Using it Wrong

Our previous intranet was bad. This year’s is worse. A single representative example: This button breaks the intranet.

Click here to make sure no one else can read this…

Click here to make sure no one else can read this…

Before, you could mark a memo as “read” without causing problems. It wasn’t perfect, but at least the conceptual model was appropriate to the technology. My main gripe with the old one was that you had to “create” a file to access and delete a previously-created group message, which is nonsensical to anyone but, apparently, a Japanese engineer.

The new system is based on the traditional Japanese office model of circulating information: A cover sheet with a list of the relevant people’s names is attached to the circular. Each person checks off their name when they’ve read it, optionally filling in a read-date. When you’ve read it, you pass it on to the next person. The last person to receive and read it returns the circular and cover sheet to the originator.

In this picture, the ESC button reads “End” or “Close” in Japanese. The F8 button is, “To the Next Person”, and the last is, “Cancel Circulation”. The problem? That button is enabled for everyone, not just the originator. It’s right next to the also inappropriately labeled “Next Person” button, which functions as a read/receipt acknowledged button, so it’s easy to click by mistake.

Nearly 9 months after this system was introduced, someone still occasionally clicks on that button by mistake, or just because it seems like a reasonable action. Everyone has been told — multiple times — not to click on the 回覧中止 button because it removes access to the file. Yet it has happened even in meetings. Maybe half the people haven’t opened the file yet, but one early bird opened it, glanced through the contents, and then clicked the Forbidden Button. Everyone who tries to access the file after that either doesn’t even have an entry in the menu, or gets an error message, and then the originator has to re-upload the file and re-send a link message to the appropriate group list.

If people are “using it wrong” it’s often because you designed it wrong.

There are at least three very simple ways this particular problem could have been avoided:

  1. Don’t have the button there at all. The conceptual model doesn’t fit the use case. Allowing an end-user to stop access to a file that everyone can access independently or simultaneously is Bad Design With Big Fucking Blinking Red Letters Set In Goddamn Comic Sans.
  2. Disable that button for everyone but the originator of the message. If you insist on putting a Global Thermonuclear War option on the main message-receipt page, the least you could do is keep people from starting WWIII by accident.
  3. Don’t honor that instruction until everyone has sent a read/receipt token to the server. Having the button present and enabled is still piss-poor design, but at least you’re not letting the first person in a circulation prevent all other users from accessing it, or even knowing of its existence.