When it’s obvious to you but not to…anyone else

Do you know this feeling? You’ve been trialling a software package or online service for years. You think it’s great, so do your online community friends and you finally decide to share the love with your work colleagues. As soon as you do so, they discover a usage issue that you’ve never even thought about. It completely ruins the experience for them and makes your beloved application look like a piece of crap.

This keeps happening to me with Google and a large part of the problem concerns email addresses and Google accounts.

Here’s one scenario. You invite a colleague to be a member of a Google service (e.g. a shared Google Doc or a Google Group). You invite them using their work address (e.g. XXXX@uq.edu.au). Unfortunately, you don’t know that they also have a Gmail address. When they try to access the service, they find that they don’t have permission.

The problem is that you can create an account at Google using any email address but if you then create a Gmail account, that address becomes the default for all Google services. This is clear enough to me, as someone who uses Gmail exclusively, but it causes no end of confusion for other users.

So what’s the solution?

  1. Tell all your colleagues to get Gmail addresses, use those for their Google accounts and ensure that you know them all
  2. Alternatively – Google could let you choose which email address to use as your account login for all services

I can see why using a Gmail address for Google services makes sense but can my colleagues, who have never tried out all this stuff? And how can they be convinced?

Here’s scenario number 2, which happened to me recently. Your colleague receives an invite to collaborate on a Google Document. For some reason, their mail client displays 2 URLs – something that you did not see when you tested the process using one of your alternative email addresses. The second of these is correct. Clicking on the first sends their browser into an endless loop. Result: they are not at all impressed and fail to understand your enthusiasm.

In my line of work I’m used to computational procedures that don’t quite work first time and require a little tweaking, understanding and consultation of help pages. Other people around me are not. They click, it doesn’t work, they give up. How much responsibility lies with: (1) the service provider, to create something usable, (2) me (or you), as an advocate persuading users to persevere and (3) the more casual user, to give software a chance when it doesn’t work first time?

5 thoughts on “When it’s obvious to you but not to…anyone else

  1. Funny, a similar thing happened during my first foray into inviting others to share a Google Doc.

    I’d suggest one other (partial, longterm, not actually here-and-now) solution:

    (3) Google adopts OpenID, integrates it with their existing apps and encourages the rest of the industry to follow (except of course for M$ who we know wouldn’t). Ultimately most web app users end up with an OpenID.

    This way, even those users that inhabit a Yahoo-world would effectively have a ‘login’ at Google Accounts automatically, via their OpenID which they would already use for Yahoo (apparently there are “Yahoo people”, “Google people” and “Microsoft people” who rarely stray to other competing web-based service providers .. so I’m told).

    While it may sound like a bit of a pipe-dream … it looks like this change is slowly playing out with Google (and Facebook) getting behind DataPortability.org ….

    Of course, none of these ‘single signon solutions’ is a blanket solution to usability bugs, which are at the core of this Google Docs sharing issue.

    Casual users either learn that trusting reliable advocates and applying a small amount of perseverance pays off with access to better tools, or they remain unadventurous and plod along with their old, sometimes inefficient ways. It’s frustrating when the later happens … the situation reminds me of the Bitchun missionaries in Cory Doctorow’s “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” … eventually those that refused to be converted to the new techno-society simply became irrelevant. (Although suggesting that your colleges will become irrelevant if they don’t listen to you is not the greatest way to turn them on to Google Docs, I suspect :) ).

  2. Andrew

    I have a feeling that data portability is not a pipedream. Will it work out perfectly? Not sure, but I suspect that within 2 years we’ll see a lot of the more common services using OpenID and allowing contact lists, etc to be shared. Of course, there is still the challenge of explaining to someone why having a URI as a login name is a good idea

  3. OpenID login for Google services is a great idea. Here’s hoping.

    The final straw for my would-be Google Doc collaborator was the discovery that their Endnote citations were not imported. Interestingly, Zoho Writer had no trouble with this aspect. I have to admit that the Zoho suite is superior to Google’s offering at the moment.

    Sadly, I suspect that “OK so Google didn’t work for you, why don’t you create a Zoho account and we’ll try that instead” will be met with even more resistance. Unadventurous, old inefficient ways indeed.

  4. I’ve had similar issues with Google Docs and sharing. I must say that even I, confirmed luddite (how many people do you know who do not own a cell phone?), am not familiar with the “They click, it doesn’t work, they give up” crowd. Most of my colleagues are willing to at least poke at a thing for a while — which is usually all you need for Google stuff.

  5. how many people do you know who do not own a cell phone?

    I’d have said “me!” until just a few months ago, when I was tricked into it. Good to know there are still pockets of resistance out there.

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