For a Normal Human, she’s got decent aptitude with her PC. She worked with them in the latter part of her career, and she’s pretty skillful with the usual set of desktop apps. I got her set up with a Flickr account, and as you can see, she’s been uploading photos, adding descriptions, organizing them into groups and so forth. She mostly figured all that out on her own–she and Flickr can share the credit for that, I think.
Last week, my step-mother sent me an email saying that when she sent her photos to her friends, they could never see them. She wondered if she was maybe sending her friends the wrong URL or something.
After a little investigation, I figured out what the issue was. When she uploaded the photos, she was quite naturally selecting the ‘Private: Visible to Friends’ and ‘Visible to Family’ check boxes. This is total rational behaviour. After all, that’s her audience for the photographs.
Of course, in Flickr land, users need to have accounts and my step-mother needs to identify them as ‘friends’ or ‘family’ before they can view such photos. That’s pretty obvious to those of us who work with Web apps on a daily basis, but we’re only, like, 5% of the general population. Notably, in the pop-up help related to privacy, Flickr doesn’t indicate any of this.
I’m not trying to impugn Flickr or my step-mother here (she gave me her permission to blog about this little use case). I guess this is a little lesson in assumptions, and how web developers need to take care not to make too many.
More and more non-geeks are using these sophisticated sharing and collaboration online tools, which feature a whole schwack of new paradigms for people to understand. The web app needs to be many things to many people. It has to get out of the way of the expert user who’s ready to run, and it has to offer a hand to those taking their first tentative steps.