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We are implementing a client for our document management system. Part of this is the checkin screen where one of the fields a user chooses is the folder where the document should be checked into.

In our original system, this was represented with a combobox where a user could hand type a folder path or select a path from a list of 5 folders they'd recently used for checking. It is possible that between the time they used the folder and the time they are doing the new checkin the user will no longer have access to the folder. At present, we still show the folder as an option and then, if the user chooses that folder, display an error message when the user submits the check in.

We are thinking of removing these recently used folders the user doesn't have access to (we'll make a check when the form is instantiated) because why show an option if we know it will cause a failure (and another dialog message the user has to OK). However, an opposite opinion is that if we remove those folders, the users will think the system has "forgotten" their recent choices and will lose trust in what they are using.

I'd like to get some opinions on the better user experience for this problem.

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Why would they no longer have access to the folder? If it no longer exists: grey out. If no longer authorized: don't show the folder at all. It should follow the same rules as the ones for menu options. You enable/disable (with hints as to why option is disabled) when a user is allowed to perform the action. You don't even show the menu option when the user is not allowed to perform the associated action. Security through obscurity... you don't miss what you don't know. Which is exactly why Free/Standard/Pro versions show unauthorized items disabled to entice people to upgrade. –  Marjan Venema Oct 29 '13 at 20:39

4 Answers 4

You should show them, but disabled or gray'ed out. If you are worried about confusion, you can make them appear disabled, but display a dialog if they are clicked.

In addition, if the user has UI options, make HIDING them an option.

Either way, I would still keep them on the internal MRU list, in case they become availible again.

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It might help to regard the list of items as "Suggested" locations instead of "Recent" locations.

Details of how users obtain the paths in the first place are needed for further elaborations. But basically, the main reason for providing suggestions, is to lead the user the right way.

  • If a user has written a full location path recently, it is likely she will end up using it again, so we provide it in the suggestion list.

  • If the path is unavailable, it is unlikely that the user will end up actually using it, as it doesn't work, so we do not suggest it.

Suggesting an option that will not work will not help the users' trust in the system. A user who wants to try to use the inaccessible path anyway, will type it in again, only to realize why it wasn't suggested, when receiving the error message, and will learn to trust the suggestions.

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Ultimately you'd need to test with your users to know but I suspect this is not worth it if you have to support folders on remote servers.

  • User could get confused by system 'forgetting' recently used stuff
  • Accessibility check could take a long time if the recently used folders are on servers the other side of the world, how long do you wait till it times out?
  • Temporary network glitches could cause your recent folders to get purged even though they then become accessible again.

Another option may be simply to display to the user which folders are inaccessible currently.

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Interesting interpretation of accessibility as "currently available over the network". I interpreted it to mean that the document management also manages access rights, and that if a user was allowed to edit Project X's folder last week, he may not be allowed to edit it now because his supervisor changed the permissions, so he has no access to it any more. –  Rumi P. Oct 29 '13 at 12:08
    
it could be either but even if they meant 'rights' you still probably need to deal with the network issue as well –  jk. Oct 29 '13 at 12:10
    
That's why I said "interesting": I wouldn't have thought of your interpretation, you probably wouldn't have thought of mine, but I both have to be addressed (unless this is a DMS without access control, and I haven't seen this in the wild). –  Rumi P. Oct 29 '13 at 12:13

You could keep them but making it appears as no more available (disabled so). Doing this way you can allow your user to "undelete" this item.

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