Friday, October 21, 2011

Findable, trustable and believable. How FaceBook Slipped Up

If I had to sum up the core of what's important for me in the unstructured data area right now I'd use three words: findability, believability, and trustability. Given that my word processing software has just drawn squiggly red lines under each of them, I'm not even sure they are official words. But they should be - without these three things users won't be totally comfortable using whatever piece of software, system or web portal we give them to work with and will probably disengage with it, at least in some fashion.

Don't believe me? Even the big players miss the mark sometimes. Look at FaceBook as an example. I suspect that the recent rumblings and user backlash against the new interface wasn't just because the look and feel changed. The experience changed as well. People didn't know where to look to find things and even if certain things were still possible. For me I wasn't bothered by the change to the look and feel, but I was still thrown by the change. Little changes make the difference. I no longer saw links I posted from external
sites showing up in the my general news feed. Did that mean that the post had failed, or could other people see them and my own posts where just filtered out of what I saw, or had I done something wrong - selected the wrong privacy settings, perhaps? My level of trust had dropped, and dropped quickly. So much so that I took to using other means to share links in some areas, resorting to emailing links around or using specialist sites like Garmin Connect and Strava to publish my running and cycling information. Changes to FaceBook's iPhone interface also left me wondering where to look to find certain posts. I now had a taxonomy of sorts which I could use to refine and filter what displayed on screen. I could choose to view all stories, just see photos, status updates, links, pages, posts from close friends, posts from people in my area or post from people who were associated with the University I attended, etc. Refiners! Great, less noise to wade through, give me just what I want to see. That's a good thing right? I thought so too, but again I didn't always see what I thought I should see, leading to a lingering doubt. Again a trust issue - was I seeing all of the data available or did I have to look somewhere else or do something else to bring it up? Findability had suffered as well (or at least I perceived it had).

Translate this into the corporate world and this might mean that if users lose trust in how their unstructured data is being stored or made available to thrm that they'll stop using a document management system or content management system and resort to emailing documents around the organization and / or putting content on file shares or in other information silos. Even in a well used and hitherto trusted system small changes can quickly result in users working around the system, taking us back toward the unstructured data anarchy that many of us are slowly working to bring order to. Slip behind on that challenge and suddenly your information is fragmenting and findability suffers as well.

What lessons are there to be taken from this? Firstly, small changes matter. Something seemingly insignificant can send ripples out which can set your information management goals back months. Secondly, user interface changes can and will impact on information management and information integrity and quality. Don't make design choices without considering the impact on the wider issues and your information management goals. Choices here may not seem important but can at times be just as critical as deeper information architecture questions or taxonomy design. And finally, communication is key. Make it clear what changes mean to how information can be found and what information is and isn't available and perhaps problems like these, and the negative perceptions that come with them, can be avoided.

Have you lived through similar issues? My medium term goals for information inside our organisation rely heavily on getting findability, believability and trustability right so I'd love to hear about what you faced and how you tackled it.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, hits some very important nails on the head. Couldn't agree more.