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Something to think about... / blog
When things are running too smoothly

Written by on June 19, 2007

One of the key success criterias of developers and usability practitioners is to create application that runs so well that nobody realizes that it is there. This is something you want to aim for - allowing people to focus exclusively on creating instead of the interface elements, dialogs, system processes and whatnot.

But sometimes it works out too well...

I created a "webcam system" for this year's "24 hours of Le Mans" in which I could follow the 8 webcams around the track (on 2 different setups).

This was great, but there is one big problem with webcams. They update every 10 seconds and if you see something interesting, you only got a 10 seconds window to notice it and look at it in detail.

I didn't want that. I wanted to be able to see it for as long as I wanted - and be able "go back in time" and see what happened in the past.

To solve this I created a small application that automatically downloaded and stored every single webcam image during the entire 24 hour race. There was no interface, no visual clues that it was running - it just simply and quietly downloaded 8 images every 10 seconds.

From a usability perspective it was perfect, so perfect in fact that I forgot to turn it off. When I found out, it had been running quietly for more than 80 hours - downloading about 230,500 webcam images (using 6848 MB of disk space).

...and since the web cams were switched off after the race, 160,000 of those images looks like this:

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Thomas Baekdal

Thomas Baekdal

Founder of Baekdal, author, writer, strategic consultant, and new media advocate.

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