Software was made for people, not people for software

Why do we continue to try to force users into unnatural relationships with their software?

I had a very frustrating experience this morning. I decided to start editing an internal team wiki and ran into a significant roadblock: To edit the wiki, I first needed to learn "wikiml." What is wikiml? I'm glad you asked. It's a wiki markup language so that wikis look more like Web pages/documents, and not like a stream of undifferentiated text.

There's just one problem: Wikiml. Who wants to learn a markup language just so you can collaborate with colleagues? It's not that the markup language is particularly difficult (here's a cheat sheet for reference), but requiring the learning of a new language is a step backward, not forward, in terms of ease of use.

Wikis may be more powerful than a Microsoft Word document, but if they're not at least as easy, then they're simply not going to get used. Period. Google gets this: Google Docs is actually easier to use than Microsoft Word.

The Bible has this great counsel in Mark 2:27:

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

The idea is that Biblical commandments were not designed to inhibit people, but to enable and improve them. Sometimes we let the letter of a law impede the spirit and end up cramping our capabilities. Is there a correlation to software?

Of course there is. Software developers need to focus on creating software for humans, not expecting humans to reshape their behaviors for software. Enterprise content management (ECM) has been a market that has depended on people changing their behaviors to fit the system...which is why 95 percent of any given enterprise persists in not using the software.

ECM, of course, is not alone in this. CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning), and other enterprise applications think more of the enterprise than the person within the enterprise that is forced to use the software. SAP's CEO suggested the other day that this is by design. Well, it's a lame design.

Software is for people. When it's not, people won't use it, at least not as much as they otherwise would.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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