[tor-dev] Tor meets real users

Andrew Lewman andrew at torproject.org
Thu May 12 14:59:11 UTC 2011

A short while ago, I did a training for some activists from a country
that is hostile to the Internet.  These people were some of the more
technical people from their community.  There was a mix of Windows and
OS X laptops in the session.  English was their third language, for
added fun.

I walked them through finding tor browser bundle, downloading it,
verifying it, unzipping it, and starting it.  Here was the first
problem.  They couldn't find tbb on the download page.  Their comments
were that all these files and releases on the page were confusing.
They wanted just one thing to look at, pick their operating system, and
go.  And they wanted the one thing to automatically detect their
language preferences for tbb.

I ended up pointing them at tpo/torbrowser, which they also thought was
confusing.  The aforementioned desires weren't satisfied on this page,
but at least they could find their preferred language.  They all
commented that back home, a 24MB file was too big, and can't they get
it via bittorrent or some other piecemeal way?  A 24mb file would take
hours to download.

Once they finally downloaded it, they all double clicked on their
resulting zip file.  In fact, all of the mac people ended up
downloading the windows tbb and unzipped it correctly.  In all cases,
their operating system handled the zip file correctly. After fixing the
mac people with mac tbb, we moved on to the next step.

None of them had pgp installed, and therefore no way to verify the .asc
and zip file.

Most of them figured out to click inside the resulting folder and start
the 'start tor browser' program.  For all of the macs, the tbb didn't
start.  The people had to restart the system and then clicking on
'start tor browser' worked as expected.  

As tbb was starting up, nearly all of them clicked on 'start tor
browser' one to three times more, because they didn't see anything
starting up.  In fact, it was starting, it just wasn't instantaneous.
I worry about forcing a splash screen that announces "I'm using Tor!"
on the screen, but at the same time, it would let users know that tbb
is starting.

Once vidalia started, no one waited for tbb firefox to start, but
rather started their own browser and tried to use it.  Once tbb firefox
started up, in some cases, minutes later, they were confused.  Why
didn't tbb firefox start right away instead of this useless vidalia
control panel?  

A few of them felt the need to explore the vidalia control panel since
we showed it to them.  As if to say, 'there are buttons you are showing
me, I just click and explore.'

Once tbb firefox started, they were ok with using firefox over tor just
fine.  The first thing many of them did was to login to facebook or
gmail over tor to see if it was different.  None of them verified the
ssl cert presented for facebook or gmail logins.  For those that did
login to gmail, gchat didn't work due to the lack of Flash in tbb

We then tried to configure their chat clients for tor.  Adium on the
mac was fairly easy.  The variety of clients on windows wasn't so
easy.  A few wondered about logging in over ssl, but never did because
the services didn't offer it (aol, msn, gchat).  I showed the windows
people pidgin, but they liked their native apps and didn't see why one
multi-protocol app was better.  

The experience continued through pidgin with OTR, installing pgp for
email and verifying files, and a general talk about openssl
certificates, what they mean, and what verification of a cert entails.

The relevant tor experience was what I wanted to communicate and for us
to start thinking through ways to address it.  Perhaps Mike's desire
for a anonymous browser is a correct path for usability and better
anonymity for the user.  I believe torfox and torora have both come to
the same conclusion (at different times) as well.

pgp 0x74ED336B

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