Sunday, 13 February, 2005

The Aggravation Factor

One of the things that software developers seem to forget is what I call the aggravation factor.  Basically, everybody has a threshhold for futzing with something.  That threshhold differs from person to person, of course, but in most cases people want stuff that just works, or they want complete documentation available in a single place.  Most computer users are stretching beyond the limits of their comfort zone just to download and install a new program.  Once installed, they want it to work.  No fuss, no muss.  The more users have to configure, the more likely they are to throw up their hands, delete the thing, and tell all their friends that the program doesn't work.

To most users, polish is more important than technical features.  Users are more inclined to put up with slightly buggy features and technology that's a step or two behind if the user interface is well done, the documentation is good, and the program doesn't astonish them too often or lose their data.  Users for the most part don't understand fine technical distinctions.  Give them the choice between a clunky interface to bleeding edge technology, or a smooth interface to older technology, and they'll almost always choose the better interface.  That's just the way it is, and complaining about or calling the users stupid isn't going to change anything.

This little rant brought to you by WordPress, an open source personal publishing platform.  I downloaded and installed it on my test server last night.  The installation instructions are good, and everything went smoothly.  The program works great.  Except now I have to dig through dozens of menus, and search through documentation scattered over several sites just to configure the thing the way I want it.  The WordPress-driven sites I've seen sure look nice, but I don't yet know how much work it is to create and maintain such a thing.  I think I'm going to give MovableType a look before I continue fighting WordPress.