First Clear the Decks

The ideal product introduces just one new idea that people want. Salesmen may get bored with it. The boardroom may get tired of it. Yet one new idea at a time is as much as the general public can handle, or at least as much as any entrepreneur can sow effectively.

As soon as you put this concept to a computer person, you are likely to get shot down for genuine, special pleading reasons. The industry has reinvented how people write, count, and draw, without pencil or paper. What took printing over 100 years to get from Mainz to Moscow, took micro-computing less than a January to June. In the scramble to get there first, what started as plenty of room for all quickly intensified into a vehement struggle to preserve one's territory. Everyone, it seems, had legal claims to structures, subroutines, and screen arrangements. This meant that instead of freely coming to a consensus of the most advantageous program forms, programmers were forever having to re-design the wheel and their customers were forever jumping through hoops in their attempts to dominate the form. Now with shareware and ready-made modules, things are slowly beginning to look hopeful.

Yet all such protestation merely makes a diversionary argument instead of addressing the point. The less your customers have to learn, the more readily they are likely to use it. If you feel diffident about the amount of fresh information that users have to take on board, consider how much training your own staff needed. Try and recall what friends and family found hardest to grasp.

When software was in its desktop infancy, it was essential to teach people about the computer as well as the software. Now that everyone learns computing at school, nearly everything you have to explain should be about your program. If not, you are probably setting up unnecessary hurdles for yourself.

So how can you make your program largely self-explanatory? The secret is to keep it simple. Reduce the number of new ideas that users have to take on board and present them as far as possible in terms that users will already understand. One strategy is to concentrate on the most important new feature and set aside the others for future updates. While you can present much in ways customers haven't seen before, you have to ask yourself whether doing so is at the expense of your customers . . . and ultimately of yourself.

It is usually best to place things on the screen where people expect them and arrange the menu order according to the users' own priorities. Above all, explain things concretely and clearly. Streamlining a program to minimize your educational task isn't dumbing down the product. It is simply an act of courtesy to your customers to make them feel good about their purchase.

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Internet Entrepreneurship Survival Guide

Internet Entrepreneurship Survival Guide

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