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Jakob Nielsen Answers Usability Questions 228

Posted by Roblimo
from the necessary-knowledge dept.
We gathered questions for Jakob Nielsen Monday; here are the answers. Interesting, possibly even essential reading for anyone involved in software or Web site design.

1) /. usability rating? (Score:5, Interesting)
by Col. Klink (retired) (wklink@yahoo.com)

Would you care to comment on the usability of Slashdot? Good? Bad? Ugly? Be sure to read the apache section before answering that last one.

Jakob:

Obviously, Slashdot has great usability for its targeted user base of nerds. The proof is in the pudding, in that they use it so much and keep coming back. There is nothing here but pure user interface: nothing you buy or get, so if people use it, it must be because it is good. This said, many elements of the interface would present too much complexity for more average users. For example, the many different ways of viewing and sorting threaded discussions is quite difficult to understand. How do you really know what you will see if you click on one of the links from the home page?

There are three elements of Slashdot that I particularly like:

  • Simplicity in the layout itself: focus on content rather than flash.
  • The liberal use of linking - in fact, the site lives off the ability to link to the rest of the Web. Too many other sites forget that hypertext is the foundation of the Web and provide nothing but a closed world.
  • The reputation manager effect coming from the moderation system.

2) Short vs long pages (Score:5, Interesting)
by Anonymous Coward

In most of your writings and interviews, you seem to be recommending short pages as always better than long ones. Sometimes you qualify this as applying only to 'navigation pages'-- but you never define that term. Aren't there more complex rules about when it's okay to have a long page? Don't you yourself find it frustrating when you have to load multiple pages, when one longer page could easily have held all the info?

Jakob:

This very page itself is getting to be too long :-)

It depends on how you look at this page. If you think of it as a single interview, then it is best to preserve it as a single page since the users would just skim over those questions that don't interest them. If you think of it as a set of answers, it would be better to have a short summary of the entire collection and then have links to individual questions and answers. Unfortunately, the Web is currently too slow to support this type of hypertext (we need subsecond response times for true freedom of movement). It would be nice to have a more advanced model of Web hypertext that would support alternative views of both atomic information objects and composite information objects.

Talking about navigation pages, brevity does rule. Users need to be able to get an overview of their choices without having to scroll too much. Ideally without having to scroll at all. If you need to scroll while making the choice of where to go next, then you are forced to keep promising options in short-term memory after they scroll out of view. The Slashdot audience may not fully appreciate the problem of having to keep items in short-term memory since you only become a programmer if you are good at doing this. Most people are not. All users will furthermore suffer from the tendency to select among the visible choices: if something looks like a good answer and as the best answer, then users will often follow that link without scrolling down to see if there might be an even better link on the invisible part of the page.

3) Browsers compensating for bad sites (Score:5, Interesting)
by Ed Avis (epa98@doc.ic.ac.uk)

To what extent will people start using their browser's features to compensate for bad Web sites? For example, your browser might automatically convert frames to tables, or precis long chunks of text, or concatenate lots of bitty pages into one easily-readable page. Since there will always be badly designed sites out there, do you think this is a useful sticking-plaster?

Jakob:

Great idea. The Web has always been based on this notion to some extent. For example, the Back button in the browser (as opposed to relying completely on site-supported navigation) and the ability to make the font bigger or smaller (as opposed to hoping that every site gets it exactly right).

We may have temporarily abandoned some of the user control over the Web in the chase for better-looking pages, and one of the worst sins in using CSS is to specify text in an absolute font size that doesn't change if the user needs bigger or smaller text.

I am hoping that future generations of browsers will finally live up to their names and actually help users browse (or Navigate or Explore, as the case may be). If the big browser vendors won't do it, then that's a potential market for other browsers like Opera and iCab or for various types of browser add-on tools.

4) Patent culture vs Open Source culture (Score:5, Interesting)
by tbray

You are the holder (or co-holder) of quite a number of patents. Can Open Source software builders who construct, for example, something that "prints a hyperspacial document" or "updates visual bookmarks" expect to be hearing from your attorneys?

Jakob:

The literal answer is no, since "my" patents are actually not mine but owned by the company I worked for at the time. I cannot speak for the attorneys of Sun since I don't work there any more. But it is pretty standard for big computer companies to get as many patents as they can for basic reasons of self-defense: if somebody tries to come after you then you can fight back with your own patents. That usually does not mean that the company wants to go after smaller companies unless they attack first.

5) Revolutionary UNIX GUIs (Score:5, Insightful)
by Anonymous Coward

In a Wired article on Eazel posted to Slashdot the other day, you said:

"They need to rethink the entire approach... They're saying let's implement a Mac-like interface so that we can have a nicer Unix. That's a nice thing, I guess, but it's not really revolutionary."

Can you describe some specific ideas and UI elements you would consider if you were designing the "revolutionary" Linux GUI?

Jakob:

I know that Slashdot readers don't want to hear this, but the very first question is whether it is even possible to create a truly good user experience on top of Linux. Many other companies have tried to make Unix easy to use and many very talented designers have worked hard on these projects for several years without very good results.

The only data points we have say that it can't be done.

I tend to believe in an alternative interpretation of the data, which is that the various approaches to designing better Unix interfaces were doomed because they always kept reinventing the same thing again and again. They never did the two things that are necessary for great UI:

  1. Don't just reimplement something that had a different design center (the Mac which was designed for a small black-and-white screen, 1MB RAM, and a puny 68000 processor)
  2. Iterate. Your first design will be a flop (say, Xerox Star or Apple Lisa). You gotta keep improving rather than giving up as the Unix vendors have done.

There is already one type of revolutionary UI built on top of Linux: embedded systems in the form of information appliances. Linux inside. You can't tell from the outside, though. A typical information appliance may only have 2-3 commands in the form of simple buttons or knobs.

All respect for info appliances, but we also need a workstation-style interface that can help knowledge workers survive the information flood of modern society. And that's where I think we really need revolutionary designs that go beyond the Mac. For example, ways of managing tens of thousands of documents by a rich set of attributes and content-oriented navigation. Simply showing files as icons in folders doesn't cut it beyond a few hundred.

We also know from many studies that the average user is very bad at hierarchical filing and typically never moves a file once it gets to live in some directory. Even if the file would be better off elsewhere. This problem is magnified several hundred times when it comes to managing email. I am starting to think that the solution is to treat information objects as members of a soup and manage them by attributes rather than by hierarchy and name.

6) Standards Compliance (Score:5, Interesting)
by HerrNewton

What are your views on standards compliance for, baseline, HTML 4.01 and CSS-1? Are we fighting towards a goal which is universally unattainable (due to the embbeded nature of some browsers like WebTV and *cough* IE on Windows), or are we nearing a new age for web developers?

Jakob:

At least WebTV can update its browser when/if they decide to do so. And IE is also getting better, even if it doesn't do everything I would want. But we will soon see a new generation of hardwired browsers inside information appliances. Once a piece of consumer electronics ships, it usually doesn't get upgraded. Thus it will be really important to campaign for full standards compliance from such truly embedded browsers.

I am basically hopeful that we will see more respect for standards on the Web. The concept of proprietary extensions has lost and very few mainstream sites do anything any more that cannot be seen by the vast majority of users. This is one of the true benefits from the boom in e-commerce. No self-respecting salesperson wants to turn away paying customers at the door just because they don't have the latest beta-download of some browser.

7) Non-GUI apps and usability (Score:5, Interesting)
by washort (washort@samford.edu)

Much attention is given to usability in GUIs and Web sites, (such as in your column Novice vs. Expert Users) but what about textmode and primarily keyboard applications such as text editors? Personally, I believe that Emacs have the best user interface of any text editor I've ever used (vi's a close second, calm down people :), but it's geared towards experts. What do you see for the future with regard to synthesizing novice usability and expert usability? the "smart menus" as seen in MS Office 2000 seem to head in that direction, only showing basic options unless an expansion button is pressed at the bottom of the menu. The best touch is that it "remembers" what you last used from the full menu and puts it on the basic menu. How can we smooth the curve?

Jakob:

There was a good deal of research on the usability of textmode UI back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Conference proceedings like CHI'83 (first large user interface conference) are filled with papers on issues like command abbreviations and best use of command keys. However, as we all know, interest changed to GUIs after the Mac came out in 1984.

We do need more attention to the productivity of expert users. All the same methods apply for how to study and measure interfaces, no matter what their interaction style, but I admit that there is not much work these days on keyboard interfaces.

The other part of the question is much harder to address. How to smooth the curve from novice to expert. Nobody has found the way yet. Cue cards, boot-up tips, and the little annoying paper clip are all attempts, but nothing works really well. Progressive disclosure is the best tool so far: show people the basics first, and once they understand that, allow them to get to the expert features. But don't show everything all at once or you will only confuse people and they will waste endless time messing with features that they don't need yet. Interestingly, research by Jack Carroll at IBM in the 1980s proved that a "training wheels" approach to computers makes people better at understanding the expert features once they get to them. The reason being that users learn the conceptual structure of the system better when they are presented with the smaller set of features first. Not seeing something during initial use of the system would result in better use of the hidden features later.

8) Education (Score:5, Interesting)
by Duke of URL (iridium@sporkandspam.mauimail.com)

What type of education did you (and others ) have to receive to become a useability expert? Basically what's the best route to get a career in human-computer factors?

Jakob:

The only real way to become a usability expert is to watch lots of users as they perform lots of different types of tasks with lots of different designs and interaction styles. If you have only seen people use a single type of user interface, then you don't have the breadth of understanding of user behavior. I find that I often draw what I learned from the studies we did with IBM mainframe interfaces back in the 1980s, even as I advise on the design of websites. One reason, of course, is that many Web interfaces are as primitive as the old 3270 designs. But another reason is that watching what people do under many different circumstances helps generate insight into what they will do under new circumstances.

There is no single answer in terms of degree. The best people in the field today have degrees in countless topics, including psychology, anthropology, computer science, mathematics, graphic design, and theater. None of these degrees is perfect for becoming a usability expert. The real way to learn usability is to do usability as much as possible.

9) What's Next? (Score:5, Interesting)
by moonboy (armstrong.spamalicious.99@yahoo.com)

What is the next "big thing" in interfaces?

Surely "windowing" can't be the end-all-be-all of interfaces. Is there some paradigm shift around the corner which we can't conceive of right now? Perhaps the same "leap" which occurred going from command line/text to windows.

Jakob:

There are two things I do not think are the next big thing: 3D and speech recognition. Speech suffers from the Star Trek fallacy: it's a great audience interface but not a good user interface in most situations.

I think there are two big paradigm shifts coming: Augmented reality and content-and time-based computing.

Augmented reality is the ability to project a user interface onto the physical world. For example, when repairing an airplane engine, a trainee mechanic can see an animated hand grab exactly in the right spot. And read-outs from various diagnostics will display in the context of the thing they are diagnosing rather than on a separate device. Lots of other ideas in this realm, including wearable computing, smart clothes, etc.

I also believe we need more information-rich interfaces as I was discussing above. I think the current Macintosh-style UI will be turned inside-out and we will start to manage information objects depending on a much larger set of attributes than simply their name and hierarchical placement. In particular, history and other time-based attributes will become more important. When did I last touch this object? What other things were I doing at the time?

Also, the computer will need to become a personal secretary and help the user manage his or her time. The opposite of push technology which was based on constant temptation to procrastinate. In the old days, an operating system was designed to optimize the utilization of the computer's resources. In the future, its main goal will be to optimize the user's time. For example, in terms of protecting you from too much e-mail.

10) Disturbing anecdotes (Score:5, Insightful)
by Anonymous Coward

Jakob,

Your work is chock full of terrifying statistics about what happens when we create slow, hard-to-navigate sites. When I (an information architect) try to convince my project teams to heed those statistics, though, nobody seems to listen. People continue to clamor for images, frames, JavaScript, etc.

If Ronald Reagan's speeches proved one thing to us, it's this: a well-chosen anecdote can drown out innumerable (and true) statistics. I was wondering whether you might have any good terrifying anecdotes that might scare people who are about to make an unusable Web site into doing the right thing.

Jakob:

Boo.com is one good anecdote. They wasted millions of dollars on fancy design which they had to retract shortly after the launch because nobody could use it. Even on a fashion site, people care more about the products than about the bleeding edge design.

Also, the Web itself is one big anecdote. What do all the big sites have in common? Minimalist design. I made a very simple analysis of the usability of the ten sites with the most traffic compared to the sites from the ten biggest companies (which would have had an inherent advantage if they had been more usable). The result was very clear: The ten biggest sites had much better usability scores than the sites built by huge corporations. For example, the download time for the home page was eight seconds for the big sites and 19 seconds for the big companies.

What happens is very simple: the good sites win. If the pages download fast, people return. If they can find the products, then they can buy the products. If people understand the site, they use it.

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Jakob Nielsen Answers Usability Questions

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    Last I knew, there were a total of three universities which offered a program in HCI (Human-Computer Interaction). Of course, the only one I can remember is the one I go to, so I direct the interested parties to De Paul University [depaul.edu], Chicago, and click the programs topic on the sidebar, and then find HCI under either undergraduate or graduate programs.

    I havn't found any references, much less links, to other universities offering similar programs. One option is to do ye web crawl (which I did but didn't turn up any schools in the US- like the two I had heard about), and the other option is to ask the HCI program director, Dr. Rosalee Wolfe [mailto]. I'd recommend asking about the program itself before asking about other universities with competing programs, and even then to put it in the context of comparing universities to apply to.

    Hopefully either link will be of some use to those searching for a program of study in HCI.

    --The name has been removed to protect the guilty party.

  • Good concept -- I think this is a problem that a site of any size, particularly if prepared collaboratively by relatively untrained users, faces. I am sure that there are numerous commercial, open-source and proprietary solutions for this -- they are often referred to as Web Application Servers. This does not mean you should stop hacking your own -- I am doing some fiddling along the same lines, both to address my particular interests as well as to develop my web programming skills. To the extent you have not already done so, you may want to check out Zope, an open source Python-based product, Midgard, an open source PHP project or ColdFusion or similar commercial programs. Heck, SlashCode itself is essentially an abstract distributed authoring environment (as well as Squishdot, a Zope-based SlashCode analogue). Good luck and happy coding!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    A good example of such an interface is a little program that I bought for keeping track of my browser bookmarks. Before PowerMarks I fretted about a) where I should bookmark URLs, and b) where to find bookmarked URLs! (I have hundreds of them). PowerMarks puts all URLs into a "soup"; When you tell it to store a URL as a "PowerMark", it pops up the URL and a recommended list of keywords that it gets from the site. You can modify the keywords and then save them. PowerMarks stays on the Windows system tray. To find a URL you click on it and type in a keyword; it immediately lists all URLs with that keyword. As usual, you can combine keywords, etc., search on URL. It's much, much better than hierarchical bookmark files.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I find these perspectives on usability quite interesting. For instance, Mr. Nielsen notes that since Slashdot IS used, it's usability is fairly high. Of course, this falls in with the inverse law of usability. The easier something is to use, the less likely the user has a reason to use it. I've said the word "usability" in that paragraph more than I ever have in my life.

    Take this post for instance. I can post it. I am posting it. Do I have something to say? Yep. But I'm not going to say it. Instead I'm going to waste everyone's time and bandwith. Why? Because it's easy. Indeed, Slashdot is very usable.

    Now, some of you might suggest that I could easily do other things with my time, things that are equally easy to use, and oftentimes I would agree with you (save the fact that I'd be doing something other than posting). This, as you may have guessed, is not one of those times. Though there are plenty of things I'd rather be doing, and quite a few that I should be doing, none of them are quite as friendly and easy to use as posting inanities on slashdot. So thus do I choose to occupy my time.

    I would however, feel remarkably guilty if this post was nothing more than a diatribe about my current state of mind (which is quite interesting, I think, as that I've hardly slept this week). So I shall tell a story, and then leave you. Ahem.

    There was once a man who spent his entire life behind the glowing monitor of a computer. I'm sure we all know someone like this man. Long days, longer nights, never seeing any real people, never talking to anyone in the same room. A very lonely man was he, but all was not lost. For lo, he had the internet! It was so easy for the man to piss off people around the world. Little by little everyone began to hate the man (and wouldn't you?), and he giggled with glee. The man was a happy man indeed.

    One day the man was posting inanities about posting inanities on a popular web page, which harkened back in spirit to the days of the bbs, when an idea hit him. He knew the answer, the final answer, and it was right and could make EVERYONE happy. However, what the man didn't realize, was that though the answer DOES involve cheese, there are those who are lactose intolerant, and for whom the rapture could not come. This depressed the man greatly, for he wished to share his joy with all the people he had never seen. So the man shot himself dead.

    thank you, the end.
  • next week is "When Good HTML Goes Bad.... THREE!

    It's about time. I have succommed to the horrors of bad HTML a few times in my life. Last week's episode was espescially rivetting, "When Animated GIFs Attack."
  • I think the problem is social, not technical. How many users will learn to upgrade that new web-enabled cell phone themselves, or how many will want to spend a $25 service charge to upgrade a phone they got for free with their service?

    Note that I realize we are talking about much more than cell phones; I just picked that as the most obvious (to me) example of something people wouldn't be likely to upgrade.

  • I don't recall ever having heard of our interviewee, but boy does he ever have some intelligent stuff to say! Every single one of his points about good web design is SPOT ON! I know that these are the things that make me HATE a page: slow loading, banners, popups, breaking the back button...

    How do web designers get away with this stuff? Do the PHBs behind them say "Wow, they can't hit the back button! They're forced to stay on our site! You deserve a raise, you HTML wizard you!"

    Who is behind all of this idiocy? Are they having meetings about the next big way to piss off their users? Do they work for Microsoft?

    Or do they just not know any better?
  • I like his idea of minimalist design, but I'm not so sure that I'm as zealous as him. For instance, when it comes to an FAQ, I absolutely detest having to view each answer individually.

    But I don't think that was his answer. What he wanted was some way to separate the data from the format, so you could view a list of the questions, select one, and nigh-instantly have the contents up. You're thinking in terms of the browser limitation, that such an action takes probably 20 seconds and completely redraws the page. If it was more like a Windows tree view, this would be a much more viable model.

    At work I view Slashdot in flat mode, just so I don't have to reload. At home, long Slashdot pages make Netscape crash my Windows 98 machine. So even the computer can affect how one wants to view stuff.
  • By the logic above the word processor or spreadsheet didn't even exist until Microsoft saw fit to copy the concept from someone else's program.

  • My question was number 9. I reallly appreciate Mr. Nielsen answering it. What a cool answer too. Excellent ideas. Makes even more excited about the future!



    kuro5hin.org [kuro5hin.org]
  • Not only was the Newton OS implemented according to this paradigm, I believe it even used the exact same word to describe its filing system: soup!

    (Insert your own Soup-Nazi/Jobs/Newton joke here ;-)
  • Wow, Rob, that "overhype just like a real local newscaster" class is really paying off. What's up for next week? "What THEY Don't Want You To Know About HTML"?
    This is an easy shot to take, especially after the L0phtCrack debacle. Speaking as a UI developer, however, I'd have to agree with Rob on this one.

    Keith Russell
    OS != Religion
  • Starting with a simplified system would perhaps alleviate this. But how can this be done? Simply taking out half the menu options seems a bit crude. :-)
    Crude, yet effective. Maybe not from the point of view of progressive disclosure, but from what I call "How'd I do that?" Syndrome. I don't know how many times I've gotten "tech support" calls from family members, asking about some weird thing that just happened in Word 97 (which doesn't have the personal menus feature). Almost without fail, the problem was that they clicked somewhere they shouldn't have, and executed some obscure command, or moved a toolbar, or some other nonsense. All of this could easily have been prevented by simply hiding the things they don't use. That way, there are fewer click targets to hit by accident.

    Of course, upgrading them to Word 2000 would help. So would taking their power cords away until they actually read the Dummies books I got them, instead of complaining that they don't know what to look up in the index. Of course, if Windows and Word were properly designed, we wouldn't need the Dummies books. And so it goes....

    Once, Word and Excel had a Tip Wizard that watched what the user did, and suggested alternative methods for some tasks. In Office 4.2 (from the otherwise bad, old 16-bit days), this was a toolbar that docked at the top or bottom of the screen. When it had a tip, it simply scrolled into view, accompanied by nothing more than a light bulb icon at one end of the bar lighting up. Simple, non-disruptive, and sometimes quite helpful. Now, that function has been rolled into the Office Assistant, more commonly known as "That *%(*%&^%&^ Paper Clip!" When Office has a tip for you, the Paper Clip makes some animated noise to get your attention. You have to stop what you're doing, and click on the little light bulb next to the Paper Clip to get to the tip. And if you've hidden the Paper Clip, thus banishing it to the Circle of Hell which spawned it, you don't get any tips at all! Leave it to Microsoft to come up with software with the personality of a surly DMV clerk or a clingy, co-dependent girlfriend, with no useful middle ground.

    Keith Russell
    OS != Religion
  • You have to click on one of the buttons that doesn't look like a button inside the speech bubble that most people don't read. So they sit there clicking on the close icon for a bit longer. Gagh. Has this been fixed in O2K?
    No, they made it worse: There's no bounding window! The character floats freestyle above the application window. You have to right-click on it to do anything except drag it out of the way. I use Outlook 2000 at home, and Outlook 98 at work. 98 came with an "Absolutely no moving parts" version of the Office Logo character that, as advertised, did absolutely nothing. I'd turn everything off except showing alarms for appointments, and it worked great. Now, in 2000, the animated Office Logo is back, and swirling and spinning and gleaming every time I do something. I'd turn the damn thing off, except I prefer the yellow-bubble alarms to the messageboxes that tend to pop up over whatever I'm working on.

    Keith Russell
    OS != Religion
  • I don't come here because of the interface, I come here for the discussion in spite of the UI. There are real changes that could be made that would make it easier to read and feel the flow of discussion.


    I come here because of the UI. There are other sites on the web with technical content and other news sites that allow customization of what news you see. There's also Usenet which provides plenty of discussion. Many newsreaders (i.e. not Netscape or Outlook Express) have terrific interfaces that let you read hundreds of posts using nothing more than the spacebar and an occasional letter key. Almost all web fora suck. Slashdot's nested mode is the only web forum that I've found that lets me read hundreds of posts quickly and efficiently without a lot of mouse manipulation and frequent pauses.

  • This is only true when you are faster than the system. The user's resources are limited, there's no way to upgrade the processor inside your head (afawk). The processor on your desk, however, will be 2x faster in 18 months anyway, so system resources should always take second place to user resources.

    Actually, it's even simpler than you think. You never need to put the machine ahead of the user, you just have to take into account the fact that an overloaded machine, performing poorly, wastes the user's time as well as its own.

    It always grinds down to the user's time.

    Steve 'Nephtes' Freeland | Okay, so maybe I'm a tiny itty

  • "In particular, history and other time-based attributes will become more important. When did I last touch this object? What other things were I doing at the time?"
    I thought Microsoft already had a way to turn a 1K text file into 10K of overhead.

    And somewhat more off-topic, from the reputation manager link he gave -
    "If a few Belgians become sick from drinking a soft drink, then the manufacturer may lose billions on Wall Street five minutes later. Another reason reputation managers will contribute to highly improved product quality and customer service." Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like a frighteningly easy way to use rumours to manipulate stock prices?

  • Find a place that has many Compaq desktop machines.

    Walk up to desktop machines.

    Reach behind machine and remove some of the big, honkin' thumbscrews.

    Deposit screws in pocket.

    Laugh maniacally!
  • When he mentioned the object soups, I immediately thought of Apple's Newton OS. Is this what he was talking about?

    And the bit about the inside-out os (remembering histories, etc) reminded me of The Brain. I tried it once but never really managed to get anything done with it. Or is this not what was being described?

    -ec
  • I disagree... Convolver, a Photoshop plugin, designed by Kai, has this sort of interface. Kai was always willing to stretch for interfaces to his programs. But the behavioral karma interface in Convolver is just plain infuriating. And Kai didn't repeat the mistake in KPT 3, KPT 5 or KPT 6 (some of the most popular Photoshop plugins).

    So as much as I believe in behavioral feedback to help people learn, don't set an interface up to prevent newbies from exploring the nooks and crannies (or as the FBI would state... the crooks and NetNannies) of an operating system without doing their time and completing the tasks that the UI designer thought was the chosen path to "enlightenment".

  • oops, i forgot to finish the question :) I wonder what he thinks about the upcoming 3d window managers, 3Dwm and Synapse? (according to what is available now, i.e. screenshots, ect.. :)
  • To what extent will people start using their browser's features to compensate for bad Web sites? For example, your browser might automatically convert frames to tables, or precis long chunks of text, or concatenate lots of bitty pages into one easily-readable page. Since there will always be badly designed sites out there, do you think this is a useful sticking-plaster?

    This is already happening with Opera. With one click (or Ctrl+G), I can switch between the page settings and my own settings. Fonts, colors, custom styles, etc. No more pages with good text and ugly colors - just one keypress. :)

    --

  • Total Control(tm) over your system: that's useability.
    Today's systems tend to adapt to stupid users. I think it's the wrong way. Users must get better, not systems. If you can't, then don't use.
    Jakob is just another corporated-minded guy, he didn't say nothing new or interesting in its interview. Just how-to-make-more-money stuff.
  • The problem with embedded flash rom's is that upgrading the software in them is not quite as trivial as upgrading software installed on top of Windows 95.

    An upgrade _always_ entails a certain amount of risk. There's a very real risk that during an upgrade, the consumer's embedded device will be made totally unusable, either due to introduction of new bugs, botched procedure (e.g. errors or power failure during the critical data transfer), version mismatches ("Oh, you wanted the Nukea 6190-A-US-1999-05 version, you have the 6190-AA-US-1999-05 version. As a result, you've destroyed the flash loader and melted the microwave transmitter in the process...guess you need a new phone now, eh?"), and vendor abuse ("the CSS update for the all-in-one DVD-player-and-set-top-web-browser has been complete. In addition to being able to access web sites with cascading style sheets, we have also corrected that little problem where the DVD player component would play discs with foreign region codes. Your European movie collection is now entirely useless to you, but _wow_ look at our new web site!").

    It's bad enough that vendors barely do any testing before they release a product and try to restrict what we can do with it afterwards. Why would we want to remove the incentive to act responsibly at all?
  • I have been faster than the system I use since approximately 1983. When is this much-fabled upgrade going to happen such that the machine finally catches up with me?
  • Users must get better, not systems. If you can't, then don't use.

    Baloney. Software still sucks. Systems have to get a lot better. That means better for everyone, from beginning to expert users.

    Although I agree that total control should be there, it doesn't mean that out-of-the-box settings have to be difficult to use.

  • Although I do understand that the question were supposed to be related to Human-Computer Interaction issues, Jakob Nielsen could have at least tried to answer some of the issues I believe are important:
    Amazon Affiliation? [slashdot.org]
    Patent culture vs Open Source culture [slashdot.org]

    These questions were moderated to #4 and #7. So, where these questions deemed offtopic, or is Slashdot trying to avoid some topics with its guests. Slashdot is not quite hard journalism, but I will like to see a more no-holds barred forum. Obviously for the thousands of Slashdot readers/moderators, these issues were important according to the moderation.


    --Ivan, weenie NT4 user: bite me!

  • The Patent Culture one was covered. The HTML was fscked up at first, but the Slashdot folks fixed it up now. Scroll up and check the article again. He's rather ambiguous on the subject, probably because it's outside the realm of his expertise.
  • I agree that standardized interfaces to the filesystem would make people much happier- what I wouldn't give in windows for a "hack" that forces all programs to use the same interface for the file-choosing dialog. Does anybody know if one exists?

    An infosoup is a great idea but you can't expect the user to issue what amounts to a database request every time they want to edit a document or something.

    Why not? If you (the user) don't know quite what you're looking for, you basically have to run a database request to find it.

    One solution could be based on the 'precompiled search' paradigm.

    In *nix I used to use 'find' all the time. When I learned about 'locate' it made my life much easier. At least when I know the file's name. I do nearly all of my file-choosing in the command-line world because it's standardized. And much faster than messing with the graphical equivalents.

    Anyone got any good examples of interfaces for property-rich data without a strict single hierarchy?

    Sure. Drill-downs are not (necessarily) heirarchal. Plus, Allow the user to define commonly used shortcuts- containing the attributes to form a search. Such as "This month; refered from banner-ad-show.cgi" and when they select a shortcut, perform a database lookup.

  • First off, I find the spite towards Rob's comment a little bizarre. Sure, it's a touch hyperbolic, but JK can be truly inspiring, and there's nothing wrong with enthusiasm.

    Second:
    Slashdot may or may not have a good UI, but it certainly enjoys a monopoly position.

    Are you insane? Do you understand cause and effect in any way? Slashdot is extraordinarily usable, Slashdot is very popular, Slashdot therefore is able to afford adds. To suggest that the causality flows in the other direction is laughable.

    I loved that JK touted Slashdot's incredible usability, as witnessed by its incredbile popularity. And that he then made a very insightful point about it being usable for experts and usable for programmers, in particular. This is just the sort of thing which leads me to value JK's writing so much.

  • Actually, IT types had a lot of resistance to Windows in the early days. It didn't play well with their carefully crafted Novell networks. It conflicted with Lotus 1-2-3. It looked too much like one of those sissy Macintoshes. It diminished their DOS wizardry skills. And so on. About the only thing it seemed good for was multi-tasking DOS apps.

    Windows got in the door because Microsoft preinstalled it on every DOS machine. The users, once they got a taste of the WIMP interface, rebelled against the tyranny of text mode, IT Managers fell in line and the rest is history.

    Of course, some IT types got behind Windows because it substantially reduced training costs. Little did they know it would push desktop support costs through the roof.
    --
  • Javascript and Java are both great to keep the retarded boss happy.

    Some other things i've found they love:

    • Animated GIFs -- the more the merrier.
    • Bright Colors -- like some types of small birds and monkeys, bosses like bright and shiny things
    • Frames -- everywhere. We dont need them but we must have them!
    • Anything that blinks or flashes.
    • A wide variety of fonts, especially ones that no one else has.
    • Obscure plugins to do stuff like change the cursor and play MIDI files.
    • Domain Names -- Thinking of making http://www.yourcompany.com/services *tsk tsk* The boss-friendly way of doing it would be http://www.yourcompany-services.com - like children fighting over toys, bosses like to have a lot of domain names.
    • Lots of copyright &copy yourcompany and TM yourcompany lines. It makes them feel important.
    • As many "Powered by" and "Running on" type logos as you can find. It doesn't matter if you are actually running it or not.
    See these and many more suggestions in my forthcoming book: Pleasing the Moronic Masses
  • I must concur. One thing that also drives me crazy that's graphic-related (you kinda touched on it) is when you go to a URL looking for something specific, but instead of giving you the content right away, the site designer feels you need to see some flashy graphic that says "WELCOME TO SOMESITE, CLICK TO ENTER." What the hell is that all about? If I didn't want to enter, would I have gone to the site? No, I don't think so. :P
  • However, I am by far more productive in Windows than I am in any other OS. This isn't because I'm an idiot, or because Windows is necessarily a great OS. Its because thats what I've learned, and thats what I'm comfortable with.

    <applause>

    Gerv
  • Nah, you got things mixed up. Dr. Whoever is the mastermind behind the scenes who does what it takes to make the Guy in the Scarf look good whenever he Timelords around all over the place doing what he does best -- Saving the Universe As We Think It Might Possibly Maybe Could Somehow Exist.

    Somebody's gotta maintain the Tardis, ya'know, and besides how else can you explain that there's always a camera around to film our Hero (the guy in the scarf) when he saves the day, but not when he's doing more mundane things like, say eating lunch...

  • I agree that the user interface is important. A user interface is a way to display information. Slashdot does this well. Even more important to me is the information that they are displaying. If the interface to slashdot sucked I'd still come here because their information gathering services pull data I'm interested in from a set of data that is far to vast for me to scan myself. Give me that any way you want and I'll be there. I know this point is a bit of a gray area, the difference between the best way to display some data, versus the best way to gather information to dispay. Jon
  • Shortly I found a 'secret' document which detailed what you had to do in order to get each star, and tediously repeated the tasks until I had all the stars. (Or all but one...I think the document was from HSC and didn't detail the last star, but just hinted.)

    I still don't have that damned last star...

  • http://www.tuxedo.org/~esr/jargon/html/entry/handw ave.html [tuxedo.org]

    Though actually I got the term from a Stewart Brand book on the MIT Media Lab. The idea is that as a speaker goes beyond his actual research and begins talking to try to sway people and overreaching himself, he begins waving his hands and talking louder and going "Obviously this is the next paradigm for interface design!" and all that rot. Handwaving is when you can't back it up with real data, real benefits or real examples. It's empty argument, best done with Lots Of Big Words, best kept as general as possible so nobody can call you on factual errors. You gloss over implementation and realities and try to build the biggest concept you can without quite defining it, really. David Gelernter is the best handwaver I have ever seen in my life, and I will never forget his book "Mirror Worlds". However, about the only useful idea I found in it was an idea that generalises to being able to keep an eye on say, 307200 processes at a glance by colorcoding them and assigning each a pixel on a 640x480 display. This, of course, assumes you're only watching for 'danger signs' like a red pixel in a sea of dim green, or that you are looking for physical relationships like a cluster of a particular color that should be more diffuse and scattered (i.e. if the values need to be varied, you could spot a localised area of solid color as it built up).

    Even here, the book handwaved off in a useless direction, suggesting physical levers _lifting_ the colored dot up out of the field of background values, and totally failing to come up with applications. Such applications might be watching a display of users with red signifying a request for assistance and the red increasing with time-on-hold, or for the localised area case it might be the modelling of a polyglot city's acts of violence, in which you would be monitoring gang violence by seeing if there was a pattern to the acts committed in a given geographical area. If a particular type of act became very localised, you would know that you had a gang laying claim to an area, and could see the area visually, with the outskirts represented by a diffuse area of the color.

    Gelernter didn't even bother coming up with decent examples like that. He was too busy handwaving to think of the implications of any of the ideas he put out there, and the final chapter of his book was a fairly artistic parable that served as the complete and total disclaimer of any consequences deriving from his work.

    I didn't like his book.

  • It was appalling handwaving, simplifying the problems of your approach dreadfully. You're clearly just as good as David Gelernter at handwaving, but frankly what you have is not likely to be good enough to establish another cozy computing monopoly- as you evidently would like to do. How much of what you have is patented? Sure enough, a patent announcement (on what seems to be a _concept!_) is the primary boast of your page. Why should we support or help you? "Because we are great and deserve your money!" is not an answer.

    Open your stuff or get out of the way. You're in no position to run about handwaving in this day and age- the tired and insufficient file-folder hierarchy has _crushed_ everything else and to get your ideas out there and used, you will have to cooperate and come down from that glib ivory tower- if even that helps, as it doesn't look like your ideas are any better than simply storing different types of data in a common, 'theme' folder or dock with very _rudimentary_ support for organising by date (or frequency of modification, number of changes, or for that matter filesize and type, which you intentionally gloss over.)

    Your pardon for the tone, but Gelernter's book ("Mirror Worlds") has always _really_ annoyed me, and I'd hoped you lot had failed in the market by now. What Gelernter wanted to push is nothing but 'agents' to the Nth power, combined with object-oriented abstraction like the worst of C++ also to the Nth power. He wanted users to be utter 'mouse potatoes', passively receiving the fruits of the various agent processes, with as much of the workings concealed as possible- 'topsight', in a word. It's a fine concept but it's a curse taken to the extreme Gelernter envisioned.

    You haven't even managed that: all you have is a way to clutter GUI further while hiding important meta-data about the information, and you're taking pains to make even that proprietary. You take 'topsight' _literally_, which is ludicrous. Didn't you even _read_ Gelernter's book? It's horrible handwaving but at least he wasn't talking about viewing everything by date as a patentable concept!

    My primary consolation in watching you people handwave over this nonsense is that it's never going to amount to anything anyhow: file/folder is locked in, there's no room for you the way you're behaving. I can't imagine what gives you the idea that you can run about patenting basic concepts (stack a bunch of actions and documents about a central subject on the screen in a sort of swoopy formation!) and expect to make headway against Microsoft. You're probably out to be bought by them, and I hope they do: they're already going nowhere, why not distract them even worse from the real work of user interface?

    End rant. (_God_, do I hate interface handwaving. This rant would have been a lot milder if I hadn't painfully slogged through ALL of Gelernter's "Mirror Worlds" panning for sensible ideas. It was just about all baseless hype, and so is this.)

  • The trouble with automated methods of Progressive Disclosure is that nothing about it expects the ideas to make sense. It's just as possible to have 5 poorly-thought-out menu items sitting there until the program decides you are a Power User and randomly shows you 5 more poorly-thought-out menu items. The mechanism is totally orthoganal to how easy the concepts are to grasp.

    My candidate for progressive disclosure is the Mac semantics for 'option clicking' on things. There are quite a few situations where basic functionality is used through normal clicks, and option-clicking delivers a new 'expert' set of features, different ones. Nothing about the program judges you and decides whether you're smart enough to get to use the extra features- it's simply a matter of whether, knowing about 'option clicks' or having RTFM, you know to optionclick the thing or not.

  • It continues to bother me how usability people stereotype things and say "frames are nearly always a bad idea" or "don't make me scroll in my browser". If you are putting a book on line, sure it makes sense to put separate chapters on separate web pages so that the user doesn't have to download the whole thing at once. But scrollbars are not hard to use. I hate it when some news article is arbitrarily broken up into several separate web pages for no good reason other than some "expert" said they should. Usually the pages still require scrolling, and clicking links for the next section besides. It's just stupid. They should not take it upon themselves to assume anything about how big my screen is or how much of the article I'd like to see at once. The web needs more continuity, not less. The fact that a book has pages is a technological limitation, not something to be carried forward.
  • Of course, as a designer, one of my main gripes is that while I can make interfaces for much stuff that's logical and consistant and not awfully hard to use (note that interfaces for anything that's really new are rarely easy because there's nothing for users to build upon) I don't often get the chance.

    My superiors, who don't know a hell of a lot about design, override my reccomendations and very often tell me that I _have_ to put in stuff which will overcomplicate things.

    The idea of a fast-loading page just doesn't get through to them, and they often dismiss other tools for no good reason (e.g. there is actually a time and a place for frames - not always, but sometimes they're the best way to do things).

    Case in point:
    We want a javascript mouseover where, when you mouseover a link you see all the sublinks off of it, in a bulleted list. But the sublinks aren't supposed to work - they just appear there, thoroughly confusing the user.

    God knows there are plenty of stupid people calling themselves designers, but even the good ones tend to get saddled with bosses that ignore design and just want pretty looking geegaws.
  • Nielsen seems to allude to that fact that a great many companies have tried to build a Unix GUI and failed - most notably his former employer, Sun, with CDE. He even goes so far as to suggest that it might be impossible to accomplish this task. My question is: why? Windows has an installed base of probably billions, and I have yet to see a single feature in it that couldn't be duplicated on Linux. True, a bunch of Open Source hackers cannot necessarily spend money on HI research and focus grouping to find out how usable their GUI is, but the simple fact remains that it certainly isn't imposible to build a competent GUI on Linux or any other Unix incantation. I think what's keeping us from achieving this goal are two things:

    1. Almost every programmer writing OSS Linux software is "scratching their itch." I don't know this for a fact, but I'd wager that KDE, Gnome, et al all started out as pet projects of hackers who couldn't find an acceptable substitute of a GUI. So they wrote their own. This is fine, nay, this is great - for the most part, it's what's perpetuating this whole movement. But at the same time it leads to the creeping feature creature syndrome - more and more functions are added, that, while they are useful to the developers and anyone else fluent in the GUI, tend to convolute the whole process for a newbie. Early versions of Enlightenment seem to illustrate this - they were damn cool, but hogged memory and had cryptic icons and a UI that Raster and probably two other people in the world fully understood. Every release contained more of the same. I think there has been a very conscientous move away from this ideology recently, which is good, but on the whole any Linux UI out there is far more complicated than Windows. Sorry, guys, for using Windows as a benchmark, but it's what we need to be aiming for. If Linux was as usable as Windows, then there wouldn't be the need for this discussion.

    2. Lack of standards. If I installed a program in Windows right now, all the files except .DLLs would go in C:\Program Files. Entries would be made in the registry under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software. Folders for my Start Menu are placed in \Windows\Start Menu. Everything has a set place. Now install a piece of software under Unix. First, good luck finding it. /usr/bin, /usr/local/bin, /usr/share/bin, /usr/local/program/bin, even /opt, are all acceptable places for the program. As for getting the GUI to recognize it, well, good luck. It's pretty much a crapshoot, especially considering that the major GUIs have different standards for accomplishing this.

    I'm sure there are lots of other things hindering this development. The Unix security model has probably been the biggest stumbling block. People nursed on Windows all their life find it quite a surprise when they can't save a file wherever they want. I don't have a solution for this short throwing the whole thing out the windows (stupid) or fancily chrooting everything.

    Lack of office software has been a problem, although I have a feeling that once a critical mass of users switch to GUI Linux this won't be that big of an issue. The first version of Office, rather, Word, wasn't exactly an opus of programming, but as more people instinctively bought the Microsoft bundle to go with their Microsoft OS, more efforts went into developing it, and now it's pretty good. Office programs really are quite the same; there's only so many ways to make a word bigger, bolder, or blacker - in other words, switching office software isn't as big a deal as, say, moving from Win NT to Linux. I think StarOffice would appease many people, but not without a really easy-to-use OS driving it.

    I'll stop rambling now, but just remember that it certainly isn't impossible to build a good GUI for Unix. The failure of many big corporations to do it with a closed team of developers merely lends creedence to the concepts of peer review and group effort that have driven Linux all along.

    --
  • by Cybersonic (7113)
    I found this interview VERY informative :)
    I wonder what he thinks about the upcoming 3d window managers?
  • I'm sorry, but theis is easily the most moronic comment that I've seen in a long time.

    >>"...so if people use it, it must be because it is good."

    Let's not confuse "good UI" from "monopoly stranglehold". Macs and Win95 perform essentially the same function, so the only real difference is the UI. Which has the better UI and which has the marketshare? Slashdot may or may not have a good UI, but it certainly enjoys a monopoly position. I'm sure I'm going to hear a bunch of whining about this claim. Tell me, which 3 "Geek news" sites have print ads in glossy mags? 1) Slashdot 2) Nobody 3) Nobody else

    Your argument fails on mulitple counts.

    First, you contend that continued use of /. is a matter of monopoly position *only*, not usability. Leaving aside for a moment the argument by authority (kindly provided by Mr. Nielsen) the fact is that this argument fails on its face. People will only pay the minimum amount to get the news they condsider necessary -- and that payment is not only money, it is also time and frustration, which are inherent usability issues. Hence, if people are coming to /., it is because it offers them the news they want at a price (in terms of usability) that they are willing to pay. Go read Mr. Nielsen's other columns if you think it is otherwise, but I'll give you a clue. It isn't. Usability is all a matter of tradeoffs -- and there is no tradeoff to using another site to get your news. Arguably, you even lose something by coming to /., because other sites (notably Linux Today) have more comprehensive coverage of the news, and include comment sections as well.

    Even if I were to accept your argument that /. has a monopoly on something, what is it? Not the news. As pointed out, that is available from multiple sources. Ads in print mags? Maybe. But that is hardly relevant to /.'s usability. People come to /. because it offers a unique perspective on the news that is not available from other sites. In that sense, they do have a monopoly on the "slashdot feel." Once again though, this would only serve to bolster /.'s usability rating -- meaning that /.'s usability would be the cause of it's "monopoly position," and not the monopoly power itself.

    You seek to bolster your argument with a reference to the Mac v. Windows UIs. This similarly doesn't fly -- While the Mac is in most circles renowned for its usability, I know several people who actually prefer the windows interface. Moreover, the usability of the windows interface is "good enough" for most people. If a slightly more clunky interface is paired with wider application availability, that is superior usability.

    Finally, even if /. has a monopoly, so what? In this sort of market (news) there are no network effects, and no lock-in effects, so trying to leverage a monopoly position unfairly -- which you imply that they do through your comparison of /. to Microsoft -- is practically impossible. What can they say, "You aren't a real geek if you read Linux.com?" "Your balls will shrivel if you read Linuxworld?" "TBTF is for sissies?"

    Get real. If you like /., stay. If not, go. But this sort of stupid argument is a waste of time.

  • I read Slashdot in "lite" mode because the bottleneck for me is the page rendering in the browser, not the Internet connection. All praise Netscape.

    Ultimately, the "everyone will eventually have more bandwidth" argument isn't very well thought out. Yes, if everything is uncongested and operating at 100% efficiency, all things being equal, people in the future will be able to load much larger web pages than they do now; however, this growth takes decades.

    Part of the problem is that the throughput possible when moving the data in a web page across the net is not linearly related to the raw size of the pipe used to fetch it. Packets are getting smaller relative to the size of the data (or at least staying the same while the data grows), and the congestion penalty on the Internet--that is, the multi-second delays caused by TCP stalls--comes from losing a single packet. Congestion behavior is difficult (if not impossible) to predict, and it's prohibitively expensive to equip every router in the Internet with "enough" memory to make congestion a non-issue.

    If your web page fits in three network packets, you're much less likely to lose one of the packets in transit than if the page needs thirty or three hundred. You can escape random packet loss more often if your pages are smaller.

    Another problem is simple scalability. If your web page is 10 times smaller than the competition's, then you can serve 10 times as many users, if you and your competitor have feeds of the same size.
  • Shouldn't we be past the use of titles in our supposedly egalitarian society? Do people need some special letters before or after their name to prove how smart or accomplished they are? Do we need this hierarchy in our society? Isn't modesty a virtue?

    Maybe I've been reading too much Ayn Rand, but God forbid that I should ever want to live in such a sick society.

    (some of you might catch the ironic phrasing there)
  • Well, that just congealed a fuzzy feeling into a concrete idea - thanks! Dang, you learn something new everyday here...

    More karma, please! Just might make Nirvana this lifetime.
  • And somewhat more off-topic, from the reputation manager link he gave - "If a few Belgians become sick from drinking a soft drink, then the manufacturer may lose billions on Wall Street five minutes later. Another reason reputation managers will contribute to highly improved product quality and customer service."

    Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like a frighteningly easy way to use rumours to manipulate stock prices?


    Reputation managers only work so long as you trust the managers themselves, and that only works if you can find out the context of the comments.

    This I why I think it would be better to have a number of smaller, focused reputation managers than something like, oh, TrustE [truste.com].

    I am more likely to remember or check out something that I see posted on Slashdot because I know that I have interests and viewpoints that are shared by the story posters and replies here.

    To me, Slashdot works well because:

    1) A story gets posted.
    2) People post their comments about the story, both for and against.
    3) People's comments can be replied to, validating or challenging their assertions.
    4) ALL OF THE COMMENTS can be moderated, moderators being drawn from the body of Slashdot readers themselves. Obvious trolls and irrelevant postings can be weeded out, while the better replies are hopefully moderated up.
    5) More importantly, MODERATIONS CAN BE META-MODERATED by anybody. So (theoretically) incompetant moderators can be weeded out.
    6) And most importantly, readers can select the level of scoring themselves, choosing which level of "moderation" they want to browse at. Even though I browse at 1, I frequently drop to -1 in case there's a good re-parented comment and I want to see what spawned it.

    (And for people who want to be able to moderate the stories themselves, you can always get the code [slashdot.org] and make a better Slashdot. If you build it, they will come...)

    Jay (=
  • I said this on monday (and got moderated down for it :P ), but, I don't think Nielson's opinions are valid outside of commerical web pages.

    I think the his pages are must-reads for people writing e-commerce sites of any type, or any sort of corporate web page - anything to do with customers, but I think they fail completely when faced with productivity applications.

    He even points out that there have been no real studies done on advanced users and their habits, and that things like vi/emacs are out of his realm.

    What does interest me is that fact that he doesn't make that same admission about linux. Linux per se has no useability, it is a kernel without an interface (unless you count a buncha APIs and good ol' /proc + cat, which I personally think is the height of useability. :)

    So, anyways, it's not fair to him or yourself to apply this stuff to your OS or your favorite editor. That is not where the core of his research lay.

    --
    Blue, who is himself very useable. (Only one button!)
  • I find this statement interesting:

    I know that Slashdot readers don't want to hear this, but the very first question is whether it is even possible to create a truly good user experience on top of Linux. Many other companies have tried to make Unix easy to use and many very talented designers have worked hard on these projects for several years without very good results.

    Jakob then makes two points about "reimplementing" designs and "iterating" past failed designs.

    While I agree with the above statement, I would point out that the reason that these useability designs for Linux are not successful is largely because of the huge amount of different programs that use unique interfaces. Ok, KDE is a great system, and supposing everything on the desktop is KDE, then maybe we'll have progress in the area of useability.

    Now supposing you like the Gnome desktop, some KDE apps, some motif apps, emacs, mutt, and a slew of other odd programs. Well, these don't play with each other very well at all.

    The difference here is that, whereas the first scenario is more useable for the average user, the second scenario is only useable for the "geek" who finds it the preferable way to work.

    Supposing a vendor releases a KDE only system, or a Gnome only system. Useability could be greatly increased to the point of a Mac or Windows OS, from a regular end user's point of view. All of a sudden, though, we have only a limited set of apps that work well with this system. And now "using Linux" becomes entirely meaningless since Linux User A, who only has ever seen the KDE desktop and KOffice, can't use Linux User B's system based on Gnome and some other product. It's a whole different OS, from their point of view.

    Making Linux useable to the most basic kind of computer user means taking away a lot of the freedom that Linux provides and replacing it with some arbitrary standard that is deemed useable by the masses.

    Obviously, this is exactly what happens when you put Linux in an appliance. You don't get all of the flexibility that Linux offers, at least not directly. This is all abstracted behind a few buttons which serve defined purposes. The end user isn't expected to tweak, configure, or program to any extent offered beyond the interface provided.

    Really, if you think about it, the Open aspect of Linux isn't so important to most people as it is to the Linux Community. Sure, "gratis" is nice, but "freedom" doesn't matter much.

    When developers start thinking that way, maybe they will make Linux useable. Linux need a subset, independent from its parent. Much like embedded Linux is a subset of Linux. A Linux for the masses, One distribution for Everyone Else.
  • With regards to [alphabet soup], how does everyone here feel about something like the additional (and user-defined) attributes in the BeOS file system, where all the additional e-mail info (subject, header, etc. is contained in attributes attached to the main document.
    I like it. I find those mailing lists which explicitly tag their e-mail with Subject: [LISTNAME] make it real easy to sort mail into appropriate folders so that I can search them for content and not have a cluttered Inbox. (No, I have a webmail interface, no Procmail available.)

    I think being able to attach attributes such as Project: to files and then being able to dynamically resort the filesystem view based on those would be a Good Thing.... right now I have to go to two or three places (mail archives, local drive, multiple server drives) to find info on something; if I could have the box load the attributes for all mounted filesystems, then I could just look for everything on Project Purple and there they'd all be. Big time savings. More profit. Take Friday off. :)

    As for hierarchy, I think Jakob tried to make the point, and I think I agree with him, it's not necessarily hierarchy, but grouping, that makes things work.... some files in hierarchy "a" also fit the paradigm for hierarchy "b" (like, say, the Junkbuster proxy, which belongs in /usr/local/bin because it's not part of the distro, but belongs in /sbin because it's a daemon... give it "Source: local" and "Security-class: daemon" and it works right).... symlinks are an evil kludge; unfortunately, they work...

    --
    "There's more than one way to do it." -- Perl slogan

  • Jakob says...
    No self-respecting salesperson wants to turn away paying customers at the door just because they don't have the latest beta-download of some browser.

    I think this can go either way. We've done a lot of research where I work and one this is clear. Most companies "dumb down" their sites to take advantage of the lower 10% with 3.0 browsers (or lower). In our opinion, this give us an advantage because if we just scrap 3.0 browser compatablity (or better yet, make a simple 3.0 browser only site) we can use 4.0+ and other techniques to their fullest and thus make websites that are a step ahead of the rest for the 90% that can see them.

    In salesman terms that's a good buy. But of course, technology for technolgies sake is bad, look at boo.com. So the goal is use technology to increase usablility and experience for the majority so they will continue to come back to the site rather than dumb down and look like everyone else just for the sake of a small percentage of customers.

    In the cutthrought world of e-business, it's not such a bad way of viewing things.
  • Windows gets this wrong by (correctly) hiding the advanced stuff, but then failing to reveal it later. "Raw" Linux gets this wrong by failing to hide in the first place. GNOME/KDE get this wrong by failing to provide a transition from "beginner" to "advanced".

    I should note by way of addendum that of the three, I think Linux's is the less egregious error. You can't exploit the power of your computer without the "advanced" stuff, so Windows is clearly out of the running (by not providing, or at least not revealing) the advanced stuff.

    Similarly, GNOME/KDE lull the user into thinking that Linux is easy and the sudden jump into a cold pool of hard-to-remember CLI tools gives them hypothermia.

    "Raw" Linux, as hard to learn/use as it may be (and I don't necessarily agree that it is, just that it "may be") at least affords power on the one hand and has no pretentions of ease-of-use on the other.
    --
    Here is the result of your Slashdot Purity Test.
  • >Jack Carroll at IBM in the 1980s proved that a
    >"training wheels" approach to computers makes
    > people better at understanding the expert
    > features once they get to them. The reason being
    > that users learn the conceptual structure of the
    > system better when they are presented with the
    > smaller set of features first. Not seeing
    > something during initial use of the system
    > would result in better use of the hidden
    > features later.

    This is one of the most important things in the Interview. This is so true and has been proved by different people using different approach.

    For instance Piaget the father of "Genetic Epistemology" showed how the "language learning" process for a kid, is build around layers of simpler concepts. Imagine this like concentric circles of knowledge. He furthermore compare this to the process of discovering a new a theory by experimenting it hence the "Epistemological" aspect.

    Tony Buzan, who has a different background and who has done a lot of research about learning, and mnemonic methods showed that you better learn small "recall" words which you can use "to hang" (like in knowledge tree) your new learning.

    This can be compared to a kind of "boot process", you use a small version of the "language" to load "learn" of more complex one. This is why the "getting started" is very important in every serious documentation.

    This is consistent with Mathematical Logic theories like "partial recursive functions" when a "Computable" function are in the same time a "partially recursive ones" i.e. these which can express themselves in simpler form of themselves
    for example : f(n) = n*f(n-1) and f(0) = 1 (this last one initiate the boot process).

    Last but not least this what a principle like KISS = Kake It Simple and Stupid is for.

    Einstein also said important : Things need to be as simple as possible but not simpler.
  • I have a number of programs like this. Performing basic actions enough times gains you new "expert" functionality.

    Unfortunately, these programs go by names like Super Mario Bros., Legend of Zelda, Mega Man...

    The stars system is a great video game, but a lousy productivity UI.

  • Taco advocates threaded mode which only shows the parent articles. The children are attached via links you have to click, then go back and peruse the rest of the parent comments. Etc.
  • "...so if people use it, it must be because it is good."

    Let's not confuse "good UI" from "monopoly stranglehold". Macs and Win95 perform essentially the same function, so the only real difference is the UI. Which has the better UI and which has the marketshare? Slashdot may or may not have a good UI, but it certainly enjoys a monopoly position. I'm sure I'm going to hear a bunch of whining about this claim. Tell me, which 3 "Geek news" sites have print ads in glossy mags? 1) Slashdot 2) Nobody 3) Nobody else


    Must agree with this. It's important to note that there is something gained even in the abscence of a sell/buy situation. I don't come here because of the interface, I come here for the discussion in spite of the UI. There are real changes that could be made that would make it easier to read and feel the flow of discussion.

    (Anybody else find it humorous that Taco's "favorite" viewing mode is the one that will generate the most page reloads and thus the largest number of banners?)
  • Thanks for those links. I'm looking into them now.
  • Zope is pretty cool; my main beef with it is that I have to give up Apache which is powerful, reliable and easy to use. XML and PHP can, of course, do far more than I'm suggesting here. I've mucked with Web Application Servers too, and I can see their point; even better can even do what I'm suggesting with Java servlet chains.

    The problem with all these wonderful solutions is that they are overkill for the simple problem of putting content in a consistent presentation.

    Although what I'm suggesting sounds complicated, all the users have to do is to create the content file; the template file is already done, and the config file usually requires only two simple entries (setting the variable for page title and content file). In fact, it would be very easy to create a stripped content file and a config file from a full html source with a Perl script. Perhaps I will set up a parallel directory hierarchy and descend it with a script to do this. That way people could keep their WYSIWYG html editors.
  • Yeah, you're damned right! Fucking slimy, american, capitalist pig-dogs!!!

    Oh wait, I'm American... and, hey, well over half the people here are American. But you're right, there's no reason for us to talk about anything that has to do with America because -- after all -- the motto of this site is "News That Has Nothing To Do With America For International Nerds"

    -----------

    "You can't shake the Devil's hand and say you're only kidding."

  • I've always thought that it was unbelievably arrogant for doctors (medical and otherwise) to refer to themselves as Dr. Whoever, except when necessary in the course of their work.

    Shouldn't we be past the use of titles in our supposedly egalitarian society? Do people need some special letters before or after their name to prove how smart or accomplished they are? Do we need this hierarchy in our society? Isn't modesty a virtue?

    -Bruce

  • I have always felt lucky that I learned most of the software I use while they where still version 1.x. I can see the struggle people face when they have to learn a piece of software that is in its 5+ version and you have so many features you cant make heads or tails which ones are important.
    I even have a theory that most softwares usability degrades sharply after version 3.5.
    The process would go something like this:

    v1. a great new tool comes to the market
    v2. user feedback has corrected the first kinks in the product and a few cant-live-without-features are added
    v3. some of the great new feature that didn't make version two are added.
    v4. the less great new features are added.
    v5. we need to sell upgrades lets add more features
    v6. the computer press reviews our product by counting features lets add some more etc.

    Carl
  • This is only true when you are faster than the system. The user's resources are limited, there's no way to upgrade the processor inside your head (afawk). The processor on your desk, however, will be 2x faster in 18 months anyway, so system resources should always take second place to user resources.

    Doug
  • I like his idea of minimalist design, but I'm not so sure that I'm as zealous as him. For instance, when it comes to an FAQ, I absolutely detest having to view each answer individually. There is no better way to piss me off than to force me to load twenty small pages one after another. Luckily, there are ways around this, such as wget. It still bothers me that people don't offer me the choice to see everything at once, though.

    I also find it quite annoying that people break up articles into five or ten pages, each with just one or two paragraphs on them. Of course, there's two or three banner ads, lots of ads on the left and right borders, and an imagemap running down one or both sides. So, I guess there really is a whole lot of content there. Silly me.

    I used to design my pages in two varieties, Netscape-friendly and Mosaic-friendly. With the death of Mosaic, my "light" pages became rarer and rarer, but I still try to remain conscientious of people using Lynx and other alternative browsers. I myself like using Lynx, as it's a handy text-mode app. It also fits on a boot/root floppy. Too many people today ignore every browser but Internet Explorer. It's crazy. I can't believe that there are so many sites out there that cause Netscape to display a blank page, because the Javascript is so poorly written.

    Sorry for the ranting. I just broke up with my girlfriend of almost a year, and I'm feeling kind of depressed. *sigh*
  • I'm pretty happy with this notion that the user interface becomes more complicated only when you're ready to. That seems like a good way to help new users out. However, it is important that it is easy to skip ahead to a more advanced mode of operation (sure, just type M-x I-already-know-what-I'm-doing-mode!) for not just the reason I've seen mentioned (power users / aggressive learners) but also so that you know what IS possible, when you're evaluating the software, maybe to determine if your company wants to buy a big pile of site licenses, or whatever.


  • "What do all the big sites have in common? Minimalist design."

    I've just looked at Nielson's page on the top 10 mistakes in web design [useit.com] and one thing strikes me as slightly strange. His list of 'popular websites' (as opposed to 'prominent websites') is AOL.com, Yahoo, MSN, Go, GeoCities, Netscape, Excite, Microsoft, Lycos, and Angelfire. He says this about the 'popular websites'
    It is not an accident that the sites with the most traffic have an uncommonly low rate of violations of the top ten mistakes of Web design. On the contrary, it is because these sites are easy to use that they get so much traffic.

    Is it? Netscape's site is very hard to navigate. It gets a lot of hits because it's the default home page for Netscape's browsers. AOL, Microsoft and MSN probably also get large numbers of hits for the same reason. Microsoft must get lots of hits because it's Microsoft, not because it's site is minimalist. Most of the other popular sites are search engines/portals which again are hit because of their function, rather than their design. Having said that, I love Google's minimalist design.

    He also says "I know that Slashdot readers don't want to hear this, but the very first question is whether it is even possible to create a truly good user experience on top of Linux. Many other companies have tried to make Unix easy to use and many very talented designers have worked hard on these projects for several years without very good results. The only data points we have say that it can't be done."
    to which I say "MacOS X"

    HH
    Yellow tigers crouched in jungles in her dark eyes.
  • I've said for a long time that what systems needed was a user attribute for experience level. Ideally, in a GUI, your user prefs page would have a slider. One side would be labeled "Newbie", the other "Guru". Apps could look at this slider to determine how much of the feature set to show you. Additionally, the app would have it's own "opinion" of you: when you first started using it, it could weight you down toward "newbie", even if your default setting was "master", but the app would then advance you faster toward your default setting (anyone at "guru" automatically gets "guru" in all apps.)

    Ideally, as you used the system, it would slowly move the slider up for you, and eventually you would reach "master". You wouldn't get "guru" unless you moved the slider.

  • Now it looks like there's a missing </b> tag. Doesn't anyone proof these things?

    (thumbs nose at the moderator)
    --

  • Jacob

    s/Jacob/Jakob.

    I've been reading the guy's site for donkey's, and still I spell his name wrong. Curse me!

    The concept of proprietary extensions has lost and very few mainstream sites do anything any more that cannot be seen by the vast majority of users.

    The reason proprietary extensions aren't used so much these days is, of course, because W3C took the proprietary extensions and made them the official standard. ;-)

    Unfortunately, though Jakob (yay, I got it right this time) is correct that sites don't like to turn the majority of users away, they still don't care much about minority users. If your browser doesn't support images, or frames, or tables, or cookies, or JavaScript, or if your body does not support vision, you're in trouble.

    This isn't just because the designers are simply stupid (although some are, natch), it's a business decision. If the amount of revenue we gain by making the site degrade gracefully is less than the amount of time we'll have to pay our techies for to get it done, it ain't gonna happen.

    Now where did that Preview button get to again?


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  • The system degrades pretty gracefully by default.

    Well, it would do if web design was done in an ideal world. Where the content came first, and then was marked up with a bit of style sheet or something. But that's just not the way it happens in reality, sadly.

    You have to pay those techies to crank out huge graphics and nonportable JabbaTripe

    Yes, of course. But in the eyes of most managers, customers, and other people who are actually in charge of what happens to the site, the graphics and DHTML are the non-negotiable part of a website. It must look and behave nicely on their browser. They'll happily have you add something or change something so it looks better on their desktop, even if you explain until you're blue in the face why it will break on everyone else's browser. God, most of them still don't understand the difference between a printed fixed-size page and a resizable web page, and will insist that the layout be fixed to whatever their screen size is.

    Not that I'm bitter, or sick of having to argue against this, or anything.

    which can only reduce the number of people that can or will want to use the site.

    This is perfectly true for a site where content is the purpose. Where you want people to be able to access information easily. But that's not what many corporate (non e-commerce) sites are about. Because there's bugger all content there anyway. The site exists only to make the company look good to other companies. Who are probably all using IE4+ anyway.

    I've nothing against making a good-looking site... But that can easily done without breaking it!

    Not if it involves table layouts, CSS-P and JavaScript, I'm afraid. Getting them to work consistently on IE/Netscape 4 and degrade nicely on other browsers is a big, big task. Personally I still do it. But I can see why other people don't.

    (As it happens, I'm posting this from home using a browser that doesn't support cookies. So I *hope* this post works. I know lots of bits of /. don't though.)


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  • Some screenshots of Nautilus...

    Great! Thanks for that; I was really curious about Nautilus was actually going to look like but the Eazel site seemed quite short on details.

    Not quite sure I like the design so far but of course it is only work in progress. I personally find the left-pane area quite cluttered. But hey.

    One of the things I find interesting about Nautilus is its idea of 'zooming in' on the standard icon/list views to reveal more information [...]

    Okay, I probably still didn't understand this properly, but I don't currently see the advantage of this over either/both of the list view and something like an extended tooltip.

    Tog's latest column discusses [...] piles, notebooks and scrapbooks

    Yep, indeed. I'm a regular reader of asktog.com too. :-) But I still didn't understand how this was terribly different to what we have now; they're still objects that contain other objects, aren't they? So, still hierarchies?

    how to convery time to the user through icons. He suggests having cobwebs or dust pile up

    Yes! I loved this! You keep the arrangement of icons unchanging so users still know where everything is, and just make some icons more eye-catching than others, mostly through use of colour. This is way better than, say, the O2K menus, which make commonly used objects more prominent by moving them around.

    I will definitely be stealing this idea. Unless Bruce has patented it, natch. :-)


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  • Why not? If the you (the user) don't know quite what you're looking for, you basically have to run a database request to find it.

    Indeed, and I think this is a problem. People may be bad at hierarchies, but I personally find them worse at framing searches, and worst of all at creating logical queries such as for a database.

    Part of the interface question is how much power to allow. In my current interface one can drill down in several hierarchies and narrow the search bit by bit, but you can't do things like say "I want all requests referred from slashdot.org OR made on the day a link was featured on slashdot", or "I want all requests made on this day but were NOT referred by slashdot.org AND NOT referred by another page on the site". I can't see an easy GUI-based way to construct queries like this, especially not one that'll work through a web browser.

    One solution could be based on the 'precompiled search' paradigm [...] Allow the user to define commonly-used shortcuts containing the attributes to form a search. Such as "This month; referred from banner-ad- show.cgi"

    You're right. This is something I was thinking about; I can see three possibilities here for my project, which are probably relevant to others too -

    1. have no special precompiled search features, but allow the user to bookmark a particular query in their browsers;
    2. have a built-in bookmark feature where the user can name searches they've made before and include them on the main page in the future as predefined searches;
    3. as (2), but also allow predefined searches to contain "advanced" queries like the ones I mentioned above where the query expression is a complex boolean expression, not simply a drill-down expression such as "this month; referred from banner" which the user can make themselves fairly easily, for example, in a pseudo-hierarchy of "Date=/2000/March/Referrer=/slashdot.org/banner.cg i".

    Damn, I'm rambling now. I wish I could use the "No +1" button on my non-cookies browser. :-)

    Any thoughts? I suppose it would be easier to explain this if I got some screenshots out...


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  • "...Mr. Nielsen's..."

    You are the second or third person to do this. His name is Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D. or perhaps Dr. Nielsen. Not a huge deal, but I think he deserves the title.

    On another note, I interviewed Jakob about 7 or 8 months ago: Web Usability: Past, Present, and Future [webword.com]. There's some good stuff in there that he doesn't really cover here.

    John S. Rhodes
    http://webword.com [webword.com]

  • Don't assume when thinking of this enhanced GUI that you're going to have a Von Neumann-based architecture, a "GUI" like he describes is more than just a new way of looking at old stuf, its all new. And the Von Neumann archiecture might not be the one to make the transition...

    Now we just need to find a couple non-Von-Neumann architectures that will work with this information model ;)

    Esperandi
  • Remember his answer the next time you start to believe that in capitalism, a better product won't always pull the consumer.

    Esperandi
  • I finally got around to watching the Douglas Engelbart colloquim on Stanford (it was /.d for about a month) Online. In it some guy (not Doug and I can't remember who it was) said near the end of one segment that he feared standards because they stick around longer than we ever intend them to. For the most part, i think he's right and the answers in this interviwe seem to be fighting themselves about it. Consider this:

    "I am basically hopeful that we will see more respect for standards on the Web. The concept of proprietary extensions has lost and very few mainstream sites do anything any more that cannot be seen by the vast majority of users. This is one of the true benefits from the boom in e-commerce. No self-respecting salesperson wants to turn away paying customers at the door just because they don't have the latest beta-download of some browser. "

    Sounds like its all gung-ho for standards right? Well, what about those standards we've got? What about the fact that TONS of people are still using 3.0 compliant browsers and that the majority of sites pander to them so as not to turn away the customer as this guy says will happen withOUT standards. it seems to me a different solution is in order. Auto-updating seems the logical choice - give the user no choice to upgrade - but some upgrades suck. Consider the newest RealPlayer over the old versions. It's titanic, bloated beyond all belief, and riddled with an ugly user interface presenting a million options no sane user would ever frequent (I mean wouild never frequent all of them enough to warrant their top-level exposure).

    Esperandi
    BTW, if you wanna search for the original guys statement I talked about from the colloquim, I'm 85% sure that he makes the statement within the last 5 minuts of part 1 or 2, more likely 2.
  • "Raw" Linux gets this wrong by failing to hide in the first place.

    I disagree. To most neophyte users, Linux (or any CLI OS) hides everything. One of the hardest parts of learning Linux is what to do here:

    >_

    If you've never used it before try ed to see what I mean! At least a GUI presents some information for a completely novice user. Once they learn how the mouse works, they can navigate and browse the system just to get their bearings. The closest thing in *nix is man hier, not exactly interactive.

    In some ways Windoze suffers the opposite problem (and the Mac to a lesser extent), showing users files that are of little consequence to them. Anyone whose ever done 'doze tech support knows what I mean. We've all had the user who decided to delete all those useless "dll" files that were "slowing down" his/her computer! (It is ironic that ultimately this user is correct, however).

  • Sure, content is king, but surfers want to experience attractive websites. I understand the importance of lean pages, but I think that Nielsen overemphasizes this too much--this design need will become less important as bandwidth increases.

    I asked this question here [slashdot.org] :"How are usability and aesthetics related, if at all? "

    I'm disappointed the question wasn't answered. It would have been interesting to hear what he thought. I do think that usability and aesthetics are strongly related, that the aesthetics of a site are part of the usability of a site. What users really want are good experiences from a site, and content, loading time, organisation and visual appeal are part of the whole.
  • Typical household tasks: Typing letters in Word, AIM, keeping track of money, e-mail, and retrieving porn. These tasks are accomplished on Windows. The users are familiar with Windows. Their files are all slopped all over and kept on floppies sometimes and various default directories. This is all the family will probably ever use a computer for.

    Consider my box, configured with a gnome-panel running on Linux/x86. The only tasks this machine can replace is porn retrieval through Netscape, in its current state.

    Why do people insist that general purpose Win32 machines such as the one above can easily be replaced by a morestable/reliable/cheap/easy/logical/wellbuilt/b lah blah blah KDE or Gnome setup?

    Microsoft Office is the defacto standard. Virtually every Windows PC has it. A vast majority of people cannot or would not adapt to something like Star Office, no matter how sophisticated and great and similar it gets. MS Office is binary only. MS Office is x86 only (excluding the MacOS PPC work-alike). MS seems reluctant to change either of those facts. Conclusion: Win32 as it stands today is going to be on most general-purpose home-PCs for a LONG time to come, and Linux/*BSD/MacOS don't have a chance of breaking into 100 million FAT partitions.

    Repeat this for IE, which has enormous inertia, tax programs, children's games, financial programs, and so on and so forth.

    It doesn't MATTER how good gnucash gets, or how great Star Office is packaged in the Ultimate End-User Distro, or how precisely the Windows desktop and file dialogs are replicated, or how "windows-like" KDE or gnome can be forced into behaving.

    Microsoft Office and nearly 70k other programs that hundreds of are BINARY ONLY, X86 ONLY, WIN32 ONLY and not under active development anymore.

    Billions upon billions of hours and incalculable quantities of time have been spent teaching people MS products and Win32 programs which just don't port that easy. And a huge number of users don't grasp the concept of a file. They want to know where to click to get one of the five things mentioned above done.

    My poorly constructed point: Wholesale (think 30%) home migration away from x86 Windows is not going to happen in the next decade at least. If you want to sell unix-wares to the home market in volume they will have to be in the guise of appliances that significantly redefine the concept of a general purpose PC.

    There are a million exceptions to the rule, but one thing is quite obvious; MS is going to own a vast portion of the home market for years to come and there is no Magical Sofware / User Interface Paradigm on the horizon that could concievably change that.

  • "I didn't spend 8 years at evil medical school to be MISTER evil!"

    -Dr. Evil

    Make Seven

  • Nielson definitely makes quite a few good points in his interview. However, I think one of the major problem with computers in general is the fact that usability is a big grey area. You can't define how to make something usable. Usability for the most part is a user defined term. For example. Most (linux) people would consider Windows to be the least intuitive OS around. However, I am by far more productive in Windows than I am in any other OS. This isn't because I'm an idiot, or because Windows is necessarily a great OS. Its because thats what I've learned, and thats what I'm comfortable with. If you want to have a great, usable interface, you must design something that is not out of reach of the users comfort zone. This doesn't necessarily have to be a windows imitator, or have anything to do with computers. Just something the user can relate to in some way, and that is when you're going to be on the way to having a respectable interface.

    I've heard it said that for a beginning computer user, (ie. never touched any OS) Linux is the most intuitive. Now, in part this is true, because once you learn the basics, the complicated stuff definitely follows closely behind. However, I disagree with Nielson's statement that Linux doesn't have any difference between the basic features and the advanced. The problem is not that the user has access to all the things he's not ready for yet. The problem is that he can't find the things he is ready to use, in order to be ready to use the more advanced features. Sure, anyone can read a HOWTO and learn how to use something. But I dare you to tell a Linux newbie to go read a how to and not get a reply similar to "What the hell is a HOWTO?"

    d11

  • Sounds like a useful setup. I hope we won't be stuck with this forever, though. Too many files. Bluh.

    Once XSLT is out there, you can use an XSLT stylesheet to paste in the header, footer, navigation, and so on. It'll be pretty easy, too. Here's an example stylesheet. It just contains the header, the footer, and three XSLT elements.

    <?xml version="1.0"?>

    <!-- xsl stylesheet to add template & navigation to pages -->
    <html xsl:version="1.0"
    xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform"> <head>
    <title><xsl:value-of select="/html/head/title"/></title>
    ...
    </head>
    <body>

    ... (all sorts of header stuff, including tables and graphics) ...

    <h3>Related links:</h3>
    <xsl:copy-of select="//div[@id='related']" />

    ... (more tables and stuff) ...

    <!-- now paste in the content -->
    <xsl:copy-of select="//div[@id='mainbody']" />

    ... (all sorts of footer stuff) ...

    </body>
    </html>

    The first one glues in the title of the page; the other two paste in content. Simple-- but it is also a lot more powerful than this example shows.

    Share and enjoy:

  • If you decide to embrace progressive disclosure in your next project, please consider the power users and provide a way to easily switch to Full disclosure.

    Let's make this a golden rule:

    No matter how intelligent the software, assume the most intelligent part of the HCI network is the human and allocate them final control.

    Anything else results in frustration for a significant number of users a significant amount of the time.

    As for the importance of hierarchical storage systems, I agree that a standard system-wide browser with a rich feature set is the only way to make these usable. Every day I curse the designers of File Open dialogues and "Explorers".

    Can we please have a mechanism for saving favourite folders and efficiently navigating them right in the dialogue itself?


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  • Really good question, dude!

    Having worked for years in the web development industry, I can tell you really simply why sites are like this. It's because clients are DUMB! That's right. If you show them a usable site, they won't actually use it themselves, it's their clients who will use it. They don't understand usability. However, they DO understand big flashy 3D Flash Java sound applets! Especially when the demo site is loaded on a laptop's harddrive which can achieve a megabit/s throughput ...

    Sure, you could educate the bozos. I've tried to do that in technical meetings. They just look at you funny and eventually they buy the competitor's Java-bloated project. Duh.

  • by philg (8939) on Friday March 03, 2000 @10:50AM (#1227781)
    "However, I think some of his advice is rather fascist, if you really look at it. I think he really downplays the importance of graphics on websites, which is the main reason why the web is popular in the first place. Sure, content is king, but surfers want to experience attractive websites."

    Nielson's observations boil down to two axioms:

    1. The longer your site takes to load, the greater the chance that someone's going to give up.
    2. The more useful your site is to someone, the more likely they will come back.
    Even on my cable modem or at work on a T1, I sometimes find myself switching /. to "lite" mode, just because the graphics take too long to load. Correspondingly, I put up with its daunting user interface (which works well, but requires a big learning curve), because it gives me satisfying content -- not because of pretty pictures.

    Sure, users want to experience attractive websites, but it's much lower on the hierarchy of needs. If a pretty picture is keeping content from me (and is not, itself, the sought-after content), I'm going somewhere else.

    "Nielsen's advice, while applicable to all web designers, tends to encourage to creation of look-alike e-commerce websites. The needs of a user buying stuff at E-Bay are different than a person checking out an online art gallery."

    Remember that he is giving general advice; the most usable website for an amalgamated average of all users of the Web is probably a generic e-commerce site. (Since usability is directly proportional to profit for these sites, that's not surprising.)

    Your point is well-taken, though -- different audiences will prefer different UI's, and sometimes the general rules don't apply. Ditto for different user tasks.

    It would be instructive to see some field- and task-specific usability analyses on useit [useit.com] at some point.

    "What the big sites have in common is that most of them got started on the web at an early stage."

    Lots of entrepreneurs "got started on the web at an early stage" -- and aren't around today. The really big sites stuck around longer because they were more usable.

    "The "big" sites maintain this advantage now through massive amounts of advertising. That's what big sites have in common these days. Yep, they all look like portals, but that's a fad thing, not a design consideration."

    I actually don't like portals very much (I usually ignore 80% of the page once I can find the "search" blank), but that is just one page out of the site -- albeit a big one. Where e-commerce sites deliver is on their catalog and ordering pages. Making someone feel secure with your credit card number is no mean feat.

    Advertising actually is something that counteracts usability to an extent. However, remember the old lesson of Maapo cereal -- advertising gets the first visit, but not all the rest.

    phil

  • Then IMHO you are completely in the wrong boat.

    The fact is, a GUI can be user-optimized and not waste your system's resources. Slashdot itself is an excellent example of this -- you can select a number of different ways of viewing the page, and the code responds accordingly. Try turning off icons with articles, for example: /. saves the bandwidth required to send those images, the processor time to locate the images, etc., and the user doesn't have to wait for the images to load.

    The key is designing the system to have what is called "graceful degradation" -- which isn't necessarily that hard to do programmatically -- it just easier if it has been thought out well in advance. The key is, when things degrade (performance is bad, an item is turned off in the browser, a user isn't advanced yet, etc.), how and in what order do I gracefully remove the non-essentials without disturbing the user's ability to have a successful interaction with the system?

    Keep these things in mind and it's a win-win for everybody.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday March 03, 2000 @09:46AM (#1227783) Homepage Journal
    It's interesting that you juxtapose the very useful file attributes in the Be file system to "The Brain" software. The "Brain" website also automatically raised my hackles. I hate websites where they design slaps you in the face and then you have to root around looking for what they hell the company actually sells. I don't know about their product, but I'm giving it a try. (they have reasonable demo terms: "Give it a try for 30 days. If you like it and use it a lot, it's just $49.95. If you only use it a little, keep using for free.") I don't think it is very promising though.

    Basically, its much easier and more likely to succeed to devise products around the way people work than the way people think.

    What I'd like to see is a number of things that make common work tasks like refining your work and sharing it easier.

    First off, why don't operating systems version files for you? VMS did. It's so obviously useful, if you give the user control over it. I'd also like to go back to a prior version of a file and fork it. I'd like to be able to check out documents and check them back in. I'd like full fledged calendaring and project management to be a standard desktop feature.

    In many ways, the Lotus Notes addresses many of these kinds of concerns: versioning, routing, commentig, indexing etc; but the UI is laughably bad and the integration with other components cheezy.
  • by Junks Jerzey (54586) on Friday March 03, 2000 @09:26AM (#1227784)
    Many large companies, like the one I work for, have usability departments with Intranet pages linked to Jacob's pages - and yet the company's pages still have way too many images all in the name of marketing.

    This is a classic problem. At every company that has a project massively behind schedule, you'll find copies of _The Mythical Man Month_ and _Understanding the Software Development Process_. Heck, Microsoft Press publishes some of the most respected books about software development, and look at the messes their parent company produces.

    It's easy to chalk this up to the "That doesn't apply to me" syndrome, but I think it's simpler than that: people know what all the experts say, and might even quote them in interviews, but they don't really believe it deep down inside. Someone wanting to start up a news site, for example, may read all the books about site design, but goes with a graphic-laden site because (1) that's what other sites do, and (2) he or she wants to look as good as the pros and not so homemade. We *know* that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but then we still want the fancy packaging. I've known people who have bitterly complained about software packages that come in jewel cases or have black and white manuals. They'll just shove the case in the closet and never read the manual, but they want all the useless frills anyway.

    One time I used 100% recycled paper for a customer mailing. I thought using recycled paper was a good thing, and I was glad to support the maker of the paper. But in the end I think that people looked at the gray paper as cheap and very unpolished and would have preferred something on bleached white, virgin paper. If you asked all those people if they supported recycling, though, they all would have said yes.

    The bottom line is that it's easy to convince people that usability and simplicity are more important to web site design than gobs of professionally done graphics, but that doesn't mean they'll listen. Because they won't.
  • by fprintf (82740) on Friday March 03, 2000 @08:27AM (#1227785) Journal
    One profession/education I notice Jakob does not mention is marketing - good! I am a marketer, and marketing is the very reason that many web pages suck nowadays -- there are too many marketing/advertising possibilities in an image intensive environment like the Net, and marketing is taking a front seat over content.

    Many large companies, like the one I work for, have usability departments with Intranet pages linked to Jacob's pages - and yet the company's pages still have way too many images all in the name of marketing.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 03, 2000 @08:47AM (#1227786)
    Jakob Nielsen has shown us his true colors here today, friends. He has shown us that he is nothing more than a typical bleeding-heart liberal leftist Slashdot reader. In his response to question #1, Nielsen went out of his way to praise Slashdot's use of "liberal links." Well, where is Mr. Nielsen's praise for some more conservative links, such as the homepages of The National Rifle Association [nra.org], The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod [lcms.org], or the Republican Party [rnc.org]? Well, Jakob? We're waiting, my left-leaning friend.

    The answer is simple: There is no praise because Nielsen, like Slashdot itself, is a mindless pawn of the liberal media. As each day passes, the number of objective sources where true, red-blooded Americans can get real news about the state of their country dwindles. Soon, all we'll have will be CNN (Clinton News Network) and the three major networks, all of which are owned by noted Communists. There are already plans in Washington to have Fox News Channel shut down. Let's remain vigilant, friends. We can beat these fucking lefties.
  • I am a big believer in separating content from presentation. The problem is when you let several people loose with WYSIWYG html editors, they'll each decide what sorts of guidelines should apply on their pages or interpret them differently. They are also responsible for implementing all the standard navigational machinery, logos etc on their pages, exactly so. Even when it's just me, I find my results WYSIWYG editors were dismally inconsistent.

    I've been hacking around with mod_include directives, and have settled on the following scheme. Every page requires three files: the content file, the template file and the configuration file. (actually four if you count the style sheet).

    The content file has the text of what you want to say with only basic markup. It is just an html snippet. This can be done in an HTML editor and the body snipped out, but I find it easier to write the content as a text file and put the markup in manually after.

    The template file is shared by all or many of the pages in the site. It includes the navigational elements (actually included from another file) and decoration. The HTML start and end tags are in the file, and somehwere inside this file there is an include directive to include the content file. My own template file uses a table and the content is included in a table cell.

    The config file is the one that is the target of the URL; it sets some variables and then includes the template file, which in turn knows what content file to include because of a variable I set here. Here is an example:

    <!--#set var="readfromfile" value="hometext.shtml" -->
    <!--#set var="title" value="Advanced Computer Resources" -->
    <!--#include file="frame.shtml" -->

    This may seem like a lot of rigamarole, but in fact the benefit is that every page can conform perfectly to one or two different templates. Combine this with style sheets and one of the biggest problems with making a site usable is simplified: making sure the guidelines are followed everywhere.
  • by Phrogz (43803) <!@phrogz.net> on Friday March 03, 2000 @09:04AM (#1227788) Homepage
    Progressive disclosure is the best tool so far: show people the basics first, and once they understand that, allow them to get to the expert features.

    A long time ago, Kai Krause (or someone at then-HSC Software) tried this in KPT Convolver. There was a 'stars' system where after you performed certain types of actions enough times you got a new star and a new tool (or toolset) which assisted in what you were doing and broadened the possibilities. It was much-hyped, at least by HSC.

    As a general-computer power user, it bothered me. A lot. Shortly I found a 'secret' document which detailed what you had to do in order to get each star, and tediously repeated the tasks until I had all the stars. (Or all but one...I think the document was from HSC and didn't detail the last star, but just hinted.)

    Part of the problem was that there was no simple way to enable all the options, you had to "earn" them. If you decide to embrace progressive disclosure in your next project, please consider the power users and provide a way to easily switch to Full disclosure.

  • by makhnolives (135503) on Friday March 03, 2000 @09:34AM (#1227789) Homepage

    I'm a bit disappointed in the questions that Jakob Nielsen answered. None of them are that critical of Nielsen's ideas or challenged some of his assumptions.

    Let me mention that I'm a professional webmaster who has been at it for 5 years. I first experienced the web in 1993 at a demo that Marc Andreeson gave at NCSA for a group of librarians. I've also been through one day-long human factors workshop with Ben Schneiderman. Yes, I've read Tufte too. So, I constantly strive for web designs that are user friendly, logical, and attractive.

    I'm in the middle of Nielsen's new book, which I'm quite enjoying. He has plenty of sage advice, which I wish that more web designers would follow. However, I think some of his advice is rather fascist, if you really look at it. I think he really downplays the importance of graphics on websites, which is the main reason why the web is popular in the first place. Sure, content is king, but surfers want to experience attractive websites. I understand the importance of lean pages, but I think that Nielsen overemphasizes this too much--this design need will become less important as bandwidth increases.

    Nielsen's advice, while applicable to all web designers, tends to encourage to creation of look-alike e-commerce websites. The needs of a user buying stuff at E-Bay are different than a person checking out an online art gallery.

    We should also face the fact that the web inherently encourages the DIY (do-it-yourself) ethic--I often compare the web to the zine world translated online. Yes, it would be nice if every website put their logo in the upper left hand corner, but at what point does this become elitism? Ok, user studies show that people prefer this, but are these simply consumers, or an audience used to a different language. You can put together a nicely done magazine, but you have no right to complain about a free form punk zine that was assembled with rubber cement and scissors. Punks are used to a certain vocabulary; slick DTP don't cut it with them. The same goes for web design--the expectations for a particular website isn't the same for each audience.

    Finally, I want to address one of Nielsen's statements.

    "What do all the big sites have in common? Minimalist design."

    This is an illogical argument. What the big sites have in common is that most of them got started on the web at an early stage. Think of Yahoo or any of the search engines. E-Bay was one of the first auction sites. They had time to build name recognition as popular websites. In Yahoo's case, it benefited from incredible word of mouth promotion, because nobody had bothered to do a large directory of the web (the librarians missed a big opportunity here).

    The "big" sites maintain this advantage now through massive amounts of advertising. That's what big sites have in common these days. Yep, they all look like portals, but that's a fad thing, not a design consideration. In fact, since so many of these sites look alike, new users have a hard time telling them apart. They've lost their personality, because they've become big, bloated with IPO money for advertising, and are designed by marketing departments. Why is Slashdot popular? Because it still has people behind the website, like Hemos and Commander Taco.

    With that being said, I really recommend that every web designer have their boss buy Nielsen's book for them. Despite my criticisms, this book is very helpful.

    makhnolives
    http://www.infoshop.org/

  • by Tony Shepps (333) on Friday March 03, 2000 @10:52AM (#1227790) Homepage
    I understand the importance of lean pages, but I think that Nielsen overemphasizes this too much--this design need will become less important as bandwidth increases.

    One problem is that developers think that bandwidth will increase at the rate of Moore's Law, when it has generally taken about twice as long. In terms of consumer modems, these are rough numbers of bits/sec (please criticize my dates) of acceptance by about 25% of the population:

    • 1982: 1200
    • 1986: 2400
    • 1991: 9600
    • 1992: 14400
    • 1996: 28800
    • 1998: 50000 (nobody gets true 56k)
    • 2000: still 50000 baud
    If Moore's law were in effect, by my back-of-the-envelope calculations, we'd all be at three times T1 speeds by now. And I haven't even gotten into the requirements for the backbones, or compression, or latency. And yes, I know 5% of the audience out there is at highly incredible cable speeds. Meanwhile, outlying areas are going to get nothing better than 144K DSL for years to come.
  • by Duke of URL (10219) on Friday March 03, 2000 @08:19AM (#1227791)
    If you where too lazy to read the questions and answers all the way through you'll have missed this key statement:

    In the old days, an operating system was designed to optimize the utilization of the computer's resources. In the future, its main goal will be to optimize the user's time.

    Appliance, software, and web designers need to write J.K.'s qoute down and put it up on their monitor, their fridge, and their bathroom mirror. Write it on your hands. Do something, but keep this in mind all the time whenver taking useability issues in hand.


  • by FascDot Killed My Pr (24021) on Friday March 03, 2000 @08:22AM (#1227792)
    "Interesting, possibly even essential reading for anyone involved in software or Web site design."

    Wow, Rob, that "overhype just like a real local newscaster" class is really paying off. What's up for next week? "What THEY Don't Want You To Know About HTML"?

    "...so if people use it, it must be because it is good."

    Let's not confuse "good UI" from "monopoly stranglehold". Macs and Win95 perform essentially the same function, so the only real difference is the UI. Which has the better UI and which has the marketshare? Slashdot may or may not have a good UI, but it certainly enjoys a monopoly position. I'm sure I'm going to hear a bunch of whining about this claim. Tell me, which 3 "Geek news" sites have print ads in glossy mags? 1) Slashdot 2) Nobody 3) Nobody else

    "Not seeing something during initial use of the system would result in better use of the hidden features later.

    I agree 100% with this statement, but I implore everyone to read it carefully. Note the phrase "initial use". That means that you SHOULD be able to use advanced features LATER. Windows gets this wrong by (correctly) hiding the advanced stuff, but then failing to reveal it later. "Raw" Linux gets this wrong by failing to hide in the first place. GNOME/KDE get this wrong by failing to provide a transition from "beginner" to "advanced".
    --
    Here is the result of your Slashdot Purity Test.
  • by sugarman (33437) on Friday March 03, 2000 @08:57AM (#1227793)
    This is kind of a follow-up to the answer you gave for the following question:

    5) Revolutionary UNIX GUIs

    All respect for info appliances, but we also need a workstation-style interface that can help knowledge workers survive the information flood of modern society. And that's where I think we really need revolutionary designs that go beyond the Mac. For example, ways of managing tens of thousands of documents by a rich set of attributes and content-oriented navigation. Simply showing files as icons in folders doesn't cut it beyond a few hundred.

    We also know from many studies that the average user is very bad at hierarchical filing and typically never moves a file once it gets to live in some directory. Even if the file would be better off elsewhere. This problem is magnified several hundred times when it comes to managing email. I am starting to think that the solution is to treat information objects as members of a soup and manage them by attributes rather than by hierarchy and name.

    With regards to the above answer, how does everyone here feel about something like the additional (and user-defined) attributes in the BeOS [be.com] file system, where all the additional e-mail info (subject, header, etc. is contained in attributes attached to the main document.

    Alternatively, what about a product like The Brain [natrificial.com] from Natrificial, which creates a linked 'web' of parent/child attributes to all documents in the FS? Do you find these products more or less usable than others, and are they the right road to be traveling down, or is another direction needed?

  • Not seeing something during initial use of the system would result in better use of the hidden features later.

    This is an interesting point. Most people seem to be very bad at forming a mental model of how software works. Of course, this is partly because there is a lot of software which does not have any consistent model, but still a lot of users will only do a few linear operations they have learnt, and have to be taught further operations, rather than grokking the whole program. And then you end up with horrible, horrible "wizards" as the only way of getting things done.

    Starting with a simplified system would perhaps alleviate this. But how can this be done? Simply taking out half the menu options seems a bit crude. :-)

    What would, I think, help, would be to take away the majority of those blasted button bars. Most Word users still have half their screens taken up with rows upon rows of toolbar buttons, most of which they never use, and which are only marginally faster than going to the menu. All these unexplained options must be terribly intimidating to new users.

    I am starting to think that the solution is to treat information objects as members of a soup and manage them by attributes rather than by hierarchy and name.

    I'm a great fan of hierarchies. Many users are indeed bad at managing them, but I think this is as much to do with bad interfaces onto them as anything else. New users are always confused as to where files are, not because they don't understand the concept of a hierarchy, but because their applications give them many views of the same hierarchy that all look completely different.

    We've got the filer (with its view options that Windows by default changes pseudo-randomly), common file dialogues (which only show files of the type their application is associated with, thus losing any 'sense-of-place' the user may acquire), Explorer (which put directories and files in different panes, again destroying the comfortable feeling of seeing a directory and knowing exactly where you are), and uncommon file dialogues of various shapes and unpleasant flavours. Consistency: zero. Plus of course Windows and Unix both take over the root directory and fill it with stuff one doesn't understand, and applications happily open up unlikely directories like root, a directory hidden inside the application's own domain, or - God help us - C:\WINDOWS\ as the default place to save/open a file, thus making the user totally lost.

    Give the user one filer application for doing everything to do with hierarchies and lists - not just files, but, using a VFS, all hierarchical datatypes in applications - and I predict the world will be a happier place.

    I'm quite interested in Jacob's idea of an information soup, because I'm currently working on an interactive web log analyser, and its data is inherently both multiple-hierarchical (eg. file request: /dir/dir/file, client host: /com/altavista/spider653, and so on) and loaded with other properties, which one may wish to sort and view in many different ways. The interface is still quite hierarchical in nature, because I really can't think of a better way to structure the data. An infosoup is a great idea but you can't expect the user to issue what amounts to a database request every time they want to edit a document or something.

    Anyone got any good examples of interfaces for property-rich data without a strict single hierarchy?


    --
    This comment was brought to you by And Clover.
  • by locutus074 (137331) on Friday March 03, 2000 @09:02AM (#1227795)
    It's sooo frustrating when you have to wait for 5 minutes for a 2 meg graphic to download, and you're stuck because it's their front page, it's an image map, and there is no text, not even ALT tags. I remember a particularly egregious example from a couple years back.

    That said, judicious use of graphics is a good thing. I'm shopping around for a PC case, and it is so fucking frustrating to see one little .jpg of the (closed) outside of a case. I want to see shots of the outside of the case, the inside of the case, the stuff inside it coming off, and everything else! Even line art would be okay.

    That said, don't make them all huge bloated SOBs that take forever to load. (Yes, I want pictures, but I'm on dialup, too.) Use thumbnails to link to larger pictures. The "$50/month ecommerce" pages at store.yahoo.com are particularly egregious in this respect. The graphics are 40-50k graphics that load nice and fast but are usually just one shot of the outside. They are links, but all they link to is the exact same picture off of the yimg.yahoo.com server.

    That being said, use some damn text, too! Too many times, the description reads something like "$BRANDNAME computer case, $75". WTF good does that do me? I can see it's a computer case! I want to see something like the following:

    $BRANDNAME mid-tower case

    • Five 5.25" drive bays
    • Three 3.5" external bays
    • Three 3.5" internal bays
    • Removable drive cage
    • Rolled-back edges inside the case
    • Slide-out motherboard tray
    • Removable side panels
    • Thumbscrews for toolless access to the inside
    • Polished interior for better EMI and ESD prevention
    • 300W power supply
    • ...and so forth

    When will these people learn? That last thing we want (especially if they're selling cases, the tech-savvy crowd is who is going to buy this stuff, mostly) is fluff! We want to know what we're getting, not just one crappy jpeg and a one-line text description. Sure, you can always email for more info, but personally, I don't want to wait for that. I want to find out everything now and not wait on someone else's schedule. Besides, I don't want to give my email address to you, a business I've never heard of; if I want to get "product updates" from you, I'll give you my email address with my explicit permission for that.

    Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, or so it is said, but the person who came up with that never shopped online.

    (/rant mode)

    OT: Does anyone know any sites where I might actually find cases such as this? Sites that sell cases are few and far between. I've also tried to find just thumbscrews, but the only place I've found so far is pcpowercooling.com [pcpowercooling.com]. Even better if there are any Philadelphia geeks out there would be a local store that sells them. (I thought that CompUSA did, but they were just the dinky, crappy little plastic kind.) My email address is bj.XYZ@ZY.netaxs.com, and you should be able figure out what to do with it. If not... :)

    Time to submit this, I think. I've probably gone grossly over quota on this posting, :) but I hope this helps some budding web designer. Either that, or I'm preaching to the choir.

"It's curtains for you, Mighty Mouse! This gun is so futuristic that even *I* don't know how it works!" -- from Ralph Bakshi's Mighty Mouse

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