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Friday, 31 August 2007

You Can Help Build the First ElderBrowser

For four years, I’ve been banging on here at TGB about the neglect of elders’ needs in many areas of the culture. Today it can be announced that at last, we have liftoff – at least in the area of technology.

It is thrilling that my presentation at Gnomedex in early August caught the attention of some big-name technology companies along with some individual, expert technologists. One of the latter is a fine, young man named Joshua McKenty who chased me down at my seat in the auditorium at Gnomedex to offer his services in creating a web browser that would meet the needs of old people.

And, my friends, he wasn’t just blowing smoke. In only three weeks since Gnomedex, we are already in the early stages of developing an ElderBrowser that will make surfing easier for old people whose eyesight may be fading, whose motor skills can diminish, and which will speed the learning curve of newbie elders.

This is a first step toward making the web more elder-friendly and I will announce more initiatives as they come along.

Right now, Joshua and I would like to enlist your input to help us get the ElderBrowser right. Here are a few of the obvious changes we have identified:

  • Larger text in the location and tool bars at the top of the browser
  • More contrast between the text and background colors of the those bars
  • Make the minimize/hide/close buttons in the upper right easier to choose with a mouse
  • Make grayed out icons and text easier to read
  • Scale the ElderBrowser for use by newbie, intermediate and expert elders

Those are not all we’ve come up with, but they give you an idea of the direction we are going and now we are asking for your help on such questions as:

  • What is difficult for you to do in a web browser?
  • What confuses you?
  • What is hard to see?
  • What is hard for for you to do with your mouse?
  • What doesn’t a browser do that you would like it to do?
  • What are the things you like best about a web browser?
  • What are the things you like least?
  • What is the single change in a browser that would make it a better experience for you?

Also, try to recall what gave you trouble in a browser when you were new to using the web. Or, let us know what difficulties your parents or other newbies you know may have learning to use a web browser:

  • Were/are there too many choices? Too few?
  • What confused you (or confuses your parents) as a newbie?
  • Did you or do your parents use the default settings of a browser when you were a newbie? If so, why? If not, why?

You get the idea. This is your chance to make a real-world difference for all online elders and make it easier, for those who are just starting out, to enjoy and embrace the internet to its fullest.

Leave your answers and any other suggestions and ideas in the comments below. Every one of them will be seriously considered for inclusion in the new ElderBrowser. Keep in mind, that this project is for a web browser only, not hardware, other kinds of software or blogs. Those, if all goes well, will come later.

I cannot thank Joshua enough for taking on this project. It is his idea, he is doing it on his own time and his enthusiasm, when we met at Gnomedex and continuing now, has given me renewed energy to keep pushing for the improvements we need in many areas of elders’ lives.

As we move forward, I will keep you updated on the development of the ElderBrowser. Joshua blogs at BountyUp Founders – Mumblings from behind the curtain and he too will be writing about the progress of the ElderBrowser, so it is a good idea to bookmark his blog. I’ve added a link to it from the Elderbloggers List on the left sidebar. He is a long way yet from the minimum age of 50, but if ever a younger person deserved to be there, it is Joshua.

While I’m on a gratitude jag, I must mention the founder and producer of the Gnomedex conference, Chris Pirillo. On his various websites, blog, Blaugh cartoon and other endeavors, he has always been an enthusiastic and creative supporter of elderbloggers and elders online. Without his invitation for me to speak at Gnomedex this year, the ElderBrowser and none of some other exciting new projects would exist. So he too gets a spot on the Elderbloggers List.

There are no better young advocates of technology for elders right now than these two 30-somethings who put their personal time and expertise where their mouths are. It would be a mitzvah if you would go tell Chris and Joshua how terrific they are in taking the lead for inclusion of elders in the world of technology.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Matty is back with another tale of her grandson's one-upkidship in Out of the Mouths of Babes.]


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 02:37 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

I think the ElderBrowser is a collossally stupid idea.

First: anything you want is available in Firefox - they have a huge base of developers working on anything you can imagine. It's open source so it get's better everyday.

Second: it's one more way people over fifty will be perceived as being technologically retarded.

So you were their market research?
Let's talk to one person who is elderly?
Dumb.

Perhaps you, GoingLikeSixty, are blessed with still perfect eyesight and motor skills. Perhaps no one you know lives with Parkinson's Disease, for example, or has suffered a stroke. Perhaps you are so brilliant that learning anything new has never been difficult. May that always be so.

Most important, however is this: for the nearly four years Time Goes By has existed, there have been fewer than half a dozen comments from people who used such a nasty, uncivil tone as yours to disagree with me or other commenters. Please keep that in mind in future comments.

Tone aside, your commenter above has a point - a new skin for Firefox would almost certainly achieve almost everything you describe. I use one which goes the other way - it reduces the size of icons etc, to make more room available for the page itself, so I can't imagine this would be a difficult task for those who know how. Of course that may well be what is being done - I can't imagine a complete new browser being written from scratch in 3 weeks.

There are also display changes that can be made in Windows itself. Look at the accessibility options in Control Panel.

I have always customised my display screens, choosing colours I find restful and easy on the eye, resetting the default font size and generally fiddling around to produce something that suits me.

The Elderbrowser idea is surely simply an extension of that approach - maximum customisability (is that a word?) allows those of us with sight problems to make different adaptations to those with limited motor control. In the latter case it might also be worth looking at a trackball rather than a mouse.

I want to help you, but I don't have a specific problem with my browser, which is Firefox. I do, however, have a problem with the complexity of adapting a browser. A simple glossary of browser-related terms would be a real help. What's an extension? How do I use the history? What's a FireUploader?

I think this is a great project, Ronni. A few thoughts come to mind:

1. Most browsers are designed to meet the needs of the widest possible audience. This means they offer waaaaay too many choices for elders who may be new to the Internet or who have physical limitations. I'll bet that an hour or two of close observation would reveal the commands that elders need and use most. The rest could be banished to an "other commands" menu or something similar.

2. The Help section should be organized in terms of what elders are likely to call things, as opposed to what browser developers call them. Once again, an hour or two of observation should provide a good start on uncovering the terminology that should be used.

3. An elderbrowser should be closely linked with an elder-friendly e-mail program and maybe a chat client. This would allow easy access to just about everything people commonly use the Internet for. My daughter (now 27) had one experience of IMing with her grandmother and thought it was great. Gram agreed.

4. The elderbrowser should be full-featured under the hood so that it handles most things that websites serve up without visible fanfare (after the fashion of just about everything from Apple).

5. A hands-on tutorial with sound and animation could be bundled with the browser as a way to get elders up and running quickly. Such a tutorial could provide practice in basic computer skills (mouse skills, windows, menus, etc.) while introducing the basic vocabulary necessary to use the Internet. If written and produced BY elders FOR elders, the tutorial could target the needs of elders efficiently and effectively.

6. The elderbrowser could come with an assortment of "skins" designed to meet particular needs (such as limited vision or impaired coordination). This could help to prevent special interface features from filling up too much of the browser window.

Anyway, I think the elderbrowser is a terrific idea.

I like the idea, Ronni! And ignore your naysayer. Obviously he's blessed with good eyes and no handicaps except limited vision as to what problems others who are older or less healthy might be experiencing. Frankly, I'm surprised that anyone here would be against it. Learning to use a computer can be daunting. People like me who have been online since before Al Gore invented the Internet are used to it are not intimidated anymore. I remember how afraid I was when I got started as I'm not and never will be a techie. I can imagine how someone a lot older would feel who is trying mightily to learn this stuff. The point of the Elderbrowser, in case no one is paying attention, is to simplfy the Internet for those who for whatever reason, have problems with navigating the 'Net and that's a good thing. We need more people like Lucy, Millie and Chancy in our midst.

Just my take.

I agree that the project will have more traction if it is done as a Firefox extension rather than a whole new wheel reinvention. That said, the only creative insight I can offer today is that some pages have "creative" use of textual color and shading that makes it hard for me to read. If you could grab the font controls and permit a simple choice of black on white for those occasions when a light gray text is being displayed against a plae pink background or whatever, then that would help me immensely.

To get a little technical, this means that you would have to look behind the curtain at the "style sheet" and figure out a way to rewrite it at the touch of a button, replacing colors that don't provide contrast with those that do.

I think this idea has merit. I can see it implemented as a browser "skin" with an accessibility label. It isn't just about elders, its about access for all sorts of people. The skin could have the larger font for the location bar, the larger buttons, but still be an "ordinary" browser under the hood.

An idea that might help novice users is a set up wizard that walks the user through clearly explained choices about font-size, colors, etc., when the browser (or skin) is first used. A set up wizard (or accessiblity wizard) command could be added to the Tools menu, too. Most people learn through trial and error how to do simple browser tasks such as set a font-size preference, but not everyone knows such things are possible.

Ronni,

Great project! You might want to check out the accessibility information at the following sites.

EASI – Equal Access to Software and Information
http://easi.cc/

Liberation Technology/Adaptive technology information
http://www.rit.edu/~nrcgsh/arts/liberation.htm

Long time reader, first time commenter.

Pilgrim

What a great project, and good comments here. I'd just like to add that as a Mac user, I really like its Safari browser. It has the buttons right up there to make the text bigger or smaller, plus the other necessities. It's customizable easily. The monitor's contrast, brightness and default font sizes are easy to set up. I've observed as well as experienced the Mac as being easier for newbies to learn. The only complaints I have, and you've pointed it out too, Ronni, are websites or blogs with black backgrounds! And badly designed ones!

There's so much to respond to in your original post and each and every comment I don't know where to start.

1. If I'm reading your intentions correctly, it's not so much that you're trying to re-invent the wheel with younger designers so much as to stimulate dialogue and understanding. I think that takes care of GoingLikeSixty. It's the process of communication as much as having an elder dedicated browser.

2. I use Firefox. It's great, and yes, you can do all those setting gyrations, but an 80 year old might not be able to navigate that much. If there were an EDB (elder dedicated browser, let's just jump right in to the acronyms), it would APPEAR to be more elder friendly, and ATTRACT more elder users. Saying that one can modify Firefox pre-supposes that an 80 year old can even navigate to the preferences menu. The point is to MAKE IT ACCESSIBLE TO EVERYONE N O MATTER WHAT!

3. I have just spent an entire work day researching elder Web design. I have about 115 sites bookmarked. It's my current work assignment. And I'm on an Information and Web Design team at a major university. There is no one place to get the kind of information to guide current and would-be users to feel welcomed and confident in exploring the Web. We tailor technology for kids, why not for elders? Noone says to a three-year old, "oh, just change your preferences and you'll be fine." Why would we say that to an elder?

4. A colleague (20-something) mentioned to me this morning an idea that grooves quite nicely. What about a group of elders who know a bit about HFI and HCI getting together to critique various Web sites and write directly to the Webmaster to suggest three (only) ways that their site could be more welcoming and usable by elders? To make it a positive experience, give the designer a three-month grace period (1st month "WHAT? How dare those stinkin' old people criticize my site?") (2nd month "Gee, I do want my site to attract more readers and be more accessible...maybe I should reconsider their suggestions") (3rd month "Wow, they were really complimentary about some things, maybe I could take another look and spend the next month trying out their suggestions.") Voila! The panel re-visits the site, and if the suggestions improve it, then the designer gets a fabbo badge to display prominently on their site, like maybe "This site is elder-friendly" or something along those lines.

5. Cross-cultural/generational/tech abled/kitchen sink dialogue in problem-solving mode.

6. Did I mention positive communication?

7. Seniors are not stupid, they simply have different needs. And any attempt to belittle, patronize, perpetuate bias, or make anyone feel "less than" is colossally stupid, IMNSHO.

There. Now go back and read Ronni's post with an open mind.

I say this based on others' experiences more than my own: make it easy to find the settings to override the display of the page. Users may want to read content of relatives who have yet to be convinced that 8-pt font in white on dark pink is not readable. (I like light on dark, and even I can't read that! But I've seen it.)

Ease of invoking any aids (increasing font size, color overrides, etc.) is a must.

IE provides functionality that lets you view an image smaller than it really appears. The reverse (the ability to 'blow up' an image in the browser) might also be useful.

PSST "GoingLikeSixty"

It's
Colossally
not
Collossally


Ever use Spell Check, Stupid?

I think this whole idea is exciting, however it is accomplished. Some of what I've learned about computer operation has come from long distance tutoring by relatives. Initially, we had hoped to establish remote control for simultaneous viewing and intervention, but repeated efforts to facilitate that connection were unsuccessful. Much I've learned has come from the generous assistance of a select few other bloggers, my own trial and error efforts.

I've used various online "helps" with mixed success. I'm still trying to learn the "language" which is basic to learning anything new. The first time I undertake a process, I need steps broken down -- and specified -- to their most simple sequence. I would like to see them in writing for future reference.

Too many times certain procedures are not undertaken frequently, so that by the time I need to do them again, so much time has elapsed I don't remember them. They have not gone into my long term memory because the need to repeat them numerous times was not present to make them stick.

I've received 3 different instructions from 3 different bloggers about how to add the "Proud Elderblogger" symbol, or whatever it's called, to my blog, but none readily work for me. I simply have not had time to spend researching it more, nor is my relative available to help presently.

I don't have time to to devote to reading between the lines, doing even more trial and error, or trying to come up with the magic wording in the help sections that will allow me to get the answer to the question I have.

I'd surely like to have one place I could go to with my question, even if I have to wait a bit for a response.

I would like to see my community adult education, or whatever, offer a computer course in "BLOGGING." Despite the progressive nature and all the offerings where I live, the computer course teachers I encounter say they know nothing about blogging, and seem repulsed by the idea of blogs. The also say, there would be no demand for such a class.

One instructor was horrified I had actually undertaken to access my blog's template, much less put anything into it, but I knew how to setup my blogroll thanks to another blogger.

Well, I use Firefox, too. But I don't have the faintest notion of how I am supposed to be able to make the changes alluded to in comments above.

Speaking for myself, I don't have time to sit all day long for many days to hone my technical skills, as interesting as I find it. I want instructions for specific actions a blogger would take i.e. posting pictures, adding badges on a sidebar, making more breakdowns i.e. for blog topic categories, etc. on my blog and more.

I'll have to give more time and thought to all the questions you ask before saying more.

This is a great idea and as with many such ideas, there's usually a naysayer, so that person doesn't need to use what is developed. Meanwhile, the rest of us welcome all efforts to recognize, accept and develop a way to meet our needs.

I visited Chris and Joshua to express my appreciation. We surely do need to let them hear from us, so they'll know we're out here and interested in their efforts to satisfy our needs.

That must've been one inspirational speech you gave, Ronni! Way to go!!!

As for contributing input, that will require some purposeful thinking.

I agree with Virginia that a a wizard would be a real boon. As joared says, it's easy to forget how to do things if you only do them once in five years. I've been using computers since 1987 and I've noticed that with each new generation of operating systems the task of customizing a new machine to suit my particular needs gets more and more complex and time-consuming. And more necessary. It's not just that my eyesight is getting worse - the default fonts are getting tinier and fainter, I swear! (My daughter, who has 20/20 vision just got a new computer and she agrees with me).
I wouldn't call it a 'setup wizard' as that's potentially confusing with the initial setup of an OS. And I wouldn't call it an 'accessibility wizard' because that makes one think of ramps and wheelchairs and implies disability rather than personal preferences (a subtle distinction, but important). I'd call it something like a 'MyWay wizard'. It would ask simple questions in ordinary language. Like "How big do you like text to be?" with examples and radio buttons to click. And it would cover all sorts of things, including toolbars.
Well done, Ronni and Joshua,for coming up with this new initiative!

In both Firefox and Netscape, just press the CTRL and + keys to increase text size, and CTRL and - to decrease text size. BTW, the new Netscape 9.0 browser is excellent (based on the same engine as Firefox). In Internet Explorer, I've found that text size doesn't always change when when I press + or choose a different percentage in the drop-down box. As far as learning how to use a browser for anyone of any age, it would seem that if someone who knows the browser would sit with the learner and take them step by step through it, that might be the simplest and quickest way to learn. I would have to agree that a brand new browser isn't really needed, not with current browsers being as flexible as they are. There must be easy-to-follow how-to books available for people new to browsing. I also agree that it's perhaps more about the design of websites themselves as opposed to the browser per se.

both the post and comments are/will be significant in the future of all of us who are aging. one area that needs figuring out is learning more from elders at the moment they have begun to use browsers. will be thinking more on this.

Opera is already a browser, developed for a decade or more for this specific purpose (accessibility), which does most of what people want, including voice activation (instead of mouse or keyboard). And, of course, it reads pages too. A lot of Firefox used many of the same accessible features.

An "elderbrowser" seems like a throwback term and concept.

The problem isn't the browser, which already exists, but in 1) offering people a chance to learn how to personalize their technology (as LittleRedHen suggests). How many know how to make their monitor more functional? and 2) a requirement that everyone who writes webpages and blogs use the coding developed specifically for enhanced browsing.

PS- Flock is another fairly simple browser with adaptable features (based on Firefox). It does require MS Windows. It doesn't do very much except enable browsing and it has a good Flickr and blogging integration.

Many communities have a library or literacy center or computer center or community college, all of whom have people who can help folks to adjust their browsers.

I haven't seen it mentioned yet, but if you have a mouse with a center wheel, another way of changing font size is to hold down the CTRL key while moving the wheel. In Firefox and Netscape, moving the wheel towards you enlarges the font size, moving it away from you decreases it. In Opera (an excellent browser popular in Europe, but sadly neglected in the US), it's the opposite. This method also works in Internet Explorer, but not as smoothly as with the other three Windows browsers I mentioned, jumping from gigantic to tiny in a couple of clicks. I expect Safari has a similar method of varying font size, but will leave it to Mac users to figure out how.

As for creating a new browser, I would prefer that ideas be submitted to the developers of existing browsers for incorporation into making their products more elder-friendly. Despite having been around for years, and being very innovative, these products are still struggling for survival against the Microsoft juggernaut, and a wholly new browser would have even less likelihood of survival, especially one that's focused on a specific user demographic.

It sounds more like perhaps what is being wanted by some is a browser for those with handicaps-- if such a thing doesn't already exist which I don't know. Aging by itself doesn't mean you cannot use the existing browsers just fine and the font may be fine also but as people lose abilities, which can come at any age, that's the problem, not aging as such.

I'm pretty damn expert on the internet having made my living on it for the past 10+ years. That said I think someone new to the internet, browsers & toolbars should have some assistance with Favorites and particularly Links that can be made "quick available" on the tool bar. To find that perfect site and not know how to get back to it short of keeping a written record somewhere (if you don't know better)--frustrating.

There is nothing wrong with "dumbing down" for newbies regardless of age.

I always enjoy Chancy's comments, today was no exception.

Yea, Chancy!!

Opera and Firefox are both designed and have extensive track records for folks with various browsing needs.

One source for Firefox and other suggestions, How to Install a Firefox Extension (with screenshots) http://internetducttape.com/2007/08/23/howto-install-firefox-extensions-screenshots/

http://internetducttape.com/2007/08/06/google-reader-rss-subscribe-internet-explorer/#comment-71990

Another place for tips
http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2007/06/27/melissa-mcavoy-offers-8-tips-for-accessible-blogging/
http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2007/04/28/bloggers-share-step-by-step-tips-for-increasing-blog-usability/

and to register your need for blog writers to write according to accessibility standards, http://lorelle.wordpress.com/2007/05/05/lets-hear-from-the-disabled/

PS-- I vote against CAPTCHAs (funny text on bad backgrounds used by TypePad and Blogger/Blogspot and other blogs) because they aren't accessible

and

comment blocks that don't make hot links (TypePad may not allow that?) Sorry but if you get to the basic blogs mentioned above you can easily find the specific posts

Wow. The power of an active readership never ceases to amaze me - Ronni, you've uncovered 3 months' worth of field research in a single post.

My name is Joshua, I'm the audacious fellow who suggested ElderBrowser to Ronni (although I can't really take credit for the idea since it seemed to be what she was leading up to for her whole Gnomedex talk).

Crendentials:

If you look in the Credits screen of Netscape 8.0, 8.1, or any version of Flock since 0.7, you'll find my name in there. I've got a couple of tiny patches in the Firefox codebase, as well, although Mozilla will be the first to tell you that we didn't contribute much back from those projects. (Such is the shame of working for for-profit companies).

I worked on the design documents for Netscape 9.0 - well, the first Netscape 9.0, not the one that actually got built. (I suppose I should blog that story sooner or later). I've been borrowing some ideas from that for this project. Actually, I interviewed for the *new* Netscape 9.0 team as well, but turned them down to go work at Flock.

Prior to browser development I did a stint building extensions and toolbars, both for Firefox and IE. And I took a brief stint as User Experience designer at Flock this spring, when I had a chance to spend a few hours chatting with the UX designer from Opera, Trond Werner Hansen.

Anyway, the upshot of all that - there's NOTHING in that which qualifies me to design a browser for the elderly. (Most of what I know about aging came from working with my grandmother when she had Alzheimer's, and she never got past her VCR on the digital curve.) But if you folks can tell me how it should work, I can build it. (And obviously it'll be a rework of either Firefox, Flock, or IE - no sense reinventing the wheel. But as Mozilla could tell you, only 5% of all browser users EVER install extensions, and that's the most sophisticated 5%. I don't think it's a reasonable expectation for a newbie of any age.)

We need a team - folks who can get us (and keep us) organized, those who can think through the details of specifying what this looks like, a few folks who can draw, and perhaps someone... diplomatic. Because ideally, we'll sweet-talk Mozilla, Flock, or Google into letting us tuck this little project onto their build servers, and skip the only major financial hurdle we face.

The bottom line, is that we need a team. Who's on board?

I'm not volunteering for the team -- haven't the credentials -- but did want to correct the impression that one must have a Windows machine to use Flock. It's right here on my iBook, and works fine --

but I prefer Firefox.

Speaking/writing in plain English (or plain other language) instead of tech talk for instructions seems to me a crucial issue.

Less annoying, too.

I would like to add that any tutorials on security, safe downloads, understanding valid websites and that type of thing should be useful to someone elderly who is not Internet savvy.

Here is one more way to help guide elders into computer use.

Appalachia High School sophomore volunteers to help elderly people learn computers and Internet navigation

http://www.tricities.com/tristate/tri/news.apx.-content-articles-TRI-2007-09-01-0008.html

Of course, a patient teen can be hard to find...

Colleen

I don't know what skills I can offer as a relative newcomer to computing and an even newer one to blogging, but I'm certainly on board for this ride with moral support, if nothing else.

Maybe you'll need people like me to test run systems you write i.e. can I easily follow the steps you've written? Maybe I can help publicize the project. I'm already distributing copies of printed information about this project and will continue to do so. Maybe I can try to recruit others. Maybe I can provide assistance in other ways I don't even know about yet.

Thanks, Joshua, for your interest in this project and willingness to help make it happen.

Before retiring myself and moving to Turkey for many years I taught people to use computers and from 1995 onwards most of my students were aged 60+. The biggest problem they encountered was controlling the mouse, and that was using a hand-held mouse on a desktop machine - I don;t know how they'd cope with a built in mouse pad on a laptop. I know there are many devices (tracker/rollerballs,etc.) in existence to overcome mouse difficulties but these are not offered at point of purchase, in my experience, and many elders trying to use a computer for the first time, fall at the first hurdle when they are unable to control the mouse. Don't know how this fits with the browser idea but you did ask for information on what we thought caused problems for elders with computer usage.

Ronni and Chancy: If one calls an idea stupid, do you interpret that as the person being stupid.
@chancy specifically: thanks for proofrreading.
I stand by my original comment. Firefox is the answer - not an Elderbrowser.

If someone is getting the sort of basic instruction on mouse clicking etc that some here seem to imply is often needed, perhaps that same instructor should have a suite of plug-ins available to do the customisation.

Alternatively, perhaps the answer is a version of Firefox, with the various plug-ins to make it 'elder-friendly' pre- installed.

The worst for me is black backgrounds, which I can't read. And then you go to plain format and blogs look awful.

I would like to see someone's blog with the same stylesheets, just black text on white background. That would be cool.

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