If Daily Kos is anything like most other major websites these days -- and in this respect, at least, I'm hoping that it's not -- you're in the process of redesigning the site to be more "tablet-friendly." What I'm discovering lately, as I give up in frustration on various other sites, is that "tablet-friendly" can also be taken to mean "desktop-/laptop-hostile."
A couple of days ago, Facebook broke Facebook. It redesigned the News Feed to be "tablet-friendly," which is to say, suddenly pictures are huge, typefaces are huge, only two or three status updates fit on a single screen, and you have to scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll scroll to read just the last few hours of updates. It's a pain in the ass and murder on my eyes, which are wearing themselves out searching frantically for the words wedged into the cracks between the giant pictures. Facebook has made a lot of obnoxious changes in the past, many of which made me want to quit using the site in protest. This one isn't going to make me quit using Facebook in protest -- it's going to make me quit using it simply because I can no longer stand to use it for more than about 45 seconds at a time.
It's not as though I'm using a pile of antiquated junk: I'm running the latest version of Firefox in the second-latest version of Windows, on a laptop that I obtained new seven months ago. (Unless any technology less bleeding-edge than a tablet is considered antiquated junk now, which would disappoint me but not surprise me.)
These are just symptoms of a greater problem in the culture of the Internet industry, which seems to forget that a computer (or a tablet or a smartphone) is, first and foremost, a tool. It's not a toy, it's not a television, and it's not a magic lamp. It's a device that people use to do things -- which is why we're called "users." And the applications that programmers design for this tool are like attachments for this tool, or tools in their own right. People learn to use them, then get used to how they work and how they feel. This is no less true when the purpose is superficially trivial -- recreation or socialization -- than when it's serious information-gathering or business productivity.
If you were a machinist, a woodworker, a surgeon or a chef, and you had your own tools and were used to how these tools functioned and felt, and one day the manufacturer of those tools stole into your workplace and replaced all of them with new ones that looked, felt and functioned differently -- and told you, moreover, that you could never have the old ones back -- you'd be outraged, wouldn't you? And rightly so: This would be an unacceptable and unconscionable disruption of your work. Yet the companies that produce online applications do this all the time, some as often as every six months. And we all know from ample experience that once an application changes, however disruptive the change, it never, ever goes back to the way it was.
So I'm asking you (and every other Kossack who works in this industry) before you make whatever changes you're contemplating: Think of all your users, not just the early adopters. Consider that desktop and laptop owners use their information tools very differently from how tablet and smartphone owners use theirs -- horizontality vs. verticality being a critically important one, but also only one of many. Remember that much of the whiz-bang code that underlies the tablet experience doesn't work in the software and operating systems that many of us desktop and laptop users are still running. And remember also that while many users, perhaps even a majority of users, are visually oriented and respond primarily to pictures, more than a handful of us are verbally oriented and respond primarily to words, and when we can't find the words, or when the words are dominated and crowded out by giant pictures, we lose the ability to find the information we're looking for on the page, and we get frustrated and leave.