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We’re Not in the Business of Understanding our User

A few years ago I wrote about sometimes your product is useful to people in ways you didn’t know—and that you’d be smart to recognise that and capitalize on itn (What Your Product Does You Might Not Know About, 2007). One of the examples I cited was ZoneAlarm, a very popular firewall that was bought by Check Point. The point I made with their product was how useful the Windows system tray icon was in that it doubled as a network activity monitor. The logo, in short, would switch to a twin gauge when there was traffic. Really useful: it wasn’t directly related to theContinue readingWe’re Not in the Business of Understanding our User

PR That Doesn’t Bark, Or Barks Too Much

This is my weekly Loose Wire Service column, an edited version of which was recorded for my BBC World Service slot. Audio to follow. There’s a moment in All The President’s Men that nails it. Bob Woodward is telling his editors about when he’d called up the White House to confirm that Howard Hunt, one of the Watergate burglars, worked there as a consultant for Charles Colson, special counsel to President Nixon. “Then,” Woodward tells his editors, “the P.R. guy said the weirdest thing to me. (reading) ‘I am convinced that neither Mr. Colson nor anyone else at the White House had any knowledge of,Continue readingPR That Doesn’t Bark, Or Barks Too Much

Driver Phishing

Maybe because it’s early in the morning, but I fell for this little scam pretty easily. I’m going to call it “driver phishing” because it has all the hallmarks of a phishing attack, although it’s probably legal. I’m looking for the latest drivers for my Logitech webcam, so I type in Logitech QuickCam driver in Google. An ad above the results looks promising: a website called LogitechDriversCenter.com: So I click on it. It takes me to a site with a Logitech logo, lots of shareware and PC Magazine stars, Logitech product photos and three options for getting the right driver: DriverRobot, the first one, soundsContinue readingDriver Phishing

Still Sneaky After All These Years

I still retain the capacity to get bummed out by the intrusiveness of software from companies you’d think would be trying to make us happy these days, not make us madder. My friend Scotty, the Winpatrol watchdog, has been doing a great job of keeping an eye on these things. The culprits either try to change file associations or add a program to the boot sequence, without telling us. Some recent examples: Windows Live Mail, without me doing anything at all, suddenly tried to wrest control of my emails by grabbing the extension EML from Thunderbird: This was unconnected to anything I was doing, orContinue readingStill Sneaky After All These Years

Serial Number Killers

I’ve been mulling the issue of registering and activating software of late, and while I feel users generally are less averse to the process of having to enter a serial number or activating a program before they can use it than before, I think there’s still a lot of frustration out there. And I know from clients that it’s a balancing act between upsetting users and not encouraging those who seem unable or unwilling to pay to have a free ride. It seems to me to boil down to this: Users who have paid for software expect to be able to use it out ofContinue readingSerial Number Killers

Updater Fever

I sometimes wonder what software companies—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo!, they’re all the same—want from their customers. I spend enough time with novice users to know how confusing using computer software can be. Especially online: It’s a scary world out there (they’re right to be scared) but these companies, which should know better, make it more so. By trying to hoodwink into using their products they are undermining users’ confidence in using computers in the first place. If they keep on doing this, expect more people to use computers less—and certainly to install less software, or experiment in any way online or off. Take what justContinue readingUpdater Fever

How to Manage Your Nokia Phone

Nokia has finally woken up to the potential of connecting its phones to a computer. Although you could do it before, Nokia has launched a new version of its PC Suite, that makes some great strides in allowing you to use the computer to manage and monitor your cellphone. The vision is a simple, and yet elusive, one. We work on our computers when we’re stationary. And on our phone when we’re mobile. But as far as we’re concerned we’re still doing the same thing: working. We can synchronize our data between those two devices, but operating both in real time is more problematic: thereContinue readingHow to Manage Your Nokia Phone

The Pitfalls of Facebook

Facebook just grew up and gave some of its users a shock they probably deserve. You might even have been one of them. You may have received a message from a friend already on Facebook; something that doesn’t sound like them, but hey, they might have been out partying when they wrote it: “have you heard about that blog that was about you? apparently it’s pretty bad,” it will say. “I think you and everyone should read it..” And then there’s a link. Click on the link and you’d be taken—if you’re unlucky, and haven’t upgraded your browser recently–to a website that looks a lotContinue readingThe Pitfalls of Facebook

Google’s Sleazy (and Broken) Updater

Sorry to see that Google is going the sleazy route that Microsoft and Apple have ploughed before, namely trying to hoodwink and browbeat users into installing and automatically updating software they don’t want via an installer. Try to download Google Earth now, for example, and you’ll be directed to the Google Updater, which will try to persuade you to install software you didn’t ask for. (A great write-up of all this is at the Google Operating System blog.) On top of the inconvenience and sleaze of all this, I was irritated to find that the Updater doesn’t actually work: Not only that, but the helpContinue readingGoogle’s Sleazy (and Broken) Updater

Google’s Real Problem

There’s some interesting chat about whether Google is in trouble, although none of the pieces ask the question that I think is the most important one. BusinessWeek points to the fact that none of its new products are really gaining traction, which may be less down to the quality of those products — Earth, Finance, Chat etc — and more down to the fact that the whole point about Google for most people is keeping things simple: The problem is that every time Google branches out, it struggles with the very thing that makes its search engine so successful: simplicity. The minimalist Google home pageContinue readingGoogle’s Real Problem

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