Don’t use Twitter as a conduit for offering support

Today I was trying some software and I was having issues with it and needed support from the developer(s). I went to their site and noticed they offer support through UserVoice and Twitter only. I have already stated why I hate UserVoice.

Here are my reasons why using Twitter for offering support is a bad idea:

  • You're forcing users to open a Twitter account. Not everyone is interested in Twitter. Another username and password to remember. Who needs more?
  • Twitter has a limit of 140 characters. How does one send an image like a screen capture or copy some text which is long or just write a meaningful message which can't be expressed in less than 140 characters. A workaround is hosting an image somewhere and providing its url. Too Awkward.
  • Twitter messages have no formatting or structure. No lists, no styling, no indentations, nothing. It's just a plain long text.
  • No privacy. The people I wanted to contact today want people to use a certain hash tag.  (I am not mentioning who they are)
  • Very cumbersome to save a thread or conversation
  • How to keep the prior messages in the same thread like emails?
  • It just doesn't work

What's wrong with the plain ole email or contact forms? Did they read a "Email is dead" article and believe it? If they are worried about spam, they are ways to mitigate this. Use contact forms with a file field for attachments.

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To app developers: Show the GUI before starting a potentially long running process

I download and try a ton of software. There are some software which take a long time to display their initial screen, not even a splash screen. It seems they launch some process which could potentially take a long time to finish before showing the main window, the user interface portion. For example if it's trying to connect to another server and the connection is having problems. Technically the user is basically waiting for a timeout to occur before seeing anything. If the timeout is long, the user will get frustrated because there’s no visual indicator of any kind and the user might think the software has crashed silently.

The software developer should display the main window before executing anything. After the initial screen, the application can do whatever it needs to do and preferably show some kind of progress indicator so the user knows it’s doing some work.

In my next post, I’ll explain how I find out how I know an application is doing some work before starting up visually.

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Too quiet & no LED’s. I need visuals

I love Bosch dishwashers. Because they are reliable, effective and QUIET. I seek quiet from any appliance. We’re replacing our current one with a newer model. What’s wrong with the current one? Nothing. We’re redoing the kitchen and major appliances will be replaced for different reasons.

A good Bosch dishwasher runs very quiet and I can hardly hear it. At the appliance store looking at the different Bosch models, I quickly remembered this 37Signal’s post. I need a dishwasher which has a visible LED which shows me it’s running AND shows me how much time is left. I can’t depend on a tiny light. Therefore the hidden panel models won’t do it for me. I am worried I might accidently open it when it’s running. I like to know how much time is left. While these models look cool and minimalist, I need something which works for me. I need my visuals. I am just picky when it comes to appliances & gadgets.

 

Bosch_dishwasher

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Images in my blog posts weren’t showing because…

I was publishing the posts to my own computer’s version of the blog and therefore the images had urls to my ‘localhost’ instead of the actual blog’s domain name. I didn’t see the problem  after several posts and days because even when viewing the posts using a browser on the same machine, the images were displaying fine because I was on ‘localhost’. Only when I used my work computer I noticed the problem. It was a DUH moment! :)

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iRead/iAnnotate is the best iPad pdf reader

 

aji_home-tt-lexel  aji_home-tt-lexel

I got an iPad mainly for reading books in pdf format. I also convert other document formats to pdf to be read on the iPad. For this it was crucial for me to find a pdf reader which satisfied my reading needs.

My requirements for a pdf reader:

  • Continuous smooth vertical scrolling for moving between pages. Horizontal scrolling doesn't do it for me. I like having parts of a page positioned at my eye level. This is specially more convenient when I am laying down reading.
  • Ability to expand and lock the width of the document. This setting should be remembered every time I reopen the pdf.
  • Remember the last document and page read when launching the reader.

 

I consider these requirements very important for myself.

The big problem with the iPad and the AppStore is that most of the non free apps are available for purchase only. They are not available as trial software or expire after some period of time like software on a PC.  I guess when most apps cost $.99, people don't mind buying them and dispose of them when not needed!

I purchased a few readers and downloaded all the free ones and tested all of these.

Here are my findings:

  • GoodReader is a popular one. I purchased it when I first got the iPad. That's when I noticed I didn't like horizontal scrolling. So that reader was out. The included iBooks iPad app was out too for the same reason.
  • After GoodReader I did some research to find a vertical scrolling one and purchased PDFReader Pro. Worked fine and I liked it until the next upgrade which I hated. Vertical scrolling in the upgrade automatically brings in the next page when I scroll the second half of a page to the top of the screen. I hate software updates which change a previous behavior which worked just fine. Width locking is not remembered anymore between reader launches which meant I had to adjust the width every time I opened a pdf! Plus other new bugs which they introduced. It was a botched upgrade and I complained to the vendor about all these issues. They promised to fix these issues. I do know there were at least a couple  new updates but I never bothered to check after I switched to another reader.
  • Among all the free ones I tested, iRead from AJI was the best. Actually it was so good I purchased their $9.99 commercial iAnnontate pdf reader which enables me to add annotations and bookmarks and other nice features. I can also open several pdf's at the same time and be displayed in tabs. They claim the pdf’s with the annotations can be read also on a PC but I haven’t tested that yet. It is a very nice feature though.

iAnnontate is an excellent pdf reader. The only annoying feature in it is if you touch the screen for more than a second the scrolling gets locked. So to scroll you have to swipe and lift your finger quickly. PDFReader Pro doesn't suffer from this

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Why so many people don't get the iPad form factor!?

Till today I keep hearing people say "Why get an iPad when a netbook is cheaper and has a full keyboard?". The iPad is a content consuming device. It's not meant to be used as a full blown computer. That what a laptop/netbook is used for. It's a slate flat tablet which you can hold like a book. The iPad is more practical for reading than a netbook. Imagine you're laying down reading. Which is easier to read on, a book or a netbook? Isn't it awkward to have a whole physical keyboard sticking out between the screen and your face? What if you're shortsighted and you need the screen to be real close to your eyes? The keyboard will be a barrier. The iPad or any lightweight tablet is much more conducive for a reading activity.

I am surprised that so many people just don't get it. When the iPad came out John C. Dvorak kept mocking it and saying it's just a big iPhone. Yes and that's perfectly OK. Is anyone going to use it as a big phone? i don't think so. That's like saying why get a minivan.. it's just a bigger car. Every device has its own use. The iPad is great for consuming content. Reading books, magazines, web pages, tweets.. etc. I prefer reading on an iPad than an iPhone. A larger screen shows more content and it's easier on the eyes.

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Some LinkedIn group owners need a slap for never taking an action on the their group’s join requests

 

LinkedIn

I have sent some requests to join some LinkedIn groups and they have been waiting for approval for weeks. I am going to announce that these group owners are being inconsiderate. If you are a group owner who doesn't bother to look at these join requests, why are you moderating these requests then? Make the group public or delegate the approval process to someone who does have some time. I bring this problem up because LinkedIn allows a certain number of join requests before they block you from more group join requests. So now I have this queue of requests waiting for these group owners' approval. If there wasn't this limitation of requests, I wouldn't have mind but now I am just going to delete some requests to open up the queue and some of these group owners deserve my wrath for wasting my time!

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Don’t create applications which are passive & silent during a problem

I am writing this post because of an annoying usability issue with TweetDeck. TweetDeck is a Twitter client I use on Windows machines and the iPad. On one of the computers I use, TweetDeck doesn't display anything from Twitter. I just get a never ending progress indicator in each Twitter column. I try to validate my credentials to confirm they are correct and the validation never finishes. I don't get any error messages. There be a connectivity issue but the application never times out. There's nothing in the event log. I reinstalled the app but no dice. So I decided not to spend more time troubleshooting this issue and just use another computer where TweetDeck works fine.

One day I came back to troubleshoot the issue and I decided to disable the firewall to see if it helps. TweetDeck worked. So the firewall was the problem. I run a firewall which asks for permission from any app which tries to connect to the outside. It seems I blocked TweetDeck by mistake. I removed it from the firewall's application blocked list.

If you develop software which depends on external services like a web service or API make sure your application displays a useful error message when something wrong happens or if the application doesn't receive data within a specific period of time. To test your app in such a situation, unplug the network cable or block the connection using the firewall and then make sure the application displays a proper message. A silent and passive application during a problem is a useless application. These application increase the number of incoming support issues for your company. An unnecessary big expense.

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