I posted my little Stopwatch Gadget on Windows Live the other day. The response has been interesting. The early adopters gave me high marks averaging 4 and 5 stars. Now that John Q Public has started chiming in the scores have dropped dramatically. My only guess is that they see the gadget as so simple as to not be worthy of a good score.
From my perspective, the gadget is useful because of what it doesn’t do. It doesn’t make me think. I can click anywhere on the gadget to start and stop it. I don’t have to carefully aim my mouse to hit the right button because there is no button. It’s an easy mark to hit.
That’s the software developer’s dilemma I suppose. We’re forever having to one-up the other guy to get attention. Sure, I could add lap timers, and skins, and flyouts and graphical images of the numbers. Would it make the item any more useful? Marginally, maybe. But I bet my marks would be higher because you could “play” with it for a few minutes longer before getting bored with it.
And perhaps boredom is the reason my little gadget gets dinged. It’s not about if it’s useful, but whether it entertains. Entertainment is perhaps the most under estimated aspect of any program interface. Look at disk defrag programs. Do we really need all the little squares flashing on and off showing us the disk being reorganized? Other than entertainment, what’s the point? I think people like Mac’s in part because of the cute little animation effects. Some are useful but in my opinion, most of it is there to entertain.
I guess the lesson I’ve learned from all of this is that it’s not good enough to be useful. Part of the success of a good program is that it makes people feel good on some level beyond its function. Perhaps I should get to work on adding an animation of a little running dude when the stopwatch is running.