Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Nobody Reads"

I had an interesting conversation with one of my customers recently. While discussing a particular support issue she was complaining that people kept calling despite the instructions being very explicit. I said, "Have you added it to the course description?" to which she replied, "You bet I have. But that's not the issue. The truth is nobody reads!"

My customer had actually honed in on a serious problem that has become more and more apparent with the advent of the Internet. There was a time when when blogs were widely read. These days even that seems to have stopped. Readers simply write TLDR instead - "Too Long Didn't Read"

In fact, there is a Chrome plugin named TLDR which will summarize an article for you into various sizes!

From a technical standpoint, designing a user interface that makes it easy to navigate (without the need to read elaborate instructions) even for the least tech savvy user is a huge challenge. Even when you post an alert on the screen in red text users don't read and prefer to call customer support, leading to huge waste of time and energy for everyone involved. Huge amounts of FAQs, Wikis etc are generated everyday, but the reality is that users just don't have the patience to look through them. It is not surprising when the average attention time span on a website page is less than 6 secs. 

As we move further towards a hyper-connected world filled with mobile devices the attention span is likely to further plummet (especially given the small screen on phones). The challenge to counter this on all fronts is going to be hard no matter what!

p.s: I'll keep this brief lest it ends up in the TLDR category :-)

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Feature Release: Video Chat Integration!

We are glad to announce the introduction of a whole new video chat facility. We have integrated WebRTC, a free, open project which enables crystal clear audio and a rich video experience.The WebRTC integration now allows users in the system to chat among themselves and to the Admins. 

In this day and age of real time social interaction, with the video chat along with social media integration, comment system and the discussion forums, our system is now equipped with every kind of interaction options a user might need. Imagine a situation where a learner might have a doubt regarding the course content. Right now they have to rely on comments and/or emails to raise the question and then wait to hear back from the Admin. But with this new facility in place they can always initiate a chat with an Admin in a new window and get it clarified then and there itself. They can also interact with fellow students to share useful information. 

It is not just the learners that can benefit from this. The video chat also allows the Admins to reach out to certain students in real time. We are certain that this can improve the overall efficiency of your workflow. And as you can imagine, end user support becomes much more efficient if you can speak directly to the client in real time. 

With the webrtc integration, the only requirement for you to start a video chat is to be logged into the system. No additional software is required.No browser plugins are required. No additional registrations are required and as expected, you can change your status to not available or busy just in case you want to work without distractions. The video chat is compatible with the latest versions of major browsers like Mozilla FireFox and Google Chrome (IE is not supported). Since the video chat is enabled only for the users in the system, spammers will be kept out of the chat facility. If you haven't already signed up to our system, please do so now, switch ON your camera and let us know how much do you like the all new, rich, hassle free real time video chat experience. 

If you have any questions feel free to contact us at support@vitalect.com

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The Trade off between Time and Quality

These days, especially in the world of web-based applications the trend seems to be to release a product first and incrementally fix bugs. Many such applications are free (follow the freemium model) and the early end-users (or early adopters) are often the free beta testers (or guinea pigs). In the race to launch a software product companies are often faced with the dilemma of where to make compromises. This decision becomes that much harder when not meeting a deadline could be the "kiss of death." This means that very often developers gravitate towards meeting the deadline but knowing fully well that the software being released has bugs buried in it.

The reality is that in the web-based application (SAAS) business fixing bugs and updating the software is relatively trivial in comparison to shrink-wrapped software. As a result in many cases even before the end user gets down to accessing the system several bugs could be fixed! 

We have an interesting anecdote in this regard to narrate. A customer required a specific set of features to be developed. After discussions it was agreed hat the effort will take us about two months. However, for various reason we started to slip on the target dates. We reached a point where it was becoming apparent to us that we could deliver but with some known bugs. The reality is that it could take a while before the customer and or their end-users would identify the bugs. So the question was, should we release or ask for more time despite knowing that this project was time-sensitive to the customer? We believed that "discretion is the better part of valor" and so we were preparing to prep the customer about the exact situation and sharing the known bugs well in advance of the deadline.

Thankfully, the customer came back and asked us to postpone the release (because of delays at their end) and we survived with time to spare. The product was released within the newly set deadline and the customer was happy as ever. Clearly lady luck was smiling on us in this case! 

But it might not be true every single time. So that brings us back to where we started - the tradeoff between time and quality. If you are scratching your head, don't worry, its a topic of research. 

Check out Sell First, Fix Later: Impact of Patching on Software Quality http://repository.cmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1028&context=heinzworks