Protecting users from themselves


Once in a while, I attend an online meeting using tools like WebEx or GoToMeeting. What always surprises me is how little thought the presenter or moderator puts into what other people can see on their screen. Instead of just sharing the window where the presentation or demo is taking place, they usually have their whole desktop shared. Thus, you can see other websites they have open, documents on their desktop, etc. But it got me thinking: How far should the software provider go to protect users from this sort of common mistake?

Generally speaking, it’s impossible to control every factor that might affect how people use your software. But assuming that you keep a record of frequently asked questions and common support tickets, you should be able to identify the top five or ten steps that customers can take to prevent problems and mishaps. In the online meeting example, the list might include something like this: “Select the window where your presentation will appear and click ‘Share this window’. Unless you want other people to see your desktop and other programs, don’t use the ‘Share my desktop’ option.”

Many vendors already do this, but they bury the most important info in the instruction manual or online help. People rarely use those tools unless they’re stuck. And the sort of issues I’m referring to are the ones that people don’t even know they have, since the program seems to be working fine. To fight this trend, you really need to build the functionality into the program itself. This might mean showing warning messages if they choose an option that shows too much data, or a diagnostic routine that runs before each session and tells them about possible trouble spots with the options they chose. Either way, when customers feel like you’re looking out for them, they’ll trust you more and reward you with greater usage of your product.