User behaviour is affected by user interface: make a behaviour easy, and users will indulge; make a behaviour difficult, and they won't; force a user to stop and think, and they may reconsider their actions. In interface design it is always tempting to make everything as quick and easy as possible. This is not always good. We should be making some things quick and easy and some things hard and time-consuming. We should be using the interface to force users to stop and think at key moments.
People are more likely to do something on impulse if it is easy to do than if it is hard to do. Witness the explosion in chain letters once it became possible to forward them with the push of a button rather than a walk to the mailbox. Making certain behaviours quick and easy encourages those behaviours. Conversely, behaviours are discouraged when they are made challenging or slow to perform.
This phenomenon makes our user interface a powerful influence on user behaviour, for better or for worse. At present we seem to be seeing the negative side of it. The best example is the Twinkle add-on, which has made it trivially easy to race through processes like CSD and AFD and username blocks, and as a result we have myriad users charging around tagging and messaging and blocking without ever stopping to think whether blocking that user really was the best thing for the project; whether tagging all ten of that newb's articles, and filling their talk page with notification templates, might have been a wee bit unwelcoming; whether that user with a slightly spammy username might have turned out to be an asset to the community if we hadn't nuked them from orbit. The problem is not the processes: the problem is an interface that encourages users not to stop and think, not to take things slowly and explore options. The interface presents them with a button that offers the instant gratification of an immediate solution. Of course they'll take the easy option!
We need to take control here. We need to recognise our interface as a tool for manipulating behaviours. We need an interface that makes desirable, useful, thoughtful actions quick and easy; and undesirable, thoughtless actions harder. We need to find ways to slow people down, to make them stop and think at key moments.
The Commons upload process is a great example or this working. We redefined our user interface to model the behaviours we wanted, and I'm sure it must have made a huge difference to the number of unlicensed or mislicenced files uploaded.
Other obvious areas where we could have an immediate impact include:
- Preview. How many silly edits are needlessly made just because people can't be bothered using the Preview button? What if preview was forced for every edit? This would slow people down a lot. This is a good thing. Don't we want people to stop and think and double-check their work before they hit the Save button?
- Edit summaries are universally accepted as desirable, yet still many many editors don't use them. Forcing the "Prompt me when entering a blank edit summary" option would render it easier to use an edit summary than not to do so. Thus altering the interface alters editor behaviour.
- The rollback tool makes it easy to remove someone's edits to a page. As a result we see a small but ongoing amount of irresponsible use. Adding a confirmation screen with a diff would mean rollback would require two clicks instead of one. It would make fighting vandals less efficient, but it would also make people stop and think. Would it reduce irresponsible use? Would it be worth it?
- Ban Twinkle! High-throughput thoughtlessness is it's raison d'etre!
These are fairly trivial examples, though I'm sure some would have a profound effect. I would like to see more thought invested in this area.
A single thoughtful, considerate edit is worth a thousand thoughtless, inconsiderate whack-a-mole edits.
- How can we change our interface to force editors to stop and think at key moments?
- How can we change our interface to make it harder to do things the easy, thoughtless way; but without making it harder to do things properly?
This might, perhaps, be addressed by putting it within the scope of the team already working on useability initiatives. In which case that team may need further resourcing.
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