Sunday, March 27, 2011

Spoiled for Choice

I was at a fast food joint yesterday and ordered the "meal" which consisted of a hamburger, fries and a soft drink. Nothing special there, a normal fast food lunch. At least until I met the Cocal Cola Freestyle (R) machine which announces that it has 106 choices. Far from having the desired effect, it pushed me to a simpler modele iced tea dispenser. That got me thinking in the time between sitting down and the burger/fries being ready.

Why do I want that much choice? What effect does that much choice have on my desire to purchase? Are there studies on done on choice overload? I was clearly suffering from choice overload myself!

And yes, there is at least one study It dates from 2000, Columbia University and can be found here. A key finding (quoted from the artice directly) is "....people are more likely to purchase gourmet jams or chocolates or to undertake optional class assignments when offered a limited array of 6 choices rather than a more extensive array of  24 or 30 choices."

I see choice explosion all the time. Overly configurable software, shopping options when buying travel, brands of chocolate. You name it, we have so much choice over things that end up giving us distinction without difference. That is horribly wasteful - we have to use significant brain cycles in order to drive to a decision when fact there are no sensible criteria against which to measure the distinctions.

The sad part is that my experience "when faced with too much choice do something else." looks like it is a default human behavior and leads to the opposite effect that the marketers actually want.

I have long said that the hardest technology decisions are those made when you can't properly distinguish between the contenders. When asked to justify choice we end up choosing with the "gut" and then backfilling or fudging the "objective" data to justify the choice.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Downgrading the XOOM

A month in, it feels like I may have bought the wrong tablet. That's quite an admission having dumped a whole lot of $, but the XOOM just isn't good enough. The culprit? Google itself. Its applications and environments are so unseamless, so unintuitive and so arrogant as to render the device a pain to use.

It's a bunch of silos not a nicely integrated whole. So what has my ire and indignation? What was the last straw? iGoogle. I was playing around with it - and it magically became my home page. I couldn't find a way of reverting the home page to the google android page. Even when resetting to "default", I get iGoogle.
Why is that bad? Because the bloody calendar displayed there doesn't show me my Google calendar - that carefully synched ruler of my life. There are no, zero, none, nada appointments in the iGoogle calendar. So what's going on, I wonder? And it says clearly on the iGoogle home page it may not work properly on tablets. Then give me a way to not have it - bastards.

Then there is the general rant (admittedly on the desktop/laptop) where the irritating autosave causes me to lose characters when typing. And Google's phenomenally arrogant attitude ("it's a feature, we know best, now go away and let the people who know how YOU are supposed to work tell you what to do")

The crassly stupid email (even for connecting to corporate mail) where the visible size of the address field shows just one email address (in to: CC and BCC) making it really hard to edit addresses.

The idiocy of having to accurately place fingers on text that you want to edit. Some arrow keys on the keyboard would be pretty handy sometimes.

The half hearted integration between email and calendaring.

The Android market - it renders in landscape only. If I was in portrait mode then selecting the market means I have to physically rotate the tablet. It seems to turn into some elaborate plate spinning ritual.

In other words, the user experience software is terrible. The operating system itself and the underlying capabilities of the device are excellent. Extremely reliable, good battery life, etc.

Now if Google would stop trying to develop software that humans have to touch we would all be better off.

Apple may control the developer experience, but the user experience seems somehow freer. Google opens the platform for developers, but the user experience really suffers.

What's a poor user to do?

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Rant against Google

The attitude of Google around Gmail/Blogspot etc. is just unconsciable. You mayind some weird contractions in ths post (in fact there is one on the previous line it should say "may find", not "mayind").

Google has an autosave feature on gmail and blogspot. How can this be bad you ask? The answer is that
  1. I can't disable it (you will take it our way and there are no exceptions - Shades of Apple anyone?)
  2. When autosave kicks in (in this case on IE9) it suspends the recognition of keyboard events. So whatever I was typing while autosave was taking place gets lost. Hence there will be letters, punctuation and white space missing from posts and mails.
  3. I can't change the timing - it happens every 30 seconds whether I want it to or not.
The Google position (from forum, etc.) is

"It is a feature. But if it is causing problems, then the feature has bugs. You fix it by removing the bugs, not by removing the feature.
The fact that the draft is causing an error means that there is a bug someplace. (It might be a browser or add-in problem rather than a google problem, but there is still a bug.) If you want to work on getting rid of the bug, follow my instructions above.
Saying "any feature that has a potential for disruption should be fully user-configurable" is not at all helpful. If you talk to a software designer, they would tell you that there goes the path to madness. EVERY feature "has a potential for disruption", but every time you add a configuration option you make your software more complicated and MORE prone to breakage. The solution is to make features work correctly, not to add hundreds and hundreds of configuration options."

This is directly copied from "Joshua's reply" I don't know who Joshua is, nor what responsibility he has. But judging from the amount of angst there has been around this, and the crass insensitivity of his answer above, I hope he doesn't jave product direction nor customer facing responsibilities for long.
Oh and one of the (many) links (primary sources) for this rant is at

I understand Apple's walled garden (orchard?), but Google's not at all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Adventures in VerizonLand

VerizonLand isn't quite Wonderland and I am not Alice. But there are some similarities...
A couple of weeks ago we bought Motorola Xoom devices. Nice they are too. In fact we like them a lot. No worries there. While in the Verizon store a rep asked us to see if there was a way to reduce our monthly billing. We have FIOS, phone service a couple of mobile phones and the Xooms. So we are quite well kitted out. Of course what was really wan was for us to switch to FIOSTV, but we have resisted that for years. We did find a way of saving some $, - so far so good. The rep mentioned that we were "eligible" for the Verizon hotspot capabilities - and of course they are free. Cool, I thought. So far nothing terribly strange.

Eventually I get around to the sign-up for the wifi services. Thee provided by the Residential group within Verizon (not the Wireless group like you might expect). The penny had yet to drop with me. So off to the website, and once I had gone through the mental gymnastics of password recovery, waiting for a PIN etc. I felt that I had stepped out of Louis Carroll and into Samueal Becket. Managed to get over that.

Off to the link I went, and the system wants to install something on my desktop. Now this computer is a boat anchor. It is never going to access an external wi-fi unless I make a special trailor for it and house my own portable generator.So that's just plain nuts. However I was already into it - I had my flamingo as it were and had started playing croquet. Eventually it installs. I get this nice tote telling me to visit a Verizon web site to get access from other computers.

The only computers that need to have this feature are th XOOM and the DINC (an Android smartphone). So of course I attempt to go to the website to activate the XOOM. I manage to get the first layer sign in - but t wants something I don't have and can't possibly have. Trip to Verizon store later and am told that the application isn't available for the XOOM. I scratch my head and clean my ears thinking that the one device that could really benefit doesn't have the capability. So I ask again. Same answer. The assistant tells me that the "XOOM is a wireless device and is handled by Verizon Wireless and that the WiFi service is a residential service and handled through residential group." No sense of irony there.

I think perhaps Verizon really has had its head cut off and that its parts are flailing about independently.