April 20, 2002

Google imitates Ask Jeeves
Google Answers was just released as a "beta". Looks a lot like the old Ask Jeeves to me. Their FAQ does provide some additional info -- like the fact that answers will cost between $4.50 and $50.50 each.
Off to CHI 2002
Well, CHI 2002 kicks off today. I'll be "drinking from a fire hose" for the next six days. Just hope my brain has enough room for all the information. The people behind CHIplace have put together a blog for CHI attendees to share their thoughts and experiences. If you're not able to attend you might want to check out CHIblog.

Related info:

April 17, 2002

Dead men don't read email
Recently on SIGIA-L I got involved in a little debate over the value of e-mail auto-responders. My position was that auto-responders, when used properly, can add a lot of value. From a usability principles perspective, an e-mail telling you your order has been received provides a certain amount of system feedback and status. My feeling is that auto-responders should be used to provide additional information and value to users. For example, rather than just telling a user that their order was received, an auto-response can inform the user how to check on their order's status, when to expect a shipment, etc.

After reading The Case Against Autoresponders, I think it's time to clarify a few points about auto-responders:
  1. Auto-responses and the processes around them must be designed well like any other customer-facing content or system.
  2. Just because you can take some humans out of a process by automating some customer interaction, don't forget that there's a human on the receiving end.
  3. Processes should allow for a way to prevent the auto-response. Designers should allow for manual intervention to take the place of automated processes -- acknowledge that exceptional situations happen, like the death of a customer, and provide a way to handle those situations individually. Not all situations can be anticipated and some communications shouldn't be scripted in advance.

Autoresponses, if used well, can strengthen user trust in a company or site. If used poorly, they can make users feel like just another number -- another email address in a huge spam-sending database. Many companies talk about "building relationships" -- but the last few lines of the GrokDotCom article emphasize how superficial so many of these "relationships" are:

"My friend conscientiously sent emails to a number of online businesses who regularly sent both email and snail mail to her mom, requesting her mom's name be removed from their lists. Only one replied."

Clickz does a great job of explaining how to deliver value along with strong branding and marketing messages via email and auto-responders:

April 16, 2002

Web designer builds home out of Flash
"Conventional home builders aren't concerned just yet that they will become obsolete. "I see a fundamental usability issue with Flash homes," relates Greg Watson of J & G Builders. "For example, from home to home there will be design differences. In one house if you turn the door knob it'll open the door, but in another the house might start dancing."

[via xBlog]

Here's a past post about a site that only seems fictional: Dialing for Doritos

This is the best use of Flash I've ever seen...nothing like an "utltrainteractive kung-fu remixer" to spice up your day. Ja-ja-ja-jam on it.

April 14, 2002

Rising Costs of Free Web E-Mail
Oddpost is a new online email service that reminds me of Google when it was in beta. Within a few days of its release, more than 300 people have signed up for the $30/year Oddpost service. It just goes to show, once again, that a significantly better user interface can be used to sell products.

"Instead of the lumbering setup standard in Web e-mail, where each action takes a few seconds to complete, Oddpost gives you a quick, drag-and-drop design that looks and feels like a "real" e-mail program"

"The company spent no money on marketing and received no media coverage, but like the best technology often does these days, the site found its way onto various weblogs and discussion sites, and "we got slammed with traffic," Diamond said."

Related posts:
- User centered design sells products
- Outlook, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
Impressions after riding a Segway HT
Dan Bricklin has written a nice article on what it's like to actually ride (drive?) a Segway or "Ginger". His discription of how the Segway feels to ride was interesting. He said it feels as if it has four wheels, not two:

"Looking forward, you don't see the two wheels. In my mind, it always had four. (How else could it feel so stable?)"

"It always feels in control, never like it's coasting. That, and the low center of gravity (80 pounds under me rather than me balanced on a lightweight bike or something), distinguished it from other small personal transport devices. It reminded me of my few times on a jet ski on a lake (without the bumping or waves): When you stopped telling it to go, it slowed down very authoritatively."

After reading Dan's review I could see my mom, who has MS that affects her balance and endurance, riding a Segway. It seems like a viable alternative to a wheelchair or walker. My guess is the Segway won't be adopted widely as an alternative to cars, but Bricklin's final statement has a ring of prophesy:

"Gary hinted a bit to us about Segway's Stirling engine that with or without the Ginger could have great impact around the world. Remember, this is just the first general product using some of these technologies. There will be many more. Think of the Segway like the first uses of the microprocessor in a calculator, before the personal computer, PDA, flat panel LCD, DSP, GPS, etc. On my run when I saw a Vespa-like motor scooter putt-putt-putting along, I thought of the abacus."