Living in a Blogging Box and How to Get Out of It
A New Mission for the Bamboo Project

Venturing Outside of My Web 2.0 Bubble

Works_on_my_machine_2In my earlier post on getting out of the blogging box I mentioned that I'd been doing some more research into my questions about how to leap the chasm between early adopters of social media tools and the rest of the world. What I've realized was that I've been living in World 2.0 and have forgotten what it's like for those who haven't yet made the leap. This has created some fundamental flaws in my thinking.

Yesterday I was looking again at Jane Knight's Top 100 Tools--the list of technology tools that she developed after surveying 109 learning professionals (myself included) last summer. Coming in at number one on the list was the Firefox Browser. It's what everyone I know online uses and when I saw Jane's list in August, I never really questioned Firefox as a browser of choice.

But this time I started thinking about the people I know in "real life" who aren't as tech savvy as I am. They don't use Firefox. In fact, they actively resist switching when I suggest it. None of the organizations I work with uses Firefox either, despite my encouragement. What are they using? Internet Explorer, of course. In fact, many are still using IE 6 and haven't upgraded to IE 7 yet because they're comfortable with what they have. Actually, to my astonishment, since I've been living in World 2.0, 75% of Internet users are still using Explorer, with less than 16% using Firefox!

Why does the browser you use matter? Because your browser is quite literally your window into the Internet. What happens in your browser is your experience of the web. If you're using Firefox, you're using tabbed browsing and cool plug-ins and the RSS feed icon appears in the URL bar for sites with feeds so you can get the feed from there. Sites look a certain way and you learn to navigate in particular ways.  But if you're using IE6 (as 35% of people still are--more than double the number who use Firefox), feeds are not even on the radar and you're still opening a new browser window if you go to more than one site at a time. In fact, if you're using IE6, you may actually avoid going to more than one site at a time because it's so jarring to have a new window open up.  It's a qualitatively different way of using the web and it's no surprise that there's a chasm that continues to exist.

This got me thinking about the other ways in which we early adopters are different from the rest of the world. The differences are pretty interesting and I think they're issues we need to remind ourselves of as we think about teaching people how to use social media tools.

Google vs. Yahoo--Tech-savvy users, myself included, are in love with Google. We love Gmail and how it lets us control our inboxes. We're all over Google Docs and Google Calendar and most of us have switched over to Google Reader for our RSS feeds. But guess what? Not everyone is hanging out on Google. In fact, a LOT of people are still on Yahoo, using My Yahoo as their start page and Yahoo mail towers over Gmail.

I keep thinking that everyone loves Google because most people know about Google search. But in reality, I'm not sure this is the case. At least in my corner of the "real world," people are still using Word and Excel for documents and when they use online calendars, their calendar of choice is . . . Yahoo. They also use Yahoo Groups (not Google) and most have never heard of a Google Alert. But I forget this in my time online apparently.

Feed Readers--We power users of the web love our RSS feeds and have our favorite tools for reading them. We write long posts on how to organize and prioritize and filter our feeds and how to use Google Reader and Bloglines and Netvibes to rapidly and effectively manage all that information coming into us. We see the power of feeds, and we want to bring it to others, so we think they should use the same tools we use. I mean if we're reading 100s of feeds per day, why wouldn't everyone else? At least this is the way I've been thinking.

In my research into the browser wars and the Yahoo vs. Google usage debate, however,  I found out a couple of interesting things. Guess what--Internet Explorer 7 has integrated RSS feeds right into the browser, so you can easily add the feed into Favorites. This strategy isn't a power user's dream--not enough functionality for us--but for the regular user, more than enough. And it relates to what they already know--having a folder of Favorites.

My Yahoo is the same thing, with tabs and feed reading similar to Netvibes, but in an interface that's more familiar to someone who may have been using Yahoo for years and it doesn't require them to learn a new tool . Again, the feed reader in My Yahoo may not be as powerful and function-filled as Google Reader or Bloglines, but for the vast majority of people who won't be following every single blog on the planet, this is a more than good enough solution.

The Good Enough Solution
This idea of the "good enough" solution  might be the biggest difference between early adopters--the power users of the Internet--and the rest of the people online. Power users are looking for the best solutions because we're so engaged by being online and all that it has to offer. This behavior has really exploded with the growth of so many online applications. But the rest of the world sees the web as a place to visit to get certain things done, not a place to live. So they look for the "good enough" solutions--the things that will get them in and out and on to the next thing. It's what Jakob Nielsen calls "satisficing" and from my experience, it's how most people seem to use the Web.

They also look for solutions that fit with the ones they're already comfortable with.  In the time I've been reading feeds, I've experimented with Bloglines, Netvibes and Google Reader. The average user isn't going to do that. They want something that fits in with what they already know, with what they're already using. They don't necessarily want to learn to use several different new tools, so helping them to read feeds may be about teaching them to use My Yahoo or IE7, not teaching them how to use Google Reader, even though Google Reader is a lot more powerful.

All of this isn't to say that I don't want to teach people how to use new tools. It's more to say that I'm realizing how easy it is to forget what it's like to be a newbie and how, quite literally, they are experiencing the web in very different ways than I am. I need to do a better job of thinking like a beginner and not get out so far ahead of the curve that I'm not even speaking the same language. If you're going to try to create a bridge between two cultures, you need to be sure you know and understand what it's like to be in both.

It's easy to forget this in the excitement and engagement of being online. But I can't forget because in doing so, I'm losing the ability to connect with people where they are at. I'm somehow expecting them to come to me rather than realizing that I need to go to them. If I'm going to help people learn, I need to keep reminding myself of how their experiences aren't my experiences and that I can't assume we're even speaking the same language. It's the curse of the expert and it doesn't serve you very well when you're trying to help newbies learn.


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Amen to that Michelle! Thanks for the reminders about the larger audiences of non web 2.0 users. I go through stages of trying to reach/convince more of my colleagues to try out these tools and then stop because I get exasperated.

Your post was a good reminder for me that it's better to be more sensitive and appreciative of were others are at, then find ways to to introduce these tools in a simple gradual manner.


I think you're right, Brent. One of the things I realized is that I need to start exploring how the tools that less experienced people are using might actually accomplish a lot of the same things more advanced tools do. The RSS Reader thing was a real reminder to me about this because I've only been considering the tools that the more tech-savvy people love. That kept me from realizing that the same tasks could be accomplished with tools that people are already using. So it's really an expansion of something they're already comfortable with, not a whole new tool. A real eye-opener for me.

Brilliant post, Michele and a very timely reminder for me as I go into a new academic year with the aim of introducing colleagues and students to web 2.0. cheers Sarah

Hey Michelle,
Your last couple of posts are really interesting to me because I feel like I somehow straddle the 'power user' and 'newbie' divide with some of my activities. I use Google Reader and a number of other Google tools to keep things together, but Gmail sometimes annoys me, so I use Yahoo for my personal email. I also use IE7, both at work and home, because its what I'm more comfortable with and I am a little resistant to firefox (for no good reason). I use a lot of social networking tools and read blogs, but I don't comment very often or use them as my primary contact method with friends.
A lot of my friends straddle this divide as well. Most of them don't read blogs, but do social networking, etc. Perhaps a third category is required :)
I have a few more thoughts, but no time to post right now. Hopefully later...

I sent this to you by delicious, but check out Jeff Nugent's posting here -

Really dovetails nicely with what you had to say.

I've taken some more time to process this, so a couple of other (late) comments: people need to have a reason to start using a new technology or even expanding their usage of one they are used to. Therefore, the case needs to be made upfront that using these tools will somehow improve their learning. I know you've been talking and thinking about this, but an example: Whenever I want to reconnect with someone in a more newbie state, I go to my mother. She's actually getting pretty good at all things internet, but she still sees the internet as a place to go to aid in what she's doing as opposed to a place to 'live'. When she first got a computer, I spent hours of very frustrating time with her, over the phone no less, just trying to walk her through the basics of opening up documents, saving them (she routinely saved documents and could never remember where), using the internet, etc. Saying 'just google it' meant nothing to her. Nowadays, she's a power seller on ebay, but still doesn't read blogs or use other tools mentioned. She started using ebay because she's a bargain shopping person and then became a seller because she was having a garage sale anyway. She had to have a reason to get involved.
Two: Its a hard barrier to break down in your own head, but you really, really have to let go of all the things you take for granted. Issuing 'simple' instructions might be anything but for those attempting to adopt. Many of us use keyboard shortcuts constantly. I've used them so consistently for so long that I could barely remember to tell Mom how to copy or paste something without using the shortcuts. I think the same applies to web 2.0 stuff.
My other thought is this: you have to make it 'ok' for people to interact and begin using these tools. Part of the reason I've hardly ever interacted directly with the blogs and other info I take in is that I thought that since I was only an observer, my thoughts weren't really valid. Of course, as a blogger now (and having actually met you and Rosetta) I realize that you really want the feedback of observers. Again, its a different mindset from those early adopters.
Hm...maybe there is more, but I've dumped enough for now. Hope this all makes sense. :)

Elisa, this all makes TOTAL sense and your observations are really excellent. I definitely agree with you on the need to break it down for people. That's something I really struggle with because I take so much for granted, as you pointed out. It feels like I can't anticipate where the problems will be so then I'm caught flat-footed. I do think it's harder when you're trying to talk someone through things over the phone--I've used GoToMeeting a few times to show people how to try out these tools and I found that really helpful, although that's obviously not a solution for everyone.

I also think that your point about linking it to what people want to do is a good one. It's why I'm realizing that there is probably no one way for people to enter the realm of 2.0 because in the end, they'll want to try out the tool that most closely ties into their interests. The people who like to communicate will want to blog, but the people who love pictures may want to try out Flickr. It's all very individual.

Thanks for the great insights, Elisa--really appreciate them!

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