That's Not What I'm Doing!

by Nick Friday, May 02, 2008 1:23 PM

It is my belief, based on previous experience, that every software developer should at some point in time have to watch someone who is new to your software, actually use your software for the first time.  If software is truly simple, and very usable, then it should be pretty obvious to even the most novice of users, and they shouldn't need a manual.  Moreover, things that would make someone's life very easy seem to become crystal clear as you watch the struggle to do something, and watch them try to do something the way they think it ought to work.

Today I had a similar experience to this (although not with software that I wrote), when my girlfriend started using Twitter today.  She was trying to send me an @ reply, but kept sending them as direct messages, and wanted to know how I was sending the replies so they showed up in my micro log.  We went back and forth in various emails, when finally I said this:

OK... in the box where it says "What are you doing?", you can type something like "@NickSchweitzer You are a twit" without the quotes, and it will then show up in my private twitter area, and also be visible to people in your twitter log.

Then she replied with this:

that's silly!

it's asking me what I'm doing but I want to message someone else? that's not what I'm doing!

I read that and sat back in my chair for a minute, and then went to the Twitter site, and then looked at how the twitter badge displays my micro log starting with the phrase "what am I doing...".  "Damn, she's absolutely right."  And the funny thing is, the Twitter home page has an incredibly simple layout which on the surface just screams "easy to use and understand".  And yet, just by the simple phrasing of a label, they completely mislead their users so as to not understand how to use their application.

Making something simple really is much harder than it looks.

Isn't That a Basic Feature?

by Nick Saturday, January 26, 2008 12:27 PM

I don't know about the rest of you, but I generally prefer to read real books, rather than online books.  In fact, I've commented before about how I only own one truly "digital book".  It was a book written by Dean Koontz, and at the time I bought it, it was only available online.  I have since bought a signed author's copy, and lost the online version.  But now I'm reviewing a new book on Microsoft Silverlight which is only available online in PDF format.

Most of the time when I use PDF's, it's for relatively brief documents that only amount to one or two pages.  I read the document, and then close it.  But now I'm trying to read a nearly 200 page online book, and I have no idea how to bookmark where I left off in Adobe Reader.  The author of the book can add their own bookmarks when they create the PDF, but how does a reader add a bookmark... like... where I left off?  Adobe Reader is in version 8 now, and either they still don't have this feature, or it's so hidden that I can't find it.  Shouldn't that have been in version 1.0?

It's About Time

by Nick Thursday, September 06, 2007 10:11 AM

I suggested this a while ago, and it looks like they finally took my advice and added search to Google Reader.  This is a most welcome addition.  I also love the ability to shrink the left side bar and get a larger reading area.  Keep it up guys!

Make The Box Easy To Open

by Nick Monday, August 20, 2007 1:08 PM

Joel on Software is lamenting about Office 2007, and even complains about the box it comes in:

I bought a retail copy of Office 2007 today (I'm loading up the new laptop I got for the world tour, which is a Thinkpad X61s), and I must be a complete spaz, but I simply could not figure out how to open the bizarre new packaging.

It's a hard plastic case, sealed in two different places by plastic stickies. It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an utter F in the school of Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things. To be technical about it, it has no true affordances and actually has some false affordances: visual clues as to how to open it that turn out to be wrong.

My version of Office 2007 came as a download, so I never had the same experience.  I can say that I had a similar experience with Apple's iPod Nano, when I bought one for my mom for Mother's Day.  I was going to open up the clear plastic case that it came in, so I could load her music on it for her.  It took me about 5 minutes to open it, and I almost cracked the plastic because I was trying to do it the wrong way.  It was not intuitive at all.

Your very first impression of anything is the packaging.  It's not a good sign when that impression is bad.  Don't get me wrong... the case was beautiful, and exactly the look and type of design I'd expect from Apple.  But looks should never override easy of use.  I think Apple forgets that sometimes.

More Reasons Not to Like DRM

by Nick Monday, August 13, 2007 9:18 AM

I've talked many times before about how I don't like Digital Rights Management schemes, mostly because it makes it too hard for me to use what I purchased and now own.  It feels too much like a rental scheme, where one day I'll find that my hardware won't play my music one day, or the company that created the DRM will suddenly disappear, taking my music with it.  Here is a perfect example of this:

Google Inc. is shutting down a service that sold and rented online video, ending a 19-month experiment doomed by the proliferation of free clips on other websites like the Internet search leader's YouTube subsidiary.
Google has been selling the right to watch a wide range of video, including sports, music and news, since January 2006. Most of the video sold for anywhere from a couple US dollars to $20. Customers could pay less to "rent" the right to watch a selected video for a day or buy the show so it would be available to watch indefinitely.
Google spokesman Gabriel Strickler said the refunds won't materially affect the company, which has $12.5 billion in cash. Strickler declined to reveal how many people bought video through Google.

Basically Google is going to give "store credit", and hopefully you'll like something else at their store which you can then buy.  Seems like a raw deal to me, which is why I still stick to DVD's and MP3's for my video and music needs.

Via Slashdot.

How Ironic Is Google Reader?

by Nick Thursday, June 07, 2007 3:34 PM

I'm a huge fan of feeds, and I'm an even bigger fan of Google Reader.  I subscribe to more than 150 feeds, and I use a lot of the features in Google Reader, including starring posts that I want to look at later.  What's funny is that Google was built on search and yet I can't search through my starred feeds!  If I know I starred something a couple weeks ago, and I want to try to find it, I have to scroll endlessly through posts I've starred since then in order to get to it.  You'd think Google of all companies would incorporate search into their own product.

Am I missing something here?  Is there search embedded somewhere that I don't know about?

Ozzie, Lotus Notes and Simplicity?

by Nick Monday, June 19, 2006 12:34 PM

This article was featured on Slashdot, and I couldn't help but laugh as I read some of the concepts that were combined together to describe Ray Ozzie, the new Chief Software Architect at Microsoft:

Mr Gates himself was once moved to declare Mr Ozzie "one of the top five programmers in the universe" and revealed that he and Mr Ballmer had wanted for more than a decade to persuade him to join Microsoft. To the outside world, Mr Ozzie's programming prowess is known mainly through Lotus Notes, the e-mail and collaboration software that he masterminded, which was acquired by IBM in 1995.
"Complexity kills," Mr Ozzie wrote. "It sucks the life out of developers, it makes products difficult to plan, build and test, it introduces security challenges, and it causes end-user and administrator frustration."

I'm sorry... is that the architect of Lotus Notes saying that complexity kills, as if he's somehow an expert on simple software?  Did I read that right?  Lotus Notes is probably one of the worst, and most bloated pieces of email and collaboration software I've ever had the misfortune to use.  I pray... pray... that software at Microsoft (despite its problems) doesn't regress further by following the Notes model.

I'm Not The Only One

by Nick Tuesday, May 30, 2006 12:32 PM

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how I was an anti-technology technologist.  Well, it looks as if I'm not the only one:

Nathan Bales represents a troubling trend for cellular phone carriers. The Kansas City-area countertop installer recently traded in a number of feature-laden phones for a stripped-down model. He said he didn't like using them to surf the Internet, rarely took pictures with them and couldn't stand scrolling through seemingly endless menus to get the functions to work.
But they've also shown a growing frustration with how confusing those added features can be. A J.D. Power & Associates survey last year found consumer satisfaction with their mobile devices has declined since 2003, with some of the largest drops linked to user interface for Internet and e-mail services.

This reminds me of when I bought my most recent cell phone a couple years ago.  When I went to a kiosk to look at new phones, I asked the guy behind the counter if they had any phones that don't make toast.  He looked at me as if I was from outer-space.  My old phone was easy to use, had a fantastic phone book system, was small... just perfect.  I still miss it in some ways.  This one I eventually got was pretty good, but not quite there.  Do you know how hard it is to find a phone that doesn't have a camera?  I do.

My Conversation With My Dell Laptop Over Drinks

by Nick Tuesday, May 23, 2006 11:52 PM

Laptop: Would you like to restart now?
Me: No.
Laptop: How about now?
Me: I'm not done with what I was doing.
Laptop: What about now?
Me: I know you just installed a Windows Update, but really, it can wait.
Laptop: Now?
Me: ...
Laptop: Now?
Me: No means no!  Stop pressuring me!
Laptop: So, you lost tonight playing poker huh?  That must suck.
Me: Fine!

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Nick Schweitzer Nick Schweitzer
Wauwatosa, WI

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I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit. ... Full Bio

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