Divya Manian

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It is not the User's Fault

Not The User’s Fault has a great blog post on why some people have difficulty reading urls, but unfortunately, a lot people still think like this person:

Is this the kind of computer users we want? Does the all-time audience of computers need to adapt to a new generation of dumbed-down, flashy silly apps with huge YOU ARE HERE address bars with 50 types of styling so Average Joe can understand he’s HERE and not THERE?

Here is a thought: How is it possible that almost everyone learns how to drive, or ride a bicycle but somehow a vast majority of people, who can do both these tasks quite well, fail to grasp what a browser means? If so many people have trouble understanding what computers/browsers do, the problem is not the users, but the machines/applications.

When learning to cycle, we know exactly what causes the results (or at least superficially) – e.g. pushing the pedal makes the wheels turn. In the case of a computer, it is not that obvious, because a computer is a machine that lets you do several things at once. You can not just shop for shoes, but also send mails, and also play your favourite song. A computer is the equivalent of a TV, Radio, Postal System, Grocery Store all rolled into one. Computers and software are complicated instruments that expect users to imagine actions instead of seeing them.

The nearest parallel I can think of is a flight controller, and to operate that you need to undergo several hours of training. But, nobody is trained in that manner to use the computer – children learn from parents; parents from someone else; everyone is getting by and very few people invest enough effort to learn to use it.

Computers were invented and used primarily by scientists till the late 80s. The UI has been dictated by purposes that computers rarely serve these days. Several people are working on making it easy, but years of history would make it hard to create a completely new interface. If we ever create such an interface, all of us “experts” will be up in arms as it would be radically different from status quo and would need us to invest time and effort to learn.

My point is most people use a computer to get by, and not as a source of their existence. If there is anyone who needs to be embarrassed, it is us “experts”.