Posts Tagged ‘Software’

I’ve been using Remember The Milk (RTM) for a few months now and I’ve used it enough to the point where I can share my experience. I decided to start using RTM (feature tour here)because I felt that I needed some way to remember date-based (or calender) items. Writing stuff down on paper is fine but paper doesn’t remind you when something’s coming up, so I needed some sort of automatic reminder system thingy.

I’m one of those later-adopters, so I finally signed up and got an account. Once you’ve signed in, you’ve got to set up reminders and how and when you’d like to be reminded and that’s all there is to it. I get reminders daily from RTM now and though sometimes it’s a pain in the gluteus maximus, it’s been a sound choice.

RTM works in my favourite browser Opera, so that was a terrific plus for me. There are shortcuts to do most of the tasks, so that’s also something that I like. You can also email yourself tasks, so that’s something that I’ve used from time to time.

Basically, apart from a small glitch in the reminder settings (which had a workaround), I’ve not had any problems in the four or five months that I’ve used the service. I’ve got the free account and I think it’s been great so far. I’ve not used any of the other applications that are out there: I sorta zeroed-in on RTM and I’ve stayed with them.

I’m writing about RTM because it’s the application that I’ve used, but the main point is about using any application that does similar things. I think that if you invest some time entering the reminders initially, the payoff is worth it — it has been in my case. You can put in birthdays, anniversaries, bill and insurance payment dates, computer maintanence reminders (backup, anti-virus, cleaning), and whatever else that you need reminding about — basically anything that you can attach a date to, you can throw into a system like this.

Now, I’m so used to this system that I can’t believe I waited so long to use it. (Shows you that sometimes it’s good to be an early adopter.) Whether it’s RTM or something else, it’s definitely worth a test drive.

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I don’t know why people insist on sharing information using MS-Word documents. I’m not talking about documents where you need to collaborate on or edit or whatever else. No, this is about documents which contain information that is only for viewing.

For example, someone will send you an email with directions to their place, where the directions will be typed into a Word document and sent as an attachment to the email. That’ll need you to download the Word document, open it up in Word (or OpenOffice) and then read the information. Too much work. Here’s a tip: just type the directions in the body of the email and if there’s a map (image) to be attached, attach that to the email instead of pasting it into a Word document.

I’ve got nothing against Word; I’ve used it many times and will continue to use it. It just annoys me that people assume that everyone has Word installed on their computer. No, everyone doesn’t because it costs a bit if you want a licensed copy, not a pirated one.

If the information must be sent in a document form, especially stuff that doesn’t need formatting, plain text is a thing of beauty. Text files can be easily viewed on most operating systems and they’re so light, it’s like fat-free documents or something.

If you need to include formatting and / or graphics or need some sort of copy-protection (rolls eyes), you can use PDF. At least the viewer’s free and you can also print / convert PDFs for free. Also, you tend to find a PDF reader already installed on most computers now. It’s not the best format for the web (see my previous rant) but it’s better than a Word doc.

And, there’s always the option of using HTML (or derivatives thereof) when you’re sharing information on the web.

To sum up, Word is good for a lot of things — sharing information isn’t one of them.

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Gmail’s new additions

When I saw the new buttons in the latest version of Gmail (motto: we’re in beta, deal with it), I was pleasantly surprised.

Background story: I’m an archiver and an organizer and while I understand that searching email is easy and fast with Gmail, I still like some level of organization. So, archiving an email by marking it with a label and then clicking another button was cumbersome. The new buttons, as seen below, changed all that.

New Gmail Buttons

All I have to do now is to click Move to, select a label, and I’m done. This is so much better.

Next, I went into the Spam folder to check if any legitimate email was snagged there and clicked on one message. Here’s the warning I got.

Gmail spam warning

(I don’t think that the image capture is as clear as the original message.) The message immediately caught my attention (red probably does that to people) and the text alerted me to a possible problem. In short, the message did its job.

As far as design decisions go, these are not major ones. But, they’re really well done and deserve to be acknowledged thus. I love it when designers make changes that help users.

Thanks Gmail team. Now, if you could do something about that beta thing. Just kidding.

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After reading this article — The $300 Million Button — all I can say is, Wow.

It’s hard to imagine a form that could be simpler: two fields, two buttons, and one link. Yet, it turns out this form was preventing customers from purchasing products from a major e-commerce site, to the tune of $300,000,000 a year. What was even worse: the designers of the site had no clue there was even a problem.

The form was simple. The fields were Email Address and Password. The buttons were Login and Register. The link was Forgot Password. It was the login form for the site. It’s a form users encounter all the time. How could they have problems with it?

You can read the full article here.

The folks at 37 signals also tell us how a simple change helped them reduce chargebacks on credit cards by 30%.

Seriously. Usability. Like right now.

(Via the always interesting Jason Kottke)

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Many of you may already be familiar with this shortcut, so this is for those who aren’t. For websites that end in .com, you can type the name of the website (gmail or yahoo) in the address bar and press Ctrl + Enter, and the browser (works in Opera, Firefox, IE) will complete the address for you.

So, for example, if you wanted to access the CNN website, instead of typing http://www.cnn.com/ (or http://www.cnn.com/), simply type cnn in the address bar and press Ctrl + Enter. The browser will complete the address and take you to the website, in this case http://www.cnn.com/.

The drawback of this method is that you can’t access websites ending with other suffixes like .in, .net, .org*, etc. Still, since many websites end with a .com suffix, this is a handy shortcut to remember. It’ll save you from typing a few extra characters, which is a good thing for your fingers.

*: If you’re using Firefox, however, this How To Geek article will tell you how to automate .net and .org address.

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A couple of months ago, I was at a meeting with a prospective client. The developer (or project leader) was demonstrating his company’s web-based product to give me an idea of the work involved.

While watching the demo, I was easily able to pick out inconsistencies in the user interface, even though I wasn’t there to evaluate the user interface. Problems with hyperlinks (colours and fonts), problems with button use, problems with messages, problems with the flow of the application–they stood out in a demo, one where I was an observer. (Note: This had nothing to do with my eye for usability; the inconsistencies would’ve been picked out by anyone.)

When I pointed out a couple of these issues, the person said that they were planning to do a revamp of the user interface or something of the sort. The impression I got, however, was that they were talking about surface improvements in the UI more than anything else. Also, these were the sort of errors that could be fixed relatively easily and don’t require large-scale revamps in my opinion.

There were other problems in the application, ones that would take longer to fix, and that would need some kind of evaluation to find. The company, however, was looking at someone to create a user manual rather than someone to fix the inherent problems in the application. Now I’m all for user documentation but given how reluctant users are to read the fine manual, it makes more sense to invest some time into the design and usability of the application.

Think about how many times you’ve stumbled because of the way a product was designed. Now think about how many times you ran to the manual to figure out your problem. It’s more likely that you tried tinkering around with the product or asked someone before you read the manual.

Which is why it makes sense to invest in some sort of usability evaluation, internal or external, to iron out the flaws in the product. No amount of documentation will solve inherent flaws in a product and sometimes they’ll come across as band-aid fixes.

Sometimes you just need surgery to fix the problem.

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I was trying to register for a service at ICICI Bank and after entering the information and clicking Submit, I was taken to an orphan page (no links to anything) which displayed the following:

This error has occured due to a problem in the application setup
Please contact the Administrator of your Bank.

Now the question is, Who is the administrator of my bank? Is it the bank’s website administrator? (Probably) Is it the administrator of the branch where my account is? (Unlikely) Is it someone else? (No clue)

Errors will occur. What distinguishes the good applications from the also-rans is the way in which they handle errors. In this case, for instance, the message could’ve been changed to:

Oops. If you’re seeing this, it means that we goofed up.

Please click here to notify us and we’ll contact you when the problem’s rectified. Thanks.

I don’t think setting up something like this would be too tough. Sure, it’s an extra bit of work, but it saves your customer from being frustrated. Frustrated customers tell other people about their frustrations, which is not good for your business. Ask Dell.

Then again, I’m no Jeff Jarvis.

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