Monday, March 28, 2011

Yahoo Messenger Usability Riff

We are used to software behaving badly. Whether it is the "blue-screen-of-death" in Microsoft Windows, or the atrocious usability of the Apple iTunes product, or the myriad JavaScript errors encountered on Web pages, it is pain we endure with fortitude.

However, when the threshold of patience is low, the frustration just comes boiling to the fore.

Consider this screen. I got this when I tried to log in to the Yahoo Messenger client on Windows. It says "There was a problem signing you in to Yahoo! Messenger" because, ostensibly, "Our system is currently very busy." and that I should be considerate enough to "Please try again a little bit later."
Ok, so this is not very good since I need to be logged in to Yahoo Messenger, but I can appreciate the service telling me it is very, very, very busy. Fair enough.

But, I now scan the row of buttons below this message, and I start to scratch my balding pate, and make a Scooby Doo-ish huh sound. The message clearly states that it could not sign me in because it is "very busy". And I did enter my username and password, didn't I? So, firstly, why is it showing me the "New User..." button? Will signing in as a new user somehow make the system less busy? Or is it telling me that it does not like my current user id, and that it will strive to do better if only I were to present a different user id to it? Hmm... looks like the service is a little moody here.
How about the second button? "Forgot Password...". Sir, did you not just tell me, a line above, that the system is "very busy"? You didn't tell me that I had entered a wrong username or password, did you? You mean you don't know what the problem is? Or, that you think it is ok to display a standard list of buttons, no matter what the issue may really be? Your user-interface designers thought that consistency is better than usability? Or there was a budget crunch and they could not get the translations for new strings to display on these buttons? Or, you thought that somehow "throw everything at the wall and see what sticks" is a better approach?

In the world of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and just about everything that is out there trying to be "social" and "friendly", you believe this Web 0.1 approach is going to fly? Yes, of course. Throw in a sad smiley and it will make things ok. Yes, we are living in the world of 1999, aren't we? Maybe an animated smiley?

And yes, one more thing that is wrong with this dialog - it is a modal dialog - if I need to go change my proxy settings, or type in a different username, or password, I first have to dismiss this modal dialog. Another usability misstep.

Sigh. There is so much to like at Yahoo! Yet somehow they have accepted an abysmally low level of mediocrity in everything they do.
Helpful is good.
Helpful and witty is also good, though sometimes annoying.
Helpful and useful is the ideal.
Mildly helpful and utterly confusing is not what you should aim for - which this dialog above does.

Some suggestions:


© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.