Hello, Ello

So there’s been a fair amount of hype about the new social networking service called Ello. I got an invite recently (which is not that hard to come by) and just spent some time using it.

So what’s it like? I’m struggling to describe it because it just seems so… sparse.

Visually it’s quite simple and clean. There’s too much white space, to the point where it seems barren and almost cold. The busy-ness of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, all of which cram way too much noise and activity into their layouts, is the norm now. And that’s probably why Ello seems oddly silent. You can practically hear the tumbling tumbleweeds. Ello’s icy silence might be less noticeable on a native mobile app, which is supposed to launch later this year for both iOS and Android.

Aside from the visual aspect, here are some quick observations:

  • There’s no helpful way to find people who you might know. Since it’s still a relatively small site, I guess they don’t have enough people to run recommendation engines that will help you find the people you might know. Instead, you have to search for them by real name or their Ello user name.
  • It’s easy to invite friends to the beta. Just click the “+” button.
  • The “friends” vs. “noise” filters are clever ways to switch between people whose updates you really want to see, vs. those you’d rather not. It’s also really easy to switch someone from friend to noise, or vice versa.

In a nutshell, it’s a simple and minimalist site in its desktop version and is refreshingly free of the “sponsored” messages that are everywhere now on social networking sites. That was a big motivator of the Ello philosophy, and it will appeal to anyone who doesn’t want to be a product to be targeted by advertisers.

Healthcare.gov: It’s all about the business rules

There it is, above the fold, on today’s Wall Street Journal: “Software and Design Defects Cripple Health-Care Website.” Since the October 1st launch of Healthcare.gov, which coincided with the first day of the current government shutdown, the website has been plagued with problems. It’s been bogged down by bad or lazy code, unfriendly design, and other issues. Hopefully, some of these glitches will be addressed by simple fixes before the enrollment rush of November.

However, the main problem isn’t just flawed codebad design, or page speed. Insurers participating in the health insurance exchange are reporting that 1% or fewer of the applications sent from Healthcare.gov have enough information to enroll applicants in a health plan.

The industry jargon is “batch corruption.” Batch corruption is a sign of data quality problems. Applicant enrollment data submitted through Healthcare.gov isn’t sufficient or accurate enough to process the applications. For instance, insurers are saying that they can’t associate applicants with their user IDs. There is also bad address data for applicants because of a problem with state name abbreviations. 

In other words, the culprit isn’t the technology or the design of Healthcare.gov. The problem is that the fundamental business rules, around the process of applying and enrolling for a health insurance plan, have not been addressed. 

Despite all the fanfare and controversy around health care reform and Obamacare, turns out it’s the boring stuff like data quality and business process that are tripping up the Healthcare.gov launch.

Usability guru Jared Spool was right: Web sites and apps (like Healthcare.gov) should not let the business rules take away from the user experience. Get the business rules right, don’t let them affect the user experience, and then make them invisible to the user.