Colloquium at Stanford
The Unfinished Revolution


Date: Sun, 30 Jan 2000 22:12:10 -0800 (PST)

From:   Eugene Kim


Subject:   User education

On Mon, 31 Jan 2000, Jeff Miller wrote:

It was interesting to hear that it only took an hour to teach a user to use nls/augment to the point where they could go away and use the system by themselves. Why is it that people expect to be able to sit down in front of a computer and use it without leasons? They never question the number of hour spent learning to drive a car or the amount of money they spend on driving lessons. While I agree computers, in general not in every case, should be easy to use. The potential power of the system should not be drained out of such a system in the name of usablity.

People aren't risking their lives when they fire up their word processor. :-)

You need to draw a distinction between a general purpose computer and its applications. Clearly, if you want to take advantage of the power of general purpose computing, you must be willing to traverse a fairly steep learning curve. But if you're just using your word processor, spreadsheet, web browser, and e-mail client, it seems reasonable to expect almost instant usability.

Donald Norman makes a strong argument for information appliances in his book, _The Invisible Computer_, where he compares computers now with electric motors in the early 1900s. Back in those days, Sears and Roebuck sold a household electric motor; you could then buy attachments that used that motor, including sewing machines, mixers, fans, etc. Nowadays, of course, these attachments are now separate appliances, and you don't think twice about the motor. According to Norman, because of the size and pricepoint of microprocessors today, it makes more sense to create specific, highly usable appliances rather than rely on general purpose computers with multiple software applications.



Eugene Kim