I was looking for a new angle on humanizing technology, when along came a fascinating post from Read/Write Web, with much food for thought. Here’s the back-story:
Earlier today, we had a runaway hit of a post that went viral within a few hours, getting unbelievable pageviews and hundreds of retweets and comments.
The trouble was, it wasn’t because of the post’s content. Due to some interesting SEO magic, the post was one of the first search results for the term “Facebook login.” As a result, hundreds of confused readers bombed us with angry comments about how much they hated the “new Facebook,” a.k.a. our Facebook Connect comment login.
In other words, due to some misdirection from Google, a significant number of people thought that they should be able to log in to Facebook from a Read/Write Web blog post and were most unhappy that they had a hard time doing so.
Rather than (or in addition to) having a good laugh at these folk’s expense, writer Joile O’Dell asks some very good questions about the average person’s experience online.
How can we balance making the Web simple enough for all users while still creating tech cool enough to satisfy geeks like us? And who says either group – nerds or users – is “normal,” anyway?
Those of us who build the applications that people see and use online have a really hard time seeing our work through their eyes. And, truth be told, we don’t always want to, ’cause it’s less fun.
You and your geek friends != middle aged moms. And your users are often statistically more likely to be middle-aged moms.
And most of them have no idea what a web browser is or how it differs from a search engine or a social network. They’ve chosen to be smart about other things, like building cars or making art or raising families. I’ll bet some of them are terrific dancers. We have to build the Web for them, too.
Now while it’s true that most middle-aged moms aren’t geeks, neither are they dumb. I recently spent several days in an office full of mostly middle-aged women, helping them transition from a Microsoft Exchange/Outlook email system to Google Apps. Some were more tech savvy than others but they were all more than willing to learn a new set of unfamiliar tools in order to help them do their jobs better. (It helps that they are doing incredibly valuable work at the Area 12 Agency on Aging.)
Many of the comments in response to the Read/Write Web post were of the “who cares, they’re a lost cause” variety, a view I’ve sometimes held myself. However, as the Internet spreads through society, there is an increasing middle ground between technology geeks and the terminally clueless. When the technology meets a need, most of these middle grounders are willing and able to make the stretch and learn something new.
In a perfect world, tech products would be intuitive and fun to learn and use. In today’s world, the Internet is hard and I can’t think of an application that’s not at least occasionally infuriating. The best hope I can offer is that some applications are getting easier to use, at the same time that many consumers are getting smarter about using them. At some point, they’re going to meet in the middle. In the meantime, we need to focus on finding tools that actually do a job that needs doing and not worry too much about the rest.
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