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Sunday, 29 July, 2007

Will someone in Yahoo please wake up...

Its good to be back after a few weeks.

Jerry Yang needs to do more than fill in for the Terry Semel. He needs to start opening his design team's eyes to its user population, especially in large markets like India.

I have been part of a very well known HCI forum in India and have seen the forum face one particular problem in Yahoogroups for the last one and a half years (or maybe more). The problem is thus:

Forum members post job ads in the forum for usability/HCI specialists. While replying, many members don't notice the default "Reply to: the group" option and end up sending their CVs to the group, embarrassing themselves and amusing their bosses and colleagues, all of whom are generally part of the group.

Then starts a bout of either yahoo bashing or blaming the members who reply thus or asking the moderator to change the settings. But nothing else happens. Members still make the mistake, as they obviously will but more importantly Yahoo never wakes up to the problem.

Doesn't Yahoo India know about this? If not, why don't their designers lurk on India's most famous HCI forum? Or is it because Yahoo India's designers don't have much say within Yahoo? Or is Yahoo sleeping over the problems of its huge user base in India?

The solution to the problem isn't all that difficult. Several options can be tried out and here are some off-the-cuff ideas:
1. Right now the "Reply to" area and dropdown are not prominent and get lost amongst the other stuff around. It could be made prominent visually with help of graphics, color, etc.
2. A dropdown might be an obstruction itself in seeing the other options and therefore an inappropriate choice of widget. Other options can be explored based on number of options possible.
3. Rather than having a dropdown and then a "Send" button, there could be both "Reply to sender" and "Reply to group" buttons explicitly located.

I am sure a few iterations of options tested with users will help arrive at a better solution than the obvious nuisance we have today.

Jerry, you'd better wake up and take notice or else forget competing with Google.


Anonymous said...

Hi Saumitri
I liked the approach, how you posted in your blog about the most recent issue on HCI groups. Quiet Interesting…

Keep posting...

Suresh JV said...

Why should they, when they've given proper control to the forum moderator, to keep the proper setting in place. Now why/how would yahoo control someone's behavior, when the user makes the same mistake(!) from a google or microsoft mail client. I feel your posting is kind of irrelevant.

The definition is in the mail header on where it should send the reply. The mail client behaves accordingly. I feel it is the responsibility of the sender to check where he is sending the mail.

PS: I don't work at any of the mail client providers.

saumitri said...


If the moderator changed the default setting for "reply to" from "to group" to "to sender", users would end up sending all mails intended for the group to the sender (a single person), defeating the whole purpose of discussions in the group.

So its not an either/or option and hence giving control to the moderator is not enough, which smacks of functional-centric design and not user-centric design.

User centric design is about coming up with a design that forgives the user for his mistakes by reducing the chance of making that mistake and possibly eliminating it.

And the fun is that its something that is possible by design - just a little bit of ideation and user testing needed.

Suresh JV said...

" --which smacks of functional-centric design and not user-centric design.--"

:) If you see the context here, the expected thing user would in a forum is to reply back to the forum and not to the individual [This is an exception here and not the rule]
Should YahooGroups look at one user's behaviour [HCIIDC is the user] to change design! And can YG change other mail clients even if they want to..?

saumitri said...


You say - "If you see the context here, the expected thing user would in a forum is to reply back to the forum and not to the individual..."

That is exactly what is happening in case of the job ads... :-) and it is expected that users will behave that way.

I didn't get your point about exception and rule... :-) but a good design takes care of exceptions too, especially those that arise out of possible mistakes users can make.

You say - "And can YG change other mail clients even if they want to..?"

We are not talking about mail clients, but about user behavior in a group - and the context in both these cases are different. A mail client like yahoo mail or gmail is a personal account and users expect it to behave that way. Yahoogroups is a group discussion forum and user-expectation is based on that context (as you mention in your comment yourself).

Suresh, it seems to me that we might be speaking about the same thing from two different perspectives - you are willing to blame the user for his mistake and I am unwilling to do so, since I believe in what Andrew Dillon says -

"To err is human, to forgive design"

Suresh JV said...

Now I might be seeing your point. If I understand correctly, you want the job ads to behave differently than regular posts. That's excellent redesign if YG can (!) do it. I was not trying differentiate between regular posts and job ads. Amen.

- Suresh

Anonymous said...

I read your mail on this on Yahoo groups. I am glad that you have posted the same to your blog as well.

Keep posting,

anvaka said...

Hi Saumitri!

Do you really think somebody in Yahoo reads Google's blog?

It would be great to have a possibility to shout and to be heard by any company you're shouting to :).

I have a strong feeling that we are missing something between disappointed users and companies that lead to those disappointments. This "something" should simplify communication between these groups.

PS: I found you, because you've mentioned about GlobalLogic and I'm subscribed to Google Alerts on this term :). I'm working now for GlobalLogic here, in Kharkov, Ukraine. So, nice to meet you :).

saumitri said...

Hi Anvaka,

This is a new world. You can't imagine the power of blogs and public forums.

Shouting out your problems does reach the right ears... it works.

Keep posting,

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