Thursday, June 21, 2007

Keep it simple.

The librarians got their first group look at the link resolver on Wednesday. Bill Svitavsky took us through a basic run through of how it works (take a look at any of our databases if you want to test drive it yourself. Look for the "find fulltext?" button.) We then discussed the format of various pages and wording choices etc.
Dorothy Mays did a great job of keeping us on track with keeping it simple and focused on what the technology is supposed to do: enable a user find fulltext of an article they are interested in. All library software packages come with lots of bells and whistles and the temptation is to make use of all of these options. As librarians we can all think of situations in which a particular feature may be useful for our own work with users or for one sophisticated user. The trouble is that as you add those features the screen fills up, obscures the main purpose of the page for most users, and confuses more people than it helps.

I was reminded of this when I read James Surowiecki's piece called "Feature Presentation" on the Financial Page of the May 28, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. Surowiecki makes the point that, "although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive. It turns out that when we look at a new product in a store we tend to think that the more features there are, the better. It's only when we get the product home and try to use it that we realize the virtues of simplicity." (p.28)

This is another view of Christiansen's "disruptive technologies" argument. Successful corporations design products and product enhancements to meet the needs -- or requests -- of leading established consumers with whom they have a relationship. Those consumers ask for bells and whistles to enhance their sophisticated use of the product. This adds complexity and cost and thus leads to a disruptive market entrant creating a simpler, cheaper, paradigm shifting product that attracts users frustrated by the cost or complexity of the market leader. Peter Murray maintains a good blog about this

In our implementation of the link resolver we are determined to resist this and stay focussed on the needs of the majority of our users to just find the article. Our deadline is July 25th, when the Crummer School "begins" its ceaseless round of programs again. So you can judge whether we have succeeded then.

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