Are Apps and Bots Becoming Too Helpful?

Oh, for those blissful days when you could log onto a website and not immediately hear a bell notifying you that a friendly little chatbot wants to fulfill your every wish. Once upon a time, you could even scroll around the pages without being chased frantically by a persistent bot. When I hit “x” to get rid of it, the bot usually returns once I move to another page. I have attempted to ask these bots a question quite a few times and either gotten no response or ended up with no actual help. Why are they even there?

There are so many examples of software and automatic mechanisms that are intended to replace real, live human interaction or improve user experience. This trend may appear as chatbots and menus offering tips and advice, or it may come in the form of endless options you may not need or want.

Also read: Taking an Empathetic Approach to User Experience

Buried settings in Microsoft apps

Microsoft Word is a case in point. These days, I get paste options foisted on me, extra clicks I have to make, and generally too much proffered assistance—all supposedly to enhance my user experience.

Now I am sure there is a buried setting that might alleviate my pain. Maybe there is a way to stop Microsoft Word “helping” me with a series of unnecessary paste options. Previous experiences make me loathe attempting it. Here’s why:

I moved to Microsoft Edge a few months back. Edge is good in many ways, but one thing really bothered me. Every time I opened a PDF, it appeared as a new page in the browser, not in Adobe. That meant I had to look for the “Save As” button and click it, then save the document in Adobe – that added unnecessary steps to my workflow.

I wasted hours trying to get rid of this piece of annoying assistance. Several videos provided worthless advice. I finally dug around until I found the setting, yet the issue persists. Some PDFs open directly in Adobe while others continue to open in the Edge browser. As someone who deals in a lot of PDFs, this is more than irritating.

Alternative ideas for bloated apps

Another example: my wife uses QuickBooks Online and is burdened by an app that tries to be everything for everyone from mom-and-pop operations to organizations with thousands of employees. Perhaps the bigger shops use many of the features. She certainly doesn’t. As a result, her data entry processes are slowed by too many fields, too many clicks, too many steps.

What I really want is an app that sits on top of programs like Word and QuickBooks and allows you to eliminate or change the features you don’t want. How about an app where you entered what you need and it masks all the rest, similar to how virtualization adds a layer to eliminate complexity from the user’s view? How about a simple way to lay out a workflow so that the next time my wife performs a certain laborious task, one click bypasses three or more unnecessary fields so she can get on with her life?

Of course, I could simply be a luddite who longs for simpler times. But I do wish apps and bots were more easily customizable for individual users’ unique needs.

Too much help can slow you down

The pendulum has swung to the extreme in modern apps and bots. They help you so much that they slow you down. So, what’s to be done about it?

Apps for messaging, telecom, email, and the like often have a page where you can turn off a bot. This is useful if you are using that app a lot, and there are numerous resources out there that can help you remove the chatbot to alleviate your frustration.

But for my purposes this is no good. I might visit 25 vendor websites in one day. Each one of them serves me a bot that I don’t want. I find myself uttering curses at times when one appears.

Software and website developers should keep this in mind when making decisions—will a particular feature actually improve user experience, or could it inhibit productivity and overall satisfaction? If it’s possible that the latter could be true, it’s important to offer documentation for how users can easily customize their experience.

Read next: Why Low-Code/No-Code is Revolutionizing App Development

Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb has been writing about IT and engineering for more than 25 years. Originally from Scotland, he now lives in Florida.

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