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Sunday, September 16, 2007

Grandma factor

I've been reading around different stories about how we're not making our systems enough "grandma"-proof (that is to be "easily" used by grandmas. Sorry grandpas, you're probably not too appealing for the cause).

In fact, I've written something like that myself some time ago. That doesn't mean I've changed my mind about that essay, I just adopted an attitude.

What I am thinking now, when considering things said in that article, is that designing a system for an "average" computer user is becoming less relevant. I do think that usability must go as one of the first and foremost important features, but nevertheless, making our systems oversimplified (Gnome anyone?) is a totally wrong thing to do.

(Regarding my Gnome remark, I just saying rather large opinion that I hear around. I use Gnome myself, and it is sufficient enough for me. But also is a Xfce and MacOS X, and in some degree Windows and KDE. I just want to say, that in some projects, craving for simplicity overshadows main goals of the projects - and that is to deliver functionality. And Gnome's "simplicity" was the factor that turned Linus Tourvalds to KDE)

In fast technology race, the functionality can be beaten by usability. But usability means "convenient use", not "simple". Any system that simplifies on expense of other important aspects, is destined to fail.

All I want is that technically oriented crowd would differentiate between the so-called "average" user and everyone else. My wife (wife to be in a short while) uses a computer without significant problems. She just doesn't like how some things are done (such as MSN Live upgrade forced up on her. She liked it the way it was, and she doesn't like to be forced to do anything, as we all don't).

In the world I live in, there's almost everyone knows how to handle a computer. For better or for worse. And you know what? My dad is a grandpa now, and he can handle complicated computer tasks very well. Do you know how? I'll tell you how.

Because he's a grown intelligent person, that can take his time to learn a new thing. Just like he did once when remote controls for everything began to appear.

What I'm trying to say, is that we should probably stop using a "grandma" factor as a major "usability" measure. Many computer users are not that illiterate anymore. Almost all newly grads for last 10 years (who lead many businesses today) are comfortable with computers. Many college students grew up with one.

So, I think there's a need for yet another level of usability. A community needs to find another type of a person that will test a usability of a product.

It should be an advanced computer user, who are not afraid to try new things, who understands what a new product is and what is usability and how can it be assessed.


Try me for that.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

"In the world I live in, there's almost everyone knows how to handle a computer"

I have a strong feeling that you confuse "people who know how to LOOK like they know how to handle a computer" with "people who actually understand what they are doing and what the abuse of software abuses is doing to our society".

I've met people (very smart and competent in their profession or hobbies) who had been using computers in an office for about ten years and trained newly hired people to "click on "that small drawing of a TV up there" to save their files and I could go on for days with such examples.

Software is still advanced dark magic to 95% of the general population. It's just that most of them by now have been forced to use computers (by social pressure or workplace requirements) as trained monkeys, enough to LOOK comfortable.

My main objection on how the FOSS community should deal with the "grandma factor", however, is another. Does it really matter which software people use for their own private stuff? Should it matter?

Instead of discussing what a "Linux for Gradmas" desktop should look like, I prefer to explain in the right way to Grandmas and everybody else why it is in their OWN interest to make sure that Free Formats and software are used in Public Administrations and usable in everyday life.

In other words, I am convinced that in this age is much more urgent to convince everybody to ask that Free Software and Formats are used AROUND them, rather than searching for the right way to migrate everybody and her cat to Gnu/Linux

For the record, this is just what I'm trying to do with the "Family Guide to Digital Freedom" book (http://digifreedom.net/), and I always welcome feedback and comments on these themes (see on the website how to contact me)

Ciao,
Marco Fioretti

Dave said...

Making any PC - Windows or otherwise - to behave like an appliance for the older generation is a worthy cause and one that is better suited to linux. My father - a Grandfather - is beyond understanding or using a PC due to parkinsons. I have given up rebuilding his old Win98 pc as he just stuffs it! Mum has no idea and no real interest as it is "too hard". I think that there is a place for a well locked down simple GUI for older people who dont understand / want to fiddle with computers. Linux of any flavour possible running off a live CD on low spec hardware could be configured to provide a minimist GUI with a browser, email client, VOIP and wordprocessor would cover 99% of an Grannies needs to communicate with their children without the pain of MS / Viruses etc.

Make a nice project

Dave

Alex said...

Marco:

I understand what you're trying to say, but to many people to even understand what "standard" or "format" means is not an easy task.

What I'm trying to say is that in current time, ALL people are being educated in computers on that level or another, and trust me, within certain age groups, computer literacy is at very very high level.

In few years along the road, you'll be in a situation, where much larger portion of a population has a big clue about computers and computing systems. So, will you keep "grandma"-testing? What for? For whom exactly?

Grandma factor was born out of this situation, where the majority of people do not understand computing. In few years, that will not be the case anymore.

I'm saying the moment is now. Rethink your testing strategy.

Dave:

Yea, I get you. That's what my article I linked to "Computing for Grandma" was all about.

Anonymous said...

Alex,

thanks for answering. Comments inline

I understand what you're trying to say, but to many people to even understand what "standard" or "format" means is not an easy task.

I agree completely. And I say that it is much more useful and urgent to help people to understand what these things mean and how they impact their own civil rights today, than making them use Linux (or any other software).

This is exactly what the Family Guide to Digital Freedom is all about. Fifty very short chapters, average length 3 pages each, which explain what is happening and why it is bad, no matter how much computer (il)literate you are.

I have done my best exactly to create the best gift every hacker could buy for his or her parents, friends, relatives... who simply don't (want to) care about software and similar issues. There is, for example, a 2/3 pages chapter which explains just what "format" and "standard" mean, in terms with everybody can understand. Another one which debunks, in the same style, several myths about e-voting (http://digifreedom.net/node/52). And another which shows how chosing the wrong software directly harms the environment (http://digifreedom.net/node/81) and so on.

In this context, I fully agree with you that it is not so important to make FOSS really easily usable by today's senior citizens. There are much more urgent things they need to know and vote against as soon as
possible. Buy my book or not, I am sure this is the direction to go.

What I'm trying to say is that in current time, ALL people are being educated in computers on that level or another, and trust me, within certain age groups, computer literacy is at very very high
level. In few years along the road, you'll be in a situation, where much larger portion of a population has a big clue about computers and computing systems


First of all, this is apparently true only in (some regions of) the USA. Other Western Countries are quite different. Apart from this, all my research and experience, from what is really happening with ECDL (http://www.linux.com/articles/41660) to a very recent talk with a USA Linux User Group (http://digifreedom.net/node/94) seems to confirm that:

- even in "high-tech" countries there are still very, very few people who really understand computing enough to see and care about the consequences, no matter how much they use computers. But the kind of computer literacy which is being pushed to the masses is not the one which will make FOSS widely used or relevant, to say the least

- this is the moment to act, that is to gather as much popular, non-geek support (not necessarily adoption...) as possible before it's too late: before TCPA and similar totally lock computers, before OpenXML locks people and governments even more to proprietary platforms ( http://www.linuxjournal.com/article/9594#mpart7 )... We only have a few years from now to stop this.


Grandma factor was born out of this situation, where the majority of people do not understand computing. In few years, that will not be the case anymore... Rethink your testing strategy.

Summing it up, I still worry that you greatly underestimate how little understanding of computer there is, but I do agree with your final recommendation: "rethink your testing strategy", because if you waste time and effort trying to make Linux grandma-friendly, instead of
convincing people to vote today FOR FOSS, it won't matter how much grandma-friendly Linux has became. But if you gather popular support for FOSS protection and deployment... yes, there won't be any real need to oversimplify Linux interfaces.

Thanks,
Marco Fioretti

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