Google Blogoscoped

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Geek Usability

Here’s a shining example of “Geek Usability”: the website for GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It’s a nice photo retouching software in the spirit of Photoshop, but distributed freely.

With Geek Usability, I’m actually referring to something which is hard to use because it’s too much tech-oriented. Now, if you don’t mention “tech words”, neither nerd nor “average” user will have a problem understanding you. But if you do use tech words and aim at developers first in structuring the website, the average user will face some barriers. Therefore, I think any site that’s aimed at making its product more popular for any user should put the average user in focus first, and link to more detailed tech information when necessary.

But let me explain, and start at the beginning. I’m entering “gimp” into Google because I want to install this on my Windows PC – I’m assuming that’s what most users will want to do as soon as the product goes mainstream – and after choosing the top result I’m landing on the GIMP homepage. From here on, I will count one step whenever I click a link or am forced to scroll one screen down on my resolution (1152x864 pixels, that is):

I think that was much too complicated to download the Windows setup. Now I don’t want to put GIMP down. Actually, it makes me sad the setup isn’t easier, because I wish all the best for this program. Nor am I saying GIMP shouldn’t have a strong aim at developers (it definitely should, as it’s open-source). All it should do is allow new users without deep knowledge of the product or its technology to give it a try easily. (That includes graphic artists with or without deep technology knowledge.) It can still put up all the information up to any level of detail by linking to it. Or is it intentionally techspeak to satisfy a certain geek ethos? In that case, I think the ethos might need some rethinking.

In contrast, here’s a page of mine with a software to download. It’s Netpadd, a programmer’s editor (so the page is definitely aimed at programmers, but that doesn’t mean I tried to make downloading Netpadd harder), and I’ll start with the first result for “Netpadd” in Google (which is the homepage):

(I was actually using SourceForge for Netpadd as well for a while, but then decided against it because their download pages are not simple enough.)

Another page of mine is I’m not taking these sites as prime usability examples. There are many easy-to-use sites like these, and I actually might want to improve a thing or two if I’d look over them in detail as they are both some years old. But again, the downloading of the QML Editor (which is also aimed at least 50% at developers, as it contains a full XML-based programming language) is much easier than downloading the GIMP:

The QML homepage still contains a lot of “geek” information (hey, I’m a geek myself). As a difference to the GIMP homepage – and many other homepages as well, though rarely this extreme – I’m linking to it in an “inverted pyramid” approach (I didn’t invent this; it basically means “put important information first, and get deeper into the topic later on”). If you have your own website, try looking at it from this point of view; “At which sentence do I lose the attention of a newbie? At which page do I lose the attention of a semi-tech oriented person? At which do I lose the person with a mild interest in programming?” See, you will never have to ask yourself “Where do I lose the internet geek?” because it just so happens the geek will hack the site if necessary to get the wanted information or download.

The only thing you need to worry about is to lose someone you might have something to offer for. And if all you have to offer is the source code to something, fine, then don’t aim for newbies, as they wouldn’t know what to do with this anyway. If all you have to offer is a tutorial on the new features of your Pythonperl programming language, fine, better put up a warning this isn’t going to be light on the brain. But if you do offer something of value for non-geeks, then put them to service first... and worry about MD5 sums later.


Blog  |  Forum     more >> Archive | Feed | Google's blogs | About


This site unofficially covers Google™ and more with some rights reserved. Join our forum!