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Paul Reinheimer's Blog: Open the field to find the paths

Note: This article was originally published at PHPDeveloper on 21 October 2010.
PHPDeveloper

Paul Reinheimer has posted something to think about for both developers and those planning out projects and features - the paths the users will take through the application, not just the features they'll have available.

There's a popular turn of phrase "pave the cow paths", which was introduced to me by my friend Chris Shiflett in one of his talks. The essence (as I understand it) of paving the cow paths is that it's easier to positively encourage users to act they way they already want to, than to have them change their behaviour.

[...] You can't hope to guess all the ways users will want to interact with your products. [...] You can however release your core feature with some flexibility and mind, then watch.

He suggests four ways that you can try to figure out these paths in your applications: by logging routes not just hits, give them somewhere to talk about their experiences with the app, open it up to outside interface (like APIs) and try to open it up for multiple kinds of use, not just what trends in statistical results.