The "I call my boyfriend" button

I never liked the idea that girls are technically less interested than boys or get less into technology. But this user survey we are conducting really keeps frustrating me!!!

Background: Two weeks ago, we started interviewing people on how they organise their documents and files on their hard disk. We asked random people who showed up for a web usability test, that means our participants covered all types of internet users between 18 and 50 years.

While most male participants showed a more or less systematic approach in file managing, most of our female participants had severe problems to create folders or to move files from one location to another. The problems came up with Konqueror (which is understandable as it's a new and uncommon usage environment), but also with Windows Explorer. Keeping in mind that each of the participants claimed to work at a computer 3 to 9 hours a day this is a surprising result.

When Bjoern asked them what they do back home when they need to create folders, two out of six female participants said "I call my boyfriend".

... OK, let's implement the "Call my boyfriend" button ...


A solution I had for this problem (I specifically saw people copying their jpegs from a floppy by opening the picture in Word) was to give the typists a course in our application, which also included a little course in how to use the file manager.

In todays world where everyone uses a computer, I'm really wondering how many of your non-techy ladies had any training in using the filemanager at all.

But I like the suggestion though, could be a nice feature of Kopete ;)

By Thomas Zander at Wed, 09/28/2005 - 00:09

It's quite similar to what I saw here in Poland. Something like international ability to treat Winword as an uber-universal container for everything. Even more: people love to spread results of their invention, by sending their containers as email. Folders can be something strange to them, not mentioning archiving tools. Forget WinZip.

Now, let usability experts correct me, but perhaps following (not very innovative) paradigm represents relatively good shape of "simplified" desktop interface:

  • desktop surface has no custom background, but just a white page or two, and a photo of a nice desk beneath (please don't sue me, this is not famous MS Bob ;) ).
  • file manager is replaced by something like "table of contents" (at least in terms of look and feel); chapters, sections and pages replace directories.
  • as in word processor, there is a globally accessible vertical scroll bar
  • what about window manager, and floating windows in geenral? Hmm, let's drop it as being incompatible with the paradigm... File dialogs could be also moved to something like a mix of MS Office 2003's side panel and Mac OS X's drawer.
  • search functions can behave as in word processors, in the current context (e.g "chapter"), or globally; while internally, modern search engine(s) can be employed
  • of course, entire contents are persistent thanks to KDE sessions
  • [your ideas here]

I bet some of us can agree that the paradigm could be pretty useful for "overage office workers". OTOH, It's not a revolution: after years Konqueror became something similar - a container, making desktop icons obsolete idea.

Maybe KDE, being flexible, can offer this mode as an option? Something in half way from KIOSK mode to full KDE Desktop?

Not all apps can be compatible with the paradigm, but most apps used by mentioned users, can.

Testing such a beast on aforementioned people, in real time will no doubt unveil some interesting results...

By Jarosław Staniek at Wed, 09/28/2005 - 12:49

This interface sounds somewhat like GEOS for the C=64 (and later the PC platform).

By rtomasso at Fri, 09/30/2005 - 21:28

... by this kind of happenings. But why? Years of doubtful propaganda pushed us to believe that computers are intuitive and everybody, no exception allowed, have to be proficient with them, lest be considered unadapted or, worse, stupid.

Mark the confusion: there's no accepted notion of "a certain piece of software is intuitive". The whole doubtful marketing stunt generalizes the concept to the whole computer.

Well, I'm surely not breaking news here, using a computer is a professional occupation, like any other. There are intuitive computers: in your car, in your coffee maker, in the TV set or in your iPod. But their intuitiveness commes from the very fact that you're not required to become aware of them.

When requirements are made, training has to precede. I saw horror scenes where people were required to just sit at a computer (usually a Mac user in front of a Windows one, or a Windows user in front of a high end Linux numerical workstation) and just be proficient in the next hour.

We get flustered or even frustrated when we learn that our kids get computer classes in which are teached how to move the mouse around or how to use menus on a proprietary application. Well, it's better than just sit them there and require them to know. Granted, there might be lack of structure and even substance to these badly researched children-oriented computer courses, but they are necessary. We might find a noble goal in providing free tools for teaching kids how to use computers. Animated tutorials, amusing musical lessons, whatever. A nice complement to our current KDEEdu.

Why do women seem to lack formal instruction in computers more than men? My theory is that men are, by social standards, allowed to fool around and play in a time-wasting manner more than women, which are seen even by their woman-peers are irresponsible and wasteful if they try to experiment with "trivial" things like computer interfaces. So, men get to try and err without punishment, women don't. In summum, it's a socially induced (artificial) handicap.

And anyways, perhaps the problem will dissapear in the next 20-30 years, along with us, the old and aging perpetrators. I'd really like to see a study comparing not men and women but adults (25+) and kids (3 to 15) of sexes confounded.

By Cristian Tibirna at Wed, 09/28/2005 - 01:44

... snip ...

In summum, it's a socially induced (artificial) handicap.

... snap ...

Same impression here. Even more, it somehow reminds me of a phenomenon called learned helplessness from clinical psychology. It's originally formulated as an explanation for depression, but IMO can also explain situations where people tend to be paralised instead of going ahead and actively finding a solution after having had bad experiences before (e.g. shame after some kind of embarrasssement).

By Ellen Reitmayr at Wed, 09/28/2005 - 09:02

>> While most male participants showed a more or less systematic approach in file managing(...)

This is kind of shocking. On both my windows & kde desktops I have TONS of crap that is basically in four folders: downloads, home, src, and the desktop. While there are subfolders under these three categories, they never go more than one deep. I just don't have time to F around with digging thorough 8 layers to get to my files. While I sometimes can't remember if I have something in downloads or src, I can check in only two places to get the answer. Most guys I know are as unorganized as I am.

By Pat Mac at Wed, 09/28/2005 - 12:17

People who know me personally probably hate this story by now, as I tell it over and over again. But still:

Almost ten years ago I was at university and had a Mac, mainly for word processing and silly games. (That was before I decided I might like to program these things.) Once I went away for a few weeks and left my apartment, including the Mac, to a friend of mine who was glad to escape home for a while. I knew that she had no computer experience at all, but as she liked writing I guessed that she probably would like to use the Mac and especially the printer. I didn't have time to explain much to her, and was convinced of Mac OS being the most intuitive OS on the planet anyway, so I basically told her how to start and quit programs (through aliases (shortcut icons) on the desktop) and where the "print" command in the menus usually is, and left.

When I came back, she had happily written and printed lots of texts, but had never opened or created a single folder. She had managed to avoid the complete concept of file systems: she had opened Word (yeah, I know, I was young etc...), created her documents and saved them as she was prompted when closing them, into whatever folder she was presented (probably the one I had last used).

When she wanted to continue working on her stuff, she searched for a document with the Find command (luckily she had given them titles), dragged it from the search results window to the desktop, and double-clicked to open it. When she was done, she closed the document window (Save changes? Yes.) and then used a feature I had never understood nor needed: "Put Back", or Apple-Z in short, which moves the document from the desktop back to its previous location, somewhere in the depths of my intricate, logical file structure. Voila, clean desk(top) again!


By skh at Wed, 09/28/2005 - 16:14