Found this interview today with Jeff Bonforte, a Yahoo VP. He talks a lot about usability of web applications and claims a focus on usability is the reason Yahoo messenger and email is more popular than Google’s services. I would have been more impressed if he had also mentioned that a large part of those numbers might be related to Yahoo’s email and chat being around for quite a few years before Google got into those markets.
He has an interesting quote in the article though:
On Yahoo! Messenger for the Mac client, I reduced the functionality by 30 per cent and increased usage by 35 per cent. As we take out features, it tends to do better with the mainstream users.
Apart from being an interesting quote in terms of the eternal discussion about GNOME usability it did strike me that being an online application maker has some great advantages, like being able to measure exactly how each change you do influence usage patterns and popularity.
The other day my sister* came home and was checking her mail on my computer. She uses Yahoo Mail, just like me (it’s the best one, I agree). So, when she entered her account, there were like 10 new messages, 9 of them spam. She complained to me: “I always mark these messages as spam, but they keep sending them”. “Strange, it works fine for me. I hardly get spam in my inbox… Do you have spamguard activated?”. “What’s that?”
I had to teach her that she could go to “Options” and enable it.
Next she wanted to see a document that she had sent me a few days ago, so she asked me to enter my account and get it for her. “But you should have it in your Sent folder”, I said. “No”, she replied, “It never stores the messages I send!”.
So you see, she’s been using this account for YEARS, and besides the fact that she had 2 big complaints about how it worked, she never ever thought about clicking “Options” and solve those two problems in 10 seconds. And Yahoo does show you messages all the time telling you that you can change things.
This is why having good defaults is EXTREMELY important. Because 80% of the users NEVER go to “Options” to change the way things work. And this is where Gnome is good: it provides very good defaults. Much better than KDE.
However, for the other 20% users who do open the menus to solve things and customize the app, having many options is GOOD, not bad as Gnome developers believe. If you only provide a couple of options, then you might only satisfy a small percentage of those users. Yes, those who find the exact option they were looking for will be happy to find it so easily and fast, but those who wanted another option will be pissed not to find it anywhere. On the other side, KDE’s menus might be a bit more difficult, but the great majority of those 20% users will find the option they were looking for. Who cares if it takes 3 minutes to find it instead of 20 seconds? You only do it once. And it’s more important to be able to solve the problem with a little effort than to either be able to solve it with no effort or not solve it at all.
Conclusion: Mainstream users use defaults: provide them with the best ones. More advanced users use menus to customize things: provide them with more advanced menus.
I agree with more options == good thing.
I also agree with good defaults == most important
More menu options don’t though.
Nor do more toolbar buttons.
Complexity scares average users and it pisses people like me off.
I’ve tried KDE once. I launched up kopete. I sent a friend of mine a message.
As soon as I saw a Button to adjust the alignment of the text in my message by default on my screen I removed KDE entirely.
I don’t mind if its possible to add this completely useless functionality. But the fact it was on my screen, wasting my brains-proccessing-time was so incredibily enlighting. I suddenly realized what KDE was about. What the user group was. Tweakers. People that spent days getting the system just like they want it. That want all the functionality they could ever possible use and more. And then, never really use it production-wise.
This isn’t a KDE flame though. As a platform its intelligently constructed and pretty efficient. Its just completely unusable with the default settings.
Eventhough they could just win me back if they just had _sane_ defaults and less ugly skins. I don’t mind all the options. I mind all the buttons and the menu’s. Hell I personally find menu’s overkill anyway. A simple toolbar with a few buttons should be enough. If I ever need more behaviour, just let me add stuff to the toolbar. For me even Gnome overdoes it at times. Fortunately i’ve found a way to hide the menu’s ;-)