Developers? Humans? You Guys Should Meet

robot invasion
Credit: flickr / Don Solo

I love Google, I do. I wouldn’t use another search engine and I use a lot of their other stuff as well. But I’ve been following the debate about privacy  in Buzz (read this – if you doubt that the privacy issues are a potential problem, and this info for lawyers and journalists with useful instructions for managing privacy – note that Google is in the process of making changes to resolve these issues) and wondering where all my random new followers in Google Reader came from… and now I know.

Developers, we like to make things that are new and shiny, and they we assume that other people will get it because it’s oh-so-simple to us. They don’t. Seriously.

Check out the comments on a post from Read Write Web which ranks so highly for “Facebook Login” that there are a bunch of confused people there wondering why they can’t log in to Facebook from that page. For real. The worst part of my mother getting a Facebook account, incidentally, isn’t what she can see that I’m doing (I’ve not done anything incriminating lately), it’s that now not only do I get phone calls for computer support, I get phone calls for Facebook support. And the privacy settings? If they made sense to people this guy wouldn’t have been able to do this level of analysis.

From danah boyd – “Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media” :

Throughout my studies of social media, I have been astonished by the people who think that XYZ site is for people like them. I interviewed gay men who thought Friendster was a gay dating site because all they saw were other gay men. I interviewed teens who believed that everyone on MySpace was Christian because all of the profiles they saw contained biblical quotes. We all live in our own worlds with people who share our values and, with networked media, it’s often hard to see beyond that.

I think this is extending to developers and the technically savvy. We’re tweeting, and blogging, and interacting with people who are like us but I don’t think we have a generation of people who are technologically literate, as much as technologically competent, and even that is questionable. What does that mean? It means they use the things we produce but they don’t understand the inner workings of it and they don’t want to.

Wave was supposed to revolutionize conversation, but I still meet people – regularly – who haven’t heard of it. A girl I know was telling me today that her supervisor (a comp sci) hadn’t heard of Google Talk. I wasn’t even surprised by this.

It’s easy to think that whatever you’ve created is the be-all and end all. But we should really know by now that if it’s at all complicated, people will be confused. People will almost never change their behavior because your product is so amazing. If we think otherwise, we’re deluded.

And privacy is too important to screw up in this respect. People complain about Twitter’s controls not being fine grained enough, but it is at least simple – no misunderstanding. Private, public. On, off. It’s a binary choice, of the type that we probably need more of.

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