Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Joel on Social Interface Design

Joel, of "Joel on Software", has a new article about usability -- or not just about usability, but about "social interface design". I think it boils down to a couple main points: (1) usability of the interface is important, but not super critical if you have a truly compelling product, (2) the way to make a compelling product is by gauging and tuning the way that it will help people interact with it and with each other. He gives an example of the latter in discussing how to handle a user who posts inappropriate material to a forum:
So a good social interface designer might say, let's not display an error message. Let's just pretend that the post about Viagra was accepted. Show it to the original poster, so he feels smug and moves on to the next inappropriate discussion group. But don't show it to anyone else.
This is similar to an idea Philip Greenspun had about how to handle troublesome users. If you simply ban them, they just re-register with a different name. Better, he suggested, was to throw some intentional delays into any request made by them. In the end, the user thinks there's a problem with the site because it's so slow and doesn't catch on that the mediocre performance is custom tailored. (I would give a reference to this, but I heard him describe it in a talk and it doesn't seem to be in written form on his site.)

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