Is application stagnation useful?

In my last post about the Law of Inevitable Stagnation, I proposed that many (most?) web-based scientific applications eventually go stale. I mentioned this to a colleague and SymAtlas user recently, and he had an interesting suggestion. He wondered if SymAtlas wasn’t so popular because it was stagnant.

The implication of course is that we developers sometimes get overzealous in pursuing the latest web technologies. What we sometimes fail to realize though is that adopting these technologies often results in neutral or even negative effects on usability. Even slight positive benefits can be outweighed simply because our users now have to learn a new interface.

We’ve done our best to keep BioGPS free of those cotton-candy “improvements”. Moreover, recognizing that we’re trying to appeal to our SymAtlas user base, we’ve also tried to preserve the look and feel that you’re used to. How are we doing? Feedback / comments / questions / complaints are always welcome — biogps -at- gnf -dot- org.


  1. Keep up the good work. Please don’t retire SymAtlas too soon – but I am looking forward to the new features in BioGPS.

    John Stylianou.

  2. “Looking forward” to new BioGPS features? Many cool new features are already there! 😉 Give them a try, and let us know what you think. If you still find yourself drifting back to SymAtlas, please let us know so we can figure out why…

  3. I like BioGPS a lot, primarily because it includes the new Mouse expression Atlas, even though I noticed that often the plot plugin doesn’t work. Then it does again, then not. Not systematic. (Mac OS X Leopard (codename for three-legged Pussycat), Firefox 3)

    Regarding features/redesign/stagnation:
    I think an extremely worthwhile thing for any software developer who improves/changes existing software is the following: Conduct the very same task on both versions. Have a buddy (or keyboard/mouse monitor) count the number of mouse clicks, mouse drags and key hits needed and also stop the time needed. Then, chose the implementation that minimizes all this, whether it’s the old one or the new one. The busy user’s fingers and time schedule will thank you.

    I generally find it easier and faster to have all information on one screen, with as little need to click on hyperlinks and have to deal with pop-ups as possible. Nowadays in the age of 24 inch and larger, wide monitors, screen real estate isn’t really the issue any more anyways (as long as icon’s don’t expand to giants as demonstrated most negatively in Office 2007).

    Best regards,

    Karsten, TSRI

  4. Karsten, Thanks for your thoughts. A few specific points…

    – I got a macbook specifically so I’d be doing testing that platform in the context of my everyday work, and we test on all major browsers. If you find yourself with any problems at any time, please do email us (biogps _at_ gnf _dot_ org). We’ll try to work with you to get to the bottom of it…

    – Generally agree with all your comments regarding efficiency. Thankfully, I think BioGPS offers the best of bost worlds — more functionality and better performance. If that’s not your opinion of BioGPS too, then again, we’d love to hear how you’re using it so we can do further optimizations.

    As always, thanks for the thoughts…

  5. Anonymous

    AAAAARRRRGGHHHHH! All i want is either symatlas or Biogps to work! – sort it out, why is symatlas no SO SLOW. I LOVE THIS UTILITY AND NEED IT TO WORK – it’s nice to be able to look at mRNA in the 60 cell screen before i do a western blot. stop farting about with exotic functionality and just get back to basics.
    server error
    database error
    cannot complete registration
    -sorry it’s been a long day and i have a short fuse.

  6. Anonymous, very sorry to hear that you’re having problems with BioGPS and SymAtlas. Just tested SymAtlas and have no problems from our end. We definitely want to help you get back up to speed. Please post more details here about specifically what errors your seeing. Or email biogps at gnf dot org, or post at (if you happen to be a friendfeed user). Hope we can get your issues resolved ASAP.

  7. Anonymous

    honestly, i DO think all the fancy interface stuff is overkill. it just slows everything down and, like you said, requires more learning from the user. Symatlas is great because it’s simple and fast. The major improvement with BioGPS in my opinion is the additional datasets for the gene-chips, but all the fancy AJAX stuff mostly just gets in the way. that said, SymAtlas/BioGPS is a fantastic tool that I use daily and this is a minor gripe.

  8. Hi anonymous, thanks for your feedback. I think we’re in agreement that flashy interfaces for the sake of flashy interfaces are pretty annoying, and AJAX if frequently a tool that developers use for this. But having said that, our customizable plugin interface in BioGPS is driven by our innovation of having a diverse BioGPS plugin library. Nobody wants to view all 70+ plugins all at once, so customizable layouts allows each user to choose what view is appropriate for them.

    But all that is for naught if BioGPS just isn’t cutting it for you, for whatever reason. It’s our goal that BioGPS should be as fast as SymAtlas with more functionality. If we’re falling short of that goal from your computer, please email us at biogps -at- gnf -dot- org so we can figure out what the bottleneck is. What’s that saying? Help us help you? Thanks for the feedback…

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