Dave Humphrey’s latest post really got me thinking about a couple things. First, I think what he proposes is a timely, interesting idea. It illustrates the power of the web brought to bear on a particular problem. Specifically, the post got me thinking about building communities and lowering interface friction placed on users. Not exactly peanut butter and chocolate, but I think they are related none the less.
Dave’s idea (read his post for the full details) develops as a reaction to someone else’s solution to a problem:
How can information (medical information, in this case) be vetted or deemed trustworthy by a knowledgeable community (medical professionals)? How can that trust data be used by others looking for reliable information?
The initial solution was to create a web application that contained the details and notes on web pages that were vetted. Users could log into the system and search for trustworthiness level of a given web page. Other users could log into the system and set the trustworthiness level of a given web page.
On the surface, it would seem that a community is being created around the medical information web application. If the service was useful enough to get users to accept the friction of logging into a web application to search or perform data entry, then the community would grow and sustain itself.
However, I doubt that would happen. The many steps needed to reach a result or enter data would turn away most people. We can certainly do better than that and, in fact, have done better. Though unrelated, I could use subscribing to RSS/ATOM feeds as an example. When I find an interesting feed (through normal browsing behavior), I subscribe to the feed from my browser chrome (one way or another). I don’t launch my feed aggregator and manually add the feed. Very soon, browsers will do the same thing for lots of types of information (can you say microformats? yeah, you in the back).
Any usablility guru (and even some normal folk) will tell you that interrupting the user’s flow is a bad thing. Instead of forcing the user into your conceptual model, try working within theirs. In Firefox, you can look at extensions like Operator, Fleck, The Coop and Joey to see where the trend is headed. Heck, Flock is built on the concept. Allowing the user to contribute or share while performing normal browsing, with as few steps as possible, will maximize the value of the community.
Creating an extension that overlays the medical meta-data into the current web page really lowers the friction for users looking for trustworthy data. Allowing the user to “markup” or “annotate” the current web page information really lowers the friction for users assigning trustworthiness to a web page. People who need to determine data trustworthiness can do so with zero effort. People who supply the trustworthiness can do so with minimal effort, so there is more, current trustworthiness data in the system. One side feeds the other to the benefit of both. Just imagine if everyday folk could use such an extension to look for reliable information on the web.
Another reason I like Dave’s idea is a bit selfish. I am not a Facebook guy and I don’t “do” a lot of the “social for the sake of social” stuff (see Twitter et al). But here is a real, social, community (albeit niche) that provides something more than social value. I guess that means I should offer services to make this become a reality. I can only look at pictures of cute cats with witty captions for so long. Dave, what’s your plan?