Brian Dunagan

December 24 2009
You are a user

Recently, I got an email from Skype saying they activated my Skype To Go number. It was early in the morning, and I hadn't finished my coffee. I already had a vague discomfort with Skype over their switch from SkypeIn/Skype Pro plans to US/Country/World plans. Skimming the email, I quickly jumped to the conclusion that Skype had somehow lost my original number (which I acquired in 2005) and replaced it with a new number. Going to Skype, I clicked on "Skype To Go" and saw it was indeed the new number. I clicked around a bit more to see if I had the wrong section. When I didn't find any reference to my original number, I sent a support email to Skype about the problem, asking them how to switch it back. Below is a screenshot of the email:

But of course, Skype hadn't screwed up. I had confused two separate services: Online Number (SkypeIn) where people can call me and Skype To Go where I can call international numbers through my cell phone using Skype's low rates. Skype support replied to me within five minutes, allaying my fears about losing my original number and explaining the new Skype To Go feature. The problem was, like most consumers, I don't read.

Let me repeat that: I don't read. Moreover, I don't care. My sole goal with Skype is to have a phone number with voicemail. All of my interactions with the service are in terms of that goal, making the other features just noise. I skimmed that email because the subject said "activate" and "number", and when it mentioned a number that wasn't my existing one, I panicked. I'm not familiar enough with Skype's product line to recognize the difference between SkypeIn and Skype To Go, and frankly, I didn't even read that part. Less than three minutes passed between seeing the email and emailing support.

It's a marketing quandary. Users have a very limited view of the products they use. They only care about solving the problems they bought the products for, not utilizing all the accompanying features nor hearing about other available products. Developers live and breath their products. They intentionally added every feature to those products and wrote the accompanying marketing material. Developers read and care deeply; users don't do either. As developers, we need to keep the user perspective in mind.

The best antidote: remember you are a user. Everyone has interactions like my Skype story. Reflect on those, and think about your own products in that context. What if users only read every 10th word? What if they continually hit "OK" on "Confirm Delete" followed by cursing? I do both as a user, because I want to accomplish a goal, not perform a task with a specific product. Your users will thank you.

Matt Gemmell sums up this viewpoint very well in his "World According to Gemmell" segment in The MDN Show Episode 10.

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