Autosave – Is it Too Late to Standardize?


One of Alan Cooper’s arguments in user interface design has been that explicitly asking the user to save a file is a waste of time. I’ve always agreed with that, but I wonder if we’re too late in making autosave the standard. These days, many applications have an autosave feature in addition to an explicit save command.

For years, people have been taught, usually through an extremely painful episode or two, to constantly press CTRL-S while working on a document or any other type of data-centric application. I do that several times per paragraph. As a matter of fact, I’m doing it now, and this is where the problem lies. I’m typing in WordPress, in a web-based UI. CTRL-S in Firefox is not “Save” — it’s “Save Page As”, for the purpose of saving a web page to your hard drive. Thankfully, WordPress has a very cool autosave feature.

But habits die hard. You see, the fear of losing my work is so embedded that autosave is not enough for me. I regularly click “Save and Continue Editing” within WordPress, because I’ve been taught not to trust that my data is saved if I don’t explicitly do it. I’ve seen many others do the same.

And that’s what makes the implementation of this idea too late.

I’m currently working on the detailed design of a product for my software startup, and I’m trying so hard to convince myself that we’re going to help move the industry towards eliminating the need to explicitly save. But I just cannot get myself to commit. I’d feel like a hypocrite. This product has to be so incredibly easy to use in order for mass market acceptance, and I feel like if we eliminate the save button, it’ll slow people down looking for one, and expecting one. It would slow ME down.

Sorry, Mr. Cooper, but I’m afraid autosave will be forever regulated to the fall back position you see it in today.

Random Thought:
I love this post by Eric Sink on the Perils of Wikipedia, especially the punch line at the end. Classic!


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