Wednesday 5 February 2014

Computers and Questions

"Computers are useless. They can only give you answers." -- Pablo Picasso

Picasso nailed it philosophically. But computers are even more useless when they try to ask questions. From the vaguely annoying "Do you want to restart your computer now?" (No), through "Do you want to automatically recover your [document/tabs/settings]?" (No), through "Do you want to install updates?" (No), through "Do you want to subscribe to the pro version?" (No) all the way to "Do you want to sign up for Google Plus" (No). I can't think of a single instance when any piece of software has asked me a useful question.

Even worse is stacking several of these questions in a row. Signing into Gmail sometimes gives "Do you want to give us your phone number, for your security and convenience?" (No, I want to read my emails) "Are you sure, a few minutes now could save you hours of frustration in the future?" (Show me my damn email now), "Do you want to sign up for Google Plus?" (No, No, and for the fourth minus one time, No).

And yet you can go further to ensure maximum user frustration. Three or more stacked questions, all blocking, before you show the user what he originally asked for might sound bad enough; removing the "Never ask again" option is one step further. But to reach the levels of many modern apps, remove the "No" button entirely. The "Yes/No" dialogue has become the "Yes/Later" or "Yes/Not now" dialogue. Maybe even these are temporary luxury. How soon before this becomes the norm?

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