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Open source passion?


Yes folks, it's true. Passion is the latest open source technology. Apparently at the Apple WWDC conference, Nat Torkington talked about using tutorial signups for OSCON (O'Reilly's Open Source convention in August) as an indicator of what's hot in open source. He listed the top ten tutorial sign-ups:

1. Learning Ajax
2. Perl Best Practices
3. Ruby on Rails: Enjoying the Ride of Programming
4. Perl Best Object Oriented Practices
5. Scalable Internet Architectures
6. Creating Passionate Users
7. XUL: The Future of User-interfaces on the Web
8. Introduction to Ruby
9. Subversion
10. PHP Security

So it's official. Right up there with Ajax, Perl, and Ruby... you have passion. While I'm thrilled to see the interest in the passionate users tutorial, it's awfully funny to think of passion as an open source technology. The values of open source software have a lot to contribute to the non-open-source world, but I think the phrase "open source" has been badly misppropriated in a bunch of contexts. Just what exactly does "open source marketing" mean? ; )

[Update: turns out that there's a pretty good answer to that question at the modern marketing blog, which references the ChangeThis manifesto on open source marketing. Thanks Jason!]

But what I am delighted (and shocked) by is the new interest geeks have in these non-traditional topics. Things that have more to do with quality of life than quality of code.

One of the big hits of ETech was the whole 43folders / Getting Things Done stuff. I had no less than five people show me their version of hipster PDA, unsolicited.

And as I mentioned when I got back from ETech, the most heavily-attended tutorial was the one on Creating Passionate Users. And they definitely weren't comin' to see me.

I don't want to read too much into this, but what the hell--I will anyway. I think it means that after years of being enamored solely with the technology itself, and the various methodologies and approaches to crafting it, the geek world is starting to look at the larger sphere around the use of the technology. In other words, not just the content but the context in which technology is created and used. That means caring about the quality of our lives, as developers, as well as the quality of our user's lives and the role we play in that.

And I don't want to get too excited about what that means, but what the hell--I will anyway. I think something important is happening, and it can only be good. Maybe we've finally stopped saying our secret stock option prayers at night ("Please oh please God bring back the bubble and this time I won't piss it away I promise...") and decided to focus on what we have, and what we can do to make things better. The whole idea of Getting Things Done is about being able to spend more time in flow, the very thing we believe leads to passionate users. You want to spend more time in flow at work, and you want to help your users spend more time in flow. More flow = happier life, at least according to the leading flow authority, Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

To any of you who are coming to OSCON and will be at the passionate users tutorial, please come say hello! I think it's wonderful that so many software developers care enough to pass up, say, a PHP security tutorial in favor of creating passionate users. And that we're all secure enough in our... geekhood to even be talking about such a soft topic at such a hard-core tech conference.

Of course there's the less optimistic part of me that wonders if the popularity of the passionate users tutorial is because they think it means... something else. Like, how to start, say, an open source porn site... ; )

Posted by Kathy on June 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Live with passion

I promised this blog would never devolve into a touchy-feely self help thing, and I intend to break that only very, very rarely. This is one of those times, so you've been warned.

Sunday was my birthday, which capped four fabulous days at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Walking back to my hotel Sunday evening, I collapsed in the street and began having seizures. The ambulance came, and I spent the night in the ER. As I slipped in and out of consciousness, I thought I was going to die.

I probably wasn't in any serious danger once I was in the care of the paramedics, but that's not what it felt like. The point is that I truly believed that I might not come out of it.

The next morning, when it was clear I was going to be fine, everything looked a little more beautiful. Trees were greener. The sky was bluer. People were nicer and better-looking. And all I could think about was how damn lucky I was.

The ER doctor thought it was probably just a weird combination of high altitude and lack of sleep that triggered my usually very controlled epilepsy.

So here I am, appreciating everything in that way that you do whenever you've had a close call (or at least thought it was a close call). We've all had them... a car accident that happened only moments after you safely made it through the intersection. A bad bit of rope in your climbing gear that you discovered only after you made it down the side of the rock. Those times in college you drove home way too drunk.

And we know that if we can hang on to this feeling, our lives will be richer. Or as Tyler Durden says in the movie Fight Club after threatening to kill the shop clerk unless the clerk pursues his original dream of becoming a vet, "tomorrow his breakfast will taste better than it ever has..."

But somehow, it's so easy to forget. So easy to slip into that daily world of things that seem important, but that if faced with the last day of our life would seem ridiculously trivial.

You probably saw this already, but the Standford commencement address given by Steve Jobs last week expresses this much better than I can. You really need to read the whole thing if you haven't, but here's a small piece:

"...for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

I hadn't realized that he was originally given 3-6 months to live when first diagnosed with cancer a year ago.

If each day we could all remember a close call, or imagine what could happen, it would certainly change our perspective. My mother died of breast cancer at the very young age of 40, when I was a teenager, and I remember wondering if she would have lived her life differently if she'd known it would end so early.

I will always remember this last Telluride for the fabulous music and scenery and weather and new friends. And I also hope that I never forget to live each day the way I vowed I would as I was lying in the street thinking, "If I make it out of this..."

Here's to living each day with passion : )

OK, back to our regularly scheduled content.

Posted by Kathy on June 21, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Teaching passionate bluegrass fans


I'm typing this from the Telluride Bluegrass Festival... sitting on a lawn chair with 10,000 other fans (average age is under 30...I'm one of the older people here), in the most spectacular box canyon that makes the acoustics like nothing I've ever heard. (And these guys, and gals, seriously know how to mix. It's worth coming here just to hear what I thought was impossible--an outdoor mix that sounds like you're within the finest concert hall on the planet. Then again, it might just be the contact high...)

So what's up with all these passionate fans? Bluegrass musicians do something most other genres don't--they teach their fans. A lot of these artists understand that listening to a show like this makes you want to rush home and grab your guitar, dust it off, and start practicing. So they support that. They give free workshops in town to both attendees and the locals who didn't get a ticket. You'll find a three-time Grammy winner sitting on the front porch of a bakery, picking with some of the street players.

In the merchandise tent next to the CDs and t-shirts, there's a huge rack of books and videos/DVDs by many of the artists teaching their particular style. These people don't act like rock stars, even though most have won not just Grammys but Oscars and any other award. Dobro master Jerry Douglas has played on over 1,000 albums. But you're likely to find him on a park bench, giving tips to a 12-year old.

The most important message I get here is that it's about a culture of collaboration and working and helping others. The folks on the stage are constantly interacting with one another, showing up during each other's sets to help out--something I rarely see in the rock world. But the key for me is that there's also plenty of learning for those of us who don't play a bluegrass instrument, but want to appreciate the music more. Many of the artists will talk about the history of the songs, and the instruments, and it's really cool when they teach you to recognize and deal with seriously tricky timing like 7/4.

I don't just sit here and soak up the sun... I learn. I didn't even like bluegrass when my friends first dragged me here in 2001, but by the time I left, I knew so much more. And what I learned made me appreciate it. And the more I appreciated it, the more I came to love it. I'm not a bluegrass musician, but as one who now truly appreciates it, I kick ass. I can usually name the currently soloing player without seeing--or being told--who's on stage. I recognize subtle differences between banjo picking styles. I can spell "dobro".

The more we reverse-engineer passion, the more we see how learning plays the central role. Where there is real passion (not just temporary fad devotion), there is always a desire to learn and grow and improve whether it's snowboard, chess, photography, opera, cooking, or appreciating the difference between a four and five string banjo. The more I learn, the better the experience. the better the experience, the more likely I am to want to learn and know more, and the more likely I am to tip over into being passionate.

What other domains have a culture of teaching their fans? It can work for anything.

Gotta go -- the Bela Fleck/Jean-Luc Ponty/Stanley Clarke set is about to start. This is not your father's bluegrass.

Oh yeah, it's also my birthday, and I can't imagine a better place to be. : )
I'll be back on Tuesday...

Posted by Kathy on June 19, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Your turn: free-range posts


Found any fun new blogs lately? Started one yourself? Stumbled on (or written) something you think our Passionate Users regulars might find interesting... but that wasn't on-topic enough to put in a comment? Wanted to do a shameless self-promotion trackback that had nothing to do with the post, without appearing shameless? Now's the chance.

This is the first of semi-regular open posts I'm going to try, mainly so that I can sit back on my lazy rear while you do all the work...

I'll go first with a few random things:

1) I've been wanting to talk about Nintendogs even since I got back from Japan, but didn't get around to it. I'm still planning to do something on girls and video games, inspired by Nintendo's marketing of this game in Japan, but yesterday I found a wonderfully (long and detailed) review of the design of the Nintendogs game, that's got some great stuff even if you're not a game designer. (We should all be thinking like game designers) Read it on the Lost Garden blog (which I found via the Greenonions blog).

2) Passionate users regular Matt G has started a new new blog. It's brand new, so there's not much there yet, and I figured he wouldn't say anything himself about it, so I did. Sorry Matt ; )

3) I have a new horse trainer, Darren Wetherill (aka the "horse wizard"), who insists that we get on our horses without a saddle, by jumping up from the ground. Here's a cute video clip of his four-year old daughter trying to jump up on her horse for the first time. This is exactly how I felt a few weeks ago...

So... now it's your turn! Add a comment with links, or send a trackback to whatever you like. All topics are fair game, and don't feel like the link you post has to "contribute something meaningful". And I still reserve the right to delete links arbitrarily, at my whim, just to exercise my Typepad-given powers ; )

Posted by Kathy on June 16, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (54) | TrackBack

Building a successful online community



It was March 26, 2003, in the Santa Clara Convention Center in the heart of Silicon Valley. It was the ceremony for the closest thing geeks have to an Oscar--the Jolt Cola/Software Development Magazine awards.

The last awards category was "Websites and Developer Networks".

First the finalists are announced, with all the usual suspects including Microsoft, IBM, BEA... and javaranch. WTF? Javaranch? It had no corporate sponsors. It was not a business. It was a quirky, no-budget all-volunteer community, run entirely by people who just wanted to be a part of it. It was simply a Java "fan" site--but a hugely successful one with numbers most sites would kill for--over a half-million unique visitors a month.

So how did Javaranch do it? (Oh yeah, they did win a 2003 award that night, and the next year as well, beating out Sun's java.net and Microsoft for a 2004 Jolt award.)

They did it by being passionately, single-mindedly, ferociously committed to enforcing one rule: "Be Friendly."

Not that you can't have a huge community without that rule... slashdot is the perfect example. But if you're trying to inspire passionate users, I believe that enforcing a "Be Friendly" rule can be one of the best moves for long-term growth and retention of the community.

[Disclaimer: although I am the original founder of javaranch (in 1997), I'm not responsible for its real success. Most of the growth happened after I turned it over to Paul Wheaton. I gave javaranch its original heart and soul, but it is Paul and all the moderators (Sheriffs and Bartenders) who gave it a body and brain that could actually do something...]

Enforcing a "be nice" rule is a big commitment and a risk. People complain about the policy all the time, tossing out "censorship" and "no free speech" for starters. We see this as a metaphor mismatch. We view javaranch as a great big dinner party at the ranch, where everyone there is a guest. The ones who complain about censorship believe it is a public space, and that all opinions should be allowed. In fact, nearly all opinions are allowed on javaranch. It's usually not about what you say there, it's how you say it.

And this isn't about being politically correct, either. It's a judgement call by the moderators, of course. It's fuzzy trying to decide exactly what constitutes "not nice", and it's determined subjectively by the culture of the ranch. Sexy jokes are usually OK, racial jokes are not. Some perceive the sexy jokes as sexist, and therefore "not nice", but if we would laugh about it with our friends in a somewhat racy dinner party conversation, it stands. Javaranch censors for meanness, not to protect delicate sensibilities. To a lot of folks, that makes us "not nice", but we reckon these are the folks we wouldn't invite to our party, either. ; )

There is obviously no way to have a one-size-fits-all "be nice" rule; every culture will have its own. A church forum, for example, might draw the line much earlier.

I believe an online community can work with virtually any metaphor (I'll keep to myself what I think the slashdot metaphor is...), but that metaphor determines the kinds of people you attract and keep. The "frat party" metaphor supports one type of behavior, while the "public space" is another. The "professional business office" metaphor is different from the "passionate user group" model.

But the really good news is that if you have a strong and consistent culture, whatever that culture is, the community starts moderating itself. Kind of a hundredth-monkey effect... when enough people are behaving in a certain way, and that hits critical mass, it becomes not only accepted but obvious to everyone when it's being violated. (I talked about this earlier with respect to customer service in Can you teach someone to care?)

And for a wonderful article by someone who knows far more about online communities and social networks than I ever will, read Clay Shirky's speech from 2003 ETech, A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. Among other things, he talks about the challenges of balancing the idealistic goal of open and free speech with the atmosphere of the online community:

"And then, as time sets in, difficulties emerge. In this case, one of the difficulties was occasioned by the fact that one of the institutions that got hold of some modems was a high school. And who, in 1978, was hanging out in the room with the computer and the modems in it, but the boys of that high school. And the boys weren't terribly interested in sophisticated adult conversation. They were interested in fart jokes. They were interested in salacious talk. They were interested in running amok and posting four-letter words and nyah-nyah-nyah, all over the bulletin board.
And the adults who had set up Communitree were horrified, and overrun by these students. The place that was founded on open access had too much open access, too much openness. They couldn't defend themselves against their own users. The place that was founded on free speech had too much freedom. They had no way of saying "No, that's not the kind of free speech we meant."

Pick your metaphor carefully. Dinner Party isn't for everyone, but it's usually my personal favorite for passionate user groups.

Posted by Kathy on June 15, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Featuritis vs. the Happy User Peak


It's a gazillion degrees in my house right now, but I can't figure out the thermostat controls, so the heat's still on and the air conditioning unreachable. My new Denon receiver/tuner sounds amazing--good thing I'm using it mostly with my iPod; I have no clue how to tune in a radio station. When I bring up the newer versions of Microsoft Word, it looks so utterly foreign and overwhelming to me now that I give up and close it. And all I wanted to do was type a simple letter...

Most of you here know that Don Norman talked about this forever in the classic The Design of Everyday Things, but why didn't the designers and manufacturers listen?

My new Subaru factory-supplied car stereo uses that most evil of designs--modes. With so many features to support, they ran out of controls... so every control does multiple things depending on which mode you're in. None of it is intuitive or natural. Lose the manual and I'm screwed. Ten years ago, if you'd told me I'd one day need a manual to use my car radio, that would have been inconceivable. All I want to do is find a frickin' radio station!

Here's a little list of some of the things that seem to suffer the most from pushing too far past that "Happy User Peak":

* Courses that pack way too much content in. The learner is "exposed" to material that's "covered", but the learner hasn't truly "learned" much and can't "do" much. Sun has a great 12-day Java course, except for one problem... it's delivered as a five-day class. The students leave on Friday with their heads exploding, unable to remember where they parked the car let alone how to compile their Java code.

* Stereos (or other consumer electronics and appliances) that use "modal" controls so that you cannot obviously figure out how to make it do the most BASIC FRICKIN' THINGS ; (

* Software that keeps adding feature upon feature until the simple things you used to do are no longer simple, and the whole thing feels overwhelming.

* Technical books that try to be "complete" but don't provide the focus and filtering and weighting the reader was hoping for. The more that's in the book, the longer it's going to take the learner (and the harder it'll be) to actually get through and learn. And the greater the chance that they'll stop reading before they become successful and have "I Rule" experiences. This seems to happen most when the publisher/editor/author didn't want to commit with both feet to being a learning book vs. a reference book, and tried to do both. When I see marketing copy for a learning book that says, "And you'll refer to it again and again after you finish..." or, "You'll want to keep it close even when you're done." red flags start flying. Reference books are for referring to (like the wonderful Nutshell series). Learning books are for reading once, maybe with some extra review, and a refresh if you don't use what you learned right away, but that's about it. (Note: our books suck as reference books.)

So again, why does this happen so often?

Our guess is fear.

Fear of being perceived as having fewer features than your competitors. Fear that you won't be viewed as complete. Fear that people are making purchase decisions off of a checklist, and that he who has the most features wins (or at the least, that he who has the fewest features definitely loses). Fear of losing key clients who say, "If you don't add THIS... I'll have to go elsewhere."

Screw 'em. We believe that those providing the products and services that give the most "I Rule" experiences, without tipping too far over the Happy User Peak, will be the most successful. (Obviously there are a ton of exceptions, and yes of course I'm overgeneralizing.)

Push back. Of course you'll lose customers if you stop adding as many new features.

Or will you?

What if instead of adding new features, a company concentrated on making the service or product much easier to use? Or making it much easier to access the advanced features it already has, but that few can master? Maybe what they lose in market share in one area will be more than compensated for in another area. In a lot of markets, it's gotten so bad out there that simply being usable is enough to make a product truly remarkable.

We will resist the siren call of the market, because we believe the best path is:

Give users what they actually want, not what they say they want. And whatever you do, don't give them new features just because your competitors have them!

Each of our books, for example, covers fewer topics than its closest competitors. Yet we outsell all of them, and part of that is precisely because we cover less. Our readers learn fewer topics, but nail the important ones, and it turned out that for most people, nailing it was more important than reading it. Our readers put their trust in us to work hard at finding and focusing on what really matters, and brutally cutting the cognitive overload that comes with the rest, and we try not to let them down. (We definitely don't always get it right... I had to add a huge new chapter to the second edition of Head First Java, for example, because so many readers felt that collections/data structures were too important to have been relegated to an appendix.)

Be brave. And besides, continuing to pile on new features eventually leads to an endless downhill slide toward poor usability and maintenance. A negative spiral of incremental improvements. Fighting and clawing for market share by competing solely on features is an unhealthy, unsustainable, and unfun way to live.

Be the "I Rule" product, not the "This thing I bought does everything, but I suck!" product.

And I'll be your happy user : )

Posted by Kathy on June 12, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (33) | TrackBack

Stop your presentation before it kills again!


Sometimes the best presentation is... no presentation. Ditch the slides completely. Put the projector in the closet, roll the screen back up, and turn the damn lights back on!

Especially if the slides are bullet points. Or worse... paragraphs.

Or if critical data is presented in a form that leads to brain-death, talked about by Tufte in this Wired article, and in more detail in his book, The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.

The second you dim the lights and go into "presentation mode" is the moment you move from a two-way conversation to a one-way lecture/broadcast. It's hard to be interactive when you're behind your laptop, at a podium, watching your slides on the small screen.

Then there's the phenomenon of "talking to the slides", where the speaker is constrained into following a script. Although some can do it, most presenters (including me) aren't capable of dynamically reconfiguring their slides to customize in realtime for a particular audience. So the speaker just forges on, slide after slide, saying what's already ON the slide, regardless of what he learned about the group. Then again, asking the attendees for feedback is dangerous when you're following a script, since it's tough to really incorporate anything they say.

But given how many people hate slide presentations, why is it universally assumed that where there is "a talk", there's PowerPoint (or its much cooler cousin, Apple's KeyNote)? Conference coordinators rarely ask speakers if they'll be projecting slides. They send out the slide templates, then start demanding your slides several weeks before the show. Saying you don't have slides is like saying you'll give your talk naked. "You mean... you're going out there with nothing???"

I know the arguments in favor of slides:

Visuals are more memorable than words alone.

True. There's almost nobody in the computer book business that believes that as much as we do. But bullet points are still the prevailing content of most slides, and they usually add nothing unless the speaker truly sucks, or has such a dramatically hard-to-parse accent that it's the only way you can get the info.

You have no choice when you're presenting something that must be shown.

There are times when the very content you're speaking on directly relates to something you need or want to show. A screen shot, a design, a building, an animation, etc. Often you need to show quantitative data in a chart or graph. These are completely valid reasons, and slides might indeed be the best way. But they aren't the only way to show that data. Handouts and giant poster boards (for small rooms and a small number of items to show) can often work better.

But yes, there are definitely times you need slides, and at the end of this post I'll mention where you might look for info on making kick-ass presentations.

It keeps the speaker and presentation on track.

I'm sure you all realize what a lame-ass excuse that is, but I've heard it enough times to know some folks believe it. I won't even go there.

Now, I'm not an expert on presentations, and not a particularly good presenter myself, so take this with a grain of salt. But I am applying what we've learned over the years about the brain and learning, so this isn't just a wild guess either. Here's the recommendation I used to give our Java instructors:

The Do You Need Slides Test

1) Is what you're showing absolutely dependent on the learners seeing something you cannot simply describe in words?

-- If YES, is the room small enough to use a flipchart, white board, or posters?
-- If the room or audience size is too large, can you use handouts?

2) If NO (your content does not require visuals), then what are you trying to achieve with the slides?

-- If you think it's because the attendees want slides, think again. Expect them? Yes. Need them? No.

-- If you think it's to help you stay on track, find another way! Use note cards. They're far easier to rearrange at a moment's notice, especially if you can keep your talk more modular/fine-grained.

-- If it's to keep the attendees awake and alert and add emotional hooks and increase memorability or understanding, then you've got a point. But in that case, you need to apply the other test:

The "Do My Slides Suck" Test

1) Do your slides contain mostly bullet points?

2) Do you have more than 12-15 words on a slide?

3) Do your slides add little or no new info beyond what you can say in words?

4) Are your slides, in fact, not memorable?

5) Are your slides emotionally empty?

6) Do your slides fail to encourage a deeper connection to or understanding of the topic?

7) Do your slides distort the data? (That's a whooooole different thing I'm not addressing now)

8) Do your slides encourage cognitive weakness? (refer to Tufte)

A "Yes" to any of those could be a huge red flag that something's wrong.

If you're still committed to slides, or if you're certain you need them, here's my favorite overall recommendation:

Put each slide on trial for its life. Ask it to defend itself. Show no mercy.


Make it beg, make it plead, make it sell itself.

If it doesn't convince you, kill it. And if there aren't enough left to justify using slides, just say no.

The best presenters, in my opinion, get the best of both worlds. They can dynamically shift between "lights dimmed slide mode" and "lights up, let's talk" mode without blinking. They don't let the slides constrain them to a script, and they don't let the slide equipment keep them trapped behind the invisible wall that separates them from the participants. They can rearrange their slides in realtime. Their slides rock!

But right now, I'm too slow and clumsy and don't present often enough to ever get that good, so I choose (most of the time) the path of interaction. But when I do need slides, I know exactly who I'm looking to for help-- I love the guys at Missing Link!

And although I haven't read it yet, I reckon Cliff Atkinson's book is probably quite good, because his Beyond Bullets blog on this is great. And Seth Godin, as always, has good and strong advice (no more than 6, yes 6, words per slide!) And if you're displaying critical data, for the love of all that's good and right in the world, follow Tufte's advice unless you're a skilled information designer.

Having said all this, I did see a spectacular use of Power Point at Rochester's Eastman House museum, where I was lucky enough to catch David Byrne (from Talking Heads) art installation, Envisioning Emotional Epistemological Information, which you can also get in a book/DVD combo.

I'll leave you with Tufte's fateful words, "Power corrupts. PowerPoint corrupts absolutely." Be careful out there... someone could get hurt.

Posted by Kathy on June 8, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Kicking ass is more fun


You know it's true. The better you get at something, the better it feels. Snowboarding. Programming. Writing. Learning Japanese. Chess. Painting. Building cars. Cooking. Designing a web page. Skateboarding. Teaching. Marketing. Being a parent. Being in love.

My running coach told me a few years ago, "It's just more fun when you're faster." I wasn't sure what he meant; I was just trying to get back in shape and do a decent 10K. But once I started training with much better runners, and began pushing myself and keeping my splits and timing my speed work... it was more fun. And it wasn't like I had any illusion of being competitive. Being better is just more fun.

The more we analyze and reverse-engineer passion, the more we see learning and growth as a key component. No, not a key--the key. The more knowledge and skill someone has, the more passionate they become, and the more passionate they become, the more they try to improve their knowledge and skills. (Much of it has to do with the flow state.)

Why are so many companies and causes doing virtually nothing to help users get better?

Assuming you have a good product or service or cause--just like everybody else out there we're all competing with:

It's not what you sell, it's what you teach that matters.

Or rather, what you help someone learn.

Too many books and businesses take users through the first steps and then leave them stranded and alone still in the frustrating and painful stage! How many readers claim they actually finished or even got halfway through a technical book? How many users ever learn anything but the most basic features of the software--even when they'd be thrilled if they could do more? But it just isn't worth it for them to struggle, so they stay with what they know, often using very inefficient steps to do something simply because that's the only "safe" way they feel comfortable with.

Kicking ass is more fun regardless of the task. It's more fun to know more. It's more fun to be able to do more. It's more fun to be able to help others do more.

I'll say more on this later, but I can think of a lot of wasted ad dollars that might be better spent teaching. Red Bull, for example, wants to be the drink of choice for late-night dancers. But rather than simply sponsoring raves and keeping popular DJ's well-stocked (like anyone else would in that business) they create new and better DJ's. They offer the Red Bull Music Academy:

The Red Bull Music Academy is a unique environment where musical innovators shed light on the history, the motivations and the technology behind the tunes that we love. It's a place where ideas are expanded and friendships are forged in real time. It's where sonic theorists meet up with beat junkies and communicate the best way they know how - through music.

By helping more DJs (and wanna-be DJs) kick ass, they've done more to inspire real passion than any of their freebie promotions ever can.

So... how are you heping your users/customers/students/guests/visitors/clients/members/readers kick ass? What are you teaching them? How are you helping them get past the painful parts and into the better-than-drugs flow state?

Posted by Kathy on June 6, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tell Microsoft it's YOUR passion


How NOT to create passionate users #24: tell them YOU'RE the one with the passion, while THEY have... potential.

I'd say that's 180 degrees in the wrong direction. We believe passionate users is about getting yourSELF out of the way and being all about the USER'S passion. It's not a very "I Rule" experience to hear that I have... potential. What does that mean?

I'd hate to have a blog named "Creating Users With Potential". Who gives a f* about potential? This whole campaign makes it sound as though only through Microsoft's passion can you have a hope of ever realizing your potential (and maybe one day you TOO can have passion like Microsoft!)

This is a huge, glaring, grand canyon-sized gap in Microsoft's attempt to get as Scoble calls it brand love. Apple gets love because Apple makes users feel like they kick ass. Not just feel it... do it.

This is supposed to be about my passion, not yours, dammit. Quit telling me what you're going to do to help me fulfill my perhaps hidden potential in terms of how amazing (and supposedly passionate) YOU are.

You can already feel the shift. I don't care about today's market share; I think the evidence is very clear that something is changing, and Dori Smith said it best:

"That 70% of the people at tech conferences (because it ain't just blogging conferences that have that kind of statistic) are using Macs isn't because those people are outliers; it's that those people are early adopters and influencers. Those 95% Wintel users at airports are using those machines because that's what the boss gave them. The 70% of conference-goers that have Macs chose what they want to work with, and made the informed decision not to buy a Wintel machine.

If, like Scoble, I worked for Microsoft, the fact that influencers are leaning so strongly Mac-wards would seriously worry me"

I started going to the JavaOne conference in 1997. Over the last three years, I've seen the number of Macs at that conference go from, oh, zero to 70%.

And we're talking about the largest programming language conference on the planet.

Then I'm off to ETech, and it's the same thing. I'd put it at around 80% Macs to 20% something else (which at that conference, the "something else" often meant Linux.

Same thing at O'Reilly's Foo Camp.

This is big. This is huge. Maybe Apple's computer market share hasn't shifted yet, but this early-adopters-getting-Macs is new. What happens when the chasm is crossed? These new Mac users are the ones with influence at every level -- financial, technical, creative. This cannot be framed as simply a reflection of the lone-wolf creatives who "get" the Mac while the rest of the world uses a REAL operating system.

These aren't all folks who are subject to the whims of fashion and slick ad campaigns either. When they're writing world-changing software (as many of these people are), they care about a lot more than "being cool".

Maybe if Microsoft gets the passion thing right, that would help. But Apple has always had it, and now they have an operating system to mean it. If the early adopters and influencers are here, can the mainstream be that far behind?

Repeat after me Microsoft: "Microsoft: Our Potential, Your Passion"

Posted by Kathy on June 2, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack