What is a browser? Ask the typical man (or woman) on the street that question and you’ll get some surprising answers.
Back in April 2009, some folks at Google did just that. They took a video camera to the streets of New York City to ask people “What is a browser?” Watch…
Clearly there is a disconnect between the tech-saavy and the rest of the world. So what does this mean? In my world, it means that those of us who create programs, web apps or devices need to do a much better job of simplifying, demystifying and educating. Certainly it means we use far too much “lingo” that is meaningless to most people. And it might not matter. After all, most people are getting around the Internet just fine even if they don’t know the proper answer to the question “What is a browser?” Should we care?
Well, I don’t we need to care that people use whatever new words we introduce (i.e. browser) but it does matter that people understand the basics. How do I get around and find the stuff that’s important to me? How do I avoid getting “tricked” by the bad guys on the web who want to steal my credit card number or my identity? And how do I make my computer, my mobile phone, and all my other connected devices serve me, and not the other way around?
Keeping it simple has been one of the big reasons for the success of Apple. The iPod Shuffle doesn’t even have a screen. You just load it and play. The iPad is enjoying popularity with older people as well as toddlers precisely because it is so damn accessible. Not a lot of bells and whistles — it just works, and does it well.
In the world of the web, we don’t do so well. The web is littered with sites with dozens of choices all shouting for our attention. Steve Krug’s seminal book on web usability — Don’t Make Me Think (affiliate link) — addresses this problem head-on and largely on target. If you create websites or apps for any connected device, get his book and read it. If you’ve already got it, pull it out and read it again. The bottom line is that we creators and curators make things unnecessarily difficult for folks. Make it — and keep it — simple.
Some techies sneer at the newbies and their lack of what they consider basic web know-how. In their mind, the average Joe needs an education. Do they? Or do they just need someone to explain it to them? Both are close, but even better, why don’t we simply communicate better?
I’ve always believed strongly that communication is the responsibility of the communicator. In other words, if I want to communicate a message to you, it’s my job to do it in such a way that you comprehend and fully understand my message and it’s intent. We need to become better communicators.
Circling back to the video, Google thought a bit about this problem and figured there were some basics about how the Internet works that everyone should understand. They put together an online book titled Twenty Things I Learned About Browsing and the Web. The reading experience is very similar to using a Kindle or iPad, but just works in your browser. And the format of the book looks very much like a children’s book, which some people find charming and others condescending. But they get an “A” for effort.
As for me, I have my work cut out for me. My very field — knowledge management — draws blank stares from most people (who quickly regret having asked what I do). And many of the practitioners in the field have been raised on a steady diet of acronyms, obscure lingo and academic theory. It’s become part of their DNA, and they perpetuate this knowledge management geek-speak as a way to make themselves feel somehow a little smarter.
This reality is not unique to my field. The web makes it easy for almost anyone to become a creator, and we all have a long way to go. If we really want to reach people, we need to work on simplification and communication.