Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Kathy Sierra: Randomness and Serendipity

There is a disadvantage to Kathy's enormously popular blog, Creating Passionate Users, and that is that the comments come in so thick and fast, there isn't really the opportunity for a genuine exchange of ideas. Blogs with readers in the hundreds still generate conversation in response to their posts. Blogs with readers in their thousands, markedly less so. When yours is comment number 32, you know that there is scant chance that the blog owner will read it, much less engage with it (Kathy is more diligent than most at this), but the chances of other readers reading and engaging with your comment are even more remote. Hence any comment you make is likely to become a unidirectional salvo.

As a consequence, while Kathy's posts very often strike a chord with me, I seldom comment on them. Kathy is one of those bloggers you really feel you get to know as a person, since she writes passionately (well duh! with a blog name like that), and she shares personal experiences and insights. In spite of not commenting very often, I remain a passionate reader of since we have a shared passion for the ultimate client, the end-user. Although our user audiences differ, the principle remains the same.

After all that preamble, I would like to draw attention to this post: Add a little more random to your product. As a designer of learning resources, I increasingly find that it is necessary to "add more random". The learner is less patient with linear navigation and increasingly wants to explore. Providing the means for a learner-driven adventure in information is tougher, but more rewarding. I am especially keen to create resources that can be used after the initial learning/familiarisation exercise as a random reference resource.

The allegory isn't perfect, but think of a dictionary - and I don't care whether that dictionary is online or taking up six inches of shelf space. Very few people actually sit and read a dictionary (some do, and I say: whatever floats your boat, friend!), however, most homes and offices have one. When a person wants to check the spelling of a word, they reach for the dictionary, check it out, type/write the word and move on. When a kid has just learned to swear and wants to see if the f-word is listed in so august and respectable a publication, he and his mates will sit giggling over the thing for hours as they seek out ever ruder words, little realising the enormous (completely legitimate, totally un-profane) learning exercise they're undertaking. When you encounter an unfamiliar word, you reach for the dictionary, check out the meaning and move on with the thing you were reading. Reaching for the dictionary is a reflex action. Why? Because it delivers the goods so much of the time that it makes it a sensible option.

That's my goal. That's the kind of resource I want to build: Ms Manager sitting in her office faced with a situation she has never encountered before. I'd like her to be reaching for the learning resource we created for her, finding her answer and moving on with her life. Not because it bigs me up in any way, but because then the resource is fulfilling its raison d'etre.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm you're right what you say about those zillions of comments blogs. I've come across a few and the comments are basically meaningless. Most of the people who talk to me I know (from the internet) so it's different ... I found your blog by clicking the next button on the top of mine. You're welcome to pay me a visit if you like. I'm at gledwood2.blogspot.com. Mine is a diary blog but it's pretty different from yours.
Take care now


Anonymous said...

Hi Gledwood. Thanks for stopping by to comment! I had a look at your blog, and as you say, it's different from mine (well, this one, anyway - I have others :-)). But then, the types of blogs are probably as varied as the bloggers who keep them!

I was glad to see that people had helped you out with the creation of hyperlinks. As you go along, you will find out all sorts of other useful bits of info.

All the best.