Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Usability and Community

Joel has a very nice post on usability in software. One, he claims that webpages are now so usable in general, that there are entire categories of websites (such as content sites) where further investment in usability is unneccessary.

I used to think the web was easy to use wayback in '98, but some time with Creative Good convinced me that, infact, websites are very complicated for the average user and lose lots of money as a result. At any rate, I'm sure that things are better now, but I'm not willing to say there are now worthwhile improvements to be made.

Two, Joel also talks about how interface design impacts the use (or lack thereof) of software that facilitates group interaction in some way. Getting the social interfaces correct make tremendous differences where end-user adoption is critical to success. In a lot of business software, end-user adoption is unimportant since the purchase decision was made by some manager who never actually has to use the damn thing, and employees are largely free to sabotage any management plan at will, including software implementations. But where the purchaser is the user, at home or in a smaller business, ease of use really really matters, and getting a good UI is the difference between getting the benefit of having the software, or not. When the software's primary output is interaction between humans, you must take human instincts into account (curses! not humans!)

(For a very interesting list of well considered design conditions, read this article by Joel where he goes through why his own discussion board is designed the way it is.)

I did a little online community work a while ago and stumbled upon Amy Jo Kim of Naima. I read her book, Community Building On the Web and found it to be lousy. She seemed to be way too taken with fancy gimmicks like avatars and virtual worlds while ignoring the more down-to-earth and meaningful observations like Joel's "I don't let people quote because then they quote too much". Since UI guides (but does not drive) behavior, and you have *some* sort of UI no matter what, you are driving particular behaviors even if you don't mean to. Best be concious about your choices and pick good ones.


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