[thelist] long, but gentle, rant about the non-ubiquity of technological knowledge (was RE: Newsletter as HTML Email)

Barney Carroll barney at textmatters.com
Thu Feb 1 10:36:45 CST 2007

Joel, nice to know someone's listening! Hehehe.

Your thesis is a good solid reminder of the needs and habits of people 
in general, something we should always be concerned with if we consider 
ourselves in away dealing with usability.

However, whereas I will often allow what I consider innate human 
intuition to override web conventions to an extent, I don't think people 
who don't use the internet should play that much of an influence on 
features that are - let's get this straight once and for all - beyond 
the scope of simply visiting a website in the first place.

Granted, we must never underestimate the sheer depths of human stupidity 
or stubbornness, and within reason we should design to cater for those. 
But if we confine our features to those utmost crevices, we are 
effectively disabling the higher brain functions of the vast majority of 
the internet-using public, who, as Steven rightly points out, are quite 
able to differentiate functions on a web page.

I maintain that there is too much patronising of the average user going 
on. If they can read text and follow links, there is a massive world 
open to them - one which we are responsible for enlarging and 
facilitating. If they /cannot/, I'd be surprised if they'll ever see 
your site, let alone go through the procedures of signing up to your 
mailing list or following it up.

Sure, I want user agent developers to make their products more open, 
more usable and more powerful, but they are already incredibly so - and 
it is only by developing and designing to the limit of the existing 
possibilities that we can allow users to access them. Likewise, without 
the ambition of web developers and designers, the software developers 
will lose the best guide as to how they should focus their efforts.


Simply placing an RSS icon in a little panel on your website (which is 
way too lazy, and far too common, for an emerging universally-useful 
technology) is not going to get joe public on your feed. My mistake is 
probably to assume that pretty much everyone looking to implement a 
mailing list or feed is a web information designer (what I do) - the job 
of telling them what the hell to do with that icon is up to you/me, and 
WE should make it clear. No one else ever will.

I mean, come on - mailing list subscriptions aren't generated by 
unlabeled bodiless text fields sitting in the middle of nowhere waiting 
for email addresses. You have to make clear what they are and how to use 
them. That's how they're always dealt with. Of course it isn't the 
user's job to figure it out - it's ours. If we can't, we have failed - 
but the responsibility lies with us.

It's not the users I'm giving too much credit, it's me. Hehehe.


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