October 23, 2009

Interesting Articles

I find myself reading a lot of tech news sites. I sometimes email these links out to developers or other technical writers if they are interesting or have applications to LabVIEW/NI, but I figured, why not share them with the world?

Here's are a few things I came across lately:
  • Don't offer preferences to users if you don't have to. I think about this sometimes as we design software here ... oftentimes I'll hear developers arguing over how a feature should work and I'll think "just make it a user preference." But recently I'm starting to feel like users can get overwhelmed by ginormous, scrolling Options dialog boxes. (Not to name any names, haha.) Similar to BBEdit mentioned in the article, the version of Lotus Notes we use at NI has a type-ahead filter in its preferences dialog ... so you can search for preferences among its ginormous list.

    I'd bet that a Jeff Foxworthy might say ... if you have to improve usability by letting users search through your list of preferences, you're probably giving users too many preferences. And I imagine that once you give users preferences, you can't remove those preferences in future versions. Because that ruins their editing experience that they've customized. Much better to not give the option in the first place and make an intelligently-informed decision about the behavior.
  • Users don't read -- or, they read the absolute minimum. This is a running joke in our department. And by "joke" I mean "concern". Does anyone actually read our documentation? I think many technical writers have this concern. And I think the answer is "not unless necessary." Personally, that doesn't stop me from putting my best efforts into shipping quality documentation. But it does mean we have to keep things in perspective. Although we support and provide polish for the software, we are not the software. That should be priority #1.
  • The science of irrational behavior. I find this article fascinating -- might have to pick up the book. I can this playing out when we determine ship dates -- but really, just about anything (a co-worker mentioned this behavior coming into play when determining how much to sell a TV for). The first person to make a guess sets the tone for the rest of the discussion. The Slashdot commentary on this article led me to learn about Planning poker, which is a) hilarious and b) really, really interesting. (If we do this at NI, I certainly don't see it.)
  • Ubuntu's first bug. This makes some of our issues look rather trivial ...
I'm a little surprised I don't read any technical writing blogs :-) Maybe I should start ...