First, please read this.
To sum things up: please consider moving to identi.ca or some other StatusNet open service. Especially do this if you happen to love developers. Also especially do this if you love things that are open.
My Twitter widget on this blog will be coming down shortly also. I plan to maintain Twitter integration on my identi.ca account for a while, mainly to not completely lose touch with the people on Twitter who are great people but have not yet chosen to display their love and affection for devs by migrating away. Some day I hope either Twitter changes their stance and embraces the community that got them where they are today, or everyone is on an open platform instead. That relies on educating the mainstream first, though, as to why they should care about such things as openness in platforms, and a "dev community".
UPDATE: Twitter widget is now gone. I'll eventually replace with a StatusNet/identi.ca widget if I ever get_to/decide_to spend more time on this blog thing.
So, recently there was a bit of an uproar when an article on a popular social media blog (Read Write Web) became the #1 result on Google for the search phrase “facebook login”. Basically, a bunch of people apparently always search for “facebook login” on Google when they want to login to Facebook, instead of using the browser’s address bar or a bookmark. A Twitter friend of mine, @funkatron (Ed Finkler), wrote a very well thought out blog post outlining his opinions on the matter. While I’m all for improving usability in general, I believe we should do so with a goal in mind beyond “so more people can perform function XYZ”.
Here's my take: these people are ignorant and we need to accept that and move on. I'm not saying that in a mean spirited way, it's just obviously true for this use case in the same way that I'm ignorant about flying a plane. It's important to note that I am not drawing any parallels to the two activities beyond the fact that flying a plane is something I know only a little about and using a browser/the Internet is something these people know only a little about. I also know that each and every one of these people must know much more about some (or many) things than I do, whether that be flying a plane, repairing a car, playing pool or just “plain old” life wisdoms. I’m not attacking anyone nor do I feel superior to anyone who believes AOL or Facebook is the Internet. I just feel we should be OK with them just not getting it. Not everyone has to be able to fly a plane and not everyone has to be able to understand the difference between a browser, Google.com search results and Facebook.com, and NOT EVERYONE has to use the Internet (that’s a big one I think we “Internet Builders” often forget).
Now, whereas Ed’s position is that this is a failure of the development community (which I am a part of) to make it easier for these people to carry out their intentions without having to think about how to use the browser, I actually feel like this is a bit of a win. It’s not a win in the sense that we got something new to laugh about for a day or two, but in that we got an opportunity to talk about an apparent deficit in understanding of some pretty basic concepts amidst a certain population of Internet users, and how we should react to that. Also, I have to believe a certain percentage of these people learned something new out of this (the difference between their address bar and a search engine), however small that percentage might be. That's a Big Win. We now have, theoretically, a few slightly more knowledgeable people out there.
I believe our goal should not be to lower the bar for people to perform various tasks with these complex machines, at least not necessarily. I believe the goal should be more along the lines of striking a balance between that and making it easy for people to acquire knowledge about how to perform those tasks with the tools at hand, even if they aren’t seeking it proactively, all without doing away with all traces of a “learning curve”. I think it’s just a little dangerous to adopt, as a default mentality, the notion that we should always be catering to the lowest common denominator of knowledge for a given domain. The movie Idiocracy does a great, albeit exaggerated job of exploring the possible results of such an attitude.
Now, does this mean I think improving usability is not a good idea? Of course not. I think a browser should be easier to use, sure, but I don’t think we should try to make the browser work how these people think a browser should work. Actually, to be clear, that’s not really what I mean either; I’m not talking specifically about this group of users and their perceptions of how the browser works, nor specifically about how I think the browser should work, nor even specifically about the browser at all. What I mean is, I don’t think we should make the browser (or anything) work in such a way that tries to predict every possible user’s intentions for any possible task covered by the browser (or other thing in another domain). In other words, I really think it’s not a great idea to attempt to eliminate the possibility of good old “User Error”.
User error is important. User error means humans are still humans, and we still need other humans to help us figure some things out. Having need for help creates entire markets for services as well as opens up doors for seeking new knowledge and forging new relationships. So my argument against Ed’s position is more an argument against a philosophy, I guess. I would rather have my grandpa call me on the phone to ask “how come I can’t get on the email even though AOL says I’m online?” than have my grandpa’s understanding become the default (and socially agreed upon correct) way things work. Even though it annoys me to no end when I have to try to troubleshoot his ignorance over the phone, at the end of the day it’s a connection he and I would otherwise not have and we always catch up a little on each other’s lives and say “I love you”, and he gets a chance to teach me about some things in life that I'm pretty ignorant in.
Am I digging too deep here? Probably. Oh well.
I just realized I’ve been forgetting to use what very small power I might have to influence the very small number of people that might read my incredibly inconsequential blog…
Haiti absolutely needs help, RIGHT NOW. Please, if all you can do right now (like myself) is donate a small amount of money, don’t wait.
The easiest way to donate if you’re in the US is to simply text the word HAITI to 90999, which is the Red Cross’s official quick-donate channel.
Here is a list of other ways to help, internationally, that Google has kindly compiled: http://www.google.com/relief/haitiearthquake/
Anything you can do to help, at all, will be a help. Just help. Imagine if it was you or your family buried in rubble…