Google+ Instant Upload: Intrusive user delight

Conspiracy theory: Google knows everything that I did online, ever. My favourite colour, my political opinions, the size of my underwear (I made that up. I’ve never purchased undergarments online). But I was shocked to know that Google knows what pictures I take with my phone camera!

One fine morning while logging into my gmail account, I saw a small number on a red square (G+ alert) asking for my attention and intervention. I clicked on it, thinking this must be someone adding me to their circle or some such fun thing, but I got a different message. I was told that my ‘pictures’ were ready to be ‘shared’ with my friends! I did not remember making any such requests, let alone have any idea about what pictures Google was talking about. To my horror, the pictures which were presented to me were the ones I took with my camera only the previous evening! A sunset. A close up of my wife’s smile, my daughter’s attempt at drawing Angry Birds, including a shot of the sky that I must have inadvertently taken! How did these pictures end up on G+?

Hastily I googled (!) for such occurrences and discovered that it was a niftily placed switch inside my google plus settings on the phone. I had, by default, given permission to G+ to upload all my pictures onto web! And this delightful thing was called Instant-Upload! I had to OPT OUT of it if I wanted to keep my pictures to myself! Although google places these pictures in a private album and the whole world does not immediately see it, it was no consolation post that mild heart-attack! When privacy issues are on top of everyone’s concerns list, the least G+ could have done is to let users opt in to this feature.

20130327-203526.jpg ‘Here’ means where?

It has been many days since was launched. My first reaction was that it was a simple interface with the compose feature bordering on unintelligible. I did voice it and many felt that I was overreacting, that minimal was the new usable. But I returned to it recently (I have to confess I don’t use it often) and found that the same things troubled me even now. Here is an image of the compose window…


I instinctively know that I need to type in the name of the recipient in that small box on the left. Because I am accustomed to typing inside a box. Even a blinking cursor would be a good affordance cue for me. But two other places baffled me. ‘Add a subject’ and ‘Type your Message here’. There was no box. ‘Here’ did not dictate my action as quickly as the box on left. If I flip the query and say Why is there a box on the left. Why can’t it simply say ‘To’ and expect people to type the recipient’s name?

Perhaps this ‘usability hair-splitting’ does not mean much, but this leaves a larger question in my mind unanswered – Will differences in affordance cues make learning a new interface a bit more difficult? Shouldn’t similarity be maintained ruthlessly to ease learning?

HDFC Life: Our contact number has changed, now get to work!

So a financial institution changes its contact number. This may not be such a life changing event but for the customers who have saved the number and use it often, a change that is communicated via email instead of the phone (duh!) can be irritating. Or does it have to be? Simple tools exist to send the changed contact number to the recipient’s phone from a simple webpage ( uses it) I am sure something similar could have been done.

But I got this attachment in my email that was, hold your breath, a jpg file! So I can’t even copy the number by selecting it and updating my google contact, say, and let it get updated on my mobile.


The important question to ask is, “Does the service in question (HDFC Life) expect their valued customers to type the number again (either on the desktop or on their mobile device)?” Many of us access emails on the mobile device, the same device that gets used to call them up. Who on the side of HDFC Life is really thinking about customers? Perhaps you could have saved the time you spent developing this emailer into thinking about ways to make life easy for your customers.

PS: the emailer in question also has icons for Helpline Number, SMS code, Email ID, Website URL but none of them are clickable (usable)!