Saturday, February 02, 2008

Obama: The Usability Candidate

I don’t talk a lot about my day job here, but let's just say: Usability is my religion. (And I mean that not as a god that I worship, but as an essential practice; a series of careful attentions.) In my work that means making user interfaces easier for the people -- but it’s a passion that extends beyond the screen. Usability is about access -- letting people in. Empowering people to get things done.

And y’all know I’ve been nursing a crush on Mr. Obama for some time -- spurred in large part by the time I saw him speak at an event here in town when he was campaigning for Senate. First off it was tremendous to see a political figure think and speak so eloquently on his feet, seeing how we’ve learned to settle for so much less in recent years. And then there was what he said: All over it, baby. You’re speaking to me.

I’ve been disappointed in the inability of the Obama campaign to get their arms around the online component of getting their word out. They’re ham-handing their email communications, their Tweetin' is tedious, and that mess with Facebook -- where the campaign shut down an Obama fangroup so that they could co-opt the group name [1] -- was just plain embarrassing.

However. It’s time to love someone in this race, and I can’t shake my feelings for Barack.

The realization of which smacked me hard this morning when I read this little bit in a piece on Obama’s economic policies (always too brief, these mainstream media reads of anyone’s economic policies):

Several Obama proposals have their roots in the academic field known as behavioral economics, which points out how often people can be tripped up by complex bureaucracies. Mr. Obama sometimes talks about an “iPod government” that can achieve its aims by presenting choices -- like Medicare drug plans. Under one proposal, Medicare would be required to present its prescription drug plans more clearly, to cut down on the number of people who sign up for a more expensive one that they need.

His interest in “ease, convenience and usability,” he said, came from two sources, his years as a community organizer in Chicago, where he often saw people struggle to understand the choices they had, and his own experience trying to make sense of his 401(k) plan.

From Obama Emphasizes Middle-Class Relief More than Deficit Reduction in this morning’s New York times.

Love it. But that "iPod Government" moniker is just plain silly.

How 'bout we swap it out for Power to the People -- because when you’re talking usability, that’s what you're talking about.

p.s. Bloomberg also ran a piece on the iPod Government thing »

[1] Speaking from memory on that one -- will google a little more aggressively and see if I can provide a link to the source story.

Update: Strike Power to the People. Swap in Yes We Can. With many thanks to aija for the link.


anniemcq said...

I'm lovin' him too. But you're right - the iPod thing doesn't even make sense. A Google Government, maybe. Where you could find out what you need to find out by just looking it up. Ease of use.

aija said...

"...and the filmmakers say they don't even know if Obama is aware of the video"


suttonhoo said...

sí se puede.

so gorgeous and good.

thanks for the link, aija.

mrtn said...

Well, look (as mr. Obama begins every other sentence), I hear what you're saying. And him and Clinton both would be great in the White House. I think his personality is far more suited to the Oval Office than ms. Clinton. I also think he'd be alot easier on us - as in: the rest of the world - than ms. Clinton would (she's still remarkably stupid about Israel and I happen to think that her voting for the Iraq war was representative of a certain degree of near-sightedness (this is one of the Obama campaign greatest hits that actually matter a little, I think).

But you need her health plan. You need to fix universal healthcare in the coming term, and Obama's plan is not good enough. If you get the health plan, you open the door for the welfare state, and if you open the door for the welfare state, you can get better education, and maybe some regulatory comissions on media monopoly, meaning that the generation that grows up to vote in 2020 maybe maybe I hope won't accept being lied to by conservative politicians and being duped by ruthless mass media consortiums.

So I think I could get behind Obama as president, but if he picks either Clinton, Edwards or someone similarly progressive as a running mate... That would really make me happy. It would probably mean that he would shelve his healthcare plan as part of the deal.

mrtn said...

I can't believe I just called Hilary Clinton a progressive. Sheesh.

OTOH why can't we all just be good to each other? Single-payer healthcare would completely end the discussion. How hard can it be? It works for absolutely everyone else.

suttonhoo said...

totally with you in theory, mrtn -- but for some reason we're allergic to single-payer healthcare here in the U.S.

I can't pretend to understand it, and fortunately I think we're nearer than we've ever been to getting *something* reasonable passed, but given our history I actually think Obama's plan might be more palatable than Hillary's to a broader audience.

need to do some more reading though before I'm willing to commit on this one.

mrtn said...

There's a good discussion of it right now over on Krugman's blog. There are opposing viewpoints on Crooked Timber and in Dean Baker's post which Krugman links to.

Here, here, and here.

I took a look at Obamas auto-biography today. The man can write. He's really quite good. And I like that he's an actual, y'know, person.

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