Trusting the user
Friends trust each other. If a site is going to be friendly, it's good
to trust the user.
But where do you draw the line of letting them take responsibility for
their own actions?
Sometimes a particular user action
might have serious results, e.g. deleting data.
How do you decide when to step in and
help the user be sure they know what they're doing?
How much help is too much?
Example of too little trust
I'm using a work laptop running
If I create a folder in CAPS, it
'helps' me by changing my folder name to initial capitals e.g. "NAFTA"
to "Nafta". What could it do better?
- It could leave me the hell alone.
I'm the one naming the folder. If I want a folder name in caps, it's my
choice and my responsibility.
- It could change it to initial
capital - ONCE. But if I rename it back to "NAFTA", it should respect
my wishes. (Win2000 fails to do this. It thinks that, even if I
actively rename a folder to a term in full caps, I'm probably mistaken!)
- It could use some intelligence and
look the word up in a dictionary. If it doesn't recognise the word,
leave it alone. If it does recognise it, change it for me, but only
Too little trust 2
I used go on a networking website
When I posted a blog on this site,
there was only a Preview button. What you have to do is preview first,
to check the layout, then you get (re)Preview and Submit options. The
blog is only posted when you submit.
I have lost messages on at least 3
occasions because of this over-cautious behaviour! The problem would be
lessened if the result page after clicking 'Preview' had a bright red
banner saying "STOP, you haven't submitted your message yet!!".
What should they do? Users have the
ability to edit their blog messages, so why not trust them to check it
Example of enough trust
In this screenform, the user can
delete records from a database by selecting one or more checkboxes, and
clicking the button.
In this case, because the user has to
do two separate actions, there is no 'Are you sure..?' prompt. That
would be too much 'help'.
It can sometimes be appropriate to
present an 'Are you sure..?'. The decision comes down to a combination
of: likelihood of triggering the action in error, and severity of the
The Percentage Game
If in doubt, play a percentage game:
Estimate the chance that a user triggering an action (e.g. delete) is
doing it in error, and multiply that by the pain caused (the severity
of the consequences, out of 100).
e.g. Taking the form above, there's a
probability of 1% that someone clicking the button doesn't mean to
delete the records. Multiplied by a pain of 60/100, .01 x 60 = 0.6
Compare that with: the probability
that the user isn't making a mistake, multiplied by the pain of having
to click the confirmation. In this case, it might be 99% probability x
5/100 likely pain, gives .99 x 5 = 4.95 likely pain.
The prompt is therefore about 8x more
inconvenient than having the chance to make a mistake. That's why, in
that case, it's better to trust the user.