I had a very useful and informative call last night with some folks from the Portland Usability group, organized by Frank Spillers of Demystifying Usability (a recording of the event is available for the next month). They had a lot of really useful feedback as they walked through the Developer Preview of Flock, explaining their expectations of certain interface elements and expressing confusion when they couldn’t figure out what terminology like “Star this page” meant or what a “Shelf” might be used for. Feature discoverability was another big problem; for example, they really thought that the history search was an awesome feature… but only once they found it!
On the one hand, a lot of the work that I’ve been doing since we launched our Preview Release was validated. Much of the confusion they experienced has been addressed and hopefully resolved, though I look forward to doing more of these events both prior to and after each major release.
And since I was also able to give a high-level overview of where we’re going with Flock and what our vision of the web looks like (more sharing of timely “me-created” content than static-library-lookup-information old skoolness), they were able to point out aspects of Flock that didn’t seem to fit that vision — many areas, again, that we’ve been actively working on.
One thing that I didn’t expect — and this is more due to my own developeresque myopia than anything else — was that sharing to the group implied email! Yeah yeah, I know, what? Of the six people involved (albeit a small sample but nevertheless of fairly technology-familiar folks) only one knew of Del.icio.us… and that was Frank, the organizer. I purposefully chose not to explain what delicious was before we got started, instead interested to see how the group might discover or at some point desire “bookmark sharing”. Well, that never happened. At least in Flock (chalk one up for the Firefox del.icio.us extension).
Everytime they thought of sharing, they instantly turned to email (only Frank had previously blogged as well). So we’d get flows like this: Create a collection… Ok, want to share? “Oh, right click and email it!” Create a snippet in the shelf… Ok, want to share? “Oh, right click and email it!” And so on.
This was fascinating feedback. Apparently we have much to do to evangelize blogging, favorites sharing and similar socially-centric web services (Flickr had no traction with the group either) if we’re going to bring the benefits of Flock to folks who haven’t yet discovered that there’s a rich social social social world awaiting them!
…and yes, this really gave me even more enthusiasm for the direction that Flock is heading. We’re just a couple years ahead of the curve for the quote-unquote longtail, which honestly is a very very good place to be right now.