHealth Care Pictographs5sEdward Tufte’s: Envisioning Information