25 March 2020

The Knowledgebase Ninjas Podcast

Throughout my career as a Technical Writer, I experienced varying levels of appreciation for the job I do. This has ranged from little more than a raised eyebrow from fellow workmates, to being wined and dined by providers of technical communication solutions and membership of product beta test teams.

But it is the appreciation of fellow technical communication professionals that means the most. Whether it is positive feedback following a conference speaking engagement, or getting a "eureka moment" from someone after I've provided them with an answer to their forum post, it gives me an immense sense of fulfilment. Well after all, our profession is based on helping others, right?

So it was delighted to be approached in early February by Gowri RamkumarCustomer Relationship Manager at Document360. Gowri doubles as the host of Document360's Knowledgebase Ninjas podcast. The podcast's preample stated she, "finds and interviews the brightest minds in the SaaS documentation space". Gowri asked if I'd like to be interviewed for the podcast, and I couldn't turn her down. Here's the result:

Enjoy. And whilst you're there, listen to some other recipients of the "brightest minds" accolade. A full list of podcast episodes can be found at the link listed below.

Thank you Gowri and Document360. It was a hoot!

6 March 2020

Coronavirus fun

As the Coronavirus continues to sweep across the world, the level of paranoia around keeping safe increases. News outlets have become public information channels spewing out tutorials about washing hands and advice on not shaking hands.

So to counter this feeling of overall depression, how about some fun. Yes the stock markets worldwide may be sinking quicker than the Titanic, but it doesn't mean we're all doomed. Especially when there are PR gems like this.

Turn on your volume and enjoy the epic fail to reach first base :-)

5 March 2020

Changing a NetSuite Password: A UX / UI disaster zone

The following message arrived in my inbox today from NetSuite informing me that my password was due to expire. To some, it may not raise an eyebrow, but to me it most certainly did. Call it my years of providing technical instructions, but this email and the subsequent password change process is wrong on so many UX and UI levels.

The Message's Language and Tone

The message's language and tone could do with some changes:
  • The message starts with "Dear User". Apart from being impersonal, not addressing the user by their first name is one of the first signs of spam. It is easy to place a variable in the message's template to use the value of the "First Name" field in my user profile.
  • The line spacing of the text is squashed. It would look better if additional carriage returns were added.
  • Although it may be obvious to some that the link displayed in the message can be used to change your password, it may not be to all. This is especially true as you have to look hard at the URL to discover there's a "changepwd" string. It would be better if the link was preceded by some text.
  • The sentence, "Please change it before expiration to avoid issues with related access" is wordy and slightly confusing (e.g. "before expiration" and "related access"). In my opinion, you should also state the issue first followed by the solution. I'd change the sentence to, "To avoid being unable to access your account, use the link below to change your password before it expires."
  • The table displays information about the NetSuite account. Not only is this not needed, but some of it (e.g. Days to Expire) is also a duplication of information elsewhere in the message.
  • Explicitly stating not to respond to a message is alright, so long as you state why (e.g. because the mailbox isn't monitored).

The Change Password Process

Clicking on the link in the message displays the following dialog. The change process is pretty straightforward, but again it could do with some UI and language tweaks.
There are some good elements to the Password Criteria panel (e.g. the green ticks) but it needs some introductory text to outline the criteria. For example, "Your new password must:" As for the criteria text itself, I'd amend it as follows:
  • The password criteria text needs amending to be more grammatically in tune with the introductory text. For example, "Be at least 10 characters."
  • It states that illegal characters aren't allowed, but doesn't state what these are.
  • The phrase "at least 3 of these 4 character types" should be changed to "Contain at least 3 of the following:". It is bad practice to add numbers as the text needs changing if the criteria changes.
Perhaps the biggest user experience faux pax is how to save your new password. A better experience is repositioning the Save and Cancel buttons below the three password fields. I'd also change the UI so you could use the keyboard's tab key to highlight the buttons. This would enable the use of the Enter key to submit the change without your hands leaving the keyboard.

Confirmation Message

With your password changed, I received a further message from NetSuite confirming the change. Whilst welcome to ensure no fraudulent change has taken place, it has similar issues to the initial message.


The overall experience of changing my NetSuite password wasn't a pleasurable one. It could be argued that I'm over thinking such a simple process, but I disagree. I've been in this game long enough to know that it isn't just about providing clear instructions. It is also about design and usability. A user's opinion of an application's usefullness is coloured by how easy it is to use. That in turn is judged by how it displays. NetSuite's password change process needs a complete overhaul to make it pass muster.

2 March 2020

Denying healthcare is a human rights issue?

As the world lurches towards a global coronavirus pandemic, the media feeds the public's paranoia with sensationalist stories. Sensationalist press headlines such as "One in ten Britons could end up in hospital with coronavirus" - note the word “could” - and "Plans emerge for a Hyde Park morgue" set the tone. There’s no doubt that the coronavirus is a major health concern, but one that warrants a measured response. It's hard for a government to find a balance between ensuring all necessary measures are put in place to deal with the outbreak whilst not alarming people unnecessarily. In the UK they seem to have got it about right.

Before we all panic buy soap and toilet paper and prepare for the apocalypse, lets spare a thought for those in countries less capable of taking the required precautions. Take for example countries in Africa, the Far East, and the Middle East. We’ve seen the Iranian Health Minister appear on TV coughing and mopping his brow, only to confirm a day later he’d succumbed to the virus. It later came out that Iran had a major outbreak. Over the weekend it was reported that the prison where a lot of political prisoners are being held, including Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe, has the virus.

Evin Prison Tehran
These prisons already have poor healthcare, and with many prisoners having underlying health conditions, the chances of them suffering the most extreme form of the virus are high. Over the weekend it was reported that Nazanin suspected she had the virus, yet the Iranian authorities continue to deny her even the most basic healthcare. This despite her frail mental and physical state. Her husband and family are deeply concerned for her welfare.

When it comes to health care, it is a human right. It doesn't matter if a prisoner has the coronavirus or something more minor. They are entitled to whatever if the norm to other citizens. Admittedly the quality of healthcare in the UK is different from that available in Iranian prisons, but denying whatever level is available is a denial of that person's rights.

Denying a prisoner access to healthcare is a tactic often used with political prisoners. Amnesty International's latest annual report says:
"In Iran prison authorities used prolonged solitary confinement or denial of medical care to punish prisoners held for politically motivated reasons. Such practices violate the prohibition of torture and other ill treatment."
Nazanin’s case is far from unique. There are many foreign nationals held in Iran, often on trumped up charges. Most are Iranians with dual nationality, something Iran fails to recognise. Others are businessmen accused of spying, but with precious little evidence to back this up. In many of these cases, it seems like Iran is using these cases as bargaining chips against the west. There is precious little reason for this cruel incarceration, other than to force the West to ease the economic sanctions imposed on it.

Whatever the reasons, we must ensure we put as much pressure on the Iranian government as possible. This means ensuring our governments do all they can to ensure the health and safety of its citizens. The case of Nazanin is being raised yet again this week in the UK Parliament. This is good, but feels like throwing stones at a nuclear bunker. What Nazanin and the other foreign nationals need is a concerted campaign of diplomatic pressure.

29 February 2020

29th February: A free day in more ways than one

A leap year gives us an extra day on February 29th. It comes with all sorts of traditions. Among the better known ones, women can ask their partners to marry them. According to Irish legend, this tradition came about as a result of a deal between St.Bridgit and St.Patrick. Yeah right! 

So as that extra day is today and it's a Saturday, I've time to ponder its significance. As a result, I've questions. Lots of them. Among them, just why is the extra day on February 29th? Why not April 31st or even October 32nd? Whilst we're on the subject, why are there only two successive months with the same number of days? July and August to help you wondering. Could we not have five months of 31 days and seven of 30? According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, we should blame the Romans. It's a third world problem I know.

So as we ponder what we're going to do with this extra opportunity for excellence, maybe we should ask ourselves who's paying for it. If like me your employer pays you an annual salary, you are. Ask yourself why you aren't getting paid more in a leap year than any other year. Yes in a leap year your employer is getting an extra days effort from you for free.

But hang on a minute I hear you say. February 29th is on a Saturday this year, so most of us aren't working. So that's OK. Well except the year is still 366 days long, so we'll still have to work an extra day.

Us annual salaried workers will just have to accept it. We're being used as slave labourers for one day every four years. It's a reality we don't even think about. Better not mention the leap second then!