We felt guilt. Wracked with pain.
It’s the mid 1990s, and computers are impossibly hard to use.
Anyone who could program them, and who also cared about people, was ashamed.
So we fixed it.
It took a while but many of the key insights from that furore benefit us all every day.
For example, on an iPad, or in Google Docs, you don’t need to remember to press save to not lose your work.
It’s now impossible to start a new Internet company without its proposition being clear and explicable to the general reader, with a control flow that leads anyone through to a happy conclusion.
The most important revolution in the technology of information is now accessible to billions.
It’s every other industry that sucks.
Music – I live in Liverpool, which I suspect has an interesting, thriving music scene. But it is completely impenetrable.
Look at the flyer to the left (click for larger version). If you haven’t heard of Wretch 32 or Spank Rock, it tells you nothing.
What genre is the music? How varied is it? Might I like it? How much does it cost? What is that weird fuzzy blob in the top right, and the strange # sign? What’s an early bird?
If it was a computer startup it would be held to an even higher standard – you’d have to assume the reader didn’t even know what a “festival” was.
And this is one of the good examples.
Partly I think it is in cliques wanting to keep people out as they don’t have room in their venues. At least, that is how I feel as an outsider. Just like normal people felt about computers in the 1990s.
Every time I walk past a wall of such flyers, I gaze longingly and mystified. With no time, with no usability, I move on.
Another starving musician loses access to my discretionary spending.
House buying – Diagrams such as this are complex, but actually make it look relatively straightforward.
The process, especially in the UK, is insane.
The incentives are distorted, customer service low, paperwork excessive. And that’s even when you’re paying a decent lawyer.
Let’s just say, Steve Jobs hasn’t had any influence over the design of the property purchase system.
There are obvious improvements Government could make, but they screwed them up.
Estate Agents are locked into old business models, and seemingly don’t care.
Sellers stubbornly refuse to drop prices to actually sell their property, as if the market was being fixed by an evil demon, rather than natural laws of supply and demand.
Buyers get the information they need at the wrong time, forcing them to unnecessarily renegotiate or drop out.
Mortgage companies require copies of byzantine sequences of documents, with no logic, sense or humanity behind it.
And heck, even the usable alternative of rental is unusable, as there are inadequate rights by social convention (no pets, no painting, no security of tenure…), and not even a decent system where the community of renters can praise good or shame bad landlords.
In short, it is crapper than even a 1990s computer by far.
Benefits and tax systems that are so complex, so time wasting you can’t optimise them, unless you are weak enough that your local council pays someone to work it all out for you, or strong enough you can afford tax havens.
Democratic systems so unresponsive, so unaccountable, voting not only seems pointless, but is pointless.
At mySociety, we were obsessed with usability from the early days. A significant part of its purpose is to spread “usability” to Government services, by involuntarily making them more usable.
Nowdays, parts of Government are valiantly trying to fix such problems, but even that has come from the computer geeks. At best though, it’ll be lipstick (really lovely lipstick! that will show the way! but still lipstick) on a pig.
Where are the people on the inside radically revamping services throughout their supply chain to be awesome? Fixing the “whole product” of Government.
I’m sure they’re there, but I’m also sure there aren’t enough of them.
(Next time all this annoys you, take positive action by slinging mySociety a donation, they’re taking action on it at all sorts of levels, not just in the UK but internationally these days too).
So yeah, enough guilt from us geeks.
When’s the rest of society going to step up, take responsibility for their parts, and make everything usable?