There is an old story about a child crying wolf. The villagers rush to the child twice, but there is no wolf. On the third time, the child cries wold, the villagers don’t rush to them, and the wolf eats the sheep. Who is to blame? Well, you can find blame on both sides. It is the reality that we as humans always have to consider. That in fact, we live in a complex environment and are responsible for our interaction. Complexity is a growing problem in the world around us. The more complex a solution is, the more likely it is that users will struggle. Let’s spend some time dispelling great myths instead of screaming that the water is hot. If you select the hot water faucet, the water that comes out should be hot.
- Sites are built for all browsers. This is a great myth. There are unique things that every browser does. Plus, there are unique components of every single platform. No one can build a website that perfectly services all the variables. The best you can do is the LCD third grade math. Yes, create a site that always delivers the lowest common denominator. Anything beyond the LCD adds complexity to the site and increases the potential for user failure.
- If something works, it doesn’t mean everything will work. I cannot tell you how many times I have had people tell me; I can do this but not this. Therefore, the second problem isn’t mine. An example would be someone saying I cannot connect to x site, with my computer browser. But I can connect to any other site with that browsers. Therefore transitive logic tells me that it is X-Sites fault. Except for two small problems, first that isn’t logic, and second, it isn’t right.
Many years ago I used to write a column called the Vanilla Network. It was devoted to solving problems for users. The first thing I always told users was to get to a vanilla configuration first, see if it works. Then layer on all the other pieces and see when it breaks.
To be clear, there are more than 1200 flavors of browsers available. There are more than 2000 varieties of computing platforms that can run those browsers. There are more than 21,000 extensions and add-ons to the browsers. Within the 21000 add-ons and extensions, there are at least 100,000 different combinations and variables of both releases dates and updates. Add to that variable in network connection, virus scanning software, and you end up with the following:
1 X 10 to the tenth power variables.
Just to be blunt, that means there are 10000000000 possible outcomes based on the configuration for any one computer.
It is not a small number. It is a massive number. It means that Myth 1 isn’t feasible. It means that Myth 2 isn’t feasible either.
Let’s be realistic; this is completely and end-user computing variables. We can add another 10,000 variables or more when it comes to technologies used on the server side.
When you combine the two, it is not additive. It is multiplicative. IE the new number of possible combinations is:
A very smart person once told me that the best thing to do was to get to a vanilla configuration. They also told me if there are five ways to do something, one works then stop worrying about the others. Look at the variable number, if you have something that works. Don’t complain, just use what works.