the expert vs newbie fallacy

The idea of the MacRibbon causes consteration amongst some people. The latest example is from the Apple Core blog on ZDNet, which a blog post with the link-bait title Oh the horror! Why is Microsoft pushing the hated Windows Ribbon for Office:Mac? He quotes from my blog post why is Office:Mac getting the Ribbon?

There are several fallacies in this article (including the perplexing one that Mac users who want the Ribbon have somehow migrated to Redmond and Mountain View), but the sentence that I find the most striking is this one:

Office:Mac, like a number of other recent Mac OS X programs and especially Web-based apps, are making trade-offs in their application interfaces that ding power users and kowtow to the entry-level part of the market.

The most basic fallacy is that one can meaningfully define "entry-level users" and "power users". With applications as deep as the Office apps, defining entry-level versus power is
all but impossible. Do you determine it simply in terms of number of hours that they use the app in a week? Or do you define it in terms of features used? If a Word user does tables of contents and footnotes all the time, but has never updated their Normal template, are they a power user? If a PowerPoint user regularly creates decks that are 100+ slides but they only contain bullet points and pictures, are they a power user? Do we simply rely on their own self-selection as a power user? And let's not forget that, even if we agree that someone is a power user for one app, that doesn't necessarily make them a power user for the other apps. Being able to make awesome pivot tables in Excel doesn't mean that you know how to make animations in PowerPoint.

Another fallacy is that something done for the benefit of "entry-level users" must be detrimental to "power users". Why is there an assumption that power users are so fragile that they can't cope with a change? There was certainly some cases for Windows Office where long-time users complained because they had trouble finding things, but the vast majority of users were able to adapt and use the new UI at least as well as they had been using the previous UI. For example, research conducted by the Windows Office team shows that Office 2003 users regularly access 23 core features. With the Ribbon in Office 2007, that number climbs to 60-70 [1]. That's three times more features used, and that's not just from entry-level users. Being able to make a threefold improvement in what users regularly use when left to their own devices is unprecedented.

The final fallacy in this statement is that the MacRibbon "kowtows" to entry-level users. In the research that my team has done, we have brought in a broad spectrum of Mac users at varying levels of ability with our applications. Looking over the participants for one of the PowerPoint studies that my team has conducted conducted, one guy has been using PowerPoint since Version 3. Another user said that she spent at least 20 hours per week using the application to create or update presentations. If you were to try to define "power PowerPoint user", your definition would have to be able to encompass both of these people.

The MacRibbon is a change. Change in and of itself is neither inherently good nor bad, it's just change. We'll be sharing more about it in the coming months. I hope that you'll find, as we've seen so far, that the MacRibbon is a positive change that drastically improves productivity.

[1] That information was published in an article in Wired Magazine: Blue Ribbon Debut for Office 2007.