Why Doesn't Software Learn "Me"?
By John Parkinson
Over the past couple of decades I have lived the personal productivity software upgrade life many times--on Windows, Apple and Linux platforms. I often think that we really rent the software we use (rather than buy it) because we are on a never-ending upgrade treadmill with a new "toll" every 18 months or so.
These upgrades mostly add value. Often, though, they also add confusion and frustration, because they change things for no apparent reason--and they make me learn a new way to do something I already know how to do just fine.
Over the years software vendors have gotten better at helping with these transitions, but they still do a generally poor job. Despite the fact that my PC has plenty of spare processing power and storage, the software I use largely doesn't take advantage of these resources to keep track of what I do most, what configuration values I set (and I have plenty of options to set such values), what I have most trouble remembering how to do (because it's complex or because I don't do it very often) and so on.
I think it's reasonable to expect that a new version of a software product should look at all of these factors and maintain them after an upgrade. Some options and features do get persisted, but many don't. And if the new version can't work the way the old version did, I should get a list of suggestions on how to get as close as possible or a guide to how the new product does what I want.
In general, I think every software product should have a "personalization" option that offers at least these choices: help me learn (novice mode); work the way most people use it (standard mode); and "optimize for me" mode. In the latter, the software would observe how I interact with it and adjust how it works to make me as efficient as possible. The increments would be small, frequent and "intuitive," because they make what I want to do easier--rather than the jarring discontinuities that make version upgrades so challenging.
And eventually, corporate developers should get tools that let them build applications this way, too.
John Parkinson is CIO of TransUnion. To read his columns for CIO Insight, click here.