Users' mind-set: Just agree to it

A tech pro finds an amusing silver lining to the aggravating problem of end-users who mindlessly click on pop-ups without a second thought

"Build it, and they will come." Whether you subscribe to the Teddy Roosevelt or the Kevin Costner version, it stands true today. Websites and cyberspacers who are up to no good have taken this to heart with a revised version as their mantra: "Pop it up, and they will click on it."

To be an end-user in today's Web-centric society is to be a fish in a barrel. Sitting at a PC laden with out-of-date security programs, file sharing, and peer-to-peer access, today's typical user succumbs to the ever-increasing "If we ask you for permission, it must be OK" mentality and mindlessly clicks on dialog boxes, license agreements, and "add exception" routines without a second thought.

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This week's form of entertainment in the IT department at a manufacturing company where I work has been a five-second .wav file cropped out of a voice mail requesting help. During the two-minute dissertation explaining his computer woes, our user uttered these now famous words, "... then something popped up, and I just agreed to it...."

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Routinely now throughout the day, one of us in the IT department will randomly click on the file of this troubleshooting encounter for a brief respite of humor to lighten the mood and remind us why we all still have jobs.

Our users have very limited computer expertise and will click anything, anywhere, anytime, on any website. If a pop-up window or dialog is well enough disguised, sneaky enough, or annoying enough, it will get clicked on with no thought to the consequences.

Fortunately, we can usually clean up the mess, and often end-users will actually learn their lesson -- for a little while, at least.

Our users are a few dozen typical office personnel, plus a couple hundred remote sales reps out in the field. Getting the security products updated frequently is just half the battle. How do you convince people not to use the words "free," "lyrics," and "bikini" in a Google search?

We often fight the problem by sending educational emails, recommendations, warnings, life saving advice, and so on, but invariably, the employee turnover rate leaves many users uninformed. Send the warnings too often, and they get ignored. If we decide to remind users of our intranet site where tools and helpful information can be found, we get deluged with, "I can't log into that new website" calls.

It's a no-win situation sometimes. During those black times of endless frustration, little sound bites like "...then something popped up, I just agreed to it..." keep us going.

Once the thrill of this brief sound bite wears off, we'll go back to the file on another help request we received. The user had sent us an email help desk ticket regarding possible Outlook problems, and we'd replied, asking when would be a good time to come work on his computer. He then sent us another email with his answer: "How about now. I am not able to get any emails anyway."

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