Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Facebook: user experience nightmare?

Dear Facebook,

This is an unusual attempt to communicate with you. A decision I made after getting the above mentioned message quite frequently while working with Facebook. I see no other way to communicate then blogging about it as I don't know your email address or phone number. So here it goes and I will limit it to three points.

Users want consistency in working with an application. Now I do understand that you provide users with some options to customize their view of the Facebook world. However it is fairly annoying that user interface consistency does not have a high priority in your view of how Facebook should look like. For example, tabs come and go when using them to navigate and this makes me feel very uncomfortable. As if something unintentionally gets lost.

Please provide some help if something that should be intuitive isn't available on the main page or menus. It is embarrassing that a person with more then two decades of experience on all kind of applications and platforms has to see a non-IT buddy to find out how to create a group in Facebook. Like a doctor who feels sick and doesn't know what to do.
After lots of communication with my buddy and some serious user interface testing, I discovered that the button to create a group shows up AFTER you typed "groups" in the search function and ONLY if you run Internet Explorer. Those who use Firefox or Safari get a completely different screen presented as a result of the search. Are those users not entitled to create a group? Oh wait a minute: groups is an application! That makes sense. At least when you are an IT engineer. How come this took me two days to find out?
By the way: googling with "how to get help on facebook" tells me that "Get Help" on Facebook is a music band in New York. And why is "Facebook Help" located in Turkey? Don't you have somebody on your staff in Palo Alto to write help pages? Or is this an outdated concept?

We, users, aren't dumb or ignorant with occasional brain farts. When something goes bad while working with Facebook, please provide us with a meaningful feedback. Here again, I realize that it is not straight forward to design and write good consistent exception handlers. If the "Oops message" (see above) is all you can do, you might as well just quit the session. At least then I will feel that it was my fault.

Kind regards,

PS The above open letter is a rant. However, I do want to use Facebook and encourage others to create a meaningful online presence of communities.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Twitter, Google Wave, what is next?

The desire for humans to communicate remotely in real time is very old. I guess it started with smoke signals. More recent inventions like the telephone were initially not seen as a solution to the need. It was believed that it would only be useful for telegraph operators to notify about transmitted telegraphs. They were so wrong!

A similar thing is now happening with a technology called Twitter. In case you haven't heard about Twitter, don't worry, you are not missing a life changing phenomena. In essence Twitter is just a protocol, which allows you to send a message, not longer then 140 characters long, to actually nobody. Those who follow you on Twitter will receive your message instantly (no guarantee they read it), others may find your message through a search. To make this happen, software on the server side is necessary. It runs on the servers owned by Twitter. Again, there are people who believe it is absolutely useless, others swear that this is a breakthrough. My observations are that only celebrities (of all kind) use it to spread their words, without intermediaries (read journalists) to change the content. The communication concept is based on the systems used for dispatchers to inform taxis, police patrol cars, ambulances, etc. Some people just love to listen what is being said. Time will tell what will happen with Twitter.

Meanwhile in the past years, Google engineers have been working on a concept now called Google Wave. The Rasmussen brothers from down under Australia (Lars and Jens, the guys who brought us Google Maps) have created a concept where they finally got rid of the notion that in IT we have to mimic some communication form in the physical world. While it is still in development, Lars, together with product manager Stephanie, presented and demonstrated working code at the Google I/O developers conference last week in San Francisco. There was a reason for them to announce it before it becomes available later this year: they want developers to create cool applications with Wave. In that way when Wave as a product AND platform & protocol becomes available, it will have many useful applications. In the end, the user only cares about the application.

To give you an idea how powerful the Wave protocols and platforms are, here are a few points that put Wave on my permanent radar screen:

  • The protocol is open and media agnostic.
  • The platform will be open source, so you can host your own Wave system.
  • The user interface will run inside a standard browser.
  • The platform and protocol is extensible without the need to run your own system.

Now if you take the time to sit through the video below with many demos of Wave, you will be amazed.  It is remarkable what you can do if software also lives on the server side and can do some remarkable things in real time. One of them is collaborating on document creation and maintenance, a real pain with current solutions. The most amazing thing I saw (almost at the end of the keynote) is a real-time translation of human languages. If this turns into a scalable application, I predict that we can make with IT "one small step for a men, one giant leap for mankind".

My biggest take away after watching this keynote is that there is hope that we, humans, will find a pleasant way to communicate remotely, synchronous and asynchronous. With pleasant I mean a single user experience and not a shopping bag full of gadgets beeping at a frantically rate.

© Peter Bodifée 2009. All rights reserved.