In this week’s Technology Guardian, I’ve written about Lotus Notes, and the mystery (raised by the responses on the Technology blog) of how Lotus Notes – specifically, its client side – has become so widely used despite having a terrible, awful user interface.

The piece is called Survival of the unfittest, and I’m sure at least one reader here will be itching to leap to Notes’s defence.

But hold on there. The points made in the piece are these:

  • administrators love Notes. They think it’s unbelievably good. (They might be right, but that’s not the point).
  • End-users find it a frustrating, inconsistent, inexplicable program.

Note: these two statements are not mutually inconsistent. They can both be true. Perfectly easily.

Also, they’re not my points. They’re me reporting what people say. Notes end-users (I hear them all around me every day) say it drives them mad. An instance: why, on the Mac version of v5, which should be pretty advanced, user-interface-wise, since it’s heard of the internet and everything, is there no keyboard shortcut to reply to a message? On Eudora, which has been around since the Year ., you have Cmd-R to Reply, and Cmd-Alt-R to Reply to All.

But what’s the response? Lots of flames from people who administer Lotus Notes saying that I’ve overlooked its flexibility. Hello? No, I haven’t overlooked that. But it’s not germane to the subject. I’ve been writing about user experience. From the article:

But further investigation shows that its proponents tend to be administrators, and its detractors the end users.

The Lotus Notes Sucks site insists its mission is not to put Lotus people out of work. “It’s to embarrass them into fixing the egregious problems. Specifically, the front end. Also, to influence people into not buying Lotus Notes until it works for users.”

People cannot figure Notes out. It does not give them a convenient mind map for what they’re doing. You can say “You should offer user training for Notes.” But a good program, even an enterprise-level one, and certainly an enterprise-level one that has been around for 17 years, should have evolved to show you some sort of mapping of what it does. Do people get user training for Instant Messaging? For Google Mail? For Google Maps? No, because the interface has been developed to be intuitive. Sure, none of those does as many things as Notes. Is Notes perhaps then trying too hard?

This inability to read something online and follow the thread of its argument seems to be an amazingly common failing. I notice it again and again in the grousing emails I get about articles: people don’t seem to twig what they’re reading. They skim a bit, and then reach the bit they disagree with, then leap to their email program to fire off their prejudices. It’s very reminiscent of David Pogue’s “How to be a curmudgeon on the internet” – ah, yeah, it would be No.6:

6. If you find a sentence early in the article that rubs you the wrong way, you are by no means obligated to finish reading. Stop right where you are–express your anger while it’s still good and hot! What are the odds that the writer is going to say anything else relevant to your point later in the piece, anyway?

He was channeling me that day, I just know it.