OPINION

The Struggle with Web 2.0: You Are Not Alone...

May 31, 2006
kamla bhatt

A few days ago I wrote about the challenges in using these new and wonderful web 2.0 tools. I mentioned that more people are stepping out of the closet and 'fessing up.

Every now and then, however, a train of disturbing thoughts intrudes my mind: Am I keeping up with this fast morphing Web 2.0 world? Do I know all the right tools, apps and cool buzz words that I can pepper my conversation with? You know, sound like I am surfing this current wave? On the surface it looks like I am keeping up with the crowd. But the back-end is a whole different game. It is a swirling mess of confusing ideas and thoughts laced with impatience.

Why don't I get it? How difficult can it be to get this RSS feed to work with the enclosure? Oh, what was the user name and password for this web service? Was it this, or no, wait a sec it was my dog's name with a dollar sign in the middle. Or, why don't I get this Digg thing? So, what is the difference between Digg and Delicious, I ask for the thirteenth time? Why does Wordpress behave in this quirky fashion? Is it my hosting service, or is it Wordpress?

So, I often find myself struggling with these open-source tools, with open-source applications, with Wordpress, with x, y, and z application. And, I pause and think to myself: hold on, why am I not getting the hang of it? Why is Digg difficult to dig? Why can't I think through and figure out why it is not working? This is not rocket science as people in India point out ever so often. Then I get back to the other cycle, oh, but this is not working when I tried it this way. So, I alternate between two states: euphoric and un-motivated. But generally as LiveJournal bloggers have a little sign declaring their mood for the post/day...I tend to be on the happier side.

Getting back to the struggle with these Web 2.0 applications here is what I have discovered in private conversations with fellow bloggers. They too go through similar experiences, but nobody talks about it. It is as though we have to suffer in silence and endure this whole Web 2.0 revolution that is unfolding. Creators of these wonderful tools and applications appear to forget that not everybody is a software engineer or a geek, and users do need a clear set of instructions. Many times the UI (User Interface) is so poorly designed that it makes it difficult to navigate. And, it seems like nobody is talking about it. Surely this whole thing is meant to be used by regular folks like us, users like us? If we don't let these folks know, who will? How will they know there is a bug here, and that this UI is not intuitive?

I have dug around the Internet and visited various help and user groups, goggled, snapped, yahooed, msned and there appears to be a common thread. People are struggling to use these tools, and sometimes simple questions remain unanswered. However, I find that people are talking more about their struggle in their blogs.

The latest to join is Venture Capitalist Guy Kawasaki. He needs help with finding the right editor to write his blogs off-line. He wonders if there is a better way to write his blogs. There's gotta be a better way, right? We have to wait and see. Hopefully, we too can get some help from the pings, suggestions and comments from Guy's posting.

Thanks Guy for that much need post and call for help. While you are at it perhaps you can tell the good folks at Wordpress.com that their application times out on a regular basis, and their confessions of a server message soothes our jangled nerves for a few seconds, but that is it. We now know we are not alone.

Then there are some who are also questioning this whole frenetic tech life we all seem to lead. Where are we headed with this whole thing? The one blog that stood out was by Tealeaves, who says:

My parents have watched satellite TV getting Chinese programming for years. They still have a VCR. We do have a DVD player. They have computers, but pretty much run on a slow modem connection. They have no desire to upgrade to a fast Internet connection. They have no desire to obtain cell phones. It's just the way the industry makes us pay for more and more services that we feel like an idiot for not having, and yet, they choose to live life the way they've lived it. I'm in the software industry. There's a sense I need to keep up.

But, when you read the punch line at the end of the post, you realize that you are caught in a vicious circle, and you want more. There is no stopping this inexorable pull to where? Any ideas?

Kamla Bhatt produces and hosts an Internet radio show http://kamlabhattshow.com. The show is also featured on http://www.podtech.net/indiatech/author/kamlab/ a Silicon Valley-based She blogs at http://kamlabhattshow.com/blog and http://ifyougoto.com, a travel blog. Life, People and Ideas is the underlying and unifying theme for her show and blogs.
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#1
nandhu
URL
May 31, 2006
08:06 AM

i too am a frustrated user of web 2.0 tools. this note is heartening. finally somebody has belled the cat.

#2
temporal
URL
May 31, 2006
07:06 PM

kamla:

*a big fat cyber hug*

i share most of your sentiments -- until someone pointed out differently i thought RSS was them guys here;)


more later

confused and paddling,

t

#3
Kamla
URL
June 1, 2006
02:50 AM

Nandu: I am sure there are others who have written on this topic :-) I wish I could take the credit!

T: You are very welcome. Trust me there is a map somewhere out there that can help your confused paddling. Now, the question is how to do you find it in this digital treasure hunt, where you are presented with a tantalizing hint every now and then.

I have a question for you: Who is Tantalus here? Who is standing in that pool of water and yearning to have a drink of water and that fruit? Us or them?

Any ideas?

Kamla

#4
temporal
URL
June 1, 2006
09:09 AM

Kamla

... Who is Tantalus here? .... Us or them?

sheesh!..what a curve ball you throw this early in the monring:)

khair

may i be permitted some more rhetorical queries?

who is the zeus here? the medium? aaman? readers?

and pelops? our blood, sweat and tears---(told you it is early here and i allow myself one or two outta-blues)? our words?

paddling early...
(yeah paddling not peddling;))

#5
kamla
URL
June 1, 2006
09:21 AM

T:

You threw the curve ball right back at me.

But, it is an interesting question to think about: Who is Tantalus, and who is Zeus?

All I know is that sometimes I feel like I have been banished to good old Hades! What with all this sruggle. (We must thank Marx for this particular word).

Enjoy your day!

Kamla

#6
sami
URL
June 1, 2006
01:15 PM

One article on DC that I totally disagree with :(

I would have liked to read what the current "Web 2.0" tools, as they are called, are being compared with here. Out of the millions of people who are able to publish electronically today, I don't think 5% could have managed the same without the (relatively) simple to use blogging softwares(and services).

We hear such complainys only when users start assuming that things should get done without any effort at all. It may work with learning to operate a TV, but electronic publishing is entirely a different territory. I still believe, with a little effort, learning to post content using simple interfaces provided by blogger.com and wordpress.com shouldn't be too difficult. If someone finds blogger.com difficult to use, epublishing is just not their cup of tea. If one can't use blogger.com, they definitely can't create their own website.

"...you realize that you are caught in a vicious circle, and you want more."

Its the people who want more who find a reason and motivation to come up with innovative technologies that benefit all of us. I can't possibly imagine life without RSS, Weblogs, Wikis etc; they were all borne out of certain necessitities(which they are fulfilling rather nicely). If some people are chasing these technologies not because they need them but because they want to 'keep up' with the current tech life, and getting frustrated as a result, then blame these people and not the technologies.

#7
Kamla
URL
June 2, 2006
04:36 AM

Hello Sami:

You might have mis-read my post.

We appreciate the tools that have enabled us to do what we do here.

If you read carefully I mentioned very clearly that people try, try and then seek for online help. But, even then sometimes things are not easy. There are different kinds of users, who bring different levels of experience and exposure and that influences the way they work with something. For instance somebody in Seoul might have a totally different experience compared to somebody in Silicon Valley or Nagpur.

The larger point was the fact that in this race to create more Web 2.0 tools sometimes we forget the end-users who use them and the challenges they might have. All these are valid points.

Please do remember that many bloggers are not necessarily from an engineering or software background. But, that should not preclude them from understanding how to use a simple software or piece of code. Often there are no clear instructions and the UI is messy. Many engineers and developers will vouch for the poor, and non-intutive UI designs.

Thanks though for bringing an interesting and different perspective to the debate.

Kamla

#8
sami
URL
June 4, 2006
01:48 AM

If the question is about the usability of the softwares then "Web 2.0" technologies are hardly to be blamed - they always have been like that. Its only improving with interfaces like GMail, Flickr, Digg, Blogger, Delicious, Google Reader etc. Maybe the technologists are so lost in creating new tools and standards that the usability aspects are taking a beating. To that extent I agree its a valid point.

#9
Kamla
URL
June 4, 2006
03:55 AM

Sami:

You got the point I was trying to make :-) Why create something if end-users are struggling with it? You need to iron out the bugs and other wrinkles in the process of using a software product. You need a good product management team, or at least one good product person and a good UI person...how difficult is that when you progress from alpha, beta and then releasing various versions of the product?

This post is not a complex and messy UI, you did not have to dig around to uncover layers of meaning...it had a simple message :-)

Thanks for your thoughts.

Kamla

#10
Sumanth
URL
June 4, 2006
10:46 AM

This is the same story for any software/s that has/have ever been introduced.

Kamla,

You are not alone. The struggle for software Engineers in this chaotic mess of Web 2.0 is almost the same as that of any non-software person. But, over the years they have somehow learnt to live in turbulence.

For the first time, the non-software people can understand in what kind of turbulent world the software engineers live.

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