back to article IT design: You're not data, you're a human being

"Metrics" is rapidly becoming something of a cult among IT vendors. Many are betting the future of their companies on data gathering and foster a culture that treats user behaviour-monitoring like a religion. I've never fully believed in this practice, but it is hard to deny its allure. People are fickle and hard to predict; the …

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Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

When you have a practical monopoly, you can dictate terms, and Apple were so successful for so long in getting their consumers to do things Apple's way, that the mindset seems to have changed from 'What does the customer want?' to a kind of design imperialism - as if these products were coming out of some Ministry Of Technology which expects that the proles will just have to read the pamphlets and adjust their habits. They figure that if we want it that bad (iPhones and the shiny mobile space, next-gen game consoles, access to new TV and movies, etc) we will get it on the producers' terms or not at all.

Only recently have there been major signs of customer-dissension actually changing this mindset, such as the MS U-turn on some of the nastier proposed features of the XBox One, and the grudging semi-return of the Windows start menu. But everyone outside Apple has just been dazzled at the degree to which unwanted or unwelcome changes can be forced on customers without any major penalty on sales (if any).

As regards computing, I think the argument is skewed by the 'middle bell' consumers you mention. Before the reductionist age of the iPhone came in, we were talking about a band of people (and lets avoid demographics here, insert your own prejudices) who formerly relied on spouses, friends and relatives to set up and/or troubleshoot their computing experiences.

With practically all the options taken away (apart from the colour of the iPhone case), there was little left that could go wrong anymore. Today's middle-bell computing consumers feel liberated from the thrall of geeks, I think, and to boot have become the defining force in the consumer marketplace. What they will accept, en masse, is what the rest of us will end up with, like it or lump it.

On the plus side, it's still the same crazy jumble of spaghetti wires behind the shiny shiny, and those who are able to work with that can still do so, and arguably have better tools to do this than they have ever had. And, mostly, the tools are free.

It's just that geeks have to work harder these days to get their own computing experience 'their way'. And many of the most popular consumer products, following the iPhone/iPad model, are hermetically sealed in every sense imaginable. That won't change, so long as the numerous middle-bell consumers keep consuming.

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Holmes

Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

Nicely put

> That won't change, so long as the numerous middle-bell consumers keep consuming.

And there would be no problem with that as long as "the other solution" keeps existing. Plush dwellers, button pushers and juveniles out for a good time can get their functional tool, while tinkerers and professionals get to have an inspectable, modifiable machinery. Unfortunately the creeping monetization of everything (including debt) and the quest of selling everything on which you can affix a price sticker (even if you actually cannot and do not own it in the first place) means that so-called "Intellectual Property" (aka. economic nonsense) will continue be a growing menace to the continued existence of the "the other solution".

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@MrMcginty Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

First class post, that's all I have to say.

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Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

Compulsory change also involves someone else making decisions for you, bossing you about.

Regardless of the eventual benefit of the change, say a new version of MS Office, it annoys all users, though newcomers least of all as less of their knowledge is being made obsolete. "Where's the button to make it the way it was?" "I don't want the new stuff, I want to do it the way I always do it"

Don't agree with you about Apple. For a decade or more they were the living dead, with just a cult following of designers and architects. I've never owned an Apple product because, in turns, a Windows PC was the clear winner, they were expensive, they are all controlling. Now Android and Samsung are ahead in volume terms. Though to get anything like the privacy I get with a desktop PC I'll have to familiarize myself with a new operating system on a personal-data-stripping-by-design platform.

This is an illustration of capitalism and the pleasure of making a consumer choice (which is similar to holding a grudge against those businesses that have crossed you).

Think you're right about "liberation from the geeks", particularly with our aging population. Some find it humiliating that a technological change means they can no longer do something they used to be able to do and they find it difficult to learn new things (yes, it happens anyway but they're disappointed to have it brought forward rather than delayed).

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Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

I don't have a problem with compulsory change. In fact, I prefer it. Someone gives me orders and it is my duty to obey. If it fails catastrophically, it's on their head, not mine. If I see a demand for Windows 8 from my clients, then I will run a Windows 8 box on my desk alongside my CentOS, Windows XP, Windows 7, and various OSX boxes. Just because I don't like the change in question doesn't mean I won't stump up and do the job.

The issue is the not all change is good, and change for change's sake is stupid. Change needs to provide a clear benefit. To me, to my coworkers or to my employer. If the change in question offers no clear benefit then why in $deity's name should we engage in it?

Should we engage in change because a $software_Company blogger or executive tries to shame people through statements like "holding back progress"?

Should we engage in change because that change reduces costs or advances a strategic plan of one of our vendors?

Should we engage in change because of peer pressure, lobbying, marketing or advertorials?

Or should we only engage in change where there is a definable reason to do so that benefits us? I'm not afraid of change at all. I am, however, overworked, exhausted and poor. If you want to foist change upon me you're going to have to demonstrate quite clearly how that change will make my life better. If you can't do it then I will resist.

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Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

"Today's middle-bell computing consumers feel liberated from the thrall of geeks, I think..."

I think that is partially true but, speaking as someone who spent nearly two decades being the geek of the family, isn't it also partly the result of the exasperation of the geeks resulting in trying to make systems idiot proof? I imagine computer companies aren't any different since part of their quest is to reduce the number of tech support calls to zero. The ultimate goal is to have a 1/0 switch and [magic happens here] we get exactly what we want. I don't think anyone would complain, even Trevor, as long as the magic works but that's the problem. The magic too often doesn't work because the current attempts at magic are all misdirection without the amazing part.

Hmm, "Exasperation of the Geeks" isn't a bad movie title but it sounds a bit too much "Revenge of the Nerds" meets "The Net" meets "Plan 9 from Outer Space" for a general release so a porn movie perhaps.

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Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

When you have a practical monopoly, you can dictate terms, and Apple were so successful for so long in getting their consumers to do things Apple's way, that the mindset seems to have changed from 'What does the customer want?' to a kind of design imperialism...

Well-llll... yes, and no.

In the first design shop I worked in which used computers, we had an old CompuGraphic 7500 system, and a desktop micro using MS-DOS. Christ, what a headache, trying to remember all the secret languages and magic words just to get work done. Simple things like changing directories and copying files were a source of constant pain. I'd been there about a year when we got our first Mac system, and suddenly, doing all the basic things I needed to do to get the computer to do what I needed it to do were child's play. Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer. What a breeze. That's a text file, that's a bitmap image file, that's a vector graphic file, that's an application. Put this here. Put that there. Create a "folder" and stash my stuff in it. Put this INIT file in there, so it'll load when the system boots. Things like disk space and memory management were suddenly a piece of cake. With the Mac GUI I could finally concentrate on getting my work done instead of trying to remember the secret languages and magic words. It's been nearly thirty years, and I still actually enjoy using my computer and experimenting with it and releasing my inner geek, despite my not being formally trained in IT.

That said, as much as I'm occasionally jealous, I don't think I'd want an iPhone, based on my observations of my wife with hers. I tried to use it once. What a pain in the ass. Even my skinny, bony fingers are too big and clumsy to work the interface properly; I have to use one of those fake "fingers". I can't customize the UI. I can't use any apps that aren't Apple-approved apps. I like the quality of the images and sound from the camera, but that's not enough to make me want one. I fiddled with a friend's iPad for a bit; it was fun to play with for about five minutes, but there was the same pain in the ass as with the wife's iPhone. My friend thinks his iPad is pretty cool, but I can't run what I want on it, I can't customize the UI, and it's pretty useless for what I'd want a tablet for, which makes it decidedly uncool to me.

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Re: Very glad that someone is at least thinking about this

>Today's middle-bell computing consumers feel liberated from the thrall of geeks

I see no evidence of this. It's possible I'm hanging out with the wrong people, but a quick survey of the web shows that surprisingly large numbers of people are doing geeky things like rooting their phones and tablets and making apps for them.

They're not turning into instant Linux deities, but the idea of Joe and Joette Average rooting a complicated device with dd and ssh would have been unthinkable twenty years ago, back when most of the population had no idea what the Internet was.

The massive non-takeup of Win 8 just proves the point. Too many people look at it and think 'Fuck that'. They're not buying it - literally.

They are buying iPhones and S2/3/4s and such. But the genius of skeumorphism was to physicalise complicated tools and make them instantly comprehensible.

Most people know how that goes now and are willing to move up a level. So this is not the time to be herding the non-geeks towards the happy land of brightly-coloured Fisher Price computing.

What people actually want is tools that get out of the way. Some of them care about looks too, but most people just don't want their time wasted. And the most recent disasters - including Win 8 - aren't about change for the sake of it, but about forcing everyone to waste time for no net benefit.

This is not the way to win friends and influence social media.

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Paris Hilton

Porn Movie Title?

How about "Ejaculation of the Geeks!"

I fear the cast would consist of a lot of socially inept blokes and a one attractive woman. You can make up your own "plot"

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Re: "What people actually want is tools that get out of the way"

Brilliantly said !

I will be repeating that.

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Re: "What people actually want is tools that get out of the way"

Spot on.

The 'MS knows best' way of operating really irritates me. Then they have the gall to ask if I would join the customer improvement programme? Yeah right, going by recent events they pay lip service to that at best.

I want an OS that gets out of the way and lets me do the job. MS isn't alone here btw.

Gnome3 and Unity are also on my 'crap list' This trend to dumb down the UI is all well and good if all you want to do is ...

Play MP3's, Watch Videos, Surf the Internet, Send Emails and write a document or two. Go beyond that and they fall down miserably (IMHO and I accept that others may have different opinions)

(all I want for Christmas is Gnome2, Cinnamon does not hack IMHO).

yours, a grumpy old man who really did get out of bed the wrong side today.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Porn Movie Title?

How about "Ejaculation of the Geeks!"

Oh dear. Someone discovered hands free.

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If only we had "Mom's Friendly Robot company"

Everybody loves mom!

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Data Dumbassery

Management of Humans by data alone removes the 'gut' feeling innovators thrive with. It is an attempt to mitigate or eliminate risk or dissent that puts growth into silos to the detriment of the business as a whole. HP is a good example of purely 'analytical management' in practice: Elimination/scale back of engineering and R&D and focus on services. Profits jump temporarily, but the overall business has been hobbled and any foundation for future growth had been eliminated.

There is also the big question of interpretations of the data... Statistics are dangerous when applied to Humans as can be evidenced by the heavily weighted questions posed to focus groups. Either the data itself is manipulated to meet the needs of those asking the questions or the questions are designed to almos guarantee a finding. Focus groups are an offshoot of 'analytical management' which gets back to eliminating the 'gut' feeling. Everyone is scared to make decisions without supporting data and it is cancer to creativity and innovation.

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Unhappy

Re: Data Dumbassery

Of course they are scared. Getting fired sucks. Getting sued sucks even more.

But having the whole world know you were incompetent in the first place is unforgivable. So you blame the first person with anything near to responsibility.

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Totally with you on both Sony and not using search as a means of firing up programs. Good article.

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Trevor's relationship with Sony is almost identical to mine, although Sony earned an additional red flag in my case, every single Sony device I have ever bought has failed within 18 months of purchase. Agree with search for programs, it really doesn't work for me either, although I do actually enjoy using a Bourne Shell variant, so typing/word memory doesn't seem to stop me there. I think the key point about Bourne Shell is that it hasn't changed for 20+ years. GUIs come and go every couple of years, and that is a problem.

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The rootkit was the end of Sony for me. I only nearly copped it; but -as resident nerd- did have to clear off a few friends and family machines. To be honest, I'm a little conflicted with M$ making such a bollocks of the new XBox; but I'm still not giving Sony any money. Or microsoft unless they seriously get their act together.

My personal memory palace is (as a vague nod to the 21st Century) is Classic Shell; which gives a Win98/XP-style flyout menu which I organise according to classes of programs (games, office, system, graphics etc.) so I can find everything quickly. Can't really get on with command line...I always manage to find the one full stop or space that will completely wreck the computer. Plus remembering stuff is really not my forte.

I do have searches: the wonderful Everything which is good for finding out where the hell that download went to and the equally wonderful FileLocator Pro which is supremely useful for searching though code; but I don't want to be buggering around remembering the name of apps...when I fire something up; I'm already using my processing power for working out what I'm going to do with the program when it loads. Having to stop and remember the name of the damn thing would definitely throw a spanner in for me.

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yep

I know what it does, which toolbar it's supposed to be on and I know exactly what the icon looks like. Why should I remember the name?

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re: search as a means of...

Totally with you on both Sony and not using search as a means of firing up programs...

When my wife is looking for a Web site and is uncertain of the domain name, she types it into the search box at Google, f'cripesake. Whenever I try to point out that it's not going to hurt anything to just take an educated guess and type it straight into the Firefox location field, she pitches a fit. Bahhh...

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Re: re: search as a means of...

Did she perchance try visiting the White House's website a decade ago? I had a social studies teacher that accidentally sent my class to the .com site instead of .gov, back before Web filters were any decent. If you don't know the domain name, it's very possible to get hurt just taking a guess, and that's one of the reasons search engines exist in the first place.

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I want what I'm used to! It still does the job!

I know a writer who insists on using Word 97. That's how she writes, and it doesn't get in her way. I tried getting her to move to Open Office -- she tried and tried, and hated it. So I'm gradually accumulating systems that run Windows XP, because Windows 7 doesn't play nicely with Word 97. She shouldn't be stranded in a world where she can only get Windows 8+. It would ruin her livelihood.

This is where the market for refurbished computers shines.

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Re: I want what I'm used to! It still does the job!

VMs, including the one that comes with some (more expensive) versions of Win7, may be an answer - XP will soon stop receiving security updates.

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Anonymous Coward

"XP will soon stop receiving security updates."

This is what MS want Joe Public to think. In reality, security updates for XP will continue to be developed and distributed, they just won't be distributed through traditional channels.

To a different set of customers than the desktop PC ecosystem, MS have said:

1) Windows XP Embedded is Windows XP, just packaged and licenced differently

2) Windows XP Embedded security updates will be available until 12 January 2016 [1]

The work to provide those security updates is already paid for. But Microsoft apparently don't think that's enough; MS want Joe Public to get off XP and onto the latest greatest MS OS.

MS will probably be half right; quite a few people (from Joe Public, corporates, and from those in between) will soon be giving up on XP. How many of them will stay with MS in the current state of MS and Windows 8 and Android and Apple is a somewhat different question. The clued up folks are already having that thought.

Of course if MS continued to distribute the security updates for XP during the timeframe FOR WHICH MS HAVE ALREADY COMMITTED TO DEVELOP AND DELIVER THESE UPDATES, customers/users etc who are happy with XP would have less reason to look elsewhere. While MS were doing that, they'd have a chance to fix Windows 8.

Separately: someone outside MS taking the XP Embedded updates and "back porting" them to XP Classic would have to look carefully at the licence under which such updates were provided. It seems highly unlikely that reverse engineering or redistribution would be permitted. But you never know till you look.

[1] Sources:

http://support.microsoft.com/lifecycle/?p1=3220

http://blogs.msdn.com/b/windows-embedded/archive/2011/02/17/support-lifecycle-transitions-for-windows-xp-embedded.aspx

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Re: I want what I'm used to! It still does the job!

For large documents with lots of narrative text, I use a set (for structure) of .txt files and just keep typing and proof reading (multi tab editor) until I thnk it's right. Only then do I copy/paste into Word/LO and start to think about page layout and paragraph trimming, etc.

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Unhappy

Re: "XP will soon stop receiving security updates."

Your point about XP embedded is technically correct, but my guess is that MS will deny "desktop XP" users these updates simply out of spite. It just seems to be the way the company operates these days. I think, as the article notes, they are "trying to copy Apple".

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Re: simply out of spite

Hardly. To push users towards the failing Windows 8 more like. Big corporations (Apple's ongoing litigation shenanigans excepted) tend to do things to make money. Do you think keeping XP going is going to make MS much cash? I don't.

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Angel

MacOS is there for you

If you want hierarchical icons and consistently placed menus, you should be using MacOS. Apple has always been better at having Human Interface Guidelines (even if they don't always follow them), and they haven't dramatically changed the interface since the switch to MacOS X. The downside is they've never fixed the OS X Finder, which still sucks at the basics compared to the Classic MacOS Finder.

I think a search-based interface is crucial to manage the complexity of modern systems. A hierarchical clicking system is fine when you have only a few files, but as the number of files goes up then it becomes unwieldy. The worst is the Windows XP Start Menu: Non-alphabetical, multi-column, with sub-menus jumping out at you like bogeymen if you don't move the pointer to the correct selection with the proper grace. When MacOS X 10.4 and Windows Vista introduced searching that worked, I was pleased to use it.

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Re: MacOS is there for you

A search-based interface is fine if you take the 'handbag' approach to storage...essential to have it as an option. I organise my files as they come in, though, so I only need to search if I've lost something or it isn't where I thought it was.

The XP menu is fine; but again you benefit if you organise things as they come in. Every program you install comes with it's own folder and a bunch of icons and if you just leave it like that then -you're right- you end up with a mess. Usually, though, you only need one of those icons...the one that fires up the program; so if you just take the useful icons and categorise them then you can get a LOT of programs into a small, neat space. I've got somewhere north of 100 applications on this machine and I can get to everything very quickly. You can have it in alphabetical order (Right-click --> Sort By Name) if you like. I do mine in 'most used at the top' so if I'm looking for something I use rarely, I start looking from the bottom of the list upwards. It does take a little time to organise things like this; but over the life of the computer you're going to be wasting much more time looking for stuff if you don't put the effort in.

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Re: the Start Menu

I strongly suspect part of the apathy for the XP style Start Menu springs from Microsoft completely failing to tell ordinary users how to manage the thing. It's sometimes obvious when the haters post about it's deficiencies they've just let Windows drop crap into it, without ever sorting additions, adding categories to the tree, removed junk or done anything to manage the ensuing mess. Without even noticing drag'n'drop works on it and takes seconds to undo what installers break.

Yet the same 'unstructure list' behaviour on the shiny new Start Screen is somehow magically more efficient...

My start menu has ordered imposed on it and in return I no longer need to remember where things are. I've effectively offloaded some of my cognitive load on the machine. It seems that I'm in a minority of people able to manage what installers throw at me, a minority that can be ignored in favour of dragging me back into the same mire the majority put up with.

To much concentration on metrics just drags us all down to the same level.

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Unhappy

Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

Ford Edsel anyone?

Somewhat ironically aren't most of those "corner cases" the reasons (or at least the justification) why most of those "bells and whistles" exist?

So you should be left with a core, fast application.

Yeah, right.

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Happy

Re: Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

You are correct in your observations. I just want to point out that I like the Edsel. They are just so queer looking I can't help it :)

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Re: Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

See also The Simpsons, the episode where Homer designs a car.

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Re: Design driven by "metrics" has a long and *dishonorable* history.

Someone built one

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Devil

Metrics and me...

Build in as many trackers as you like, I'll use NoScript and Ghostery and DoNotTrack and Adblock Plus and Flashblock and Ref Control and Beef Taco and any other software I like because I don't want someone looking over my shoulder every time I go browsing on the web!

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Re: Metrics and me...

If the majority of the geeks and people at one end of the curve do that, does that mean that the metrics, and therefore design decisions, are based solely on people who don't care enough or don't know enough to block the trackers?

This could speed up the effect of concentrating on the middle of that curve. Right up until adblocking becomes normal, by whatever means.

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Unhappy

Re: Metrics and me...

"Build in as many trackers as you like, I'll use NoScript and Ghostery and DoNotTrack and Adblock Plus and Flashblock and Ref Control and Beef Taco and any other software I like because I don't want someone looking over my shoulder every time I go browsing on the web!"

Unfortunately ADP has apparently succumbed to the almighty dollar of Google adverts:

http://www.neowin.net/news/report-google-paying-adblock-plus-to-not-block-google039s-ads

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Megaphone

Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

For any given piece of software, the majority probably don't know about all the features and there are a lot of people who barely know the basics. If you let majority voting drive the design of future versions, the result is a Windows 8^W^Wa mess.

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Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

So design by metrics is an algorithm that converges on a product with no features at all.

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Happy

Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

"So design by metrics is an algorithm that converges on a product with no features at all."

Well it will have an "exit" option on the file menu.

All users everywhere use that.

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Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

"the majority probably don't know about all the features and there are a lot of people who barely know the basics."

This includes software and interface design, programming (GUI or the other kinds), and most other human activities.

Reminds me of a Churchill quote: "The best argument against democracy[*] is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

[*] Surely a type of a metric applied to all of us, eh?

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Trollface

Re: Metrics tell you what but they don't tell you why

Not with TIFKAM. The exit option was the last barrier to a truly efficient app.

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search as a gui replacement

Had the terrible experience the other day of trying to help an intern with Ubuntu 13 try to figure out how to mount a samba share. Everything is search driven and it sucks hard on several fronts. Hadn't really appreciated what people were hollering about until just now as "surely, search is a supplementary method to getting what you want."

First, stuff isn't where I can find it easily without search (control panels, menus, icons, whatever)

But the search results themselves are damn worthless (won't find the thing I want)

*and* the access is slow as sin.

So, no added ability to get things without knowing what/where they are already, and worse access speed, and you need to *guess* to find what you want. That said, the quality of web search has progressed enormously in the last decade, so the QoR and QoS will probably improve. Still, this really seems like it ought to be a supplementary, rather than a primary means of access to important system tools.

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the sony case is interesting

I don't recall ever owning a Sony device, but the events mentioned came back to mind when I read the article. Yes, I probably have an anti-Sony bias as well, in all likelyhood driven by the backlash that I read on this and other similar sites/forums.

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Re: the sony case is interesting

That social magnification thing I talked about? Yeah...

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The blind

There was an interesting, almost throwaway, remark in that article on the lines of 'Considering the blind when designing web-sites'. There must be hundreds of readers of El Reg who design or operate web-sites - I run two myself and will admit I have never given anything other than the most passing thought to users with physical handicaps. Yet one of my neighbours is blind so I have less excuse than many.

How do you accommodate people with severe physical handicaps ? I suppose adding sound to your links would be a start, But how do you make a Club program readily comprehensible ? I could see it being necessary to make every date a separate 'sound bite'. How I would do this within the size constraints of a 'free' hosting arrangement suitable for a small Club, that too escapes me !

Chris Cosgrove

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Re: The blind

Blind people use screen readers. What you need are versions of your site that are easily read and used by those with screen readers.

It basically means writing two sites; one simple and textual for blind people. No fancy anything, no graphics, no fooferah. The other a pain in the ASCII CSS nightmare for the sighted.

Personally, all my future websites are going to be for the unsighted first. Content is king. The sighted stuff will come later, after we've finished beating the content into whatever is the visual aesthetic of the day. (Though I remain "not a fan" of a steamrollered-flat Metro-fetish of today's designers.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: restricted vision

You're not doing an unscreenreadable animated unsearchable unindexable Flash-only version then, Trevor?

Some people still do :(

Please would you help re-educate them. Thank you.

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Re: restricted vision

If you still use Flash on a website then you deserve nothing less than 2 weeks in the stocks in the town square. There's just no excuse for this on new websites. (Though I have some sympathy for it existing on older sites that haven't been updated.)

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Unhappy

Re: The blind

"It basically means writing two sites; one simple and textual for blind people. No fancy anything, no graphics, no fooferah. The other a pain in the ASCII CSS nightmare for the sighted."

Back when I was still on dialup I'd regularly load a site without graphics for speed.

I think I might try that with the reg and see what that happens.

Regarding images is the problem that no one bothers with a text description of the image rather than just some random string of letters and numbers?

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