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Aug 2006

Reflections on the Importance of Feedback in Human-Computer Communications

You may have noticed that email programs sometimes behave a little strangely when they’re being bombarded by spam and other invisible threats.

The lack of feedback in our daily electronic interactions does nothing to improve the situation: we are left in a latent state of uncertainty.

  • On average, I receive 3 emails a day stating that my bank account has expired or, even worse, that “…due to an attack, the account must be reactivated”. I systematically forward these messages to some strange address (hameconnage@desjardins.com) without ever receiving a confirmation that my email has been received or that bank officials have taken action. I am left wondering if this is even a real address. Is there somebody at the other end? Are they really doing something to fix the situation?
  • Lately, some emails have been slipping by my anti-spam and anti-spyware filters with titles containing some word or other from my latest communications. I am constantly updating my protective softwares, but nothing seems to help. I’m left wondering if my computer is being monitored. Is it safe, then, to buy things and connect to my bank online?
  • Have you noticed that people no longer take the time to respond that they’ve received your email? Most people know how frustrating the “read receipt” option is for other users, so they don’t use it. We are then left to wonder whether the messages are being received. Did the recipient’s inbox treat your message as spam and trash it? Should you send another email? If so, how long should you wait?
  • And another thing: it’s practically impossible to get a response to an email or a phone call on Fridays. I’m left wondering what’s going on Fridays! Are people so busy that they no longer have time to respond to emails or return their calls? Or did everyone leave for the country club without telling me?

Am I alone in thinking about these little details, which disturb my work environment, leave me grasping for answers and weaken my confidence in human-machine communications?

On the list of usability criteria, feedback is at the top. It reassures your user. Users should always receive some response to the actions they’ve taken; whether that means indicating their message has been received, that their request is being dealt with, or confirming their status or their purchase, etc…

The same rules apply for manners in general. When I send an email or leave a phone message.

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