Friday, August 13, 2010

A valuable lesson - Save your data

I was in my cab after the weekly round of carrom. The only valuable task apart from sleeping in cab was to write a blogpost. I started writing the blogpost on my mobile. I almost finished the blogpost - which took almost forty minutes.

I was writing the last few lines and I received an email on my mobile. Out of sheer carelessness, I pressed the end key and replied to the email. Then I realized that on pressing the end key, all the contents was lost. I wish there was the autosave feature similar to the blogger on web.

How often do we forget what we were doing and press a key or click on some button. How often have we lost crucial screenshots or wasted a lot of time due to our carelessness. When I relate what happened now to testing, I'm reminded of policemen who investigate a crime scene. As the policemen are trained to not touch any objects or bodies with bare hands, are we trained enough not to perform any actions without thinking?

Think before you ink
Do we think before we click?

Are we skilled enough to be aware of our every action during testing? Is this what is known as 'Situational Awareness'
This particular experience will definitely make me think of 'Autosave'.
* Does the application support 'Autosave'
* Frequency of Autosave
* Overwrites existing information
* Other processes are inactive till Autosave is complete or the user can perform other actions
* File saved before; unsaved file

Its quite interesting that one carelessness led to a blogpost. Before I exit the browser or battery goes down, let me publish this blogpost :)


George Dinwiddie said...

It's often a conundrum. While I've lost work by forgetting to save, I've also lost work by a system that autosaved a modified version over the one I wanted. Perhaps a "search and replace" unknowingly found many more matching locations than intended. My wife often crops photos to accomplish zooming in--these photos would be destroyed if that application had autosave.

Of course, another strategy is to have automatic versioning and unlimited undo capability. This, too, can have unintended effects. Classified secrets can be found by rummaging through the cache files left behind by programs, and I've read of numerous criminal cases where conviction hinged on such. Business deals have gone sour by viewing the information intended to be deleted, but still available through "view tracked changes." Relationships are destroyed by the discovery of information that represents a direction of behavior that one person decided not to pursue, but did not think or know how to destroy all evidence of temptation.

Ultimately, this seems to be a DWIM problem. We want systems to Do What I Mean, but we don't always mean the same thing by the same action. It's easy to call it a "bug" or a bad design when we're disappointed, even when we're delighted with the same behavior at other times.

Ajay Balamurugadas said...

Thanks George for the comment.

I like this: 'DWIM - Do What I Mean' and I also agree that most of the time we ourselves are inconsistent with our expectations.

SocialText, Wiki have the automatic versioning feature but as you mentioned if someone does 'View previous versions', its a problem.

We'll have to learn to live with this scenario. Being aware of the capabilities of the software helps.


Michael Bolton said...

The problem that I see is that software so often defaults to "Do What I Don't Mean".

I like George's analysis of the problem and the tradeoffs. At least we could offer something like automatic versioning and relatively unlimited undo, combined with privacy options. Alan Cooper has talked for at least 15 years about the same issue. The current default of cavalierly tossing away data seems to me to be by far the least helpful thing to do.

I also want to make it clear that this is not something to be laid at the feet of programmers. All of us in the software business—requirements people, designers, programmers, and testers alike—have been complicit in data loss for too long. It's like the auto industry's 1960-era approach to safety. Sadly, we show signs of taking at least as long to wise up.

---Michael B.

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