ajax makes you forget about ui

So the other day we set my wifes father up with a new computer and got him going on the web with a Gmail account. He’s had a computer in the past and knows the basics of browsing to different sites, etc. I showed him around the net a bit and explained how to get into Gmail and so on.

The next day I figured we’d get a phone call or two on how to do something or other. The call came in around 8pm and he only had one question. “How do I open my mail?”. So I troubleshoot with him a bit about the URL he’s at, if he’s logged in and so on. He had done all that, but every time he click on his mail it just turned yellow.

Of course the problem was that he was clicking on the checkbox and not the subject words. Now if you look at that screenshot above you’ll notice that the checkbox is the only traditional UI widget in there. There is no indication at all that clicking the table row opens the message. No button or link.

For us technology inclined folks it’s a no-brainer, but for the “average” user it makes no sense. It doesn’t work like anything else on the web. So while AJAX/DHTML wizardry is very cool stuff on one level I think it’s important to remember to make your applications work as expected. Some indication needs to be given about what you’re supposed to do.

Now Google is obviously aware of this design decision and maybe they’re trying to “change the game”, but in my opinion creating a UI widget that gives no indication it is a UI widget is bad design. I’ve seen several other AJAX apps lately that are also using “invisible” widgets and it’s a trend which I hope falls by the wayside in the near future.

open source cms

“What I experienced was obtuse and complex software that was packed with gratuitous features at the expense of usability and user experience. It was software written by geeks, for geeks.” – Nice little article. I couldn’t agree more. Open source applications in general are very poorly done in terms of UI almost across the board. That’s why FogCreek can sell bug tracking software for $100/user when Bugzilla is free and why 37 Signals can sell Basecamp when there are hundreds of open source project management tools.

If I ever start an open source project (and I hope to down the road) the first thing I’m going to do is recruit some designer/UI types. These are the type of people who are rarely if ever get involved in the open source community and it shows. Geeks and designers are kind of like oil and water so perhaps that’s why the designers stay away from the Geek dominated world of open source, but that’s got to change if open source wants to become as successful in applications as it has been in infrastructure.

darth vadar blog

” There is a bit of bounce in my step today, notwithstanding the fact that all the diodes down the left side of my leg seem finally to be functioning smoothly. I ate a full breakfast in my hyperbaric chamber while listening to really loud music (Qui’hut Xillermott’s Sonata No.26) and then popped out to tour the bridge.” – heh, it’s not that bad actually….


it conversations

Since I’ve been working from home full time, I’ve really gotten addicted to IT Conversations. The talks make really good background for coding. Some are boring and I generally pick and choose ones that interest me. Here are a few I’ve liked lately:

R0ml Lefkowitz, Chief Technical Architect, AT&T Wireless

Jonathan Schwartz, President, Sun Microsystems

Philip Greenspun, Software Engineering

Clay Shirky, Ontology is Overrated (forgot this one)

mikes life

“I’m at the local Caribou Coffee early in the morning, wrapping up a brief chat between a client in Pennsylvania and a friend in Manchester UK, but that’s not unusual. In fact, most of my work day is spent on design and web projects for clients and colleagues in Europe and the US, and it’s been that way for nearly 7 years.” – Excellent post by Mike Rohde on how he came to work for MakaluMedia and his life working from the home office. Of course Mike did our logo work and is a great guy to work with.


Alex is porting Tasks to use ADOdb from straight MySQL. I’ve built HelpSpot from the ground up using it. I’ve been using it for several years and I’m really happy with it.

He mentions the trouble Postgres can be if your moving from a MySQL/SQL Server way of doing things. HelpSpot won’t be supporting Postgres initially, mostly because of a lack of experience with the platform. Hopefully down the road we’ll be able to add support for Postgres and Oracle.

stanford university newspaper sells links to anyone

Update to the Update: Looks like it was initially correct and as JD points out below the ads are on the .edu domain as well. Pretty shocking stuff.

Update: Looks like this might be BS since it’s on a .org domain. So now I’m just a little surprised Stanford hasn’t sued their pants off. 🙂

Wow, I can’t really believe this. Stanford, the school which owns many patents Google uses and the home of Google are essentially using their school newspaper website to give pagerank to spammers. For $300/month anyone and I mean anyone can post a link directly on their homepage. Check it out:


Look along the left side and at the bottom. Alot of casinos, drugs, poker, etc.

Does Stanford really need the $300 bucks? Here’s what their endowment page says:
“Stanford is fortunate to have one of the largest financial endowments among U.S. institutions of higher education. As of August 31, 2004, the value of the endowment was $10 billion.”

I used to work at a college and I’m really surprised they would even want to be associated with these types of organizations. The college I worked at was very careful about that sort of thing.

(via SEO Book)

star wars tv spots

The first 3 Star Wars TV spots are out. Well………… um…………… they stink baaaaaaaaaaad.

The trailer a month or so back really gave me hope. It was dark and had appropriate music, etc. These spots are just awful. It’s almost like a commercial for a cartoon movie. The music is upbeat and the voice over guy ….. oh the horror.

help desk priorities

I found this link via del.icio.us. It’s a guys tribute to the worst help desk technician he knows, it’s kind of interesting but not the point of this post. What I want to talk about is the screenshots of his help desks request tracking tool. Take a look:

It’s obviously a simple Access Database, which I don’t have a problem with but What I want to talk about here is priorities and urgency. You see these two fields in just about every commercial and noncommercial help desk application out there. As you can see here they default to medium. My guess is that they stay at medium most of the time. Right there that makes me a feel a bit like having both these fields is redundant and unnecessary.

Now if you think to the next step, let’s say something is urgent. Well you would mark it urgent and most likely make it a high priority. Well wouldn’t all urgent requests be a high priority by definition? OK let’s take it the other way and say it’s not urgent and in fact the help desk technician decides it’s a low priority.

In all my time talking with users about their problems few would every classify them as low priority. They may not be urgent, but low implies that a leisurely pace can be taken with finding a resolution. So what I’m saying is that I just don’t believe in prioritizing customer service requests. It ends up taking a bunch of time to figure out is this low, medium, high, low urgency, medium urgency, high urgency and in the end it usually just ends up being a guess by the help desk associate not a real indication of priority.

That’s why in HelpSpot there’s only one choice. A simple checkbox that indicates if the request is urgent or not. It’s usually easy to tell if something is urgent or not (lots of yelling 🙂 ). I think it’s going to be a time saver for the help desk team as well as making life a bit easier for level 2 support since they don’t have to worry about what something marked priority medium high urgency means.