The persistence of really bad ideas

In The persistence of really bad ideas, Seth Godin laments the use of drop-downs:

"There are fifty states. This is a problem. If there were 5 states or 500 states, programmers would never have been tempted into forcing consumers to scroll through a pull down menu to enter their state when shopping online."

Seth focuses his rant against the common belief that "doing it is okay because we've always done it."

I want to focus on the common belief that it's okay to impose data integrity checking on the user. "Someone might type a incorrect state abbreviation and blow up my program." Instead of checking the data, the programmer believes that a drop-down will prevent mistakes before they happen. This is perhaps the most arduous mistake in the industry; the belief that it's easier to impose on the user than to impose on the programmer. That's why dialog boxes are so annoying; it's the programmers way of saying "I give up. I'll dump the problem in the users lap."

Perhaps Google caught on so quickly only because it does fast searches. But perhaps Google caught on because it took the burden off the user and put it in the program. There are no parameters; you don't have to indicate what fields to look in. Type a phrase. Hit enter. That's it. Google does all the work behind the scenes so you don't have to.

The reason Google (and TiVo and and Macintosh and iPod) fans are manic, loony, crazy evangelists is because they have seen elegance. The program does the work, so you don't have to. These program designers put the needs of the many ahead of the special interests of the few.

(Did you learn nothing from Star Trek II - The Wrath of Khan?)

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.


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