DVD Player Displays - Not the info we need...

Most DVD players (and even the combatants in the current format war, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD players) still have a little bitty display on the front of the console. The console front unfortunately isn't sufficient to navigate the DVD, as I've posted about before, but maybe we can get some use out of the face with that display. What's to be found, though, is that what's shown owes more to legacy than to actual usefulness.

Check out the photo, and this is what you're most likely to see on any DVD player display: Title, Chapter, and Hours:Minutes:Seconds of elapsed time. So, for a quick sanity check, who ever needs to know the title? And in fact, it's rare that the title's meaning is even clear, since there's no standard that "the main feature is title 1," and so on. It's the same with chapters, where a numerical indicator means little, if anything, to a normal casual user. Ultimately, these delimiters are a throwback to the tracks of CDs - which, in turn, mimic the tracks of vinyl records. Meanwhile, media on iPods, DVRs, and computer media players have moved away from numeric labels to full track/episode titles, much to users' delight. Time for disc players to catch up!

Finally, the elapsed time. Why elapsed time? It was certainly the only option, technologically, back in the age of tape players. But few people need to know how long they've been watching a movie; most only need that info to calculate how much longer it'll run. So I make a plea for "time remaining" as a default setting, or at least an available option. Even better, though, may be the ubiquitous "slider" found in media players and DVRs everywhere. Give us the whole story: time elapsed and time remaining, quantitatively and visually.

And somewhere in there, we might get around to watching a movie...

Storefront Sign: Good cop, bad cop, all in one sheet...

I went wine tasting in Sonoma this weekend, and while munching some excellent sandwiches outside The Cheese Factory in the town square, noticed this sign. Now, my thoughts about little home-printed signs like this are usually about general taste (mixing various fonts, no sense of layout) or the always-fascinating use of many different methods for emphasis (bold, italics, underlines, ALL CAPS, colors, and my pet peeve, "quotes"). But this one's got a whole new thing going on: it plays good cop / bad cop, all in one sign! Check it out, line by line:

[Bad Cop]: It's the law. No need to ask people not to do it - it's the friggin law!

[Good Cop]: Please no alcoholic beverages in front of the store! Well... nice that they asked politely anyway, huh?

[Bad Cop]: (Picture of a criminal behind bars.) Yikes!

[Good Cop]: Please enjoy them in our patio. Thank you! Okay, I'll talk! I'll tell you anything! Just please, leave the psychological games to the movies and get this interrogation lamp outta my face!!!

Bluetooth Dongles - It's not the size that counts...

It's fitting that such an ugly word as "dongle" is used to describe little plastic eyesores protruding from USB ports like tumors. Especially on laptops, the usual long-and-skinny form factor practically begs to be knocked around, probably breaking the dongle or the USB port, or both. The design at right is a recently announced impressively small design - but it's still that same form factor that asks for trouble. This is what happens when design focuses on a criterion (size) which doesn't exactly match usability (not getting knocked off).

The design on the left, the MoGo Dapter, touts a form that won't snag or get banged - not by making it smaller (though it does happen to be quite small), but by shaping its volume cleverly. Just looking at it, you can imagine sliding a laptop into a case with this thing still attached, and not even worrying about it. Not worrying: now that's convenience!

To be honest, though, a USB Bluetooth dongle is an undesirable solution anyway! A built-in totally-internal transceiver is the way to go - or failing that (since too many computer makers deemphasize the usefulness of Bluetooth, or don't even offer it), a transceiver in a standard slot, like ExpressCard, that can be used with no protrusion. Or to get really crazy, how about laptop designers including a "recessed" USB port on a laptop, allowing dongles, flash drives, and other USB sticks to work without protruding? Another design bandaid, yes - but when there's a real design problem, a bandaid is better than nothing...

NYT: Usability Professionals Emerging...

Barbara Whitaker writes in the New York Times about the emergence of usability professionals (finally!) in the world of business. She starts with an observation that makes me want to stand up and applaud:

Sometimes there is a huge disconnect between the people who make a product and the people who use it.

Huzzah! Yes, previously too many usability decisions have been the afterthoughts of engineers or executives, based on gut feelings and other ego-driven "tools." Then, because there's nobody speaking on behalf of usability, good design features are sacrificed for engineering convenience (thanks to the CTO) or cost reduction (CFO).

Well, here's hoping for a new seat in the boardroom, for the Chief Usability Officer, fighting for all those users who can't be there in person.

Shredded Hands - sneaky switch from twist-off to pry-off...

Ouch. Somewhere in the middle of a party I was enjoying, Sierra Nevada stealthily switched from twist-off to pry-off bottle caps. Seriously, whenever they actually made the switch (possibly accompanied by some press release on which no eyes would ever be laid), the switch happened for me in between consecutive bottles from the same fridge, at the same party. Hand-shredding frustration ensued. OUCH.

Three design usability thoughts come to mind:

1. Twist-off and pry-off caps pretty much look the same. It's only with careful inspection that the difference can be discerned, and that's not the kind of detailed analysis that tends to happen when beers are being downed. Why not make them easily, obviously distinct?

2. Tiny little heads-up label! I wish I'd gotten a photo of this, but the "PRY OFF" text on the bottlecap was a friggin' joke. Itty bitty, dim, and not at all different from all the other text that litters the labels of these beers. I doubt a single person has read one of those "PRY OFF" warnings prior to opening a bottle - but plenty, like me, probably found it afterwards while searching for some explanation of their sudden inability to do the twist (off).

3. Responsibility to brand usability. If a beer brand has always been twist-off, they've ingrained this in the minds of their loyal customers. Users will act without thinking, knowing and trusting that Sierra Nevada is a twist-off kinda beer. Therefore, this aspect of the product is not something to be taken lightly - it's a contract of sorts with the customer, to which the brand has a definite responsibility. So what I'm saying is...

There better have been a damn good reason for this change, Sierra Nevada! Man, I need a beer.

Security Ring - automated privacy, questionable bling...

From designer Yang Hai on Yanko Design (and through Gizmodo), the concept here is security automatically enacted based on proximity. The user wears the ring while at work, and the base station is attached to the user's computer. When the ring gets farther than a certain distance from the base, the computer is locked, or windows minimized, or whatever would be appropriate for the workplace. Not bad; if this kind of intra-workspace security is really needed, making it automatic will no doubt make it actually be done more! (See a previous post on the power of suggestion and defaults to encourage desired behavior.)

As with all designs, it's not without its flaws. First, the ring looks... well, I wouldn't wanna wear it. And the Gizmodo post mentions their use of Bluetooth phones' proximity to their computers for the same purpose - nice because it's a software solution built around existing hardware, and because many people carry their phones everywhere anyway.

But still, not bad. Except the techno-bling. That's bad.

Crosswalk Buttons - a plea for feedback...

To get back to the basics of usability, let's look at an actual button, and how even something so simple can fail us as users. Crosswalk buttons. Oh, how I loathe crosswalk buttons. The problem is feedback; specifically, the lack of it. You press the button and hope for the best, but there's no confirmation to the user that yes, the button has been pressed, and yes, the process is in motion to get you across the street. Feedback could come in various forms, and in fact, the best buttons provide multiple forms of feedback. Alas, this has none - check it out:

There's no tactile feedback. That little metal plunger creaks in and out, or the big silver dome eases into the box, but neither ever really "snaps" or "pops" so that you feel that the button has been pressed.

There's no audio feedback. Often this comes along with the tactile feedback, where a button snap is both felt and heard. But sometimes the audio is added artificially - iPod touch wheel controls add that clicking sound when scrolling, making otherwise bland touch controls very satisfying.

There's no indicator. Elevator buttons light up and stay lit to show that they've been pressed; why can't crosswalk buttons do the same? When there are two or more people waiting for a crosswalk, we've all probably noticed that every person who arrives presses the button again. An indicator should eliminate this behavior - but then again, people do the same with elevator buttons...

There's no immediate effect. This is just the nature of crosswalks; you don't press a button for an immediate result, but rather to place a request that will be fulfilled later. In situations like this, the indicator mentioned in the previous item is especially worthwhile!

So there we have it: one little button, four ways it's failed us. It may seem trivial, but consider the stakes. How many people have thought the button must be broken due to lack of any kind of feedback, and decided to cross the street without the "walk" sign...?

Gotcha! Slow voicemail menus aren't just annoying...

...They're designed to eat up your airtime, pushing you into extra minutes and extra moolah for the carriers! This goes for both the menus you hear when someone doesn't pick up ("To page this person, press 2; to send a message, press 5..." Who ever does those first two things, anyway? Now it makes sense that they're the first ones listed in the menu.) and the menus you hear when you check your voicemail ("To listen to your messages; From six.. five... oh...two... six... nine..."). The damning evidence comes from technologist David Pogue, in the P.S. of this post on the calcification of US cell carriers:

"At the conference, I asked on cellular executive if that message is deliberately recorded slowly and with as many words as possible, to eat up your airtime... I was half kidding - but he wasn't fooling around in his reply: 'Yes.'"

For consumers' practical purposes, this revelation makes a solid argument for visual voicemail. (For those who have remained blissfully unaware of the iPhone hype, this is where voicemails are handled in any order like emails and played with a slider like any audio file, shown above and hopefully coming to more than just the iPhone very, very soon.) But it's also a heads-up to consumers that this kind of shenanigan can and does happen in all sorts of products. Toys are designed to break quickly, so Mom and Dad have to go back and buy more to placate an upset child. Demo software that comes installed on new computers isn't for your convenience, it's bait for the full version at best - or spyware at worst.

Why are we so besieged by our own belongings? First, because from the seller's point of view, it works: the audio menus do bring in extra profits, and so on. Second, because we don't even realize it's happening: we're very willing to attribute the slow menu to meticulousness, even thoughtfulness, on the cell carriers' parts. (Some people might need menus that slow, you know! How nice of AT&T.) Third, because the consumer's position is usually under-advocated in these elements of a product: it's very difficult for a company to give up the sure-thing extra money now (from long menus and more minutes) in exchange for the mere possibility of money later (gaining a reputation and then customer loyalty based on truly convenient design - a long and unlikely path).

And so it continues - we'll keep getting tricked by designed-in traps in our own products. But on the voice menu scam, they're busted!

TV Packaging Becomes Stand - instant upcycling!

Most recycling, as the Green crowd will tell you, is actually "downcycling." That is, recycled materials are lower quality than when they were new, and are therefore used in lower-grade situations - so eventually downcycling leads to the landfill anyway. Then there's "upcycling," where a reused product or material is actually used in a more refined or valuable way. It's like alchemy - gold from lead!

It's good to see that some alchemy is being practiced out there! From designer Tom Ballhatchet on Yanko Design and through Gizmodo, this bigscreen-TV packing is cleverly designed to serve as a TV stand. The primary appeal of this design is the delight it produces: an unexpected extra feature where there was once only ugly styrofoam. Sure, it's functionally sufficient, if a little basic - just the two shelves. And it makes some sense as a market-appropriate item, since younger buyers with less disposable income are wanting larger and larger TVs, to the exclusion of all other furniture. Even the ID could be cleaned up a smidge, using styro inserts to hug the form of the TV when packed and removing them to simplify the shelf shapes in stand mode.

But the product is the surprise, the delight, and the alchemy of upcycling.

Stopped LED Airport Clock - confirmation that you're in travel hell...

All great vacations seem to have to be bookended by horrific air travel debacles, at least if my recent experience has been any indication. And when you're hanging around the airport for hours, waiting to see if you make it off the standby list, the last thing you want to realize is that the airport clock - the official, trustworthy, LED airport clock - is stopped.

Besides being deeply discouraging, this is very out of the ordinary. Analog clocks can stop, and we don't think too much of it: they're mechanical gadgets that can wind down, lose power, or break, and just stop where they are, and we have an intuitive understanding that this can happen. But LED clocks, we expect to be either running properly, off entirely, or blinking the "12:00" of death. This one wasn't blinking; it was on but not changing, giving the same bogus time to any travelers unfortunate enough to glance at it, for at least three hours. That's not a state that most people would even think possible for this device!

Having witnessed this state, I'm guessing that all the clocks in the airport are centrally controlled, and the central controller linked to an atomic clock signal (you know, so you can know with complete accuracy just how late you are). In that case, this clock must have had its control link broken, but still kept its power. So this is a case of non-failsafe design; a better design would have the clock recognize that its control link is down, or know that something's suspicious when it hasn't seen a minute change in more than, say, 120 internally-counted seconds. (These are each very simple detections to make, adding negligible or no cost to the clock's circuitry.) When either of these problems are found, the display would change from steady to flashing to alert travelers not to trust it, or turn off entirely to not add to the already saturated confusion of the airport terminal.

As is, If I ever see this again, I'll just have to hope I'm not really in some kind of twilight-zone airport hell!

Velcro Wall Socket - good intentions, but no results...

This concept, from designers Kwei Shan & Tao Yuan, on Yanko Design and through Gizmodo, is to affix unplugged wall warts to a Velcro border around the power socket. The goal , as stated by the designers, is to make it more convenient to unplug wall warts when not in use - thereby encouraging users to do just that, in turn saving energy. But man oh man, is there a mighty chasm between the design and the goal! Let's look at the problems here:

Unplugging a device is the least convenient way to turn it off. Power buttons on the devices themselves are usually sufficient (except for power vampires, a species which should be nearing extinction in the next few years), and when they're not, a switch-controlled power socket (ooh, turn-of-the-20th-century technology here!) definitely does the trick. But pulling a plug... it's just not pleasant. Sometimes they stick too much, sometimes they're too loose. There's often that unnerving little spark that reminds you of the danger of the electricity involved. It would take a lot to convince users to do this on a regular basis.

The "suggestion" is lost, because the socket is hidden. The power to make users change their behavior comes not just from increased convenience, but from the design suggesting the behavior to the user. (For more on this concept, check out previous post The Cues We Use - and for an example of a well-executed convenience-and-suggestion double whammy see The House-Off Switch, which is also probably the best solution to this same problem!) But sockets are usually hidden, behind furniture or appliances - and if not actually hidden, they're at least below our plane of awareness. Not many people are looking down at the floorboards to check out power sockets. In any case, if you're looking to suggest a behavior to users, power sockets are about the least effective location you can find!

Um, sticking the plug to the wall isn't any more convenient than just dropping the darn thing on the floor!
Yeah, look at that image of the design. How is having the plug stuck to the socket any better than having it resting five inches away on the floor? I've got nothin.

Engagement Rings: Looks getting in the way of life?

I just recently got engaged, so these kinds of issues have been on my mind lately - but I've realized that there's usually a bit of a tradeoff between engagement rings that look good (as my fiancee and I say, a ring with a "BFD"), and those which are easy to actually live with. The bigger the diamond, the more it sticks out to hit, catch, and scratch everything in the vicinity of the lady's left hand.

Now, it's not to say that things are as bad as the joke design shown at left (that's the "Killer Diamond Engagement Ring" by Tobias Wong), but with some thought, it seems possible to have both the big diamond and a livable design. Consider the custom design shown at right, by my friends at RedStart Design - beautiful and unique, but with the sharp edges of the stone protected from undesired interaction with the more vulnerable elements of the ring's immediate surroundings. Of course, those designers have even more experience in the intersected areas of ring design and safety - below is their "Subtle Safety" ring, which folds out to become a self-defense tool...

Stop Designing Products - experiences are what count...

Peter Merholz has an interesting article on industrial design blog Core77, declaring that "Experience IS the Product, and the only thing users care about." It rambles a bit (as do we all), but the fundamental point is made well enough: products exist only for the experiences they offer. Therefore, when designers constrain themselves to products instead of the underlying experiences, they miss the opportunities for real innovation.

Merholz uses several examples that are pretty well-worn in the product design world--Tivo, iPod, Flickr, ClearRX--and with varying success explains the product as the result of the experience rather than vice versa. However, by invoking the products which currently deliver these experiences, he leaves us in the mindset that these new products are the perfect solutions. Of course, they're not; and it can be pretty fun to speculate about how future products will deliver better experiences.

Take the iPod - the experience being delivered by this product is the ability to hear any of your music, anytime. That experience is limited by the size of the hard drive; simply improving the product would mean increasing the hard drive capacity. But improving the experience may mean removing the hard drive entirely, and having music wirelessly streamed to the user, on demand, from the Big Jukebox in the Sky! That's not even too far out in the future. But consider these others which are:

-Tiny speakers permanently implanted in your ears, so you'll never need headphones. Or...

-Focused sound projected down from satellites (this one's really out there) to your exact, tracked location on earth...

-Mind control of track selection, music to match your actual mood, etc...

-Any more ideas? Anyone?

Traveler's Phrasebook Shirt - wear your tourist-ness on your sleeve...

Designed by Art Lebedev, the Traveler's Phrasebook T-shirt shows language-independent universal symbols for some of the most common needs while internationally out and about. Gives a neat impression at first, but on further thought, it seems more like a good start on an incomplete concept. Check it out:

-Wearing this thing on a shirt screeeams that you're a tourist, not something you want everyone to know. You're suddenly a target for both haggling merchants and shadier elements that are best kept uninformed. The first change I'd make is to transfer this whole pattern to a small, pocketable card. Unless you're the urban-hip-geek-chic type who wants to wear this kind of thing anyway.

-The question mark goes without saying. I guess it centralizes and emphasizes your cluelessness (a good thing?), but pointing to a symbol will already prompt a passerby to give you directions, no question mark needed.

-The number pad ain't easy. Presumably this is for price haggling, but trying to communicate a long number one digit at a time can get hairy when there's already a language barrier in the way. In street markets which frequently cater to foreign travelers, merchants usually use a basic calculator to simply display numbers when asked about prices. Since we're moving this whole product from a shirt to a card anyway, including a small solar calculator--or just an LCD number display, no calculating functions needed--would be a no-brainer.

-The iPod pocket. Since this shirt is specifically intended to be worn while traveling, how about a little security? Add buttons or a zipper to keep fend off pickpockets. And as a non-iPod-user myself, I'm annoyed that the description implies that that's all the pocket could be used for. Then again, we iPodless folks are a dying breed...

-The instructions. The product page says: "Point a finger at the pictogram you need and then point it twice at the question mark, which means, 'Where is it?'" It's a good goal to design products so intuitively that they don't need instructions - and this is especially true where language barriers are involved. I think this product is already intuitive enough that those instructions aren't needed, and to boot, they're ridiculous - those on the receiving end of the use of this product won't have read them!

-Sexual harassment. This shirt is available in women's styles. Think about it.

Rental Car Keys - permanent linking defeats the purpose!

I'm currently on vacation, and enjoying the very best $10,000 car that Alamo has to offer. Surprisingly, it's not the car that's been on my nerves -- it's the keys. Both keys, and a fabulous fob ("fobulous?") were permanently linked with a crimped steel cable keyring.

There are plenty of good reasons to give two keys to a car renter - keys can get lost, or other people may need access to the car (even if, as I was often reminded by the automated check-in, nobody else can drive it). But every conceivable reason for having two keys is obliterated by those keys being inseparably linked. And don't get me started on that bulky, yellowing-plastic, handwritten-tagged piece of pocket pollution that's along for the ride...

So I cut the keyring, and now carry only one key and something a little more useful. The full set will be returned on a standard keyring and hopefully passed on in that state to the next renter. And if they fine me, well... it was even kinda worth it.

Computers in Movies, Part 2: Systems designed for suspense...

Following up on the previous post, we're again dealing with how movies on TV and in movies differ - dramatically - from those in real life. Last time it was the sounds they made, this time it's how they're set up - specifically, for security and access. Don't worry, this won't get technical - I don't know much about the nuts and bolts (or bits and bytes) of large-system computer security. But I do know that a lot of what we see on screen has to be just plain ridiculous.

Once again, go ahead and view any movie or TV show where computer access or control plays an important role; and as always, "24" is a perfect choice. You'll invariably find systems designed purely for suspense, not for defense: you need access to a specific terminal to get some data or shut down a system. That terminal is in some remote or special location; maybe you have to break in, defeat some sensors (laser arrays are a favorite - and they always leave just enough room to get through, right?), hack a password, or fake your identity to biometric sensors. And yet, even in such beefy security systems, the right pieces are always missing to just barely allow access with the right skills and usually a quirky sidekick or two. At the same time, the enemy has been able to compromise the system remotely, to thicken the plot. Nifty. But rigorous security design can and does close these loopholes.

More generally, there are plenty of examples of TV realities being made up as they go along, bending and twisting to fit the needs of the plot. A favorite example is Springfield, hometown of the Simpsons, which is (according to various episodes) a small town and a metropolis situated around several mountains, a grand-canyon-style gorge, a river, an oceanfront, and forests. This is more acceptable because it's a comedy, and doubt is further suspended because of the "reset" that tends to happen with every episode of most cartoons. But once the show gets serious ("24" for sure, and "Star Trek" definitely had a piecemeal approach to technological capabilities and limitations), a coherent and somewhat plausible model of the underlying truths becomes more desirable.

In the end, what's the big deal? It's easy to say that these shows are just entertainment, and the worst result would be plot holes created by implausible computer systems. But in a world where fictional entertainment is increasingly substituted for real information and news, and where the electorate judges the effectiveness of counter-terrorism techniques based on fictional demonstrations, I can't help but worry that elements of the flawed computer designs onscreen will work their way into real systems. Just because we're too willing to believe what we see on TV!

Computers in Movies, Part 1: Computers making sounds computers don't make...

Anyone who's watched TV or a movie with me knows that this is one of my favorite pet peeves: Computers in movies and on TV constantly make sounds that computers don't make! Go ahead, check it out - watch anything where someone looks up something in a database, programs a system, analyzes an image, yadda yadda yadda. ("24" is a great place to go to find a good mix of all of these.) I guarantee that with every onscreen action - text coming up (usually scrolling onscreen in a way that it doesn't, by the way), images appearing, windows opening, passwords being accepted or access denied - there are bleeps, bloops, chirps, and squinks that don't happen in real life. It's enough to drive any PC poweruser nuts.

But, as usual on this blog, there's more to discover here. Putting my personal rant aside, let's notice that this isn't an isolated incident; it's ubiquitous, which suggests that there just might be a good reason for it. And here's a theory:

Computers are interactive experiences, where our expectations are closely guided by our own actions; we type and click to input, and then we're naturally tuned in to the expected output. TV and movies, on the other hand, are passive experiences, where we expect things to announce themselves sufficiently to gain our finicky attention. When we're watching a computer being used on TV, it's still a passive experience for us - after all, we're not the ones typing, clicking, and inputting. So, the computer within the movie needs an artificial way to command that attention - and the way to do that, much to my (and anyone else's?) chagrin, is with gratuitously added sound, scrolling text, great big blinking "ACCESS DENIED" signs, and so on.

And it works! Our attention is grabbed, as a mundane computing task magically becomes an cinematic event worthy of white knuckles and breathless suspense. Nobody complains about the extra sounds (except me) - but imagine how annoying it'd be to have those bleeps and chirps on your real computer. Eesh.

Tune in to the next post for Computers in Movies, Part 2: Systems designed for suspense...

Ambient Devices Umbrella - smart devices for forgetful folks...

Ambient Devices has been providing fuzzy, decorative information to savvy users for a few years with devices that indicate the status of weather, stock markets, etc, with non-quantitative colors. (Data is sent via the old pager wireless network; perfect, since it's low-bandwidth and those networks are hardly used at all these days.) However, it's been a small niche market so far, and the implementation of this ambient information has been mostly for novelty rather than for compelling new usage scenarios.

But this time, they may really have something! The Ambient Umbrella has a handle which lights up to indicate rain in the forecast - a reminder to bring an umbrella when and where a user really needs such a reminder. It's the "when and where" aspect of this information that finally makes it worthwhile. The product page also mentions "light patterns that intuitively indicate rain, drizzle, snow, or thunderstorms," which may be helpful or just muddle the message, depending on how intuitive they really are. In any case, pick the darn thing up if it's lit; that much is tough to mess up!

Starting from this notion of providing reminders when and where you need them, it's easy to envision a Smart Closet; knowing the weather and your schedule, it'd point out the recommended or necessary items to not forget. Cold? It can spotlight gloves and a hat. Got a tennis game later in the day? It can cue you to bring your racket and gym bag. If things get any smarter, we hapless users won't need to think for ourselves at all...

Email "Metanotification" - what you're saying without saying it...

John Tierney has a wholly worthwhile article in the New York Times on the "Metanotification" that exists in emails. That seven-syllable beast is just fancy word for the signals that you send to your email recipients by putting their email at the beginning of the "To:" list or the end of the "Cc:" list; by sending them a personal email or merely including them in a hundred-recipient distribution. The problem is that this metanotification is usually unintentional and unknown to the sender - but often noticed vested with unjustified meaning by the readers. For example, Hatfield didn't mean anything when he put his best friend McCoy's email second-to-last on the "To:" line for his upcoming hoedown. But Hatfield noticed it, and couldn't help feeling less important than all those other yokels who "done got invited afore me." And look what happened...

Anyway, the cause of this problem is the combination of (1) a system which allows metanotification to exist, but (2) doesn't cue users to consciously consider it. Change either of these, and a lot of bad blood could be avoided! Some examples:

1) Remove the metanotification: Imagine a plugin for your email client which caused all the recipients' email addresses to be placed in the "To:" line, rearranged into alphabetical order, and the "To:" tag itself changed to "To (in alphabetical order):" No question about why you're first or last anymore!

2) Cue users to consider metanotification: A little more annoying, but this could take the form fof a pop-up warning in between hitting Send and actually sending, where the sender is instructed to consciously and properly adjust the order and To/Cc locations of all the addresses. These kinds of warnings never work, of course - they're ignored and become useless annoyances, but that's another post for another time!