E-mailing, Printing and E-mailing Printing

Oct 25, 2007 Michael Wurzer

Prologue: This post may be about me being too close to the subject at hand to see clearly. Or it may be about how concise writing can draw you into my morass. But I’m hoping it’s about the power of blogging, and how your wisdom will lead to a better answer to my questions.

We’re just a week away from pushing live our fall release for flexmls Web. This is going to be a big release for us, as it improves our listing search and view function, the most used part of the system. We’ve had the system in beta for awhile now and some of the feedback we’ve received reveals some confusion on how we’re handling e-mailing and printing of listings. To try to orient you, here’s a small screen shot of the application:


The print and e-mail functions in question are in the menu in the upper right corner, which, closer up, looks like this, along with the main content tabs of the application:


That menu looks pretty straight-forward, right? For the most part, it is:

  • E-mail allows the user to send a link to the entire application, so their client can see the map, use the grid to sort the listings, check out all th details, the big photos, comparison statitsics, etc. David Kerzman, one of the lead developers on this project, likes to refer to this as the 3D version, because it allows the user to interact with the application at a high level, panning and zooming the maps, exploring the photos, etc.
  • Print creates printable versions of the content on each of the tabs, e.g., the grid (one-line view of each listing), detail reports, maps, pictures, etc. Continuing David’s metaphor, this is the 2D version, suitable for printing.

The challenge is that a lot of our users want to e-mail the 2D or print version of the content. So, while E-mail and Print seem very easy and clear at first, where we’ve messed up is that most people think of E-mail and Print as verbs or actions but, to some extent, we’re using them as nouns or even adjectives to describe the content, e.g., the “e-mail” version and “print” version. It is counter-intuitive to have to explain to someone that you go to the Print function to e-mail a report.

Because of this morphing of the language we’ve managed, we’re now toying around with either moving the “e-mail” part of the “print” function to exist under E-mail or changing the Print and E-mail menu items themselves to be more descriptive of the content and less “verb” or “action” oriented. The challenge with either of these approaches is that we need to come up with a one (maybe two) word description for the different versions of the output. One of the best examples we’ve come up with is Brochure to describe the print version, but we’ve really struggled with what to call the E-mail or 3D version. Words like “application” or “portal” come to mind but aren’t very good. We’re providing a “link” to the application, which could be called a client portal (or, as our friends at Marketlinx call it, a Client Gateway), but do those words truly capture what is happening and become easily understood to the user? Will they know what a portal or gateway are? Which is better, portal or gateway or something else?

This confusion leads me back to the beginning, and possibly using a verb other than e-mail, to try to avoid the confusion. Instead of e-mail, I wonder if “Share” would work as a menu item. The concept of “sharing” has become popular recently because of its use on video sites like YouTube, and it applies well to the context — I’m sharing whatever is on this page. Also, I like “share” because it allows us a place on the menu to more easily add ways to share the content other than e-mail, without cluttering up the menu. So, perhaps we go with Share and Brochure or even Share and Print, because the fact that you can e-mail the print version isn’t as confusing if E-mail isn’t on the main menu.

What do you think? Are we delirious from these issues so near release and should we just forget it and leave the menu E-mail and Print? Should we move the function to e-mail the print version under the e-mail menu item? Or should we go with something like Share and Brochure for menu items?