Why doesn’t Chef call them “bowls” instead of roles?

The extended Crowbar team (my employer Dell and community) recently had a bit of a controversy heated discussion over the renaming of “proposals” to “configurations.” It was pretty clear that the term “proposal” confused users because an “active proposal” seems like a bit of an oxymoron. Excepting Scott Jensen, our schedule-czar and director of engineering, we had relatively few die-hard “I love proposal” advocates; however, deciding on an alternative was not quite so easy.

Ultimately, the question came down to “do we use an invented term or an intuitive term.”  The answer lies in when to use or avoid the congruity theory as articulated by Roger Cauvin.

We considered many alternatives like calling them “fixtures” to go along with the Crowbar & Barclamp tool theme. Even “Chuck Norris” was considered until copyright issues were flagged. The top alternative, “configuration” seemed just too bland. Frankly and amazingly, we originally considered it “too descriptive!”

The crux of the argument really revolved around the users’ ability to intuitively grasp a concept or to force them learn a new term. For example, we specifically chose “barclamp” instead of “module” because we felt that there were more components to a barclamp than just being a Crowbar module. In many ways, module would be sufficiently descriptive; however, we saw that there was benefit to the user tax in introducing a new term. It also fit nicely within our tool theme.

Opscode Chef is an example of investing heavily in a naming theme. For example, the concept of “cookbooks” and “recipes” seems relatively intuitive for users but starts getting stretched for “knife” because it is not immediately clear to users what that component does (it executes instructions on nodes and the server). After learning Chef, I appreciate “knife” as the universal tool but still remember having to figure it out.

A good theme is awesome, but it can quickly encumber usability.

For example, what if Chef has used “bowl” instead of role. It’s logical: you put a group of ingredients to mix into a bowl that acts as a container. While it may be logical to the initiated, it mainly extends the learning curve for new users. A role is a commonly accepted term for an operational classification so it is a much better term for users. The same is true for “node” and “data bag.”

I love a good incongruent theme as much as any meme-enabled tech geek but themes must not hinder usability. After all, we all fight for the users.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s