Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to announce the first of my Assisted Computing apps that you can actually use today. Think of your senior loved ones – always suffering from isolation and loneliness; now exacerbated by Covid. They either are, or wish they were, participating in several different Zoom meetings. But it’s very hard for them to keep track of the different emails containing those links, especially when meetings come and go and the emails move around in their mailboxes.
So I built the solution. Instead of sorting through emails, whose positions change, and then dealing with intimidating, opaque hyperlinks, the users see a panel of large buttons with easily understood captions (Figure 1). “Mom, just go to your buttons, and you’ll see one labelled ‘Marissa’s Birthday Party’. Click that, and you’ll be on with us.” How much easier could it get?
Here’s how I did it: I wrote an ASP.NET server app, hosted on Azure, storing each user’s button captions and links in Cosmos DB. Each user gets a web link to their collection of buttons. You, the assistor, put a shortcut to that link on their desktop or home page. It’s a web page app, running in a browser, so there’s no code to install. It runs on laptops, desktops, phones, and tablets.
How do these buttons get configured? You do that, remotely. At signup time, you receive links to both their button page and their configuration page (Figure 2). You enter the button labels and web links, which are then stored in the database. The next time the user opens their button page, they’ll magically see your changes. How much easier could it get, for either of you?
In fact, it’s even more powerful than this. My original use case was for Zoom meetings, but once I’d written the app, I realized that it’s not tied to Zoom at all. You can put in any web link for the button to invoke. An early test user entered a YouTube video link, so Granny could enjoy the concert of her musical grandson. Think of this as a general-purpose bookmark tool, that is 1) more obvious to the senior user than the regular bookmark bar of a browser, and 2) easier for the senior user to understand and use, with large text and buttons, and 3) easy for you to administer remotely.
How do you get it? Just send me an email. I’ll reply with a document containing the links and instructions. One day I’ll automate it, but for now I want to be in touch with each user. I’m limiting it to 100, with new users signing up daily. Don’t miss yours.
Here are a few notes from the first test users. First, getting a link onto the desktop of the senior user, especially with a name that they’ll recognize, can be tricky. It’s difficult to coach a user through that process on the phone . They will generally need some help. Any self-respecting teenager could do it in 30 seconds. But many seniors have no visitors because of Covid. Fortunately, the staff in most assisted living units contains teenagers, or recently-teenagers. For seniors aging in place, the local senior support organization could provide one. If all else fails, try a remote program like Team Viewer.
Authentication on the site to which the link points can be problematic. The links for Zoom meetings typically contain the password, but links to other websites may not. A senior confronting an unexpected demand for a password may get confused and feel frustrated. We ran into that problem with the YouTube music video. It was on a private channel, so Google demanded a password, which Granny didn’t know. The assistor (her adult daughter) hadn’t told her about it, probably because she logged into Google so long ago that she forgot it was required. She solved it by making the YouTube video public, and saying, “OK, Gran, try it again.”
Finally, for some reason, the Safari browser on the MacOS desktop does not support large buttons. Don’t ask me why. All the other browsers on that platform do, and so does Safari on iPad and iPhone. So for the MacBook Safari case, I use a hyperlink in the largest type I was able to get. Go figure.
Please give this a try, and let me know how it works for you.