Life unplugged

There were two of us now. It may seem like a small number, considering the size of the total population. At least we were two, me and Dan who I managed to unplug yesterday.

– Remember one thing, Dan, never let them see you in public places. The sentinels can´t see you as long as you´re not tagged. But as soon as someone who knows you put a tag on you, they will find you.

Dan looked at me with tired eyes. The past 24 hours had been horrible for him. Not being able to sleep, constantly seeking any type of device.
– Are you saying there will be no more partying for me then? Ever? Don’t you get bored, just being here, without that extra dimension in your life?
I sighed and took a deep breath. Exhaled. Slowly. Obviously, we had a long way to go.
– In the end there will be no extra dimension, Dan. Online will be the only dimension. When all your friends offline have left you, when you do not longer care if you spend a whole sunny day or a whole summer for that matter inside a dark basement chained to your devices, when you do not longer remember how rain feels like on your skin  or the smell of flowers in spring. Then there will be no extra dimension in your life. Your digital you will be the only version worth your name.
– But all my friends are always online. They never wanna do stuff in the real world anymore. And if it’s just you and me now, what are we going to do with all our time?

Dan sounded annoyed. I could understand him. Remembering what it felt like to unplug and being separated from the devices that had me chained for such a long time. That irritating feeling of being drawn away from a drug I was addicted to. Constantly being somewhere else in the mind. Never taking part in life for real. Always the quest for comments and likes online. The feedback junkie. Like an actor getting kicks from the never ending applause from his audience.
– We have to continue the resistance, Dan. More people have to be unplugged or the world as we know it will seize to exist.
– I was quite happy with all the comments and likes. With hundreds of people following every step I took, he said with an angry voice.
– Were you ever happy yourself about the moves you took in the real life or was it just for show? To have something to write about online and getting high from people liking it?

Dan nodded intensively. I was about to lose him. It was time for the final stroke.
– If we continue this destructive behavior we will transform into feeders for the advertising intelligence. Our staring eyes are already the batteries keeping the social networks running, I said with a serious voice.
This must have made an impact, I thought, but noticed that Dan wasn´t listening anymore. He looked like he suffered badly from abstinence, desperately seeking a digital device.
– I can’t stand this anymore! Here we are, in a house where no one can see us, knowing nothing about what goes on in the online world. I don´t care if the social artificial intelligence swallows me in one bite. I need a device now!

Suddenly a phone started ringing outside. Phones were by far the most common gateway to the online dimension. We both ran for the door. I with the intention to keep it closed, Dan with the intention to open it. He got there first and rushed towards the ringing phone. The last thing I heard from him was:
–  Man! Do I have something to tweet about! It´ll be retweeted for ages!

This story is based on reality. Any resemblance to fiction is purely coincidental.

The feature creep, excellent bug to kill a concept

Two companies competed in getting visitors to use their search service. There was the Sweet Search company which had all the tools necessary to search things and there was the Right Answer company focused on providing the answer whatever it was.
The Johnson family desperately looking for the meaning of life, engaged in both search companies. With several hours spent on searching, their kids got bored and complained. Mr. Johnson had an idea and contacted Right Answer.
–          Is it possible to include a service for children while we do the search?
Right Answer thought for a while.
–          No, sir, that kind of service will not get you any closer to your answer, will it?
Mr Johnson felt annoyed about the sarcastic answer and immediately contacted Sweet Search.
–          A service for kids while the parents do the search? Not bad idea at all, Mr Johnson, Sweet Search answered.
–          Excellent! We will end our engagement in Right Answer and do all search at Sweet Search instead.

A while later the new service for kids was installed just next to the search service at Sweet Search. Several families switched their engagement from Right Answer to Sweet Search. The numbers went up and at Sweet Search there was celebration time all day long.
–          Maybe we should install a weather service as well? Someone suggested. I mean, it could be nice to see what the weather is like while you search, wouldn´t it?
–          Excellent idea, management said.
And so it was settled. A week later the new weather service was installed next to the kids service next to the search service in Sweet Search.

The day after, one of the employees at Sweet Search went to the management and said:
–          I wonder if it´s possible to install a service for the employees as well? You see, we all have a need to file different searches into categories and we have no where to put it.
Management thought for a while. What harm would a little service for the employees do? Probably nothing, he decided thinking about the excellent decision to install that first service for kids.
A week later the new category service for employees was installed next to the weather service next to the service for kids next to the search service.
Suddenly the numbers went down. There was a loss of 20 % in the client base only the last month. To counter the fall, Sweet Search installed an athletic search service designed especially for athlets next to the category service for employees, next to the weather service, next to the service for kids, next to the search service.
Now there was a loss of 50 %.

A local newspaper smelled headlines and started digging in it. Were people no longer interested in search services?
They went to see Right Answer and found out their numbers had raised by 40 % the last month.
The reporter at the newspaper got hold of Mr. Johnson.
–          Are you still engaged in Sweet Search? They asked him.
–          No, he said. We switched back to Right Answer a week ago.
–          But why? I thought you liked the service for kids offered by Sweet Search?
–          At first we did… but then we got lost in the search. There were so many different services that didn´t appeal to us. We didn’t see the forest for the trees so to speak.
Mr. Johnson approached the reporter and shook his head slowly before he continued:
–          You see, I don´t know what Sweet Search is offering anymore. Is it even possible to find things there? Or are things just left there?
–          Are you close to finding the meaning of life at Right Answer then?
–          You never know. At least, the search goes on! He said with a smile.

Recognize the scenarios from two familiar companies 2001?

These examples might be old but the fact still remains. Adding features for some visitors may harm the user experience for common visitors. The more you include unique features not supporting the main purpose for visiting your website or web service, the concept once so clear and obvious will transform into a container of content formerly known as the most powerful service on the web.

User friendly dead ends

Stephen was working in the Big Office. Doing his job day in, day out. Just like every other day, several tasks were waiting on his desk when he arrived in the morning. One of them had ‘Urgent’ written all over it. It was from Upper management and it stated: Produce new web service for hairdresser comparisons. Deadline: December 31.
With the new task in his hand, Stephen knocked on the door to Upper management. Like every other day, Upper management sat at his desk staring at his computer.
“This new web service for hairdresser comparisons,” Stephen said waving the errand in front of Higher management without getting any attention. “Can you perhaps be a little more specific?”
He felt tired standing there. Thinking of all the tasks that needed to be dealt with. When was it ever going to end?
“Orders from the top, it has to be implemented this year,” his boss Upper Management mumbled without looking up. And it has to be user-friendly.”
Stephen sighed. Only three months left. He could forget about taking that trip to Mexico over Christmas.
“That’s a bit tight,” he said. “But I’ll do my best and try to find someone who can develop the service. User-friendly.”
He didn’t expect to get an answer from Upper Management since he didn’t ask any questions. This was an order and orders from Upper Management were something Stephen had to deal with every day.

Back in his office he opened Google.  He typed ‘user friendly’ and ‘development’ into the search field. 3.540.000 search results came up. The first one was ‘The User-friendly development agency’.
“Perfect! Now we’re home and dry,” he said happily to himself, relieved that it was so easy to find a match. “Google is really great!”

Stephen met the User-friendly development agency first thing the next day. The agency representative asked him if he could be any more specific about the web service they were about to develop.
“It has to be possible to compare hairdressers. All hairdressers, that is, he said emphasizing ‘all’.”
The agency representative nodded and smiled.
“It has to be launched this year and, most importantly, the service must be user-friendly,” he continued, quoting Upper Management in order to make as few misunderstandings on the way as possible.
“Of course, the agency representative answered. We know all there is to know about user-friendly things.”
Stephen left the meeting with a good feeling inside. This task that seemed so tricky at first, turned out to be quite easy after all.
At the User-friendly development agency the new web service for hairdresser comparison was taking shape. The service made it possible to compare a barber with a stylist, an individual hairdresser with a whole hairdressing franchise. The solution was really awesome!
“So, what do you say, Stephen? Isn’t it beautiful?” said the representative from the User-friendly development agency excitedly about the new web service.
”Well… yes, it looks nice I guess”, Stephen nodded. ”Is it user friendly as well?”
”Absolutely”, the agency assured him. ”It is so damn easy to use, try it out yourself!”
Stephen sat next to the nice lady at the User friendly development agency. She showed him the different steps in the web service and how you were supposed to use it. Stephen clicked through the pages and yes, the buttons were really easy to notice. The pages had lots of information about the new service. He especially liked the comparison of saloon square meters.

On the way back to the office, Stephen visited the travel agency and booked the trip to Mexico. His former worries about not being able to travel at all, was all blown away.
Back at the office, Stephen didn’t even knock at the door of Upper Management.  He went right in convinced Upper Management would love this new service.
“The new web service for hairdresser comparison is here,” he shouted out as he opened the door. “User-friendly as hell!”
Upper Management giggled. He wasn’t alone with his computer today. Karin, his fiancée sat next to him.
Stephen didn’t understand what Upper Management saw in Karin. She had frizzy colorless hair all over her head and half of the face. It was a well-known fact around the office that she went under the name ’the woman in the brushwood’.
Karin looked at Stephen with something that resembled a smile behind all that hair.
“Excellent news!” she said. “You see, I am so goddamn tired of being the woman in the brushwood.”
Stephen turned red all the way down to his shoes. Was she a mindreader too?
“So now since we are about to get married next month, I’ve finally decided to fix this, she continued and pointed at the hairy mess. Even though I am deadly scared of cutting my hair.”
Stephen didn’t understand why she was pointing at her awful hair just after his victorious entrance. Why couldn’t she give him a moment of glory right now?
“Stephen, where should I go then?” she continued. “Which hairdresser does the best and cheapest bridal hairdos? The wedding is depending on you now, Stephen,” she said in an ironic desperate voice.
“I have no idea,” Stephen said trying to make eye contact with her underneath everything. “How would I know where you should go to have a bridal hairdo?”
“But you just entered the room saying there is a new web service for it!” Karin spoke loudly.
Higher Management looked at Stephen for the first time in ages.
“Well…the new web service makes it possible to compare hairdressers, not find the one you need.” Need so badly, he thought to himself.
“But it is really user-friendly,” Stephen continued in a falsetto voice. “For instance, you can easily compare the size of two hair dresser saloons.”
“Why would I want to do that” Karin asked. “I want a nice hairdo to a nice price with clients pleased with their new hairstyle.”
“I can show you how you are supposed to compare, how the service is supposed to be used,” Stephen said.
“How you are supposed to compare?” Karin laughed at him. “Wouldn’t it be better to build a service based on what you need to find instead of how you are supposed to compare things?”
All of a sudden, Upper Management rose from his former inactive mood and came to Stephens rescue.
“Karin, don’t be so stubborn now,” he said with a voice so soft that Stephen had to blink to see if it was the same guy. “You see, we have documentation supporting the fact that the service is user-friendly.”
Exactly! Stephen thought to himself. That was the whole idea of it. If you only understand how it was supposed to be used, it was the simplest thing to use.
Karin sighed.
“Alright then, Stephen, I wish you the best of luck with your ‘user-friendly-if-it’s-used-as-it’s-supposed-to-be-used-web-service’,” she said. “I’ll ask my question at some internet forum instead.”
“That sounds excellent, Karin,” Upper Management said, “surely you´ll get the answer of where to find the best hairdresser for this matter!”
Stephen returned to his desk. Pleased at last. He had been in charge of developing a user-friendly web service for those who want to compare hairdressers. Not for people like Karin who should never have left the brushwood in the first place.

<em>Is Stephen’s user-friendly web service going to be useful? Successful usability isn’t about constructing scenarios for supposed use. It’s about answering the real questions that arise from true user needs. Helping Karin find her way to the best bridal hairdresser and not let her get lost in the brushwood of user-friendly dead ends.</em>