Thursday, March 13, 2008

It's all about control

I took part in a structured interview this morning for a PhD student, during the course of which some interesting themes emerged, and finally, the light bulb moment arrived.

She asked me some interesting questions about connectedness, during which I started to pontificate about different people's preferences for different channels and platforms, and what was behind the choices they make. I waffled about how anyone who had ever received or sent a letter could instantly understand the email paradigm, anyone who had ever received or made a phone call could instantly understand the instant messaging paradigm, but most people were dumbfounded by presence applications such as Twitter when they first encounter them. So why would anyone choose to use Twitter? My theory was that people might prefer near-synchronous microblogging applications over email or IM because it allowed them fine control of their connectedness - the immediacy of IM without the time commitment of synchronous communication, the control of email, but faster:
Then we moved on to talk more about tool choices and I discussed my strategy for introducing people to RSS readers: give them a choice of Google Reader, Bloglines and an AJAX page and let them choose. The reason this complex strategy is necessary is because RSS-naive people simply don't "get" some of the formats, whereas an alternative will trigger instant recognition of the potential.

And then it dawned on me.

Google Reader favours the "stream of conciousness" view - efficient, but simply overwhelming for some people:
Google Reader

Bloglines is still efficient for many many feeds, but seems to offer more control, through the familiar 3-pane view, than Google Reader:

Bui in AJAX pages, all the information is in nice, neat, safe, rectangular boxes (even if they do have round corners):

It's all about control.

What does all this navel-gazing matter? It's informing the way in which I will introduce students to these tools when we help them build PLEs next session.


  1. If you don't mind my asking, how did you do those arrows?

  2. Skitch:
    (OS X only)

  3. interesting Alan - I've been using iGoogle for a few weeks and have noticed I've missing information from RSS I thought I wasn't bothered about when I chose what to put on igoogle when I left bloglines. I do like the aesthetic of ig, especially with my time-lapse monsters doing household chores, however, I'm hopeless at looking at anything beyond the front page.... perhaps the stuff I put on the other tabs just isn't important/ appealing enough. I am migrating to netvibes as that seemed even prettier :-)

    I guess I am a round corner kinda girl. Can't I have bloglines with added curves and pictures?