Products I like and wish I actually used

Sometimes you see something that looks so cool that you want to use it, but quickly realise you don’t have any actual compelling need or interest.  I’ve raved a few times about products I’m using at the moment and really enjoying but wanted to mention a few deserving products that I wish I used more often but for whatever reason don’t.

Posterous
Posterous is named as such because they make it preposterously simple to blog.  It’s very easy to use and a great product — I’ve even heard people on the T to work raving about how much they love it.  I think their landing page, with its three steps of use, says it all:

Posterous landing page

I’d really like to enjoy that simplicity myself — I love the site, the implementation, and the look of posterous blogs, but with my comfy custom WordPress installation, I can’t see myself using it anytime soon.  Bummer.

Balsamiq

Balsamiq is what I spent years wanting to have.  It’s a very simple-to-use but powerful creator for wireframes.  Instead of doing the smart thing and inventing my own version of it, I languished in Visio, PowerPoint and Photoshop.  Balsamiq provides a great toolkit for quickly creating digital sketches of UIs and is a joy to use.  While it’s been very useful for my own personal projects on occasion, unfortunately it doesn’t fit in with my current work flow at TripAdvisor where we’re doing a pretty decent job with Photoshop and paper sketches.  I would’ve loved having a tool like this at Trovix though.  Oh, and a hearty congratulations to the Balsamiq team for what sounds like a very successful 2009.

Amazon Kindle

I got to borrow one of these from Google over Thanksgiving and I loved using it.  It meant I had plenty to read while on vacation (where I get the bulk of my book-length reading done), without the bulk of the books.  I bought Under The Dome by Stephen King recently, and wow, there’s a book that shows the utility of the Kindle (1074 pages).

Unfortunately the clunky update speed and grayscale screen doesn’t do it for me.  The lure of the mythical Apple tablet is proving too strong and I can’t pull the trigger on one just yet.  More than happy to keep borrowing one of Google’s though.

Google Voice

I managed to snag a GrandCentral account a while back, but the inertia of my existing phone number meant it was more of a technical toy than a serious phone replacement.  I do love the idea of a unified phone system, and with realtime voicemail and transcription, call recording, conference calls and a slew of other great features, it seems like an amazing product… but only if you can get around the limitations of having to change your number, and to call the Google Voice service to take advantage of said features.  I think the rejected-by-AT&T iPhone app would’ve gone a long way to helping me switch.

RadRails

RadRails is one of the few products where I’m not sure if it’s me at fault or them for not using it.  As someone who got very comfortable in Eclipse and is a little lazy, I’d like to continue my Rails hacking in a familiar IDE.  Unfortunately I just can’t seem to get RadRails to play nice with the latest releases of Ruby and RoR.  When I get more time I’ll take another crack at it.

In theory though, it’s a great environment for us ex-Eclipse users.  I’m not sure about other users, but I spent a fair bit of time in Eclipse using J2EE/Spring as a framework, and RadRails feels like home.

Edit: updated to add…

Google Website Optimizer

This is an amazing free product that allows for A/B and bucket testing.  Happily we have some very nice pool testing at TripAdvisor already, but perhaps I’ll get to use it on a future side project.

Products I’m really loving right now

I realised tonight that there are quite a variety of tools and products I’ve been using lately that I’ve been really enjoying, including:

Zipcar

I live in Beacon Hill, where owning a car is both expensive and difficult.  As such, I have two RFID cards in my wallet – my monthly MBTA pass and my Zipcard.   Zipcar finally released their iPhone application, which although not as exciting as made out to be (no initial unlocking of the car from your phone, but I do enjoy surreptitiously honking the horn while my wife is driving), does provide a very convenient way of getting a car when you need it last minute.  Their website is actually very nice too, and makes finding and booking a car surprisingly easy — I particularly like how they’ve implemented the calendaring.  The car sharing itself is also great.  $6.13/hour, all-inclusive, for a Prius just 2 blocks from my apartment is very compelling.  The insurance setup is less than ideal (only state minimums), and it depends on the goodness of others to keep the car in decent condition, but I’ve had no serious problems as yet.

Zipcar iPhone app Zipcar iPhone app

Yelp iPhone App

While I wait for TripAdvisor’s updated mobile offerings, I continue to enjoy using Yelp’s nifty local review app.  I’ve used it to find things to do when in NYC, somewhere to grab a quick bite, bars I didn’t know about and even write reviews while still at a restaurant.  The augmented reality is a nice toy, but a little gimmicky.  I recently used Yelp when visiting Michigan, and used it to find local favourites like Bates burgers and Bode’s Corned Beef House.

Yelp iPhone app

Adioso.com

This is a pretty amazing flight search tool, replacing calendar widgets with a Googlesque search box. Not officially launched yet, but looks like it will be pretty awesome when it does.  Try searching for things like “Brisbane to snow in early December”.

Adioso

Flightcaster.com

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who hates waiting around an airport with no idea what’s going on with my flight.  Flightcaster will tell you the chances of a delay well before the airlines will.  So far I’ve been very impressed with both the prediction system and the UI, which is very intuitive and pretty.  I had a pretty amazing experience with Flightcaster last week when flying to San Francisco from Boston.  Before I left, the flight was listed as on-time, while Flightcaster predicted it was “probably delayed”.  I arrived at the airport, and the flight was delayed by two hours, due to weather at SFO.  While waiting, I checked Flightcaster again and it predicted we would be leaving shortly, and within minutes an announcement came through that the two hour delay had been shortened to a 20 minute delay.  Nifty.

Flightcaster

iPhone 3GS

I know the iPhone 3GS has been out for a while, and it’s hardly groundbreaking to proclaim how great iPhones are, but since upgrading from my 2G to the 3GS, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at what a difference it makes.  It’s now fast enough that I’m able to work remotely, it’s great having a longer battery life, and the difference the speed makes to the user experience cannot be understated.  I particularly like the improved camera and finally having GPS and a compass, great for when I exit a T stop in a bewildered fashion.

iPhone 3GS

Skype iPhone App

A while back I wrote an article about using an iPhone as a home phone using Fring.  Sadly, it was a little too buggy for everyday use, and I continue to use my dedicated Netgear phone.  Happily Skype released an official iPhone app, which does everything I’ve always wanted in a dedicated Skype phone (unlike the disastrous Belkin Skype wifi phone).  While it doesn’t work in the background, or over 3G (yet), it does give me access to IM and voicemail at all times, and I can use Skype-To-Go to make calls over AT&T.  It also makes a great second landline at home while my wife is using our Netgear.

Skype iPhone app

Will Craigslist’s dominance continue?

One thing has always puzzled me — is Craigslist successful because of its simplicity?  Or is it because it was first?

I’ve heard the “you can’t be successful unless you’re first” line bandied about a few times, but have never truly believed it.  It was a reason given why not to create a social networking component on Trovix, which I argued against with the example of Facebook versus Myspace, or Google versus Yahoo.  Based on examples with sites that big (and examples of smaller companies continuing to thrive in a niche, such as Vimeo versus YouTube) I’ve always believed that a superior product and/or a compelling value proposition are key ingredients to a product’s success, and while some inertia can be gained from being first (particularly with network effects), it is not insurmountable with appropriate marketing (which is why Trovix now has a social networking component).

But what surprised me today was seeing the success of eBay’s kijiji in Canada.  A hat tip to kitcar for the link.

Kijiji versus Craigslist in Canda

Red line is kijiji and blue line is Craigslist.

In Canada, Craigslist was slow to take off.  As such eBay put serious effort into marketing to gain that all important network effect, and now Craigslist is slowly becoming irrelevant.  The most amazing part is seeing the actual moment the network effect takes hold in late 2007.  If Craigslist was like other companies, they would do what eBay in Australia did.  Back in the late 90s, eBay was king in the US.  However in Australia, some local imitators jumped in, including sold.com.au (which now redirects to ebay).  All of these were handily beating eBay, until a well-coordinated marketing campaign put eBay back in front.  They weren’t as effective in New Zealand though:

Trademe.co.nz versus Ebay.co.nz

Blue line is trademe.co.nz, red line is eBay.co.nz (insufficient traffic to appear on the graph).

The final thing worth noting is that kijiji does in fact have a foothold in the US.  If growth continues (currently a healthy 10% per month compared to 4% for Craigslist) and Craigslist remains stagnant, it’s hard to imagine, but they could eventually win out:

Craigslist versus Kijiji

Red line is craigslist and blue line is kijiji.

There’s a very good example of this sort of slow growth playing out right now with Gmail and the other webmail providers.  It’s slow, but it’s seemingly inevitable that Gmail will be the number one email provider:

Gmail is the orange line, bright blue is AOL and dark blue is Hotmail.

So – back to the original question.  Is it better to have a feature rich site or a more usable but limited site?  There’s unfortunately no easy answer — it all comes down to whether users who want to use your site can get done what they want to get done.  Craigslist has been “good enough” for a long time, and inertia continues to carry them.  However given enough incentive (a site with better features and just enough of an audience to make it worth your while) users can and will swap.  It’ll be interesting to see how kijiji continues to fare in coming years.

Information overload

One important usability principle is to manage complexity for the user.  This means both the UI itself, and contraining the data to prevent overload.  Brandon Walkin wrote a nice article about managing complex UIs, but didn’t talk about managing complex data.

Usually Google does a great job in this field.  Their onebox concept allows them to float up what they think will be most relevant to you in a small snippet.  If they want to give you extra results, they just give you a few and clearly delineate the rest of your results.  Google Finance does a really nice job of different zoom levels of data:

Google Finance zoomed in

and when zoomed out:

Google Finance zoomed out

It’s hard to tell the difference — which is deliberate.  Google put in some very nice smoothing algorithms as well as doing a decent job on adjusting the scale and news for the stock.

One thing that has surprised me is the increasing complexity to Google Maps.  I’m not sure why they keep adding unverified user submitted datas and non-relevant photos, but they do.  Now they provide so much information it’s essentially unusable:

Google Maps

I’ve also noticed lately that if I search for a particular destination, I usually get a large cluster of destination points, as well as an arrow actually pointing to my location (example below is of Massachusetts State House).

Massachusetts State House

The top x data points is usually a good rule of thumb (depending on the size of the display between 10 and 25), or just show 1 if there is a high degree of confidence.  I think Yelp does a pretty nice job with their map – giving you the option of retaining the original data, or updating the top 10, which keeps it nicely manageable.

Google doesn’t stop iterating

One thing you can say about Google is its search results page has been known for its consistency and simplicity.  The most radical addition was the poorly-received (by bloggers anyway) search wiki.  Most changes have been behind the scenes — there has been a lot of additional complexity being continually added to the html source over the years, and plenty of tweaks with how the results are presented, their ordering, and the OneBox.  Google had their unbranded playground, SearchMash, which recently was decommissioned, and they also bucket-tested very select features, but very little actually changed on Google.com.  The site is certainly different to how it was 5 years ago, but it has been so gradual, it’s like watching someone you know age.  If you look at a photo you can see the difference, but otherwise they look the same.

I’m not sure if it’s a direct response to the Microsoft/Yahoo partnership, but in the past few weeks Google appears to be taking broad steps towards changes that now benefit them rather than the consumer, while also pushing out new features.  There was the recently revealed Caffeine, creating a strong connection between new features and the Google brand.  They recently changed the landing page for Google.com, when signed into a Google account so that it defaults to iGoogle rather than the vanilla search page (giving me yet another location to have an unattended chat window open).  The latter is most definitely an attempt by Google to keep users within their sites and expose them to new products (currently Google Latitude and Calendar are featured prominently on mine, even though I had previously customised iGoogle).  Now Google have rolled out some tweaks to their search result page (which I am pretty sure are not being bucket-tested, as I’m sure I saw them tested a couple of years (!!) ago):

Click for a larger view

Click for a larger view

On the left in the red box is something I’m very surprised to see from Google and I was just thinking about the other week.  Filters!  Filters are a surprisingly difficult usability problem, and something I’ve spent a lot of time on.  I’m pleased to see Google has put them on the left (something I believe is more natural to the user), and it’s also good to see they start minimized, but are still noticeable enough so that when you need them they are there.  In this example, I was keen to see more timely details about the AT&T iPhone tethering, and was about to adjust my query when I noticed the filter box and was able to simply ask for results in the last week.

The green box on the right is a relatively subtle change.  My guess is that given the prevalence of wide-screen monitors these days, the clicks on the ads were trending downwards (or perhaps their gaze-tracking machine noticed less eyeballs).  As such they have brought the ads to come sit right next to your results.

However, the fact is that neither of these would be that interesting on any other site.  My original title for this entry was “Google doesn’t stop innovating”, but Google has a tried and true formula, and I think it’s far more accurate to say that they are relentless iterators (at least when it comes to the UI).  Now, if only they would implement the custom re-ordering of the navigation bar based on usage that I suggested to them…

The difficulty of simple design – part 2

In my last post about design simplicity, I touched on the difficulties involved in what does and doesn’t make the cut for a design.

Recently I noticed a forum post where one of the developers behind Plex (a really amazing media centre application for OS X) had to defend removing features.  I still think their reasoning is correct, but due to user backlash they decided to put the feature back into the next version.

This is the main reason for feature creep and too many options.  People have different tastes and use products for different purposes.  The problem is, by kowtowing to existing users, you continue to alienate potential ones that you didn’t even realise you were alienating.

So let’s say you have a feature that tests equally well – 50% of your users love it, and 50% of your users find it confusing and difficult to use.  Do you keep it (to satisfy the 50% of users) or lose it (to preserve simplicity)?  What about you have two different versions of a feature that you have A/B tested and each are equally popular in those tests?  It can be tempting to even provide both!

However to preserve a simple design, it’s at this point you need to make a subjective choice.  You need to evaluate:

  • What will be better for the product’s image?
  • What will provide extensibility for future plans?
  • What provides a qualitatively better experience?

For instance — you may be trying to choose between a dropdown list and a radio button.  Which to choose?   A dropdown list takes up less real estate — is that important? Do users find it easier to make a choice if they can see everything all at once, as with a radio button?   Is the list of options going to grow in the future?

As a designer or usability expert, it’s easy to get caught up in always finding the “best” user experience or what the user “wants” most, but it’s important to remember that some aspects to design cannot be measured or quantitatively known.  A simple design will go a long way to giving your design universal appeal and application potential.

The difficulty of simple design – part 1

The hardest part of being a designer is choosing what goes into the product.

Deciding what should and shouldn’t go in is actually a very difficult choice.  You don’t want it to be overcomplicated, but you want to have a competitive edge.  Sure, it seems easy — just throw out whatever people don’t need and put everything else in.  Unfortunately every user is different.  I read an article which claimed that people only used 20% of Microsoft Office features, and so 80% should be removed.  Unfortunately, each person uses a different 20% of the features.

So how do you decide what goes in without overloading your product?  The easiest features to be sure about are the ‘standard’ ones.  What are the must-have aspects of your product to make it work?  What does everyone love about your competitors?  Put these in!

The rest?  While usability testing will give you some idea of what people would want or like, a user saying they’ll use something in a usability session does not mean they will actually use it.  To decide what might be used, you will need to use some of your best judgement, some user feedback, but most of all, pick features which are ambiguous.  People will always do surprising things with your product.  How people customize and appropriate a system for their own use is called “articulation work” in design academia, and the more ambiguous you make your design, the more people can appropriate it in innovative and surprising ways.

I think Twitter is a great example of articulation work.  Ostensibly it’s just a status update system.  However, people use it for all sorts of things — microblogging, link sharing, ad-hoc meetings, connecting with corporations, getting the news, etc.  What facilitated this was a simple system with a few key features – such as the “@” and “#” operators, and a real time search.  From these basics, the community began using it in new and unexpected ways.

So when you’re trying to keep things simple and to decide “should I put this feature in?”, wonder “how might this be used in other ways?”  It’s much better to put in one feature which can be used in a multitude of ways, rather than overload on catering to everybody.

However, the question remains — how do you decide which treatment for a particular feature makes it in?  For example, say you allow a user to select something via a drop down or with radio buttons, and both test equally well.  How do you decide which to use without providing alternative methods of interaction?  I’ll cover that in part 2.

Why I’m passionate about usability

There was a great Schneier post about why he is so ‘into’ security, and how his mindset differs from so many other people.  I was thinking tonight about why I’m so passionate about user experience and how to improve its general approach.  I think what drives me boils down to the following:

  • Constantly imagining how other people might interpret something

Obviously it’s impossible to know exactly what other people think, so usually I ask them.  What did you think about that?  Why did you think that?  Internally I create a mental model on how people with different views might interpret things.  When I use something I can’t but help imagine how my grandmother might use it.  Would my Dad know what to do next?  How about my best mates?  Not only with design, but this extends to even just being in a group conversation.  As people are relating stories I’m wondering “how will other people here interpret that?”.  I find I can’t but help notice when there’s a gap there, and I often find myself interrupting two people who obviously don’t share the same understanding, “oh by the way John, I think what Fred really meant is this…”.

  • Personal frustration with the design of products

My wife hates this.  She noticed this started just after I began my PhD.  I’ve always been critical of my personal devices and sites I use, but after starting a PhD in human computer interaction I became hypercritical.  Used to be if I got stuck, I’d blame myself and look up the manual.  I’d like to think that I’m fairly savvy, and most times I find myself stuck, it’s usually a usability problem.  On a daily basis, my wife deals with a lot of my frustration.  The worst two designs for me at the moment for this are the Playstation 3 system UI (what were they thinking? The company that brought the simplicity and joy of the PSP interface took it and just broke it) and the new Google search interface (they crowding my results with multiple suggestions that I search for what now? And what are all these new buttons everywhere?  Way too much clutter).

  • A belief that delighting users is the best thing a company can do

As a product manager I understand that it is necessary to balance business requirements with usability.  However it is not good enough to say “well, this gives us x revenue, so even though it upsets the users, let’s keep it in there”.  What about the lost y revenue from the people who stop coming to your site?  By focussing on user experience above all else you give people a product that they keep coming back to.  Lost revenue streams can usually be replaced.  Obnoxious ads aren’t the be all and end all of making money on the internet.  Creating something that makes people tell their friends about how great it is (so long as you have a business plan on how to monetize the traffic) is the best possible thing you can do.  Companies such as Apple and Google show this again and again.  I still believe user experience (in balance) with business requirements is key.

  • Wondering “why is it done this way?” and “how can it be done better?”

Every time I use a new product I always like contemplating why is its design the way it is.  Why did the Peek email device forgo all other online activity?  Could its interface be better?  Why does the iPhone not support MMS and video?  Could their touch interface be done better?  I can never be satisfied when using a product, as I’m always asking why.

  • Embracing change

Getting used to a particular way of doing things is great, as it reduces cognitive load.  However it’s often not the best way of doing it, nor the most intuitive.  If you can find a balance of both, everyone wins.  New paradigms for interaction should be supported, although I’m always happy to let someone else push them on their own designs first, and make them a success first so that when I employ them people are used to them.

  • Respecting users

Above everything else, assuming your users are “dumb”, and that you should cater for the “lowest common denominator” is a bad idea.  Why?  Because they’re not dumb.  They’re not the lowest common denominator.  Different people have different needs, different mental models, and different approaches to completing a task.  Simplifying your design approach to thinking “our users are dumb, let’s make it easy for them” is not usability, and a trap for unwary players.  People are smarter than you think, and designers that find the best ways to make use of tacit skills in their users are those that succeed.

Overall I think usability is more a state of mind than a set of skills.  But it’s a hard state ofmind to become accustomed to.  I wrote my PhD about how to better integrate engineers to the design process and make them aware of usability concerns, and my answer was it’s hard (and “it depends”).  But being cognizant of the difficulties users face, and respecting them and trying to anticipate these difficulties (feel free to just talk to them!) will make your design not just better but more successful.

Ranking crowdsourced data with curves

I’m a big fan of user review sites.  I’ve been using TripAdvisor since at least 2002 to help plan my journeys, and Yelp is my new favourite site since moving to the US.

Crowdsourcing information is usually a pretty good way of doing things.  There’s been plenty of research which has shown that if you get a crowd of people together and have them, for instance, guess the total number of jelly beans in a jar, the average guess will be pretty close to the real number.  Translating this to something usable in everyday life, I’ve seen people have a lot of success with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk for aiding research, since you can use the sheer weight of numbers to smooth the data.

This is great for something tangible and objective.  However, as soon as you start throwing subjective data into the mix, results get a little skewed.

In particular I’ve noticed lately I can’t quite trust online reviews (from a wide variety of users) the way I used to.  I’m not sure why things have gotten so skewed — perhaps I’m more discerning now, or maybe there are more outliers.  Either way, I haven’t trusted the average rating on sites like Amazon, Yelp and TripAdvisor for a couple of years now.  Instead I read a sample of reviews and then go straight to the upper and lower bounds and try to get a sense of why people are voting in a particular fashion.  Is the product/place being reviewed being unfairly penalized or rewarded? (for example, a hotel might get a lot of 1 star reviews for high parking fees, but are great otherwise.  A restaurant might get a lot of 5 star reviews because they’re cheap and have a nice ambiance, even though the food stinks.)

One method I’ve found for making a better decision is to look at the shape of the score curve.  For example, here are the scores for the top 5 TripAdvisor hotels in San Francisco at the moment, order by TripAdvisor by their average score:

1

2

3

4

5

There aren’t any that really stick out there as being obviously different, but you can see that the fourth one gets a far higher ratio of 5 star ratings to 4 star ratings than the others. These differences become more pronounced the further down the overall list of hotels you go. Hotel A is rated as a better hotel than Hotel B which is ranked (according to its average) after it:

Hotel A:

Hotel B:

Whenever I see a curve difference like this though, I always go for the latter when booking.  Since I changed tactics, I have been having great hotel experiences.  To give this a quantifiable score to compare, I tried out the following formula:

If ((x star votes) – (x-1 star votes)) > 0 then

y = x

else

y = 5 – (x – 1)

(y*(5votes – 4votes) + y*(4votes – 3votes) + y*(3votes – 2votes) + y*(2votes – 1votes) + 1votes) / total votes

Using a formula such as this the new overall scores become:

(260 + 96 – 9 + 8 + 1) / 128 = 2.78125
(600 + 108 + 6 + 8 + 2) / 206 = 3.51456
(1550 + 548 + 54 + 18 + 5) / 699 = 3.11159
(425 + 28 + 15 + 0 + 1) / 119 = 3.94117
(1260 + 948 + 60 + 16 + 13) / 883 = 2.60136

Which as you can see results in a much better looking ranking for the curves:

4

2

3

1

5

If we apply the formula to the hotels A and B, we see the difference becomes more pronounced:

(-26 + 244 + 15 + 22 + 6) / 185 = 1.41081

(250 + 236 – 9 + 46 + 10) / 301 = 1.77076

Introducing a new overall score would help people pick better hotels and for the hotel owners to strive for higher ratings.  I’m also a big fan of the trending data that Yelp has added recently, using Patxi’s as an example:

Coming from someone who wrote his thesis on qualitative user feedback, this has been really interesting for me to look at how you can properly interpret large amounts of quantitative data involving subjective scores.

Update November 7 2008: Thanks to Eric Liu for pointing out some weighting issues depending on vote numbers. We’re brainstorming some new algorithms to account for these situations.

In the meantime, anyone from the myriad of Netflix people who have stopped by, feel free to contact me! tim@<this domain>.

Is something usable, or is something useful?

One thing I’ve been reflecting on lately is how often I will use something because I find it incredibly useful – and yet in a lot of cases it’s quite unusable.

A potential reason for companies overlooking the importance of usability testing is that they have had success in the past with an innovative product, “so why change?”  Time and time again I’ve seen examples where a design has succeeded simply because it offered something people needed even it wasn’t in a usable fashion.

An extreme example is the ATM.  It’s only recently ATMs have been getting easier to use, but they are still the same old clunky things, with awkward questions and poorly laid out buttons.  But getting access to your money isn’t a “nice to have”.  It’s a long term piece of infrastructure, and given security requirements it’s rarely upgraded.  So we put up with it because it’s useful.

In the cut-throat consumer world you see the same thing with products that have an innovative edge.  The Logitech Harmony 880 remote is a great example.  It combines price, looks, and a reasonable amount of usability to make a pretty compelling package for improving the experience with controlling your hifi.  And yet when you really look at it, it’s a horrible product.  The remote is laggy, the screen of poor quality, and the ergonomics are honestly the worst I’ve seen in a remote.  Don’t even get me started on the PC software – it is very obvious they never tested the UI outside of the QA team.  If someone were to bring out a properly usable version of it in the market, it would kill.  But it’s a success because it’s so useful and so people are discouraged from competing.

A final example – during my thesis I looked at how dentists used their patient charting software.  Specifically I talked to dentists about how they used the periocharting software (measuring the space between your gums and your teeth).  Unanimously the dentists hated it and felt it wasted a lot of their time.  Yet they all used it, and for some, it was a major reason for purchasing the software.  The simple reason being it was incrementally better than previous software in terms of usability and more importantly improved patient education far more than any other product available to them.

So what’s the lesson?  I guess it’s a double edged sword.  If you have something you want to get to market immediately, and you’re concerned about usability, then maybe you should just get it out there.  It will be an even bigger success once you make it better.  However if you are the first to market with a half decent product, and then someone comes by with something truly usable you’re in trouble.  Me?  I’ll always be running the usability studies.