Lawrence Liu's Report from the Inside

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Overheard at the library

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   True story. During my weekly trip to the local public library yesterday, I decided to use one of their Internet surfing machines to quickly check my e-mail. While sitting there, I noticed that the woman next to me is frantically looking for someone (tech support?) to help her. When the librarian arrives, the woman announced that she had just finished composing a very important e-mail and asked why she couldn’t find the files that she needed to attach to the e-mail. The librarian asked, “What files?” The woman responded, “The files that I worked on this morning with my PC at home.” Now, being a techie (and a bit nosy - sometimes I can't help it), I just had to stop what I was doing and perked up my ears. The librarian, not sure if she really heard the lady correctly, asked, “The files on your PC at home?” The woman, starting to grow a bit impatient, confirmed, “Yes, my PC at home.” The librarian tactfully explained, “Oh, our computers here cannot access your computer at home.” The woman reasoned, “But I can access the Internet from here.” The librarian calmly clarified, “Yes, but your files are on your PC at home, not the Internet.” The woman thought about this for a few seconds, then submitted, “Okay, I guess I’ll just have to finish this e-mail when I get home.” From the corner of my eyes, I could see that her e-mail was quite lengthy, and the next thing I knew, she closed her browser without hitting the [Save] button! So, most likely, she would have to completely retype her e-mail when she got home. I had the urge to say something, but before I could break the bad news to her, she was already out the door.


   I just sat there for the next few minutes thinking how much easier and automatic computer software still needs to be in order for this type of mishap from ever occurring again. If you have any stories like this, please share.


   I’d recommend that anyone developing Web-based consumer oriented software to include the library in their usability testing scenarios. At the very least, when you’re spec’ing out features, always remember to ask, “Yeah, but will this work well at the library?” :-)

  • Agreed. But I think Security and Privacy are important enough that they often overshadow ease-of-use and intuitiveness.

    I have a hunch that the woman would rather lose her email, than learn that ther email was ready by someone else sitting in after her. Next thing you know, KOMO4 is announcing "Emails sent from Local Libraries are for everyone to read. More at 10!".

  • My rule of thumb for usability is "Can my mom use it?" ;)