It is a popular misconception that technological progress happens in a user-driven way, by “finding a need and then finding a way to fill it” as the inventor in the animated movie “Robots” says. My interpretation of Kuhn is that true paradigm shifts come from a radical concept that comes first and then gets matched to a following, often in the form of solving a problem, but sometimes through what is essentially fashion.
You’d be amazed at how many technologies are developed without actual users at all. Most of these technologies fail, of course. One needs users, but shouldn’t be entirely need-driven. The best chance of success comes with an idea that is validated and refined by actual users.
I’m still trying to figure out what we’ve learned from our users, but initial thoughts are:
- Access matters, perhaps above all. Dormouse was created for developers that could set things up in a controlled environment and mother the technology. But opportunities aren’t so controlled.
- Self-selected users can put up with a lot, and can amaze you with their creativity. They’re good to have. This relates to access in a way that I did not anticipate: If you can’t talk to everyone on the planet personally about your work, it is good to make it easy enough for self-selected people to be self-starters, too.
- Having created something cool, people want to show others. Again, it’s good to make it easy for them to do so.
- Language and analogies and documentation of what to do doesn’t matter that much, at least with self-selected users. Particularly if they’re under 25. But examples do help.
- On the other hand, what little language you do need does matter. For example, we used “snapshot” for two very different purposes: a frozen cache of the state of a world to be reused later, and a user-selected viewpoint that forms a portal by which the user can observe or return to that spot. The words appeared in menus and labels and instructions. Very confusing.
We wanted any Dormouse users to be able to spontaneously create their own world at any time, immediately accessible by other users. This worked fine in our lab, but not so well in the real world with firewalls and weird network boxes. The advantage of easy and reliable access trumps this, so our next version will forgo ad-hoc interactive world creation in order to allow trivially easy access. Stay tuned…