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Tip of The Day: Useful?

Picking up on a comment from madking in the Karthik's thread about usability, it was suggested that a "tip of the day" would be useful when the app opens.

I *used* to think this was a good idea, and I didn't disable the 'Tip of the Day' feature in all of the programs that offered them. Then, the shocking realisation dawns on me.

Every time I open up one of my applications, a helpful wannabe-splash screen appears directly over the application that I actually want to use. It's just as bad as that "Register" dialog that decides to assert itself on the Quicktime player.

"Did you know that this program can count teapots by using the File->Properties->Teapot Count option?"

No and I don't care either, because I'm trying to number my ducks not count teapots at the moment!!! See, a duck numbering tip would have been appropriate, but this is just wasting my time.

So I turned them off. What are thy thoughts on the usability of the Tip of the Day? Are there reports from the field that there are users that love them?

Joel Goodwin
Monday, March 15, 2004

Yeah, "Tips of the Day" are a waste. I always turn them off immediately.

However, it would be really, really cool (no, even cooler than that) if I could somehow have my app detect that there was an easier way to have completed the last action and display a helpful little guide thingy...

Of course, the content of the guide thingy would have to be really relevant and helpful to justify interrupting the user.

Jeff Watkins
Monday, March 15, 2004

The right time to display a tip of the day would be at the end, when you're done using the app ... you're much less likely to be planning to do something when you close an app than when you open an app.

I think tip of the day's are sort of dumb, too. As far as I know, they originated because Program Managers on the Word and Excel teams were sick and tired of the fact that most feature requests sent in to Microsoft were for features *that already existed in the shipping product,* often features that had been there for years.l

Tip's of the Day spread like wildfire because the bright bulbs at Tucows made them pretty much a requirement for Five Cows, since it's so much easier to check if a shareware  app has a tip of the day then to actually review it to see if it's good or useful or beneficial or virtuous in any meaningful way. Moo, moo, moo, moo, moo.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Monday, March 15, 2004

Hi. I see you are writing a post to an Internet Forum. Would you like me to help you?

clippy
Monday, March 15, 2004

I am with Joel Goodwin, I always left the 'tip of the day' turned on. until I realised I never actually read the things, but prefered clicking the 'close' button with the thought that 'one day I will actually read these things' to having it disappear for good....I have since told them all to go away.

Aussie Chick
Monday, March 15, 2004

Joel says

<<The right time to display a tip of the day would be at the end, when you're done using the app ... you're much less likely to be planning to do something when you close an app than when you open an app.
>>

But at 5:00 in the evening many just want to go back home and sleep ;-)

About a tip of the day-->.  Firstly, the application has to be exciting. People should be dying to get to know it better. Then a tip of the day makes sense.But a lot of applications are such that people just use it for getting their work done.

Probably depends on your user base and the application. Are you selling a hot programmin g language (.NET) or are you selling a Get-it-done application (Notepad,Wordpad). Does it have features which a professional user might never know unless you made it a point to tell it ?. Are your users the "Young" crowd who are willing to learn (Yes, like .NET) or professional nerds who get irritated by such stuff (An complex Oracle DBA application that lets you do stuff by command line parameters).

Karthik
Monday, March 15, 2004

The least obstrusive part of MSN Messenger: those helpful "your buddy may be away" messages. They are tiny, they are critical, they are there when you need it, and they are one link from getting out of your way. I think tips should act that way: 1) show up at the right time; 2) stay mostly out of the way (splash screen is a major no no), be less than a sentence that can lead to a big tip presentation; and should really be customizable via menu(If vi/vim had a tip of the day, won't you want to say, I want search tips only? Or tabs/indented related stuff only?)

Li-fan Chen
Monday, March 15, 2004

Li-fan Chen, I actually like Visual Studio.NET's dynamic help for getting started, which is along the lines you describe. It doesn't get in the way and it's there if you need it. One day, I may turn it off for good, if I'm feeling sufficiently courageous.

(I've always had a hard time switching off Tip of the Day, you see, it feels like one of those Thou Has Lost An Eighth! moments)

Joel Goodwin
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Holy Crap!  "Thou Has Lost An Eighth!"  Now there's a quote from the wayback machine...Ultima 4, right?  One of the Ultimas, at least?

Thanks for making me remember my youth for a second, even if I just got it wrong.

Aaron F Stanton
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

No, you have it quite right, it is Ultima 4. U4 was somewhat responsible for the black hole where my teenage life should have been.

I guess this post has rendered me completely unemployable now.

Joel Goodwin
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

have tips appear during 'progress meter' functions.  like when scanning for viruses, or compiling, or backing up files, etc.  have the tips appear and go away without human interaction so you don't have to participate unless you want to.

c
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I'd rather have a "Tell me something I don't know" taskbar button for those times that I am hungry for bytesize tidbits that might one day come in handy. Startup is probably the worst time to try to sell me some new feature.

Just me (Sir to you)
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Surely anyone who reads Joel is almost by definition not a suitable candidate for asking whether 'tip of the day' is useful. We know how to use computers, we can take a damn good stab at using any piece of software, we can find a feature by looking for it.

Joe public otoh doesn't, can't and won't.

Mr Jack
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Mr Jack, another good argument why teachers teach, and guys with usability skills should design interfaces.

Just because you are a brilliant mathematician does not mean you will be able to pass that knowledge on to someone, that requires teaching skills.

Just because you are a brilliant program does not mean you will be able to manage a software company, that requires management skills.

Just because you are a brilliant developer does not mean you will be able to understand what a newbie needs, that requires usability/HCI skills.

Seems to be the same old story played in every industry over and over again. It is something that bugs me I guess. When people think because they are skilled in one area and aim for a promotion, but the promotion takes them into a whole new skillset that they may not be competent in...

Aussie Chick
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

...although I was also interested in whether anybody had feedback from Real Live Users about whether Tip of the Day had enhanced life by as much as 50%.

Although personal comments from developers like 'dang it, it bugs the heck outta me, always damn useless teapot advice' are still interesting.

Joel Goodwin
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

In my experience "Real Live Users" don't use tips of the day but are happy to use clippy (usually change to a dog) on Outlook.  Offers to remove the damn thing are often rejected.

No, I don't understand it either.

a cynic writes...
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Acutally I got very used to using clippy (changed to Einstein of course) when doing VBA programming, I found the interface better then the help index when wanting quick answers to questions. One of the accountants got me on to it when I teased him about using it. He used it when he was creating excel formulaes alot.

Aussie Chick
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Is there any way to entirely disable the Dynamic Help in VS.Net? I've turned off all the categories; but the IDE still sometimes displays the box.

Of course, I realise I'm just a grouchy old man; but VS.Net tries to be too clever by half. When forced to use it, I often find myself muttering: "I know what I'm doing; just let me do it."

Maybe this is because I run VS.Net on a low end laptop with only 1024x768 and a Centrino processor. But I feel MUCH more productive using VIM and the command line tools. And I don't really know VIM that well.

Jeff Watkins
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

It would be nice if I could review all the "tips of the day" at once.

Essentially, this is documentation. Though being a programmer with an attention span that lasts about 5 minutes -- I just want to see the "cool features".

SG
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The problem with "Tip of the Day" is the same as with a lot of other Windows features: it's too darn stateful.

What if I want to see the tip that was displayed a couple of days ago?  Can I do it?  Or once it's gone, it's gone!  (Don't bother telling me how to do it.  If I am the kind of user who'd benefit from tip of the day then I probably don't know how to tweak the help system.)

Similarly, the "don't ask me again" option.  It's tempting to select that to banish the annoying dialog, but what happens two weeks later when you need that option?  How can I get the machine to ask me again?

Suggestion for tip of the day: have your program analyse the user's work to determine what unused feature would be most useful, and display THAT for tomorrow's tip of the day.  The increased relevance might be useful.  But then again, would you get the reaction "so why the f#@*! didn't you tell me that YESTERDAY?!?!?!?"

Hmmm....

David Jones
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Joel, thanks for posting this thread.  Half the reason I made the comment I did was to see what other people thought of the issue, as I am undecided myself.  I like the suggestions of putting the tip up when the application is busy on another task anyway.  Though, isn't that what splash screens are for, to disguise the load-up time as marketing?  Why not provide potentially useful information if you have to stall the user anyway.

As for Mr. Jack's comment that JOS people are a bad audience for Tip of the Day's, I disagree.  The couple of times I have found a Tip of the Day useful is when it told me about a feature I had no idea existed.  Since user's (and computer savvy people are as guilty of this as anyone else) don't read manuals, how are they ever going to learn about this cool new feature you've added which can act as a product differentiator between you and a competitor?

madking
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I didn't say we were a bad audience for them, I said we were bad people to ask whether they were useful.

Mr Jack
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

In most of the apps I cared about, Tips of the Day were stored in a plain text file.  Read the file once, turn off the feature, get on with life.

Have designers decided that's too simple, or something?

Danil
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The most useful Tips I ever encountered were in Warcraft II.  Why?  Because they were tips to make it easier to do something you were just about to do.  Just before the first scenario where you'd encounter submarines or giant turtles, it would point out that flying machines could detect submarines or giant turtles.  Or you'd get hints about the keyboard controls (hold down Alt while clicking to select the previously selected group) which you could use right away and which would be quite useful all the time.

But in fairness to those who program non-game software it must be pointed out that a game with a series of campaigns is much more linear than the way someone uses a word-processor or a spreadsheet; it's much easier to know what someone's about to do.

I do agree that .NET's dynamic help is a very good thing.  I wouldn't mind seeing something like it appear in other products (maybe in that Word/Excel/etc. "task pane").

Kyralessa
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I seem to be in the minority, but I liked tip of the day when I was using Eclipse and Sun One Studio on a Java programming project.

I liked it because I was not an experienced Eclipse user and I needed to get stuff done fast. Often I'd figure out how to get a task done as quickly as possible then never think about it again. Sometimes the tips gave me a better way to do it. Or a tip brought my attention to a feature I didn't know about and didn't know to ask about, since I was focused on my task.

I guess maybe 33% of the tips were useful.

They only appeared on start up. It gave me a gentle way to get back up to speed on a Monday morning, when my brain wasn't quite out of weekend mode yet.

Lauren B.
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Most Tip of the Day type windows have a 'next' button on them, I've found, and that's usually what I end up doing with them -- read through the whole list, then shut the thing off and never look at it again.

I obviously won't remember all the details, but I consider it like skimming the manual.  It gives you an idea of what a lot of the program's miscellaneous features are so you know what to look for later.

Jeremy Statz
Tuesday, March 16, 2004

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