HIPPOs Ruin Products

HIghest Paid Person's Opinion

created Nov 21, 2019

Maybe a HIPPO had nothing to do with this issue, but it was a funny comment, made in a Hacker News thread.

Design is suppose to solve problems. When product changes create problems, then that's not design. That's a poor decision.

Who decides to implement stupid changes in products that are not broken? HIPPOs could be one answer.

From yesterday:

"Slack’s new WYSIWYG input box is terrible (quuxplusone.github.io)"



This sounds like the dumbest of dumb changes.

That HN thread contains over 900 comments. Top comment at the moment:

This is funny because I work across the street of Slack’s office in Vancouver, Canada and two Slack engineers who I frequently chat with during our daily commute already told me they —and a handful of other employees— hate the WYSIWYG input box too, but were afraid to express their feelings because their role is irrelevant compared to the people who made the decision to ship it.

Reply comment:

Bad sign. If the rank and file are afraid to give honest internal feedback, they have a management problem. At least for me, that's a time-to-leave signal.

Then the humorous HN reply to the above comment:

Ahhh the HIPPO strikes again.

Reply to that reply:

HiPPO stands for HIghest Paid Person's Opinion, a trait of dysfunctional culture, in which power politics trumps data.

Excerpts from the quuxplusone.github.io post:

Slack has just recently rolled out a “WYSIWYG text input” widget to its Web browser interface. (Apparently, the phased rollout started at the beginning of November 2019, but it’s just now starting to hit the workspaces that I participate in.) The user experience of using this new input method is really, really, really bad.

This is stunning.

First of all, there is no way to go back to plain old Markdown input. (See @SlackHQ’s responses in this massive Twitter thread.) If you prefer the old interface… well, screw you, says Slack.

I despise WYSIWYG interfaces. I have been using plain text markup in my web posts, since 2005. I have used Textile, Markdown, and MultiMarkdown with a smattering of hand-written HTML in my posts. 99 percent of the time, I have relied on the markup languages only in my posts that number in the thousands.

In recent years, I have simplified my formatting by using Markdown only. I'm faster with creating formatted web pages by using my own web-based CMS and by typing in Markdown (or Textile if necessary). It's easy to learn. I don't use that many formatting options.

WYSIWYG requires taking the fingers off the keyboard and using the mouse to click and highlight-and-select, etc. It's awkward and slow.

More from that post:

It wouldn’t be a problem if the WYSIWYG interface supported “editing” in the way that Slack users are used to. But right now a whole lot of stuff is broken — not just “I typed some slightly wrong sequence of characters and now the text looks messed up,” but “I cannot figure out how to recover the original formatting without deleting my entire message and starting over.”

I created this post by typing plain text with Markdown in the simple HTML textarea box. I could have used my JavaScript editor, but for posts like this, I'm fine with using the lightweight text area box.

More from the post:

That is, closing backticks are not respected! If you want the proper display, you must hit right-arrow after the closing backtick (but before the space). That’s quite a gymnastic for someone with decades of muscle memory.

Bizarre. Is this change suppose to make Slack easier to use for non-techy users?

I wish Slack would provide a way to disable the WYSIWYG rich-text-input box. I don’t think it’s useful, and it’s extremely annoying to have to keep backspacing to fix mistakes. I’m already starting to reduce the amount of formatting I use on Slack (e.g., typing “when you do bar.foo() it foos the bar” without any code highlighting) just so that I can maintain typing speed. But I really don’t want to have to do that! I just want to be able to type Markdown at speed and have it render the way I’ve grown used to.


From today:

"Disable new Slack WYSIWYG editor with this bookmarklet (github.com)"



From the Twitter thread mentioned above:

A Slack user Tweeted:

@SlackHQ how do I turn off the new code editor features? They're SUPER annoying to share code with...

SlackHQ responded:

Hey Maxime, we're afraid it's not possible to turn the WYSIWYG rich text editor off but you can hide the formatting toolbar on desktop by clicking on the Aa (Hide formatting) button to the right of the message input!

My first thought was what does hiding the formatting toolbar have to do with disabling the WYSIWYG editor?

Another user tweeted:

Hiding the toolbar doesn’t stop Slack from dropping you into wysiwyg though, sometimes in ways that are hard to escape

The first person replied:

Yeah, the toolbar I don't mind, it's the inline auto editting that's really really really really really annoying

Another user said the obvious:

This is awful. If you don't want to hemorrhage users you need to: 1) Make this optional, fast. Like, now. Unless your office is literally on fire, this should be your number 1 priority. 2) Apologize. 3) Promise not to introduce non-optional breaking changes again.

That sounds like good advice for companies making products.

Slack is used by many types of businesses. It's possible that some users may welcome the new editor change.

SlackHQ responded with:

Very sorry it's been frustrating and we'll try for even better next time. We really appreciate the feedback as we will continue to make improvements to the editor. Every little bit helps. Thank you for your patience.

That's a non-answer answer.

Another complainer:

Totally agree that rich text editor is very annoying. Many times I need to copy a markdown message from another place and paste it to Slack message editor. New Slack didn't format my message as expected even though the msg markdown syntax is correct. Please help me turn it off.

Why would a product company break simple, useful functionality?

More crapola from SlackHQ:

Sorry to hear this isn't hitting the mark for you. We are continuing to listen to feedback on this feature and will be sure to share your thoughts with our team for consideration.

Isn't hitting the mark? It hit the mark for years. What prompted the shocking change without a "power" mode for people who like to type in text/plain?

Another user said:

Do you have plans to allow disabling the WSYIWYG rendering in a future release? I like the old way far better. If you don't have plans to do this, could you please consider it?

SlackHQ replied:

We have no plans to revert back, but we would be happy to share your feelings with the team so that they know. If there's anything specifically that isn't working for you, we'd be happy to flag that as well!

This sounds like Slack saying, "We know better than our loyal users."

Even if users in some sectors wanted a WYSIWYG editor, it makes no sense to eliminate the option to type in raw Markdown text. Slack employs a lot of brilliant people. It has the resources to figure out how to provide both editing options.

Bizarre. Bizarre. Bizarre.

Dec 3, 2019

"The latest version of Slack has a setting to disable the WYSIWYG editor (twitter.com)"

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21694978 - over 130 comments

Excerpts from the top comment:

In case anyone's interested, here's the Chromium bug(s) that's one of the main reasons the WYSIWYG editor has such issues in Chrome(/Electron):

Reply comment:

It's mystifying, absolutely mystifying, to me that Slack shipped that editor when both electron and chrome show such obvious problems.

What sort of out of control process let this get out, and also let them ignore bug reports for so long?

This significantly lessens my opinion of Slack and their internal culture. In prior threads there were rumors that Slack employees were hesitant to give negative feedback internally, due to culture. I don't put much stock in rumors, but I'll be paying attention now to that possibility.

Maybe a HIPPO was the out of control process. Slack is a publicly-traded company. It has the engineering clout to produce better software. It's still strange that it relies on Electron, instead of native desktop apps for the various operating systems. When the programming pool is small, then I understand using one code-base, such as Electron.

Another HN comment:

Not sure Chromium is to blame here. All the WYSIWYGs in all the environments I've ever seen I found fiddly and unpleasant to use.

Yep. I don't like to use WYSIWYG web browser editors. I'm typing this by simply relying on the HTML text area box. I did this about 23 years ago when I first learned web programming and HTML forms. It works. I chose to learn HTML and helper markups, such as Textile and Markdown, assuming the CMS supports those markups. Since I have created my own CMS apps for about 15 years, then I support helper markups.

Learning Markdown is super easy. It's all I need for at least 95 percent of my web posts.

HN comment:

The above demo works fine in Firefox, FWIW. I had a large hand in building a WYSIWYG email editor a few years back, using direct DOM editing, that was the most full featured available at the time. I would only recommend it to people with very high pain tolerance, as the differences between browsers are stark, undocumented and hard to work around.

When the web app is used internally at a company where the IT department controls what's installed on employees' desktop/laptop computers, then the above my be less of a problem.