In 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.