Jon’s Radio Comments

November 29, 2006

Why can’t Johnny download? Because he’s stuck in a semantic muddle.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonsradiocomments @ 5:25 pm

The original item is here.



  1. RFC2017 defines a URL extension to the message/external-body MIME type. This was supposed to actually allow you to refer to large objects by reference, while preserving the “attachment” mental model. I don’t think there’s much support for it, though, I haven’t actually tested what popular mailers do if they were to get such an attachment.

    Comment by Emil Sit — November 29, 2006 @ 7:18 pm | Reply

  2. Jon, from Johnny’s perspective, this whole discussion is about problem two, or even problem 3. Problem number one is: where does Johnny get a) publicly accessible webserver space that b) he can use to store files, c) which is integrated into the way he uses his desktop or email.

    The comments on your original article touched on some of these issues including integration, publicly accessible space, and even about hiding the technical details from the user, but none met all three conditions outlined above.

    Comment by Comment — November 29, 2006 @ 7:25 pm | Reply

  3. It’s really easy for me to forget that not everyone lives in the computer world that I do. I always find it difficult to understand, when confronted with it, how people can use computers and never really become familiar with them. I think a lot of it has to do with a fear of the unknown. I think that those that don’t understand the dual purpose of URLs are those that learn what they have to in order to do the most basic tasks on their computer, and stop there due to uneasiness. I think that the only real long term solution to this problem is to encourage a culture of curiosity and remove the uneasiness from using computers. I think that perhaps this will only happen in time, as new generations are raised in an increasingly computer enabled world.

    I often think about the lack of knowledge that many people have about computers, and the teacher in me has this wish to show everyone how to be more comfortable with exploring the ways their computers work, and use their critical thinking abilities.

    I understand this sort of veers off topic, and doesn’t really address the issue in the short term, but I had to say it.

    Comment by Kristin — November 29, 2006 @ 8:24 pm | Reply

  4. Kristin wasn’t off topic – she makes the explicit point of the basic purpose of Jon’s article: software should be more intuitive for the masses. Even simple software is too hard. Experts should not be needed for opening URLs.

    When I worked with a group of campaign volunteers in the 2004 elections, I noticed that the younger ones (20-30) were all very computer-literate. They used their PCs and apps quite competently, but ONLY as an appliance. They didn’t know (nor did they want to know) the gory details. Either things worked, or they begged for help. Our industry needs to design products more for the “normal” public, and less for the experts. Jon’s article discusses one example, but I think we need a much broader and deeper re-thinking about the way software and data are presented to the user.

    Comment by Sandman — November 29, 2006 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

  5. I think making saving more obvious from the browser would go a long way. If a little box with a save button popped up in Firefox every time users hovered their cursor over an image or other media element, I expect thousands of people would suddenly become aware of the functionality they never knew their browser had.

    Comment by Scott Reynen — November 30, 2006 @ 1:14 am | Reply

  6. In some cases (business environments) some users are restricted from downloading anything from the internet (our company for example). Are you sure the problem of some users asking your wife to email them something as an attachment aren’t related to the fact that they cannot download? Many browsers are setup so that they prompt a user for download(save) or open when a URL to a file is clicked. Hard to believe they can’t take it from there if their computing environment will let them. As to the comment about needing to make things easier for user, if anyone is old enough to remember the first time they sat down at a DOS prompt and had to struggle to learn the command necessary to launch programs, edit files (edlin ?), and perform other tasks, they would never make the statement that we need to make things easier. As is the problem with so many things in our country, some people just don’t want to put for the effort to learn things they need to learn. They are too busy watching American Idol or Survivor to bother themselves with learning something about their computer. When they see idiots on those program it makes them feel superior. People will buy self-help books by the armload and spend hours and $$ on therapy, but ask them to spend a little time learning how to do something else and they act like you have slapped them. Before someone comments that I am an old person, I am only 38 years old. I just think that many Americans have gone “too soft” and have gotten away from the “do anything” attitude that made us the great country we are.

    Comment by Jeff Kohut — November 30, 2006 @ 2:37 pm | Reply

  7. I think Kristin has a different learning model than I. I’m not an explorer, I’m a doer. I don’t mind cracking open a manual to figure out how to do what I need to do, but I’m not going to read it for pleasure. Learning isn’t a block of time on my calendar, it’s a necessary activity to support my work.

    I don’t view this behavior as an outgrowth of fear on my part… it’s just a different motivation. Knowing everything there is to know is not my motivation. What drives me to learn is that I need/want to accomplish something.

    Clearly Kristin’s motivation is more beautiful and noble. I wish I had it. However, I suspect that mine is more common.

    Comment by Paul Schaefer — November 30, 2006 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

  8. Why does everyone think “computers” should be any different than any of the other technology in our lives?

    For example, do we really expect everyone–including ourselves–to know all the ins and outs of the automobiles that we drive? Of course not. Most people just want to turn the key and have it work; same for computers. Cars and computers are tools, first and foremost.

    It’s only a minority who take steps to learn how to maintain and repair their automobiles; why are we surprised that the same holds true for computers?

    Just because the people reading these columns are computer-centric doesn’t mean the rest of the world is somehow wrong.

    Comment by observer — November 30, 2006 @ 8:12 pm | Reply

  9. I take exception with the previous use of the automobile analogy. People don’t just get into an automobile and drive. They have to learn how to drive the automobile (automatic vs manual shift), brake pedal, gas, Turn signal etc… We even have Driver education classes to teach people these things. Someone might even need to know enough about their car to 1)change a tire 2)know how to turn the defrost on when it is cold outside, etc… I don’t believe learning those things is any less difficult than learning to understand some of the basic features of using a computer (open vs save), email vs download.
    An example would be the windshield wipers in most cars. There a usually about 3 options on most cars now. Low, High, and Intermittant (with Intermittant having more options). People work with and figure out how to deal with those things. I agree with Kristin that encouraging a “culture of curiosity” would be great for our country. It starts at home with parents and should be encourage more in ALL of our institutions of learning.

    Comment by Jeff Kohut — December 1, 2006 @ 5:22 pm | Reply

  10. The Design of Everyday Things should be mandatory reading. The functionality of a car is more discoverable than the functionality of most software. How many computer users never right-click?

    Comment by Eric — December 1, 2006 @ 6:08 pm | Reply

  11. > where does Johnny get a) publicly accessible
    > webserver space that b) he can use to store
    > files, c) which is integrated into the way
    > he uses his desktop or email.

    There are lots of options. and are a couple examples.

    Comment by William Frantz — December 13, 2006 @ 12:02 am | Reply

  12. I think its a question of usability. If its intuitive, its very simple for user. But its very hard for editors to make intuitive system. I know from my own expierence

    Comment by justinas — December 21, 2006 @ 2:32 pm | Reply

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