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Every user is new and different...


Have you ever been told to RTFM? In online forums, especially, I see that response to questions that have obviously been asked a thousand times. "Read the FAQ" or "Do a search--this has been done to death already." And you get the same feeling when you call a tech support line... that subtle implication that you didn't do your homework. That you're wasting their time.

Every so often, this issue would come up on when a moderator would tell someone to do a search, rather than answering (or encouraging anyone else to answer) the poster's question. It's natural for a moderator to become exasperated or just bored hearing the same question over and over and over again--especially in the beginner forums. Another moderator would usually give a gentle reminder that, "for this person, that question is new. This whole topic is new. And if you shut down the question with 'search the archives for that', you've killed any chance of someone bringing in a fresh perspective." Our policy is to usually encourage the user to search the archives in addition to having a fresh discussion in the forum. The give-them-a-fish-and-teach-them-to-fish-at-the-same-time approach.

It's so easy to feel like we've been doing the same thing forever, but as long as there's a new person at the other end of the exchange, it is not the same thing.

I talked about this earlier in Creating Passionate Fans, about musicians playing the same music for decades, yet leaving you--the listener--feeling like it's their first time. Last Saturday, the NPR Weekend Edition interview with Carole King talked about her new "Welcome to my Living Room" tour. What got me was her response to Scott Simon's question about whether she gets tired of being asked to play one of her hits from 30 years ago... a song she's been playing now for three decades. She said that sometimes it is hard, at first, but then something happens...

"Every audience is new and different, and they breathe new life into the song."

I need to remember this. Every user is new and different. Every reader is new and different. And as long as the user is new, then the experience of their interaction with the product, service, book... is new and different. Every new user breathes new life into what we create and deliver.

Maybe there's something in that thought that you can grab onto when you're feeling frustrated or bored. Maybe helping your software developers have more interaction with users can help pull someone back out of the "phoning it in" stage. Maybe helping them see the result of their work in a real, human, context would help.

I'll leave you with this comment from my earlier post, from Dan Steinberg (editor of Java.net, and former radio guy):

"Many year's ago I worked for a radio station where, at the top of every hour, we would say "WMJI - Cleveland's Magic 105 point 7". The reasons were that every station had to identify itself with its call letters and city of license and many stations hid it in a slogan like this. Hour after hour, day after day. In an average year each of us said this roughly 5 * 6 * 50 = 1500 times. Somewhere, someone was hearing it for the first time.

The program director took us to see Barry Manilow - it wasn't that any of us wanted to see him (or actively didn't) but he wanted us to see how Manilow performed songs that he'd sung hundreds of times over the years. The lesson wasn't lost on me.

As much as this helped me as a jock, it reinvigorated me as a teacher. Someone somewhere was getting the point of the mean value theorem for the first time on the hundredth time I'd taught it. Each time the discovery felt fresh to me and I hope to them. Thanks for this trip back."

Rumor has it that Dan's going to put some of his radio expertise back to work in the podcast world, and by remembering that somewhere, someone's hearing his podcast for the first time... I have a feeling he'll have something very special.

What do you do to help yourself--or those who work for you--keep things fresh?

Posted by Kathy on July 12, 2005 | Permalink


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» Gli utenti non sono tutti uguali. from m@moo
Kathy Sierra, fondatrice di javaranch.com (una delle community più popolate del web), spiega perché è meglio spendere (e non perdere) tempo ad accompagnare i nuovi utenti di forum e community nelle loro piccole e grandi difficoltà, specie quando r... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 12, 2005 2:17:07 PM

» Every user is new and different… from Sometimes Silent
Creating Passionate Users: Every user is new and different… Every so often, this issue would come up on when a moderator would tell someone to do a search, rather than answering (or encouraging anyone else to answer) the poster’s question... [Read More]

Tracked on Jul 12, 2005 5:19:58 PM


On our trip to DisneyWorld, Epcot and Universal Studios I had commented to my wife how the staff's attitude rubbed off on the vacationers. The ride operator was brimming with excitement, displayed the same "fresh emotion" on each ride even though (s)he had done it at least a hundred times -- that day. *That* is an essential part of the theme park experience.

That said, online fora aren't theme parks. While there is a need to be gentle to the newbie, the newbie should also be aware that the forum is being manned not by paid employees but fellow open-sourcers. The desire to help gets overwhelmed by irritation when it is patently obvious that the writer has taken the easy way out and not taken the effort to search the archives before posting the question.

Faced with such a situation, I tend to provide the answer -- by pointing the user to an earlier answer. This follows your modified maxim of giving the man a fish *and* teaching him how to fish at the same time.

Posted by: Sri Sankaran | Jul 12, 2005 5:31:48 PM

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