Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Showing just the right download instructions

When I chose to download Joost on my Mac, I got to a page that showed me the instructions for downloading and installing Joost on a Mac using Firefox. Every screen in the instructions, from the Downloads window of Firefox to the installer in Mac OS X, matched exactly what I saw on my screen.

When I later installed Joost on my Windows PC, I got a similar page with instructions for installing Joost on a Windows PC using Firefox. This time there was a slight mismatch in some of their screen shots, but overall it was pretty accurate.

And I guess if I had used Safari on the Mac or IE on Windows, I would also have gotten a page showing the correct instructions for that combination.

It looks like a pretty small thing for the comfort of the end user, but I imagine a lot of work must have gone into this. Imagine all the platform combinations you have to cover and the number of screen shots you'll have to take.

And all that effort will not be appreciated by the average user. They'll just see the instructions and at best say "hey, those are easy to follow". And that's a Good Thing (tm).

Normally if as a developer we've spent a lot of time and effort to create something we'd like the users to notice that it took time. But why is that? Is that because it's good for the user to notice this new feature? Or do we want them to notice, because we want them to see how much work we've put into it? And why should they care?

I once wrote a post for my company blog about this topic, titled "doing the right thing":

  • Did you ever proudly show off your work to someone only to have them respond with, "Yeah... how else would you do it?"

    Well I have. And the first dozen times it happened, it annoyed the hell out of me. After spending hours tweaking the functionality so it worked exactly as expected, how could they not see the beauty of it??? How could they not appreciate the effort it took???

    Luckily wisdom comes with age and in recent years I've started to realize that this reaction is actually the best compliment you can get. You've solved the problem in a way that seems completely natural to someone who's never seen the solution before. As [any usability expert] will probably gladly confirm, this means your solution should pass most usability tests with ease.
And to me this is exactly what the Joost developers/web masters have accomplished: a solution that works exactly as most users expect it. Of course they shouldn't show a generic instruction page with sections for all operating systems and browsers mingled together. Of course what they did is the only sensible approach. And of course they don't show a message on how good their solution is. Of course this is how we'd all do it, if assigned a similar task and enough time. But I definitely appreciate the fact that they solved it this way and would like to publicly applaud them for it: great work people!

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