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  • Just another Reuters post on programmers...

    http://tinyurl.com/ya27ma

    Thought this would spark some interest.

    Programmers to blame for hard-to-use software
    Wed Jan 3, 2007 8:21 AM ET

    By Lisa Von Ahn

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Retired microbiologist Diana Westmoreland is no stranger to technology -- except when it comes to computers.

    "The programs are intimidating. The language that's used is a foreign one to me," said Westmoreland, who lives near Cardiff, Wales. "I'm the sort of person who, when something crashes, apologizes to the screen."

    The problem, says consultant David Platt, lies not with the user but with the programmers, who just don't think like the people who use their products.

    Platt is a computer science instructor at the Harvard University Extension School and the author of a new book called "Why Software Sucks ... And What You Can Do About It," published by Pearson Plc unit Pearson Education.

    One of his peeves is when a text-editing program like Microsoft Word asks users if they want to save their work before they close their document.

    That question makes little sense to computer novices accustomed to working with typewriters or pen and paper, he said. For them, a clearer question would be: "Throw away everything you've just done?"

    Boxes that ask users to confirm whether they want to take a step such as deleting a document are another example of what he calls a bad feature.

    "Your car does not ask, 'Do you really want to start the engine?' when you turn the key," Platt said.

    The confirmation box has become so overused that no one pays any attention to it, even when it's warning about a document that should be kept, he said.

    Error messages represent software communication at its worst, Platt said. In his book, he recounts how after trying to save a Web page from his Internet browser, he received a message that said it couldn't be done and gave him no other recourse but to hit the OK button.

    "No, it is not OK with me that this operation didn't work and the program can't explain why," he wrote.

    YOUR.USER.IS.NOT.YOU.

    Platt, who has also written nine books for computer professionals, has a message for software developers: "Your. User. Is. Not. You."

    People who write software programs value control. The user, on the other hand, just wants something that's easy to operate.

    To illustrate his point, he notes that computer programmers tend to prefer manual transmissions. But not even 15 percent of the cars sold in the United States last year had that feature.

    Similarly, many software programs come with functions -- like the ability to move the menu bar -- that the average person does not want or need. Programming instructions required for such features, Platt said, "increase the possibility of crashing errors and security vulnerabilities in the same way as more moving parts on any mechanical device render it less reliable."

    David Thomas, executive director of the Software & Information Industry Association's software division, disputed Platt's assessment of computer programmers.

    According to Thomas, the trouble with software programs is that good ones often get overloaded with features demanded by "power users," such as big corporations or vocal individuals.

    "You don't want your customers to design your product," he said. "They're really bad at it."

    As more and more software becomes Internet-based, he said, companies can more easily monitor their users' experiences and improve their programs with frequent updates.

    They have a financial incentive to do so, since more consumer traffic results in higher subscription or advertising revenues.

    "They know that if they don't make the customer experience enjoyable that the customer will stop using them," he said, "whereas if I sell you a (software) product, I don't care if you use it or not; I have your money."

    There is one area, however, where Thomas and Platt agree: the Web still has a long way to go.

    Too many Web sites start off with home pages that offer animation, music -- and no real information.

    "Every time I want to look at an article and I have to click to get past that multimedia thing, it drives me crazy," Thomas said. "They should be monitoring the fact that 99 percent of people try click on 'close' within a certain fraction of a second to get away from that thing."

    Web search company Google Inc. and photocopy chain Fedex Kinko's, a unit of Fedex Corp., provide easy-to-use Web sites, but others are still more complicated than they need to be, Platt said.

    Starbucks Corp. incurred his wrath because the coffee shop chain required him to specify a search radius when he was trying to use its site find the nearest store.

    "The Starbucks programmers probably think that having more control over the search is powerful and cool," he wrote. "But in reality it's a useless and annoying distraction. Nobody goes around asking, 'Is there a Starbucks within five miles? How about 10? 15?'"

    Platt said he voiced his sentiments to Starbucks, but received only an automated response. The company did not comment for this article.

    While companies may not always reply, Platt urges his readers to let them know about software problems by posting feedback on their Web sites. "The best companies want to hear from users," he said.

    He also advises consumers to check out what trustworthy software reviewers have to say about a product before they buy it and to post their own comments on Web sites that sell the programs.

    However, individuals can only do so much, and he is working on forming an organization called "It Just Works" (http://suckbusters.com) to laud the good programs and ridicule the bad.

    While Platt believes market forces are moving the software industry in the right direction, he already is thinking about writing a sequel called "Why Software Still Sucks."

    "I'd be astounded," he said in an e-mail, "if (the industry) made so much progress in the next year or two that it might not benefit from another nudge."
    Last edited by AlxRogan; January 3, 2007, 09:19. Reason: Shortened URL to preserve sanity
    A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on.
    -
    William S. Burroughs

  • #2
    Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

    Hey, I drive a manual transmission...
    45 5F E1 04 22 CA 29 C4 93 3F 95 05 2B 79 2A B0
    45 5F E1 04 22 CA 29 C4 93 3F 95 05 2B 79 2A B1
    [ redacted ]

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

      Originally posted by bascule View Post
      Hey, I drive a manual transmission...
      Same here.

      The article sounds like someone is trying to sell a book. (I'm not suggesting this post is spam.)

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

        Mine has an automatic transmission, but it also has rockets.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

          Originally posted by astcell View Post
          Mine has an automatic transmission, but it also has rockets.
          Cool. Was that a factory installed option, or a DIY mod?

          My daily driver has an automatic, although a project car has a manual.
          Thorn
          "If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning." - Catherine Aird

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

            Originally posted by enven View Post
            http://tinyurl.com/ya27ma

            Thought this would spark some interest.
            The author then goes on to quote the entire article, which was relatively interesting, given I've not had enough coffee to be human, yet.

            On the other hand, I note a small comment at the bottom:


            --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            Last edited by AlxRogan : Yesterday at 09:19 AM. Reason: Shortened URL to preserve sanity

            Please, please, *don't* do that. I never, ever, ever click on those Tiny URL things. I *want* to know where the link is going to send me, every single time. We now have only the author's word that it's from Reuter's (and I'm not suggesting that it isn't). I don't really care about someone posting the longer URL, right now, and that's not what I'm asking.

            I'm just stating that in this group, of all places, obfuscating a URL is not friendly.

            Thanks in advance, Have a nice day, Hope that helps...

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

              I think the article makes a lot of sense. Many times programmers will write programs to impress other programmers with all the bells and whistles. This is great, except for the fact that it's not just other programmers that are buying the programs. The average user has a very limited knowledge of what many terms mean, especially older users who had no computer training while in school (back when the pocket calculator was a novelty). Programs should be designed to be as simple and as user friendly as possible and include advanced features for the advanced users. I have many times run across "Help" files that were of no help at all because the technical jargon used in them was like a foreign language. Perhaps someone with a BS in Computer Science could have understood them but I couldn't. If you fail to feel the pulse of the buying public then you are destined to lose sales.
              I enjoy talking to myself...it's usually the only intelligent conversations I get to have.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                Originally posted by Floydr47 View Post
                I think the article makes a lot of sense. Many times programmers will write programs to impress other programmers with all the bells and whistles. This is great, except for the fact that it's not just other programmers that are buying the programs.
                Sure, but then you may end up with crippleware that only novices can use and everyone else is frustrated with. For example, he thought it was horrible that starbucks asks for a "search radius." There are good reasons why a person might specify one. If he wants to simplify things, fine, but add an "advanced" button to turn on some of those bells and whistles.

                For example, Google vs Powell's Books search engine. By far, Powell's is "easier" to use. Type a word, hit enter. No boolean operators, no quotes, no +,- signs, just a simple search. I believe you have the ability to specify title, author, etc. Unfortunately, not being able to exclude words or specify that the words should be all together can cause some real headaches when there are too many conflicting titles. I almost invariably end up having to ask an employee, because they have the real search engine that I'm not allowed access to.

                The average user has a very limited knowledge of what many terms mean, especially older users who had no computer training while in school (back when the pocket calculator was a novelty).
                I'd like to mention as a sidenote that FreeGeek trains people like this everyday to use a linux desktop. Just because they start of ignorant doesn't mean they have to stay that way.

                Programs should be designed to be as simple and as user friendly as possible and include advanced features for the advanced users.
                I agree with having an "advanced" button.


                I have many times run across "Help" files that were of no help at all because the technical jargon used in them was like a foreign language. Perhaps someone with a BS in Computer Science could have understood them but I couldn't.
                I have run across "help" files that were of no use because they were so dumbed down. They might restate the obvious (having nothing to do with possiblee errors), or are so dumbed down that it doesn't even make sense to me. Or even better, they tell me to talk to my admin. A very frustrating message to receive when you ARE the admin of the box. Why not at least point me in the right direction?

                If you fail to feel the pulse of the buying public then you are destined to lose sales
                Don't forget that a large portion of the "buying public" includes people who know what they are doing and want the bells and whistles. Trying to satisfy everyone is a difficult task indeed. Personally, if you have to miss the mark, I think it is better to overshoot than undershoot. People can always gain knowledge, but asking folks who have some knowledge (I'm not talking hackers here, I'm talking computer literate) to keep being frustrated with a stupid program or to check their brains out when they fire up a program is not a step in the right direction.

                Having said that, I have sometimes been entirely overwhelmed with a new sort of program that uses concepts I've never heard of before. It can be frustrating for sure, but is usually equally rewarding when you figure it out. What do I do to figure it out? Google for help/docs online and/or get a friend who IS familiar with the concepts. If you are having difficulty with something, someone somewhere on Google has too. Knowing how to use a search engine should be the first step in teaching computer literacy after "when you move the mouse, the little arrow moves too."

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                  Yeah, this isn't a spam thread for a book...I found it interesting that this news post was so linear/opinionated.


                  As for the link; sorry about that...It totally slipped my noggin (i was on a quick smoke/laptop break)

                  -Enven
                  A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on.
                  -
                  William S. Burroughs

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                    I kind of have mixed feelings about what the article is saying. To me it says "dumb it down guys. The user doesn't know what they are doing." I deal with users all day at work. I kind of feel like if using a computer is part of your job, you should at least take the initiative to understand the basics of the system and it's software.
                    It is insulting to me that the industry is expected to dumb things down. Why can't users educate themselves a bit? Those that don't get it should just stick to using a pencil and paper.
                    I realize that there is money to be made though...

                    Oh, my wife Lincoln LS V8 has an automatic transmission that can also be manually shifted! It's sweet!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                      Yeah Clp727: you're right about how they expect the people who work in the Technology business (whether it is programming, IT, etc.) to 'dumb it down', which is pathetic since there should be some sort of 'professionalism' in each field of work; its complete bs since lingo is very important (or obvious definition) in a work field; which needs proper labeling.


                      Well...If everyone dumbed down there work we'd be in paradise...nasa should start first...I guess.
                      A paranoid is someone who knows a little of what's going on.
                      -
                      William S. Burroughs

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                        There is a difference between 'dumbed down' and good design- As much as I love GIMP and what it represents, the button layout in PS is far superior-

                        So where do you draw the line in dumbing down vs. good design? I have my own thoughts on this, am curious what the DC crowd thinks...

                        LosT

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                          Originally posted by Clp727 View Post
                          I deal with users all day at work. I kind of feel like if using a computer is part of your job, you should at least take the initiative to understand the basics of the system and it's software.
                          It is insulting to me that the industry is expected to dumb things down. Why can't users educate themselves a bit? Those that don't get it should just stick to using a pencil and paper.
                          I deal with users too,(most of them are PhDs at a local college) and I totally agree that if you plan on using a program you should learn it. There are so many different types of word processing software out there that you can find one to fit your simplest to most advanced needs.
                          I run into people saying they have to have this program or they have to have that one. Ask them why, they tell you they have heard a lot about it. Suggest something that would be easier to use and they get angry. Then when they do get it, they are upset because it is too complicated. Or they don't want to take the time to learn how to use it. Or the best, they want us to show them how to use it. Even though we don't use the software ourselves.
                          This all goes with my theory that we should go back to when you had to actually be smart to have and use a computer. By constantly dumbing things down we perpetuate the dumbing of our society.
                          I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they've always worked for me. - HST

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                            Originally posted by arashi_kage View Post
                            This all goes with my theory that we should go back to when you had to actually be smart to have and use a computer. By constantly dumbing things down we perpetuate the dumbing of our society.
                            How do you define "smart" and how far back do you want to go? It wasn't exactly rocket science to use a commodor 64. I was operating a vic20 when I was 10. Type LOAD, hit play on the tape, go get breakfast, come back and type "run". Or for pacman, which was written in that mysterious and oh-so-cool "machine language," you typed what the manufacturer or rather pirate group wrote down on the tape for you. SYS <some number> Some of the programs were not remotely intuitive, but they usually came with some complicated key overlay, so you could remember which key did what (I am thinking of Paperclip* here). Yes, if you were really smart, you could just remember everything, but it was not expected.

                            Although I agree there has been a "dumbing down," I also think we have somewhat higher standards now for both computers and their users.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Just another Reuters post on programmers...

                              Since everyone else is sharing their feelings on the subject I will join in. Hearing the phrase " If you work with computers all day....etc etc." Really reminds me of how i feel a couple of times a year when each new CFP opens.

                              It amazes me that people with 6 figure salaries and sometimes a PHD, can't read instructions, can't seem to read period, and sometimes can't figure out basic tasks like check this box or sign your name here. I get countless emails with the most recockulas questions, most times they reply to the email i sent stating "you have x deadline to submit your materials by x date " with "when is the deadline?" I'm thinking....It's RIGHT there. One line under your question!?! It baffles me. You want to submit a presentation for a highly technical event, and you can not understand the concept of cut and paste? Reading? Spell check? Time?

                              Don't even get me started on how bad those type of people are at reading TERMS AND CONDITIONS. (Which they must put their name into each section.) I've gotten less explosive over time about the whole thing, but nonetheless its annoying. I just wonder if we had all correspondence in some obscure program language and the TOC in like Binary, would it be more affective?

                              /silly_silly_rant
                              "Haters, gonna hate"

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