Comprehensive or Comprehendible? The "Best" Choice or the "Good Enough" Option?
Massive list posts ("50+ Ways to Use Flickr," "100 Social Media Resources", etc.) seem to be a really popular format. I know that I myself am attracted to them, bookmarking almost every one I see because the sheer quantity of items seems to indicate that it must be useful. But this morning I was thinking that these kinds of posts, while attractive, are not necessarily very helpful, particularly for newbies. It's just TOO MUCH information to absorb, even for someone like me who prides herself on her information management skills.
What's attractive about massive lists is that they seem to somehow be comprehensive. We see "100 Resources" and we think, "Great--I can bookmark this one post and it will take me to 100 other things." And that's true. But realistically, will I ever explore even a small portion of these links? If I go to 10, that's probably a great post. And again, I'm an information glutton.
The more I work with people who are new to social media, the more I believe that simplicity is the key. No massive lists of resources or tools. No long, multi-step posts on how to accomplish a particular task. This stuff needs to be broken down into smaller chunks that are easily digestible. Choices need to be limited and instructions need to be simple and concrete. Don't show me 10 possible wiki tools. Show me one and then give me the simple steps for making it do what I need it to do. If for some reason that particular tool doesn't work for me, then we can talk about other options.
Of course, you could argue that authors of list posts aren't writing for newbies. That may be true. But like many things, these resource kinds of posts can be subconsciously absorbed into our culture of how things are done, making us forget that less is more when it comes to working with most people.
We may be information omnivores (something I think might be indigenous to the culture of early adoption), but the next wave of social media users (the early majority) are less adventurous in their information-gathering strategies and more pragmatic about what they consume.
Something else with this group--they are not looking for the BEST tool or process as much as the "good enough" solution. They want something that does it better than they have in the past, even if it isn't necessarily the "ultimate" option. And ironically, these good enough solutions may actually turn out to be revolutionary in their impact, as indicated by the model of disruptive innovation.
I find that periodically I need to remind myself that while I may exist in a particular culture that wants more, more, more--more tools, more ways to apply them, etc.--this isn't where most people are at right now. I need to focus less on comprehensiveness and more on comprehensibility. I need to help people find not "the best" but the "good enough" options.
i find myself feeling this way about del.icio.us vs. diigo. I know that diigo offers me more options, but for right now, only a month or two into using it, delicious is good enough, and really changing the way I think about bookmarking.
Posted by: Dan Callahan | June 25, 2008 at 11:47 AM
So maybe del.icio.us becomes your gateway drug into diigo. Or maybe not, depending on your needs and the kind of work you do. Dan, your example is perfect for also illustrating how things can be too feature-rich unless you have some particular reason to go more deeply into it.
Posted by: Michele Martin | June 25, 2008 at 11:53 AM
I actually believe we are at a stage of the "information age" where too much information is available--"too much" because there aren't enough sophisticated (community-driven or computer-automated) methods of filtering quality from quantity. But it will get better, making tools like del.icio.us not just storage bins for potentially useful articles that I plan to read, but actually useful and used reference indexes.
Posted by: Jared Stein | June 25, 2008 at 12:01 PM
Great post--I actually can't stand those long lists. I'd rather read about one resource that the author has explored and can tell me how it will be useful to me.
I also like the idea of 'good enough.' In the age of Web 2.0, I don't evaluate tools like I used to. I'll try one out and if it's good enough, I'll stick with it, rather than doing a thorough compare and contrast evaluation. Maybe I'm not using the best tool, but I get to do whatever it is I need to do faster this way. It just takes way too much time to try them all.
I felt this way recently when I first saw Swurl. I was already using FriendFeed, and Swurl looked more polished and attractive, but FriendFeed was already good enough. So I stuck with FriendFeed.
Posted by: Shannon | June 25, 2008 at 12:35 PM
Jared, I think you're right--even though I use a "to read" and a "blog this" tag to remind myself to go back to things on del.icio.us, I need something else to give me a nudge or to point me to info that I need. Not sure how this would work or what it would look like, though.
And Shannon, with the "good enough" solution, I think that one of the things that's going on is that when tools are really expensive and require a major commitment, then we're more likely to do research and evaluation. But social media tools have pretty low barriers to entry in terms of sign-up, costs, etc. so going with "good enough" seems somehow OK, I think. Of course, there may be hidden "costs" down the road. Like I signed up for Typepad a few years ago, before Wordpress really took off. It was reasonably priced and offered a lot of functionality I liked Now although I'd love to move my blog, the headache of dealing with broken links, etc. means I'm staying with Typepad, even though I could have a more robust system through Wordpress for less money.
Posted by: Michele Martin | June 25, 2008 at 12:48 PM
Excellent post Michelle. Good IS good enough. I agree too on the lists. It's like a fire hose although I do like them when there is some type of newbie explanation followed by a overall synthesis. I think the small chunks/pecha kucha I will work well with our social media jumpstart pre-conference workshop in Sept. Which, reminds me...I'm on vacation next week. Would like to touch base the week after. Are you around? Thought we could use a wiki to gather our content and plan activities.
Posted by: Janet Clarey | June 25, 2008 at 12:50 PM
One of the things that I've found with trying to introduce new tech, or a replacement of one app with an updated version, to others is that their definition of "best choice" and my definition of "best choice" are based on very different criteria.
As an early adopting gadget-freak, the technical implementation is very important to me. It is important to me to use a system that is good on the inside.
For many, though, there is little or no interest in how the "thing" does what it does, they just want it to do what they want it to do. If it does what they want / need it to do, it is the "best choice" for them, even if there is a "better choice" from a purely objective standpoint. (A special thanks to my wife for helping me learn that lesson.)
Posted by: Brett | June 25, 2008 at 04:56 PM
I too hate the huge lists, every time I start off looking at them with interest and end up quickly scrolling through, wondering when on earth I would ever have time to look at even 10% of the items.
I agree with Shannon, I like posts that tell me why a particular tool is useful, if I read enough posts that say the same thing I'll give it a try. A recent example is I have only just tried out twitter after reading people's posts talking it up for months!
Posted by: Mick Leyden | June 25, 2008 at 11:04 PM
Kia ora Michele
There is nothing new under the sun.
Information has been burgeoning for a lot longer than 'list posts' have been around. In 1969, when I did my degree research reading from library journals, I was introduced to Chem Abstracts, not the present day Internet version but the tomes! And there were other similar publications. My fellow students and I swooned at the huge number of citations that arrived monthly that we would never be able to keep up with.
Most of us discovered that there were only a set number that each one of us could possibly pull out and read in any given time, and of course, we were all different in that respect.
So if the number that we could get through in an hour was 20 references, say, it made no difference whether we had 100 or 1000 or 1000000 new citations available to sift through each week. We could never do it all.
More often than not, within these thousands of citations were hundreds of cross-references which meant that the actual number of unique citations in any one list could be reduced significantly on the strength of the frequency of cross references alone. In fact this parameter was not a direct dependency - more like an exponential one - since the greater number of citations looked at, the greater the proportion of them were already cross-referenced with those in the sample.
It came down to strategies for sifting, and often this meant taking a statistical approach to our searching and sifting technique.
This rule applies to many different examples, ‘list posts’ among them . . . I think I’d better stop there!
Posted by: Ken Allan | June 26, 2008 at 01:09 AM
Janet, I agree completely that our pecha kucha style is going to be a winner! And yes, I'm around the week of July 14, so let's definitely touch base and get started on pulling things together.
Brett, you make a great point about the criteria that newbies and techies use to evaluate tools. That's one advantage I think I have in this arena because I'm not really a techie--I don't know that much about what's going on under the hood, so I'm less enamored of those things. It definitely helps me bridge the gap.
Mick, I agree with Shannon too that focusing on one tool at a time is probably most helpful. There are times that I might want to know a few alternatives (i.e, maybe a couple of wiki options), but for the most part, it's better for me to dig more deeply into a particular tool.
Ken--the idea of digging through hundreds of Chem citations gives me a headache like you wouldn't believe! You're right that sifting through all that material requires a more statistical approach--is there something specific that we non-academics could do to better select a sample?
Posted by: Michele Martin | June 26, 2008 at 06:42 AM
Thank you for your post, it made some things more clear to me, as I have been complaining about not stopping to read in the evenings, until I got too tired to write or even to internalize some useful "how-to" to apply with my students.
I realized that making my evenings shorter and my mornings longer helps me to stay focused on the real tasks and prevent me to get lost in the fascinating labyrinth of the web.
I loved the word "glutton" - it sounds so funny - in Portuguese we say "glutão" and it surely applies to this attitude of taking much more information than that we can actually cope with or turn into something useful to others.
I've also found Sue's post about how to post a photo duly authored, similarly pertinent and clarifying to me; in fact, I was delaying the duty to get effective instructions on this subject.
Thus, both posts, yours and hers, seem to conspire to meet my particular "educational needs" at the moment.
I sometimes feel like a sort of "My fair Lady of the Web" on her first steps, when she really had no manners!
Posted by: inpi | June 26, 2008 at 05:32 PM
I think you're right about information overload and "good enough" but I wonder if you've looked at how information visualization and mapping might help people find what they want when they want it?
I have a large library of links on the Tutor/Mentor Connection web site, which are all related in one way or another, to helping kids move from poverty to careers. However, the list is intimidating. Thus, I've been working to map it, using free concept mapping tools. You can see an example at http://tinyurl.com/23aa9w
Are you aware of others who are trying to handle the information overload with visual facilitation tool?
Posted by: Daniel Bassill | June 27, 2008 at 10:36 AM
Daniel, the visualization idea is really an interesting one--and it's VERY strange that I just posted on my tag cloud and then read this comment. I think you're right that using visualization tools is probably part of what we need to do to help people cope with information overload, although one of the challenges is finding tools and formats that work for people.
I'm working on a project using an assessment tool that supposedly evaluates people's ability to use graphics, tables, etc. to find information. According to the people using the tool, this is the skill area that trips people up the most, more than reading and math. Not everyone gets how to work visually, it seems.
Posted by: Michele Martin | June 27, 2008 at 11:12 AM
Tēnā koe Michele!
Sifting is done digitally by search engines, but the user chooses the keywords and phrases.
Looking aimlessly for something that might be interesting or relevant is far less productive than searching with some goal in mind. One might argue, "but what about serendipity?" Frankly, that's going to happen anyway and is just as likely to occur when using a search strategy with an aim than without one.
Most lists can still be searched using a keyword approach - see my post on learning from e-books which was written specially for non-academics.
My apprenticeship that started 40 years ago in searching Chem Abstracts while writing a degree dissertation and then a thesis gave me skills in the use of keywords that apply equally well to today's cataclysmic torrent of data.
Posted by: Ken Allan | June 27, 2008 at 08:09 PM