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Support for Visual Learners: Solving the “Monkey” Problem

English: Saimiri sciureus. Français : Saimiri ...

What’s that monkey? Wait, not that kind of monkey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When my brother and I are talking and one of us can’t think of the correct term for something, we almost always use the generic substitute monkey. As in, “Can you hand me that monkey?” or “I can’t get this monkey to look right on the screen.”

I have no idea how we came up with the term monkey, but it works … for us. It doesn’t work so well when I am talking with anyone else and don’t know the name for something. And I think this is the problem a lot of beginners have when working with new technology, whether they are trying to program, or set up new hardware, or work with an interface like WordPress for the first time. (This is part of why I’m fascinated by projects like Google Goggles!)

I have been helping out a bit recently in the WordPress.com support forums, and I notice this terminology problem pop up quite a bit. I often look at a request for help, spend most of the time trying to understand what the person is talking about, and (once I understand the problem) can send them straight to an existing support page that explains the solution clearly and in detail.

Sometimes, this happens because a new user hasn’t bothered to look through the existing support documentation. (It’s hard to get upset with them—how often do I read the user manual for new toys?) But often it’s because the beginner user didn’t know how to formulate the question. They were looking for a solution for that “monkey” causing them trouble.

WordPress.com offers a variety of ways for new users to learn what’s what:

But sometimes, despite wanting to solve a problem, new users are still stuck trying to fix a “monkey” on their blog. If they haven’t sat down and read through the documentation, it can be hard to know what term to use when searching for help. (Once you’ve been bit by the bug you might find yourself sifting through every support article, wanting to know all the things! But what about before that point?) An exhaustive search through the Lexicon might turn up the answer, but that’s more helpful when you have the term already and don’t know what it is … not the other way around.

My Solution:

So I started thinking: What if there were a visual way to help these users find the answers? When you are staring at the screen and you see a problem but can’t describe it, what better than some kind of visual support? I imagine something like a button on the bar at the top of the screen (a sort of “What’s that monkey?” button) to help me identify what I am seeing. After clicking that button, anything I click on the screen would create a little pop up explaining what that element is and sending me to the support page that provides details for how to work with it.

For example, I might be looking at my blog and start wondering about the “Subscribe to this Blog” section in the upper right. My “What’s that monkey?” button would help me find out that it’s a “Follow Blog” widget and it can be modified by going to Appearance -> Widgets on my dashboard. Or if a user is staring at a blog’s navigation bar and wondering why a newly created page isn’t showing up there, the “What’s that monkey?” button might remind them that the blog is using a Custom Menu.

This probably wouldn’t stop some people from posting questions that could be answered by a quick search on the support page, but it could help users learn a bit more about the WordPress interface in a more interactive, visual way.

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Happiness Engineer for Automattic, the company behind WordPress.com. Linguaphile and Translator. Tester.