Business Technology

Software features the industry forgot

Everyone in the software industry knows how fickle users can be.  One wants it this way, one the other.  Everyone thinks that the interface or the features they need at this moment are what is most important.  Almost nobody really knows everything that the software can do, yet opinions are all over the place.   Somewhere there is a company guru (if you haven’t fired him) that knows the ins and outs, that has met many users, that has seen crazy applications.  But most of the time, everyone works the software in the “wrong” way.  You are clicking six times when you could automate it down to two.  “If you download the latest version and learn how to use that new menu properly….”

But of course, users don’t care.  They just want to get their jobs done.  Quickly and easily.  Without having to learn new things.  So even saturated product segments can be shaken up.   Here are two examples:

Media Player.   Settled matter isn’t it?  Windows Media Player, Quicktime, VLC…what more can we add to this simple software?   Here is one simple feature that would get me installing at the drop of a hat:  instant delete.  I get given loads of MP3 files.  Or I experiment with new types of music.   As I listen to a song I either like it (keeper) or don’t (delete).  I want one button to do it.  No, I don’t want to stick tags, or stars or rate it to delete later.  I want to send it to the Underworld of music not worth listening to ever again.  I listened for 5, 10 or 30 seconds and I don’t want to waste any more time with it.  Sure, the main use is for people downloading illegally.   Or with friends that download illegally.   But if that is how I like to occasionally listen to the Top40 (I usually weed that down to 3-4 songs that are bearable) that is the software I want.

A similar example would be photo management.  Here more companies seem to see the sense in a new interface paradigm.   I shoot huge files with my digital camera, even if it is not in RAW.  And then I want to do something with them.  So I have to resize them, edit them individually, stick together whichever pics were meant as a panorama, hide the faces of any friends or relatives that don’t want to be on the internet, watermark them… it is a lot of work.  Get some technology to do this automatically in “good enough” way please.  Locally, on my hard disk.  Most of the planet doesn’t enjoy broadband speeds and even if you do, uploading everything at full resolution isn’t usually the way to go.   Sure I could write macro commands….macro what?  We are in the age of simplicity.  Users are twiddling their thumbs at phones and tablets.  Just get it done.  If you wan’t to stick it on the back of Google Instant Upload or Facebook’s latest attempt at convincing me to trust them with all my pictures, fine.

These features may seem minor to a seasoned software developer.  It is a fad, you are just one user, you can do it in a million different ways already with other software, it isn’t really our main focus….etc.  But even I, the man who keeps his work computer carefully maintained for top speed and as uncluttered as possible, would probably install a new software to get them done.    User interface isn’t the thing anymore.  I am looking for a digital slave.



A new Facebook feature: The “I told you so!” button

Facebook is, essentially, a Content Management System.  (CMS)  Only it is a really, really, extraordinarily bad content management system.   Its search function is rudimentary to say the least.  There is little categorization and even less user generated categorization.  It is almost impossible to find something from the past.

To large degree this is because Facebook’s engineers are obsessed with making the interface impossible to automate.   Any script you might like to have such as “accept all” (friend requests) or “delete all” (messages)  is reverse engineered so as not to work.   It stops people like me from making so many false accounts and conducting experiments to some degree.   Which means the user has to jump through all sorts of unnatural hoops to get anything done.   “Who cares?   Isn’t Facebook just for wasting time and socializing?”  Well, yes, but even when socializing, some of us like to maintain a higher level of discussion.

Case in point.  Surprise, surprise, Lance Armstrong was doped.   Where are those discussion I had about this topic a couple of years back?   Who was that friend that insisted I was being extreme?   Whether I am simply a pedantic friend, or someone actually looking for an old joke in my status updates, this is a practically impossible task right now.   I would have to scroll down my wall for a very very long time and then use my browser’s “search” capabilities.   Depending on the kind of search this would be either difficult or impossible.  Multifactorial searches out of the question.   I can’t ask Facebook things like “probably a year ago, a female friend of a friend commented on something I wrote about homeopathy.  What was the name of the substance she recommended?”

It may seem petty or minor to you.   Some psychological deficiency of mine personally maybe that makes me want to make these things clear all the time.   Or a hypersensitivity to long term trends which I am always searching for.   I studied theory of knowledge at university and tend to make an extra effort to calculate long term odds for anything I see.  Cycling is of course “one of those sports” which is more susceptible to doping.   If you don’t see the point of such functionality, you were probably not around when Zuckerberg announced he wants us all to use Facebook as our digital life store.  Well Mark, do you mind if I organize mine a bit better than you?   It does seem that your main concern is making money and mine would be finding my stuff.