Web 2.0 doesn't imply usability

I recently got myself a Flickr Pro account, and have been using Flickr for more of my photos. I find myself more and more annoyed at the rough edges in the Flickr user interface. For example, when you want to delete a tag from something, you click on the [x] to the right of the tag. Flickr asks you "Do you want to delete the tag?" Cancel/Ok:

This is almost certainly the wrong thing to do. It annoys people because the website is (in effect) saying "Hey, that might be a stupid thing to do, so I'm going to slow you down so you can think about it." The first couple of times people might pause to think (but what they're likely thinking is "you stupid computer, I told you what to do".) After that, when they want to delete a tag, the action will be "Click X; Click Ok", with no pause for thought.

That is how people think. That is how people are able to learn a complicated game like chess, or go. People chunk information and actions together. This allows the forebrain to go on thinking about other things while the rest of the brain carries out an action previously decided-upon. If an action requires a confirmation, the hindbrain will confirm it as part of executing the action chunk.

The way to work with human congnition rather than against it is to allow for Undo. Undo isn't a new idea -- we were using it 25 years ago. Undo works well with the human brain because it allows actions to happen without confirmations, but it also allows the forebrain (which operates slower than the hindbrain) to realize that it has made a mistake, and correct it with an Undo.

Flickr isn't all bad. They do use Undo sometimes:


When they add an image to a set, they add an indication that it's in the set over on the right, so the "OK" part is useless. They should skip the dialog entirely and insert a temporary "UNDO" below the set listing. Even when they do use UNDO, they spoil its operation with a confirmation:
Of course I want to remove it from the set! That's why I just clicked on UNDO, right?

Following the confirmation is another useless "Click OK to indicate that you are still alive" box.
Of course it's been removed, because the set listing is now gone. The proper way to handle this is to grey out the set listing on the right, and add an "UNDO" button below it.

Even if you've implemented your website using Open Source software like Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, you don't escape the low quality typical of proprietary software unless your software is Open Source.

It's easy to volunteer other people to fix problems. In the Open Source world, the typical response is "great idea; send a patch." Flickr lives in the Web 2.0 world, not the Open Source world. Their software sucks just like any proprietary program. We can't fix it. Only Flickr can fix it, and hopefully, they'll at least fix the problems I've outlined here.

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