Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Information Overload Hacks

I had a meeting at a big-name branding agency today, and saw something that reminded me how much work we user experience professionals still have to do to make technology really useful for humans.

It was a poster on the bathroom door, with a giant numerals '24' on it. The text of the poster outlined the new office wide '24' initiative- any message (email or voice) that referenced '24' in the subject or body was to be acted upon, responded to, and satisfactorily resolved in 24 hours.

This amused, saddened, and enlightened me all at the same time. It perfectly illustrates how humans make up for deficiencies in applications by hacking around them out of desperation.

Doesn't just about every email system have a method to mark an email 'Urgent?' I can only assume that so many people marked emails 'urgent,' that eventually that function lost its meaning. I bet at that point, users started to add the word 'URGENT' in all caps to messages, until that method was likewise ignored.

Somewhere, someone dropped the ball after ignoring too many 'URGENT' emails, and an operations lead decided the way to reset the urgency meter was to introduce a novel way of indicating something is 'urgent,' some way that people had not yet developed an immunity to, and then reinforcing it with a company wide awareness program using official posters to impress the seriousness of the 24 initiative.

I can just imagine that the overloaded office drones, informed via poster of their misbehavior and the new top down initiative to correct it, began to immediately subvert the system with messages like:

24- lunch plans

Hey, what are you doing for lunch today? 24.

- since that is obviously a question that must be answered well within 24 hours, otherwise it's hopelessly out of date.

The effectiveness of this policy will be directly proportional to its enforcement. Will the first person to take 26 hours to reply lose their job?

Next post in this thread: attacking the root of the '24' problem.

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