Websites‘ Usability

There are some things on the web I don’t understand. For instance Wikipedia urges its users to sign at the talk pages. There is even some JavaScript thing saying „you have not signed, please put –~~~~ after your text to sign it“. Excuse me, but what the hell? You wrote a Juggernaut of a wiki. You run on a special software written for you and by yourself. You adapt it to your needs. Is it so damn hard to add six charaters after the user submitted text, if he submitted it for a talk page, and not for an article? You need two simple lines of code to do that. And then your users sign their contributions automatically. Like—without thinking about it. Without some stupid JavaScript having to remaind them about it. Without appeals to sign in six different newbee guides. Without a huge drama, when someone forgets to sign. It. Just. Works. By itself. Do not force people to do something, a machine could do better.

And this is the point of this posting. Do not force some human-controllable rules on people, if you can force it in the software. If you do not want your users to edit other’s comments: don’t allow them to do that. Don’t allow not as in: tell everyone they will be machine-gunned for editing other’s texts.  Don’t allow them as in: make the comments non-editable. Even for the original author. Hell, it’s even much simplier to do. If you really want your users to be anonymous, don’t let them enter their name first. Just put this tiny text box which says „Your name“ away. If you really-really encourage your users to be anonymous, but want a few geeks to have an ability to enter their name: keep the text box, but hide it in CSS. Normal mortals won’t play with it just to enter their name. If you do not want your users to post links to „bad“ websites—whatever your idea of bad is—just check each submission for a known bad link and disallow it. Mechanically. Spam filter, anyone? So, do not allow people to do something, they should not.

The real problem arises when you have to tell „good“ and „bad“ things apart. The picture, user has uploaded may be a detailed depiction of something really horrible, intended to shock everybody around. Or it might be a picture of a bathtub duck. You don’t know. Hence you need a human to decide. Well, you might ban all the picture uploading. And then ban hot-linking. And then ban links to image hosters. And all links ending in „.jpeg“. But you probably won’t. Because you do not want to limit the functionality of your site—if people really need pictures there. Which they probably don’t, but everybody around and his dog allow it.

To draw a line: best rules are rules drawn in software. You need to decide firmly what you want and what you don’t want. And instead of forcing people to do good things and not to do some other bad things, just let some good things be done automatically and some bad things be prohibited from being done. Automatically, again. But still in cases where you need to tell good and bad things apart, you’ll need a human. You need a human, when software fails.

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