Tiny Differences in Usability: The Salary Database
One reason I started this blog is to write down stories I enjoy telling in class. Here’s a favorite. Moral: Small differences in usability and accessibility can make a big difference in user behavior.
I am an employee of the State of Georgia. Consequently, my salary is a matter of public record. About 15 years ago, if you wanted to know someone’s salary, you needed to identify the correct government office, and arrive there during business hours. Then you would need to find the right clerk, and request to borrow a thick volume with the salaries of all state employees. Who did this? People with an axe to grind. People with an issue. You don’t go to all that trouble just as an amusement on your lunch hour.
Some time in the late 1990s, this information was put online. I first heard about it because a kind young woman in one of my first classes told me about it. She seemed worried–did I know about the database? Was I sure I was getting paid enough? I followed the link she sent me, and laughed–the database is typically a year out of date, and the entry at the time showed my salary as what I earned in my first half year. Next time I saw the student, I explained, and thanked her for her concern. (The state of Georgia treats me pretty well, over all. You can check if you like.)
By making the information so easily and anonymous accessible, it became something people browse through just for fun. The threshold for folks having a look is much, much lower. The information has long been accessible–but how easy it is to access dramatically changes how it is actually used.
Would it change your behavior if I added a link to the database to this post? Are you going to go have a look?