Monday, May 5, 2008

A plea for simplicity

Perhaps you read my previous post proposing worldwide synchronous voice communications via limited-functionality hardware devices and a high-speed data streaming network, which I had named a "Pervasive One-use Talking System," or POTS.

How did I end up with such a harebrained idea?

I previously referred to a FriendFeed conversation, which I launched as follows:

“A thought is burrowing in my brain. Web 2.0 is supposedly about communication. Therefore, you'd expect that the news about Web 2.0 would be communicated. However, I suspect that the communication about what we think of as "Web 2.0" hasn't reached most people.”

Remember that I have previously discussed the infamous survey undertaken by Kara Swisher, in which even the most recognizable Web2.0 application (Facebook) was only used by half of the people. Perhaps some people were using competitive products such as MySpace, but I doubt that everyone was.

For a sample that is more representative of the general population, I started thinking about my Sunday School class. The ages of the people in the class range from the 40s to above retirement age. While it's probably accurate to say that most of the participants have an email account, I don't think that the Web 2.0 technologies are that pervasive in the class.

Why not? Why does everyone in the class have a telephone, but I'm probably the only one who tweets?

The first and most obvious answer is "I don't need to do that." While all of these wonderful technologies may be awesomesauce to people such as myself, they do not appear to meet an important need for the majority of the U.S. population.

And it's not necessarily a fear of technology. Just about everyone in the population has television sets, and many people have VCRs or DVD players or recorders. Those devices meet a need, and people are willing to invest the time to figure them out. Note, however, that most of these devices have very few buttons that you have to push (although you may delve into advanced menus and find a myriad of options).

So now, keeping the "easy as a telephone" idea in our heads, let's look at FriendFeed (for example). I'm currently sitting at, and I want to know if anyone else has used the words "easy as a telephone." For argument's sake, let's say that I have already noticed the "Search" button, and that I am familiar enough with the interface to know how to enter a search term and launch a search.

So I launch the search, and I get this result:

Your search - who:ontarioemperor easy as a telephone - did not match any shared items or comments.

OK, it didn't match anything, so I guess no one has ever used those words before. But why is FriendFeed telling me who I am? I already know that I'm ontarioemperor, because that's what I entered when I did that log thing earlier.

Oh, look, here comes a puppet. And he's mad.

You stupid idiot! You just searched your own material! If you want to find out what others are saying, you have to click on another tab. Do you want to search your friends, or everyone?

Hmm, all this talk of Tab is making me thirsty. I didn't know that they still made that soft drink any more. I figured they shifted everything to Diet Co-

Oh, you don't mean the drink!

So I press the key on my keyboard. Nothing happened.

I pressed it again. Still nothing happened.

I guess I'd better contact Paul Buchheit. It looks like FriendFeed's broken; the tab doesn't work.

Hey, why's the puppet walking away shaking his head?

Seriously, it helps if we occasionally forget everything we know. In my particular case, I have been working with dedicated computers (BASIC programming machines) since approximately 1975, with text-based operating systems (DEC UNIX) since approximately 1979, and graphically-oriented operating systems (Macintosh) since approximately 1985. Add to this specific experience in everything from word processing systems to hypertalk-based forms and systems, and it's amazing how much all of us have learned over the years. In my case, I've had over 35 years' exposure to various electronic systems.

But what about the people who haven't had this experience, and haven't heard our jargon? I've often repeated that "FriendFeed" sounds like a potluck. In the aforementioned potluck conversation, Jason Kaneshiro put it best:

Too many confusing terms. "User generated content". "Social network". "Widgets". "Feed reader". Very conceptual stuff.

If you've never been exposed to these things, then how can you conceptualize about them?

And we need to bear in mind that Twitter, FriendFeed, and Seesmic shouldn't be compared to Facebook.

They should be compared to that limited-functionality device sitting in most of your homes and in most of your offices. The one that billions of people already know how to use.

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