Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Humanizing Software


A recent conversation at the IA MeetUp got me thinking about various traits that can humanize software. That is, behaviors that are coded to either wear, grow or learn with specific user. At one point, Apple's crayon color pricker would wear the crayon the more you used it. This in turn acted as a flag for your favorite color. Some splash screens, in iWork's Numbers for example, don't give you an option to "Don't show this again", but instead hides the screen after a certain number of launches. Additionally, if you don't open it for a while, it will show the screen again(I haven't verified this behavior yet). On the personalization front, most efforts stop at the "Recent Files" list in the File menu, or opening your last file when you open the app.

There seams to be more potential though. Cooper talks about software that learns with the user and adjust to match their use patterns. Web sites take a step towards this when they remember the username or country of choice. Are there opportunities for software to user not just the last tab you were on, but the most common one you use? Apple's spotlight search does a similar thing. Typing in a partial name will show the most common result, you have to type more to reach there rarely used files.

There is also the people behind the software, the ones that built it. We seam to prefer that software shows no sign of human intervention, software that just appeared magically in our computers. At my work, we recently had a issue where a very rare error pop up a dialog reading "Notify Paul". This seamed to be an embarrassment for the company and quite a mini panic. If there dialog would have read cryptic programmer code, I'm sure this would have been handled as a usually bug. So why are we so afraid that the developer or design peek through the software. In fashion, many brands bare the name of the designer. Fine restaurants also flaunt their chief's name. Even cars use their founders name as if to promote their entrepreneurship and passion. Its there an opportunity for software to spread this type of passion and brand loyalty. Apple comes to mind in the way Steve Job's passion and eye for design seams to resonate though each product they deliver.

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