I have a Sprint PCS phone and because I'm afraid of my car and its mechanical shortcomings, I have Roadside Rescue. Which means if my car ever breaks down, all I have to do is remember the special phone number and call them and they'll tow me to a garage. The other day when my car acted up, I realized that I had no idea what the special phone number was, so once I got home again, I looked it up and thought: I'll add this to my phone's phone book and never worry again!. Brilliant. The number is #ROAD. So I created a new entry, entered the number, and hit OK. "You must enter a seven digit number" said the phone, and it wouldn't let me save. So I added some extra 5s until it was satisfied that the number was "valid," smarty-pants phone, grrr….
Which leads to several thoughts: I hate it when devices assume they're smarter than the user. Of course devices don't think they are smarter, they're just programmed that way. They are programmed by people who think they're smarter than the user, programmers who make assumptions about the way the user will interact with their system ("Windows won't ever hang during shut down, forcing the user to manually cut the power, therefore if the machine isn't properly shut down from the Start menu, it's the user's fault, and I'll tell them that when they reboot"). And often they assume the user is stupid. (Hey wait, maybe this has to do with trust, maybe they just don't trust the user to be doing the right thing? Hmmm….)
What's interesting in the case of the cell phone is that my phone knows it's me every time I use it. So why doesn't it just add the Roadside Rescue number to my phone book? Or as an option on my menu? Even though applications have access to more information than before, they continue to be programmed in a manner which fails to take full advantage of that data. I've been thinking about this in terms of Blogger as well, which is a hard thing to do, as I'm often the programmer making assumptions about the user (though I have the benefit of being a user as well, like a hair club president and client). So I'm beginning a quest for smarter software: to build smarter software and to use smarter software, and I invite you to join me. If you can think of what this might mean for Blogger, or even web apps in general, feel free to send your thoughts to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.