Monday, September 17, 2007

The Lost User, and Allegories of Gmail

What is Gmail's "value proposition"?

Try to tell me, right now, in ten seconds, what supposedly makes Gmail better than Hotmail or Yahoo!.

If you can do it, then in my opinion you are a rare individual. Because I have rarely heard Gmail's value proposition explained well. That would include Gmail's site:

Big list, little meaning

These four things about Gmail are not particularly unique, compared to Yahoo! and Hotmail (although some of them used to be).

Here's my answer: "Gmail, the first web service that allows a layperson to be as fast and efficient as an expert user of pine and other tools in a Linux environment."

It's a pretty simple idea, but it's hard to explain to people. Pine is very geeky:

Comparing something to Pine may not be desirable

Sometimes simple things are hard to explain to people, if they aren't familiar where you're coming from. And if you're coming from a different place from your users (and as the designer of a technical product for laypeople, that's always true), it's hard to know what will be clear to people.

Lost Features, Lost Users

I'm not picking on Gmail - I like Gmail a lot, and so I'm writing from experience. I have a lot of experience explaining keyboard shortcuts, search syntax, and filters to people in Gmail.

Also, I remember what it was like to first start using Gmail. It was a new environment. Yet now, it's so simple... to people who know it ;-).

Parlez vous Spank?

I've been thinking about the old "Gmail challenge" because I keep discovering how many Linkspank users - even people who obediently, regularly check their inboxes - don't understand what a spank is or how to do it.

(So if you're among them, don't feel bad.)

As I always do, I'm blaming it in part on UI issues, and a solution is in the works. But the challenge does not disappear with a good UI. (After all, Gmail's UI is pretty good.)

It's really a new concept, which savvy UI and tutorials can educate on, but which is still new... even if it's very simple.

My new mission: get people to understand what a Linkspank is.

Like I said, new UI is on the way. Until then, the best way is to try :-), and maybe refer to our primitive tutorials (especially the first two):

How to Spank

How to Spank Faster

How to Earn Points