I just finished reading a research paper entitled "CommunityCommands: Command Recommendations for Software Applications" by Justin Matejka, Wei Li, Tovi Grossman, and George Fitzmaurice. As their name suggests, the Autodesk Research team has done a lot of research before developing the CommunityCommands for AutoCAD Technology Preview. From the Autodesk Labs site:
Take advantage of the Customer Involvement Program (CIP) and receive command recommendations from the user community. CommunityCommands is a new plug-in for AutoCAD that compares your workflows with those of other users in the community and recommends new commands which might be particularly useful for you.
This makes it sound simple, right? Wrong. There is some serious data crunching behind this technology. Some fun facts from the Autodesk Research team's paper:
Although AutoCAD has over a thousand commands available, the largest group of users only use 31 to 40 different commands.
Personal assistance programs normally look for repetitive behavior and automate the repetition. In contrast, the CommunityCommands for AutoCAD Technology Preview looks for commands an AutoCAD user has never used. ("Tell me what I don't know.")
Movie rental sites that recommend movies are based on the user's ratings (1 to 5 stars) of movies previously watched. If the ratings aren't honest then the recommendations won't be accurate. (Does Shaan Hurley really want to admit that he gave Steel Magnolias 5 stars?) The CommunityCommands for AutoCAD Technology Preview is based on what commands users actually use, not ratings of how often they think they use certain commands. (The data does not lie.)
A good recommendation is a command that a user was unaware of but would actually use. Recommending a command that the user already knows is a waste of time. Recommending a command that is not useful for the given circumstance is also an ineffective use of time.
Command recommendations can satisfy both short and long term usage goals. Short term recommendations can apply to the task at hand (based on commands used in the last 15 minutes). Long term recommendations for education can be based on usage over weeks of time.
There is a delicate balance between helping the user learn and impeding his work. Thus command recommendations need to be easily available but not interrupt the user's workflow ("Here is your recommendation. Click OK to continue." is a bad idea.). The CommunityCommands for AutoCAD Technology Preview supplies commands in its own AutoCAD palette. Clicking on a command button activates the command. Hovering brings up a tooltip. ("How easy is that?")
Their paper was chock full of the science behind their efforts with data, analysis, and case studies to back it up. So let's not let all of this research go to waste. Become part of the experiment:
After a brief period of usage so the technology preview can learn your habits, you should get recommendations of previously unknown commands that apply to what you are doing. Let us know how this turns out at firstname.lastname@example.org. You'll be glad you "..." I predict you can fill in the blank here.
You can find out more on the Autodesk Research site. Looking at the theory behind the practice is alive in the lab.