Treating User Myopia

I try not to talk too much about the trilogy here, because there's a whole other blog for that stuff. But some of the lessons I've learned in the last year while working on them really put into bold relief some of my earlier blog entries on usability and user behavior.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

It’s not as if the world is divided into users and non-users. Developers are also users of other applications, and they are as myopic as anyone else when using other people’s programs. (They may be even more impatient, not wanting to break their workflow.)

Once I realized this and caught myself myopically not reading dialogs in other applications, the point suddenly sank in and I became much more aware of this in my own work.

what business? This is a free site.

in case the concept of a word having multiple meanings is foreign to you:

“5. (uncountable) One’s dealings; patronage. I shall take my business elsewhere.”

Also, who do you think generates the revenue to keep the site going if not the users?

I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned this ( several pages of comments + at work == no time to read them ), but when I look at the question input page, one thing comes to mind.

The area where all those fun, awesome, helpful hints are? Same area that ads are placed in on other sites. Part of “user myopia” may be that after all this time, advertisers have trained people to ignore anything that isn’t content. So when a user sees the text input box, plus some stuff off to the right that is differently coloured, they ignore everything else because it might be an ad. I don’t think this is something that can be fixed, and for more advanced internet users, it may be a bit more of a problem – they’ve been exposed to more ads than your average user, so their blinders are even more severe.

I have the perfect solution to deal with this problem:

/     \
||O O||
||   ||
|| J ||
 |    |

It looks like you are trying to type a numbered list.
Would you like help with this feature?

“pre-populate the question entry area with some example formatting that is typical of the average question” - Please do! As well, I can’t see any formatting advice when adding a comment when the page is long.

I guess this is exactly why Apple is as popular as it is. If you would strip down all but the text input area you would then automatically contrast any clues you would place on the page. I mean i just think that there’s a lot of stuff on the page, things you need, like the title and tags but still.

And so when you have more than one thing which demand your attention, you immediately just try to get through everything quickly, because in the end you’re just trying to accomplish one thing.

Jeff is turning into a bitter old man. Soon, he will be screaming at users to stay off his virtual lawn while reading a computer shopper magazine and professing the virtues of a dead age.

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for the thought-provoking post. I dare say I am capable of reading and following instructions… but would be very unlikely to look at your helpful formatting guide or use the formatting toolbar. Like many busy users, I tend to focus only on the absolutely necessary parts of of a task or site. Also, as others have pointed out, your guide appears in a place (and is formatted in a way) that is similar to advertising – which I am adept at ignoring.

Don’t blame the user – simplify the interface.

heh by not reading last 250 comments I want to reiterate.

I want to notice that yes in your example your markdown screwed completely well formatted text. Your new line issue is for sure PITA.

Last week I asked the first question on SF. And I was also 1second away to post the badly formatted question. And then thought wtf when seen it on preview.

For me it was confusing to introduce additional double carriage returns. And yes i did not see/used any toolbars and your hints.
Why should I? It just filling textbox anyway.

So you would like some sort of animated character to appear in the middle of the text box, something like:

“I see you’re trying to enter a piece of code, would you like some assistance?”

Perhaps a dog, wizard, or talking paperclip?

Why not abandon the markdown editor and a “rich text” editor instead?

(Dare I say it? WYSIWYG.)

I tend to view markup tags as programmer’s detail. You (as the maker and maintainer of StackOverflow) care about markup, but your users shouldn’t have to. Its not our business.

That’s why you should have relied on a rich text editor, as Bill P. pointed in the other comment…

A wikipedia like approach is nice for technical people, geeks, power users, etc., as soon as you reach more “junior” techies you have to simplify your approach.

Screwturn Wiki for example has both worlds: you have the “plain view” where you place markup, and the WYSIWYG view (also supporting copy+paste of basic HTML). My girlfriend uses the rich view, I use the plain one, and both of us are happy :smiley:

One obvious improvement would be to use single carriage returns as line breaks. The input looks good by that, the preview doesn’t. That’s a bug. (Or maybe not, not knowing what will happen the other way around.)

Markdown is WYSIWYG – for ASCII.

Notice that the plain text looks no better in this case.


I’ll have to join the choir here - I’d use single CRs as a simple way to separate list items:

  1. do this
  2. do that
  3. etc

Only if the items are too long, I may add another CR between the list items.

And in the few times I’ve asked stuff in StackOverflow, I had to fight with the stupid formatting to get it to display the way I want.

Your “how the user sees the ask question page” screenshot is wrong, because it includes the preview.

Except the plain text does look better. It at least preserves the newlines between items in the list.

I believe you have your “here’s how the user sees the ask question page” drastically wrong. You should black in the lower half of your transparent section.

Even accounting for users who have Javascript turned off by default and those who don’t have their browser at full screen height (count me in both categories) it’s still baffling, not unreasonably, to be typing stuff and then find out there’s something showing you how it’s actually going to end up.

WYSIWYG really is the only way. And to be honest I’ve never seen the need for 99% of fancy formatting in forums and comment pages - most of the time it just works against people rather than for them (try the forums for some of the worst I’ve seen, which makes a number of commonly-typed notations ruin the formatting completely).

Better to do away with fancy features and leave people satisfied than throw bells and whistles at it and leave them downright frustrated.

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Markdown is WYSIWYG – for ASCII.

Except it isn’t, as your example in the main article perfectly illustrates.