As the internet becomes ever more popular and ever more useful those that make use of it are no longer limited to the “Tech Savvy”. A large amount of internet users today may even consider themselves technophobes, people who struggle with technical jargon and computer concepts. This is not news to anyone.
This in itself is not an issue but does provide challenges. It is a challenge for the IT industry to create new and feature rich products that both appeal to the geek but remain accessible by the technophobe. The challenge of balancing powerful features with ease of use is not a new one but when the software in question is online it becomes magnified.
In my experience technophobes do not like change. They want a computer set up to perform the tasks they need. They want to click in the same place to achieve the same result time after time. They do not want or need new and improved features, such things only confuse them and slow them down. This kind of environment has been relatively easy to achieve with a windows desktop. Throw some shortcuts for Microsoft Word, Outlook Express and Internet Explorer onto the desktop and job’s a good’en. Every time they turn on their PC they know what to click, they are not always sure why they have to click what they do but if they always click the same things in the same order it works the same as it always has. I have no issue with people using technology in this way. They want the technology to work for them, not the other way around.
The World Wide Web, on the other hand, is much more difficult place to tame. Unlike their desktop experience, ultimately, things change: services have downtime, websites get redesigned, features get added, companies go bust. Add to this there is a whole new world of jargon and concepts and you end up with some very twitchy users.
Let Me In
A recent beautiful example of this was when a technology blog posted a now famous article about facebook. The article in question ended up appearing at the top of Google’s search results for “facebook login”. This coupled with the fact that users can comment on this article by pressing a button labeled “Login with Facebook” lead to numerous users believing this was the new facebook home page and expressing thier contept for the situation in the comments.
In the aftermath of this event many people suggested that this was a huge failure on Google’s part to direct the users to the correct page and indicative of a greater failure of the industry to make things easier for Joe User. This I take issue with.
I completely accept that people can be confused by the world wide web and by busy websites with links and login buttons sprinkled all over the place but there comes a point when the responsibility falls to the user to just work some things out for themselves. This situation came about because a vast number of people either don’t know what the address bar is for or how to use it. They open their internet and start typing. More often than not this typing happens at Google, they click search and they get taken to where they want to go.
Now, as a self confessed computer geek this situation is a little alien to me. However, having tried to look at this from all sides I still cannot fathom how people can lay scorn at the feet of Google. The Google web page is incredibly simple and bare. There are hardly any graphics and there is nothing fancy or distracting about it. I imagine this is one of the factors behind its success.
I can understand how someone who habitually searches “facebook login” and clicks the first result would be hugely confused by arriving at this article. I can also see how they would scan the page and I understand how seeing a “login with facebook” button would catch their eye and also confuse them. Where my understanding falls down is that after trying this button and seemingly getting nowhere they didn’t go back to the beginning of the process and pay more attention.
As far as I’m concerned there is no getting away from it. If any of these people would have slowly read the search results and thought about it for 10 seconds they would have been happily playing FarmVille within seconds.
Not Computer People
Software designers don’t get it right nearly as often as they should with regards to making things easy for users but they could do with just a little bit of help. The laziness is overwhelming. In this age you should not simply say you’re “not a computer person” and believe it excuses you from concentrating. When you get stuck go back to the beginning, pay attention, take your time, read what is on the screen, consider the words and what they could mean and base your actions around that. Isn’t this a good way to act when faced with the unfamiliar.
How do these people function in the real world? When confronted by a new road junction do they just blindly accelerate through it without considering the signs or observing their surroundings? When in a new supermarket do they notice the produce is in a different order they are used to and run screaming from the store?
There comes a point when you have to expel a little effort even when you are lost and confused. Software designers need to do a better job at making their final product more intuitive but users are going to have to meet them somewhere in the middle.