Framing Software

Software is frighteningly powerful today. With all that power comes the ability to really hand over all sorts of knobs and switches to users. Hey we built it, we may as well give the end users all that power right?

Wrong.

I use 37 Signals’ great little Backpack tool for to-do list reminders that I get via SMS and email. It’s a great tool and actually not overly complicated. Yet still, end users are still required to do some work to make it useful for themselves. In fact, the final step is a tricky one: formulating a useful usage pattern for yourself as a user. Remember, most end-users aren’t tech savvy or even care to be creative with how to “hack” software tool for their own purposes. People want a problem-solver out of the box.

Imagine, takemymedicine.com, built atop the Backpack engine that serves a single, very narrow, but very common purpose: it lets you know when it’s time to take your medicine. You can achieve this capability on Backpack with almost zero additional effort. In fact, to achieve this goal, some functionality gets shut off (e.g. the need to specify an exact date for a reminder). This is a good thing.

By framing the software to fit a real problem, you lift the burden of completing the puzzle for users. By applying constraints to what the software can do and by clearly conveying why the software exists in the first place, the purpose and goal become clearer. A less cluttered experience and a clearer purpose lead to a broader audience. My 50 year old aunt wouldn’t know what to do with Backpack. She may know what to do with takemymedicine.com. Less is more.

3 Comments Framing Software

  1. Max

    Humm. That’s the same fight between “User friendly” and “Lots of functionality”.
    It’s the same for some websites of some corporations. People are coming for the website for only a few reasons and except to find it on the home page. Most of those homepage though are full of content that are most of the time even not used.
    Nice little article.

    Reply
  2. Tom D

    Takemymedicine.com isn’t that far from a real site, rememberthemik.com, which is very much the site you are describing–and they do a better of of targeting the right people (i.e., people who have SMS-enabled cell phones attached to their bodies 24/7 and respond to every vibration). The will find you…anywhere it seems, when the site has a message to deliver.
    Depite the really stupid, over long name, remember the milk is actually quite a nice site.
    To quote from their site:
    “Receive reminders via email, SMS, and instant messenger (AIM, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, Skype and Yahoo! are all supported).”
    They do everything short of sending a pigeon over to your house.

    Reply
  3. Tom D

    Takemymedicine.com isn’t that far from a real site, rememberthemik.com, which is very much the site you are describing–and they do a better of of targeting the right people (i.e., people who have SMS-enabled cell phones attached to their bodies 24/7 and respond to every vibration). The will find you…anywhere it seems, when the site has a message to deliver.
    Depite the really stupid, over long name, remember the milk is actually quite a nice site.
    To quote from their site:
    “Receive reminders via email, SMS, and instant messenger (AIM, Gadu-Gadu, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, Skype and Yahoo! are all supported).”
    They do everything short of sending a pigeon over to your house.

    Reply

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