I can't think of a better example of this than with "virtual worlds" -- the kind of technology that Linden Labs and Protosphere have been trying to sell in the corporate space for years. Proponents will tell you it's so much more engaging than just a phone call or webmeeting. "You feel like you're actually in a real meeting." (Note to developers: you're not going to get anywhere telling me this complicated technology will make me feel like I'm in a real staff meeting. Make me feel like my real staff meeting is on a beach in Cancun and we'll talk.)
What's a software developer to do? Start with trying to understand the user's point of view. Here are four reasons why sane, rational people resist technology -- no matter how cool it might be. Here's a hint, rationality has very little to do with it:
- We want cooked food -- not fire. Imagine you're a caveman and someone has shown you the tasty goodness of charred mammoth. That's great. Now you watch your buddy hunched over a pile of sticks smashing rocks together for an hour praying for a spark. Someone else is nursing a burn on their hand because fire is hot. All in all, it's easier to just eat that critter raw. Unless the end result of using this tool is so compelling that it's worth the hassle, the status quo is easier.
- We want to save time -- not spend it on training. In the real world where you and I live, we are constantly battling the clock. It takes time and patience to learn the use of a tool. You can reach back on your shelf, pick up a manual, and find what you're looking for in the time it takes to learn how to use the help section in most software. (Outlook, I'm talking to you.) Yes, it's short-term thinking, but our first instinct is not to invest precious time learning something if what we do works well enough.
- If it was "intuitive," our ancestors would have done it. Nothing makes me crazier than struggling to learn something and being told "it's intuitive." No, it's not. You think like an engineer with an unnatural love for binary code. For me and most humans, anything more complicated than smashing something with a rock requires practice and context. Oh, and insulting me is not motivating.
- We've been here before. Remember 8 tracks, Betamax and Prodigy? When it comes to technology, the one thing we know is that the minute you get comfortable with something, it will be replaced by another version or a newer technology. For gadget junkies, that's part of the fun. For the rest of us, it's just exhausting, frustrating and expensive.
Oh, and one more thing specific to Virtual World creators: unless you're James Cameron, avatars are just creepy.
photo by flickr user L.Marie CC 2.0