The recent discussion of RSS readers run amok got me to thinking about how much of such a problem is the fault of the user and how much is due to bad design or default configurations. With any good design there is a trade off between simplicity and functionality and we rely on users to have a certain level of competence. The trick is to make the system work well without placing an undue burden on users to be experts from the start.
So the question we have to ask is if we should blame or punish users who cause problems as a result of ignorance or incompetence. Perhaps our design was too complicated and they couldn’t figure out how to change the settings. Perhaps the various options were not labeled in a meaningful way so they didn’t really understand what the ‘server polling period’ (or some other term) was about. As designers we have to ask ourselves if the failures or problems are a result of our own bad designs or a failure to provide adequate instruction to users.
I’m not sure where the balance point is with RSS that will leave non-technical users able to happily use a reader while still allowing power users to tweak away. Whatever it is, we need to make sure that we are not asking too much of users or punishing them for not understanding complicated technical problems. I know most people, myself included, have muttered to themselves about the ‘stupid users’ screwing things up. We just need to make sure that when we mutter that it’s not a reflection of our own stupid designs failing.