Connecting to the unconnectable?

Pickle Gives Hope to Flickr-phobes

The design isn’t as intuitive as Flickr, and it’s hard to imagine the early adopters embracing Pickle anytime soon. As a result, the target market will likely be the less tech-savvy demographic who stay away from blogs and social networks. Unfortunately, that’s also the hardest demographic to reach.

This isn’t about Pickle per se, but this struck me.

“Unfortunately, that’s also the hardest demographic to reach.” Ya think?

My mother is my acid test in this demographic. She is comfortable on her computer for email, Quicken, writing in Word, etc. but she doesn’t experiment. The only blog she ever read is mine, and I don’t even think she reads it regularly. I recently helped her manage her finances online and she couldn’t be happier with the new world I’ve opened at her feet.

So where does someone like that learn about new technologies?

  1. I tell her. Duh.
  2. She’ll get an email from a friend.
  3. She’ll read about it in the newspaper or in a non-tech magazine such as “O” or “Ladies Home Journal.”
  4. She’ll see something on TV.

That’s about it. These new web applications seem to be relying heavily on the “tell a friend” method of advertising which is likely the least effective. Folks have learned not to trust what they find out about in email, even if it appears to come from someone they know and trust.

Google, Yahoo, AmazonMySpace and eBay have mainstream penetration because well, they went through the mainstream. They sponsor award shows and charity events. They advertise in magazines like People. They get the evening news talking (which in the case of MySpace, may not be a good thing). Seems like a no-brainer.

It’s probably easier to get viral word-of-mouth buzz through the Blogosphere, maybe get Dugg. But when I look at the Internet through my mother’s eyes, I realize just how poor the adoption rate of these technologies has been overall. She never heard of flickr until I started sending her images. She thinks Digg is something you do in a garden and what she knows about MySpace is that she doesn’t want her granddaughters near it (no argument there). So you have something like flickr or youtube and you load it up with tagging and other geek-friendly things and you stay in that target market. You perfect what you’re doing in that space. Great.

But to launch something that shuns that crowd, yet you’re only talking to them rather than the people you actually want to reach makes absolutely no sense to me.

In my offline reading this morning, I came across this entry from Adam Kalsey:

I talked about this when explaining why I wasn’t pushing the then-nascent Firefox to everyone I met:

Most Web users don’t know what a browser is. That blue E they click on the desktop isn’t a browser, it’s “The Internet.” Or maybe it’s “Yahoo” if that’s what their home page is set to.

You’d be shocked how many people don’t understand what a URL is and what the address bar is for. When they need to go to a site, they close the browser, re-open it so they get the MSN or Yahoo home page, and enter the URL into the search box.

The article struck a nerve as it was reposted dozens of places. Lots of people, feeling I’d insulted the greatness of open source and the coming messiah against the evil Microsoft, attacked me in my comments and sent snide emails. Computer users aren’t stupid, they said. Anyone can understand this stuff. 251 comments and nearly two years later, they’re still going.

Adam, I hear you and agree 150%.

This is a true story… a few months ago I helped my aunt buy her first home computer. I picked out something basic but serviceable from Dell, and I set it up for her and made sure everything was working.

My aunt is not stupid, but this stuff isn’t as intuitive as many think. In the first week she expressed frustration to me that she couldn’t open files on the desktop. Turned out that her work computer was configured to open desktop files with a single click, so she had no idea that she needed to double click to open the files. Then she was frustrated that I uninstalled MSN. “I didn’t. Why would you think that?” Well, on her work computer the default home page is a Dell-customized MSN home page. My mom’s computer is the same thing. Now Dell ships with a Dell-customized Google home page. This threw her, and she had no idea that the page that opens when when you start “the Internet” as Adam aptly describes is not set in stone. I got my mother using Firefox. I didn’t even bother installing it on my Aunt’s computer. I wasn’t ready to explain to her how to switch over to Internet Explorer for sites that don’t behave or look right on Firefox (there are still a few). The idea that the browser is a window into the web and not the web itself is not that obvious.

I’m listening to podcasts (another activity I can do without an active Internet connection) and I just heard Business Week’s “Cover Story” podcast talking about the launch of their new innovations magazine (called “IN” I think). The speaker was talking about the launch issue and how she visited the Googleplex. She said that the person with the most innovation buzz at Google is a young woman who literally uses her Mom to gauge all their products. Can her mother use the product intuitively? Is it so clear that it requires absolutely no explanation? Every single company with web-based products should have the same test or simply accept the fact that there’s no chance of their product going outside the geek box. It’s not about thinking your users are stupid. Even the smartest person in the world wasn’t born knowing that they had to double click on an icon to get the file to open.


2 responses to “Connecting to the unconnectable?”

  1. I agree with you and Adam 200%! My mother in law, the people I teach, friends (tech savvy -whatever that means) or not would fail the majority of those observations. I do think every company should have a “newbie” “uncle” or “aunt” test to see how easy to use their product is. Sure they don’t have to insult tech savvy customers if that’s their main target.
    On the one hand it’s easy to setup a pc today(color coded cables, quick start directions) and if you choose AOL or other preloaded ISP’s before you know it you are on the Internet and email; and an immediate target for spammers and adware/spyware. Don’t get me started on that.

    On the other, people seem to have less of an idea of how anything works on their pc’s. They can surf the net and send email and even purchase things, but they don’t know how to save a file or where that file is saved.
    What I find amazing is that I teach a class on keeping antivirus and windows updates current, and running anti-adware/spyware programs. Information I think is critical to anyone not tech savvy, which is the majority of users. But I could as easily teach a class on what the right mouse button does, and how to copy and paste. Many users still don’t know those basics, yet they could bank online.
    For new apps and gadgets the slogan should be “Simplify, simplify!”

  2. Jude, this is so on target, your initial note and the response by Rick. While I’ve been using a computer for work for so many, many years, the extent of my knowledge could fit in the eye of a needle with room left over for worsted wool! I recently exchanged email with my cousin and asked him not to send attachments, but to cut and paste his note. His reply was, “I’m glad I can do on and off, never mind cut and paste.”