Thursday, February 25, 2010

2.0 interface

This is all, obviously, personal opinion. I encourage you to develop your OWN opinions about what is right and what is wrong, and jira accordingly. Some of this will probably never make it to jira, or if they do, be totally ignored (limitations of the side tabbed thing, which I'm sure they're all chuffed about and won't be able to admit limitations). This is open letter no one of any import will read, as well as a personal reasoning through the reasons behind the knee-jerk annoyance. Plus! Maybe you found some of these preferences that I haven't found groping around in the dark yet to fix some of this!

Herein being a random smattering of things that hit me, edited periodically with more and for clarity. I'm harsh, I'm blunt, I'm not writing this as a true appeal, this is a recording of thoughts. I am talking about interface here, not features- they are not all the same thing. Alpha masking, the extra layer, HTML on a prim? Nothing to do with the interface, we just got them at the same time because there was a feature freeze until this interface was ready. They are the cherry on top to make you like the rest of it, which isn't a bad way to lure people to learn the new way, but that's what it is, they are not integral to the new interface, at all. That said, the UI for HTML on a prim? Bravo. Good solid intuitive focus changes behavior of tools to what you expect when you're doing the equivalent with tabbing out. It's intuitive to get in and out, to browse, when what shows where so you know what's happening (like the top bar- the way it goes in and out dependent on what it thinks you want...and it guesses WELL), degrading gracefully to texture on older viewers, everything is perfect (to me). I haven't seen a single thing I would want changed (other than bugfixing some issues of people not being able to see certain things even in 2.0). Still, this interface has nothing to do with the interface of the viewer as a while.

Stability is HUGELY improved for me in this version. I can do whizbang stuff that crashed me hard previously. I haven't crashed yet once, period. I lag significantly less. Backend here, they've done some seriously good work. This is THE most solid viewer I've used, hands down, since WL went live (weird funfact? The First Look WL viewer was a very good viewer for me, the day it went live everything tanked). That is ALSO not interface.

Interfaces are HARD. They really are. You take them for granted using them, but developing a successful interface is really really difficult. There are a lot of things you need to juggle- making things familiar enough that using the interface comes naturally (i.e. basing interface on existing things with somewhat similar function- look at how many MMO's have copied WoW's interface to a large degree, WoW itself being based on things that came before it, etc.), making them different and exciting enough to not be boring and add new functionality (just directly copying an existing interface is bad from a lot of viewpoints), finding ways to "fix" previous interface mistakes because even the best interfaces have room for improvement, working ergonomically and being intuitive to a huge diverse subset who are all coming at it from different directions with different desires- which just becomes more and more of a problem when you've got something that does a lot. You're also prone to fall in love with your interface and be blind to its faults. Even when it's a team, and there are focus groups and feedback, it's very common to ignore concerns because you want to do it THIS way. An interface this complicated, that has so many hurdles to overcome, that no one yet has done truly right? That is really REALLY hard. But there are problems inherent in this, from very basic tenants, and that's an issue. (Now, if I believed they were this devious and thought ahead, I'd think that 2.01 was the REAL interface, and this was to shake us up enough to accept it, something that has some of the aspects of this but excludes a lot of the more radical and hard to deal with parts.)

My problem with any new interface is twofold- 1) I've been using the previous one and know my way around. This presents serious problems in any interface overhaul, the learning curve to the new is always a frustrating experience, even if it is 100% better (take Blender. Please. Er, I mean, look at Blender- it's got a clusterfuck of an interface, but once you find your way around it starts making sense. Almost anything would be an improvement, and yet, anything would cause a lot of stress in anyone who actually knows what they're doing because they know how to do it the hard way, and the easy way isn't obvious until they learn it). The aim here is new players, who are not familiar with this system in any manner. I'm not sure they've succeeded in a lot of what they were attempting, in part because they've gotten hung up in what's "slick", as well as using things for interface basis that doesn't necessarily carry over because we've got a lot more functionality, and things needing to be used across and at the same time (for instance, I go to _another interface_, my desktop, to drag and drop an image over a trillian window to offer an image the easy way. We've got drag and drop here, but we've got the place you drag from and the place you drop to, occupying the same space at the same time, which makes it impossible without breaking away from the _default_- that's an interface fail, if I have to find a way to make your system work in an unusual way to do simple tasks). 2) I'm not their test case, even as a noob- day 1, after groping my way out of Orientation Island, I started making a fishnet shirt. Literally, the first DAY in SL I started the process of making things. As the new interface is designed, creation tools are "out of the way" so as to "not confuse" the new player. That would have frustrated the crap out of me. I've always been interested in a 3d chat program far less than a 3d immersive world that I can create.

I'm trying to put aside BOTH of those biases to evaluate this and its usefulness to everyone. I may not always succeed.

The whole side menu thing: Herein we're going for style over function. It's "slick", it's gimmicky. It serves as a one window holds everything which is an interface trick that I'm never fond of, and usually falls flat on its face because it's confusing, and requires a one size fits none sizing scheme. Some, but not ALL, of the things stored there seem to have tear aways (new window inventory still hangs on my computer, and will probably crash me if I try to do it after being logged for a while, which is why it's a function I ceased using in previous viewers- in fact, so far inventory is the ONLY thing I've been able to tear away, I want to have the option for every. single. thing. Flexibility in interfacing is a GOOD thing). Inventory AND everything you want to drop things into FROM Inventory in the same space (Profiles, Group Notices...)...right there you're forcing people to find ways around the default. There's the "mini tab" with profiles, but this still requires more clicking through (ergonomics fail), but Group Notices just generally seem to say "well, we failed here by the default scheme, find the way around it!" That is not good interfacing. They've also generally introduced more action required to do a lot of tasks- the side tab is a big reason that's necessary, and that is also never good in interfacing- you want quick, easy, ergonomic design, not clunky. They're following the web interface linear click this to this model- but I thought even IE had tabbed browsing now? Not that I have used IE for anything but testing for....a very long time (that period when Netscape went the way of the dodo, before the rise of Firefox, those dark and dismal years), but I think that's been added to the feature list, and I've been using it on Firefox since it started. Prior to that, I opened a mess of windows at once. This moment, I have more than 20 sites open (yeah, I may have a problem), and tabs make for easy navigation back and forth, multiple windows wasn't bad either, I'd minimize what I wasn't looking at at the moment and grab new from the list. I do not browse linearly, and with the rise of tabs, I think it's pretty obvious I'm not the only one. I still open new windows at times when I want to see two at once instead of the tabbed thing. Yeah, we've got side tabs, but I want to have multiple of the same things open at once: profiles, groups, group notices, the list goes on. The popping out and recentering camera is understandable with the way this works BUT makes one queasy. Can I get used to it? Yeah, I can. There are people with disabilities who have serious problems with it, so even if I can, that's not the issue. That's a very serious issue regarding this choice, period- and it's a larger interfacing issue that's a very basic thing for anyone who knows anything about interfaces. Plus trying to scale it if you need to increase the size of the text in places is absolutely atrocious. Pros: you know where to look for (almost) everything.

On the absolute opposite side: defaulting chat to _un_ tabbed, so that's a huge clutter spread across everywhere. That has a setting, but I can't think of an IM client I've installed for years that didn't default to tabbed and let you tear away, instead of starting off the other direction (they also all had easy ways to merge tabs by dragging and dropping them over each other, not having to find a setting. I keep trying to merge chat windows and they just won't drop in). (Disclosure: I've never downloaded a straight AIM client, all my AIM has always been in a multi system IM client, so I don't know how AIM does it.) New users will be left tearing their hair out if they try to talk to more than one person at a time- power users won't have a problem to adapt, they will find the settings, but they're also trying to make new users have a better experience. Additionally, world chat can't be collapsed into that, so I'm still stuck with an extra window I would rather have the _option_ to be able to collapse into one, even if I _chose_ to expand it into multiples. Again: flexibility and the option for the user to alter the interface to suit them, and not being forced to conform to an interface that's awkward to them, is key, especially when it can be so easily managed. The user has to adapt, but the interface should make adapting EASY, and as flexible as possible.

I'm of 2 minds of the way popups are handled. Out of the way and non intrusive when I'm doing something else? Awesome. Super easy to miss entirely? Less awesome. Small icons in the corner of screen are an indicator, but not much of one. Lots of notices will go unread, lots of IMs will be accidentally ignored. That's a hard hard thing to find the sweet spot for though, the fine line between too intrusive and too subtle. All in all, this is probably a reasonable choice as is. The popup duration itself may bear more investigation. I don't have a problem with it. Other people DO have legitimate problems with it. I read fast and I don't have a history of seizures- those that differ from me in these respects have valid points. Have a setting for duration and you can get by all of those issues AND please everyone.

No contextual icons for "system", icons can be cumbersome and cluttered, but I can't even tell the Trash at a glance? Tack on icons were easy indicator "you can't delete this folder". Ease of interface, no. I'm hoping this is just a "we're not done yet" because it's random and weird to exclude when everything else has new icon art (and they understood the concept in the previous viewers).

There's an inconsistent "sticky" inability to scroll past what item in inventory that's selected that is not useful. Not only because it's completely inconsistent and pops up when it pleases, but also if I tell you to scroll...I want you to SCROLL. This is consistent across most interfaces we are familiar with, and popping me back up is annoying and bothersome. Most let you keep selected off screen and only pop back when you move your arrow keys to select a neighbor- not just lock out the ability to scroll entirely. (This popped up a lot. It's a minor issue. It's also a stupid issue.) Because I've seen it happen sometimes and not others, I don't even know what is as intended and what's the bug functionality, or if there's context in the working/not that isn't readily apparent to me. I can find ways around it. Other users can find ways around it if they don't just simply get frustrated and say "fuck this" and leave SL before even starting. However, there is no apparent advantage to breaking from tradition in other interfaces- so interface fail.

Inability to edit properties on multiple items at once. This...has always been tedious and badly done (I should be able to batch set perms in inventory, always- the alternative of having to change settings, close window, change settings, close window, is tedious but less tedious than having to change settings, optionally go back if you haven't torn off a new inventory window, choose new item and right click to go into properties, etc.- a lot more work than click click ctrl-W. Of course the flip side to the problem the old way is that sometimes I want to change properties, sometimes I want to double click ctrl-V ctrl-W when batch renaming- still easier than this, but a speedbump to batch perms. Which is also tedious and a pain in the ass and there are easier ways but they are rarely used anywhere so I understand SL not trailblazing here, though it would be nice), but to remove it entirely...not so awesome.

Related: double click pulling up Properties. This is counter to just about every interface we use. Look at your desktop, cluttered with icons of various sorts (or if you're not a desktop slob like me, look in a folder). What happens when you double click any of those things? Why, they do their task. I get to see that image, read that text file, listen to that music, browse that website. Properties/File Info have always been just a right click away (or an apple-I/flipper click away in my beloved Mac of a decade plus ago. I still miss apple-I), but you need that LESS than you need them to do their purpose: in inventory, that means wear that stuff! With the rise of double click to take off as well in alt viewers, I'd say that should also be included: it's obvious, it's easy, it's intuitive. Even though they are not always worn, it's actually even MORE imperative for the new user with Objects- prim hair, shoes, skirts, etc. will be confusing to a new user when they can't figure out how to put them ON. Notecards: read that notecard! Script: read that script! Landmark: oh shiny crap I didn't mean to TP in my underwear! (Not their fault I think about About Landmark instead, that is the way it should be done. As for finger slippage, it happens with any interface.) We're looking at new user experience here: how often do you NEED to go into Properties unless you're building something to give away/sell? Changing clothing? WAY more useful, especially to new users. And it's just a right click away, just like on your desktop, when you need it. I'd love to see a similar renaming ability (i.e. you don't have to right click, select, pause, select to rename, or some combo of hover and select) as that _is_ a bit tedious, but I hardly ever rename there anyway (I go into Properties....which adds to the blow-age of only being able to do one at a time that steals focus from what else you were doing). Generally: the old way of inventory management did a lot more obviously, more intuitively, and more what everyone, even a new user would expect- and there are a lot of changes made just to change, with no redeeming features at all I can find.

Tabs no longer respond on drag: I'm torn on this. Doing it accidentally is annoying as sin, but this is a very obvious and common way of doing things (other interfaces use this a lot- and consistency is good to follow in interfacing unless you have a very good reason not to) and does have drag and drop advantages. (To illustrate what I'm talking about, Edit an object, grab a texture in inventory, whole holding it drag it over the Texture tab to go into Texture to be able to drop it in the correct place. Pre 2.0- this would pop into Texture for you so you could change tabs on the fly. In 2.0 it does nothing.)

Notecard links (like images) are too long. Across the entire line means it's easier to accidentally click. This is not a big gripe, but this is a "this is confusing for people and a simple little choice that should have been made the other way." This is also a very common interface snafu that slips by (accidentally or intentionally) and people often complain about it. Sometimes it gets changed, sometimes it's left as is. Landmarks in notecards seem to have some sticky issues with triggering, I'm guessing/hoping that's a "beta" thing, not as intended. Everything going straight to inventory (like LMs), no having to choose to copy over, will mean a HUGE amount of inventory clutter. Which also is an issue with no Discard button on things- I read notices, check out what I want, and Discard so I don't keep them- now I've got a bunch of notecards I need to keep going back and nuking.

And where did my About Landmap, view on Map, copy slurl to Clipboard go? I like not having to haul ass all over creation (in my underwear) to be able to make slurls. Or have to build them on my own. New user unfriendly. Old user additional unnecessary tedium.

Map coordinates! PLEASE! Why can't I enter in my coords on Map, there's even the empty space for it right there? I NEED my z. I go from 1300 one place, to 50 another, to 1100 another, to 30 another, etc. Flying the whole way is tedious when I can just GO straight there. Yeah, I can go, THEN type in new z in top coords. But...why? I don't need to double teleport constantly. Why not just have it in Map where it makes sense? I can't find a setting to reenable anywhere, if we think new users will be scared of all those nummmmmmbers.

I rather love the multipurpose top bar (which hid my coords until I found out it did stuff- as well as hiding land icons which make more sense to be on by default than off so you know damage/no build/no script/etc.) for the most part. It's something that I thought the OnRez viewer did really really right. However, the multipurpose search next to it (that they also did), is less cool. Bring back a search button. I'm ALL for having both- top bar quicksearch is like my google bar. It's awesome convenience. Search button that opens search window (like, going to gives more straight up targeted searching, which is ALSO good, so both would be nice. Search in SL is already tedious and somewhat awful, making it more restrictive makes things harder, not easier. You know how interfaces are hard? Good search algorithms are also hard. I'll cut you some slack, though you've still got to integrate basic basic search interface features that should have been there from the start. In practice though, there is a HUGE step backwards in how search functions as well, that actually makes it HARDER to find things now.

Images...I really really love the aspect ratio dropdown in the bottom corner. But why, oh why, can't you open it by default to the ratio of the actual texture? You already do that in previous viewers! It's easy! I could change it if necessary, but the, what is that, 3:2?, default is silly. Nothing is that size natively, nothing. You even made profile square (finally! Though that's going to be a long period of everyone's profiles looking like crap in one or the other). Though...and here's the huge issue: INCONSISTENTLY. Now you can see the same image in multiple places, with different aspect ratios (Search vs. actual Profile). This means you can NEVER EVER have a profile image that actually works across everything- huge, and I do mean HUGE, mistake. Pick one and stick with it everywhere, period. That just speaks of utter carelessness, and not giving a damn. More parts of profile at a glance, like 2nd and 1st lives? I'm all for. Or more accurately I don't care either way, people should have always been filling out their profiles like anyone could be looking through all of it...because they could be. Maybe this will be a "hey, don't put shit in 1st life you don't want people to see" reminder. We've lost some info as well, or appear to have at least- the Interests tab, while most of the info was potentially interesting if they filled it out and you wanted to know if they were a builder or not, also held LANGUAGE, which is a huge thing. Huge. Have you forgotten we are multicultural and don't all speak English? (Maybe you have. God knows the jira is full of very careless fuckups on alternate language versions of the viewer. Lots and lots of typos and stupid little mistakes that never should have made it this far, because you should have had actual decent translators working with you on this. Again: going public with this degree of careless mistake, even in a Beta, makes you look bad and like you don't give a fuck. A few things slipping through? Fine. Pages and pages of jira entries just on language screwups? Should have been fixed in internal Alpha.)

Context menus: A-fucking-MEN getting rid of the pie menu, but these need to be scalable without scaling everything (the sidebar scales horribly: the context menus, however, start out on the small side by default). I'm sure most of the people reading loved it- it's not intuitive. It's limiting and you either have wasted space or need to divide into new pages for no good reason (see: the problems with the side tab, you've replaced one one size fits none with another). The plus side to the pie menu is that you don't have strenuous order enforced, so contextually you don't have to decide on a good order for "Sit" and "Edit" (and all the rest of the stuff that's in a bad order in the contextual menus), and nice _large_ trigger spaces make things easier- especially with the aforementioned scales horribly. Unfortunately the contextual menu's advantages are offset by options in the Context menu being an an order that I can't see making sense to ANYONE, and the entire "Remove" menu is just plain in backwards order. Accidental ARs for everything, hoo ray! The actual order of options now makes a HUGE difference, as you are saying "this is more important than this." (And apparently we don't actually want you sitting on chairs any more, let's discourage interactivity!) Most of the menus I would juggle order, and even coming at it from a not-builder I'd still be juggling the order of most of them. So far the groupings have been great though, just badly ordered. Generally all the menus are...weird and some following in the footsteps of some interfaces that were later scrapped in some cases, but they've actually pretty well organized for all that they've spread things out. As someone who runs with Advanced options all the time I like the easy link to the _second_ Advanced menu at the bottom of the first, having a menu option (in Help maybe?) to the first as well, instead of just relying on hotkeys, would be a really good idea. Maybe you haven't noticed, but people access Advanced a LOT- especially unhobbling certain features (like RenderVolumeLODFactor)- even people who aren't exceptionally well versed learn how to get into those options because the default is just plain too low. Upload in Inventory threw me for a loop initially, but it actually makes very solid sense since that's where you're uploading _to_- that's very much a user of previous system bias.

User list: why oh why have you hidden who can see me online/map me/mod my stuff/whose stuff I can mod? You've got ACRES of space there to continue it across like current because you're in the huger than necessary side tab. It's harder to accidentally turn on, yes, but you always had warnings- and now it's very very hard to get a feel for who still has mod on your stuff following a project, and that slipping and THAT causing problems (you had a falling out with your best friend and you forget to take that off? WHOOPS). Going into stealth mode for a few hours so you aren't pestered by IMs while working (bravo to the Busy and Away easily accessible, btw- but those are not always enough, sometimes just not appearing online is better) just became a LOT more complicated/tedious/pain in the ass, as well as a lot easier to miss turning it all back ON visible (yeah, not a fan of Emerald letting you know if someone has you invisible for that reason: it may not be permanent. It may be "fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck I have too much to do if anyone talks to me I'm going to SCREAM"). I now have to go through a complex process just to see what people are set to to remind myself. Info at a glance: good. Hiding things: bad.

Tooltips: why have you forsaken me? Not only can I not find settings ANYWHERE (on all is good sometimes, trust me), but only item name? This is really REALLY bad. Especially for new players- they NEED to be able to see the price of things at a glance (we ALL DO). Tooltips need to have name, description (because there's often useful info when it is set- a LOT of Pay vendors put the price there so you can see it without opening up Pay, and it's a really good idea so you have an idea what something costs at a glance), PRICE, and owner. These are necessary. Not in a separate popup, but in hover, so you can see things at a glance. Having to click through to find out necessary info loses sales in a world driven by commerce, not to mention all the other problems it creates, ESPECIALLY for new users. And don't truncate that because you don't feel like putting it all in, either. Don't throw the baby away with the bathwater just because you want a change.

The Worn tab: now, I get that with virtual links and junk that worn works differently now, so I can understand this choice....but not being able to see the folder the ACTUAL items I am wearing are in is really kinda...not so cool. Worn tab in alt viewers is great because I can put the rest of my boots back on after taking the uppers off for pants, without trying to hunt for where I put the damn things- or any other other parts of the same folder/area, it's both good for easy reference of "oh right! That's where I filed that!" and Attach All in a folder when I know there are just the other bits I want to wear at the same time. This is a minor annoyance, but it does make this Worn tab less useful than the Worn tab in everything previous.

Colour scheme: 101. I saw previews of 2 additional alternate skins on a blog a while back in addition to this one. I'm rather shocked I can't find an easy way to flip back and forth now (did we learn NOTHING from Dazzle?) Both of the alternates were dark text on light. Anyone who knows anything whatsoever about interfaces knows this simple fact: dark text on light is significantly more readable than light text on dark. Light on dark is cool, it's pretty, it's slick for the gamers and the kids with good eyes, it's something you see on games and blogs that don't actually care. SL is not targeted exclusively to that group- in fact, SL is only vaguely targeted at it period (for reasons including SL being a joke in the gaming community due to engine, prims instead of meshes, and a lot of other things they've been trying to do something about like, oh, WL and shadows. It'll NEVER be a real gaming platform, because from a basic control standpoint, combat sucks, and is largely thrown in as an afterthought and clunkily hacked and slashed in with LSL). Educators, people with disabilities, older users, people who want to read without wrecking their eyesight...DARK TEXT ON LIGHT. (That said, I'm happy with light on dark, I've been using dark skins for a while. I have white text on black here, you can see. I'm a spooky fucker, but I would never ever present this as the only option to a client, and would only suggest it as an option at all if it fit them. It's just not a good idea to be the only option, period.)

There are a LOT of useful features that were just removed for no reason at all (tooltips are but one example). Why take out things that weren't "confusing", that added obvious functionality, without giving anything back? Just because you wanted to throw out everything? This is a bad bad move. Also a puzzling one.

And, you know, in any interface: hotkeys, hotkeys, hotkeys. Need to be more, preferably need to be user set, and defaults also need to be in the menu (be it context or bar) next to that option so you can find it and look and say "oh, hey, that's useful, I need to remember that!" (They are, at least- but being so they also illustrate how few there are.) Say...oh...ctrl-I for Properties? Hotkeys are a HUGE boon in ergonomics for those users who choose to use them. No user should be forced to use them (unless you are Blender, and then you just delight in making us grab our heads in pain).

Generally, feature list: look to Emerald and other alt viewers. People want built in radar (which is here...but often broken, I was finally able to get it to work and it seems to be 1/4 sim, with zero context on distance. How about settable range, to at least entire sim, preferably everything you can see on minimap? And colour coded chat range please- bold and strong in chat, not bold and faded out of. Generally the ability to SEE how far away people are helps, a lot, in meters- so you know where people actually are), people want built in AOs (with script limits impending, this is ALSO a big thing, though generally it's friendlier to do it client side for lag anyway). I want to throw away my flight feather (or equivalent), and be able to ungimp my flight height in viewer. I'm fine with default being default, but give me the option, I want to fly up to MY OWN SKYBOX without an attachment. I'm not talking boob physics (though some people want that too), but there are a lot of solid features alt viewers and script attachments have pioneered that have made the user experience better- AND easier- even for someone who doesn't know what they're doing. I want to be able to NOT have to give a friend I'm introducing to SL a huge pack of confusing script attachments to get them around limitations in the viewer.

p.s. Can we have auto follow finally? Pretty please? Yes, I am still a refugee from WoW at heart and I miss being able to tag along AND type when someone is showing me around (yes, I know there are attachments, but shouldn't more things be built into the viewer and not hacked around it? Like AOs!) I lose people when touristing around a LOT, at least yellow dots mean I have some faint hope of figuring out where they went now. WoW has the ability for addons to improve the viewer experience, having an official viewer that could be altered with plugins wouldn't be a horrible idea either.

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