summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights on user experience and
how we can make sense of computers that compose a large part of my thinking and
work. drop your email in the box below to get it straight in your inbox or find
previous editions here.
The web is just twenty years old and I’m not sure that we have yet come to
terms with the power that this new medium grants us. When we create websites,
it’s all too easy for us to fall into old patterns of behaviour and treat our
creations as independent self-contained islands lacking in outbound links.
But that’s not the way the web works. The sites we build should not be
cul-de-sacs for the inquisitive visitors who have found their way to our work
by whatever unique trails they have followed. We should recognise that when
we design and publish information on the humblest homepage or the grandest
web app, we are creating connections within a much larger machine of
knowledge, a potential Turing machine greater than any memex or calculus
this is such a powerful idea i've been referring to a lot recently. the
computer and the web are powerful tools which could fundamentally amplify our
human capabilities. i am only afraid that we're not able to see and grasp the
big picture yet.
Our technology is designed by technologists who know what is good for that
technology, namely highly precise, accurate, detailed information. Well, that
ay be good for machines, but what about what is good for people? People are bad
at precision and accuracy. At monitoring dull stuff for long periods. Force us
to do those things, to act like machines, and of course we will fail. You call
it human error: I call it machine error, or if you prefer, bad design.
too often we punish our users for not being able to predict the system's
design, be it a website, app or program. but make no mistake, this is not about
eliminating feedback from the system. when needed, the feedback should change
to a collaborative one, rather than a confrontational one – human computer
interaction, not confrontation.
I’m amazed by all the great advances that have been made in the past 15 years,
but I’m even more amazed by areas that haven’t changed. But perhaps the silver
lining in the Banality of Futurism is that the room for growth won’t be in
fixing life’s inconveniences, but rather in the human condition.
a very interesting thought on how acclimated we are to quirks and nuisances in
our user interfaces. the future will probably be as awkward as the times we
live in today. i've referred to a similar issue in a previous episode.
summing up is a recurring series on topics & insights that compose a large
part of my thinking and work. drop your email in the box below to get it
straight in your inbox or find previous editions here.
The web seemed to fill all niches at once. It was surprisingly good at
emulating a TV, a newspaper, a book, or a radio. Which meant that people
expected it to answer the questions of each medium, and with the promise of
advertising revenue as incentive, web developers set out to provide those
answers. As a result, people in the newspaper industry saw the web as a
newspaper. People in TV saw the web as TV, and people in book publishing saw it
as a weird kind of potential book. But the web is not just some kind of magic
all-absorbing meta-medium. It's its own thing. And like other media it has a
question that it answers better than any other. That question is:
Why wasn't I consulted?
Humans have a fundamental need to be consulted, engaged, to exercise their
knowledge (and thus power), and no other medium that came before has been able
to tap into that as effectively.
every form of media has a question that it's fundamentally answering. that is
something i've been alluding a few episodes ago. you might think you already
understand the web and what users want, but in fact the web is not a publishing
medium nor a magic all-absorbing meta-medium. it's its own thing.
AI risk is string theory for computer programmers. It's fun to think about,
interesting, and completely inaccessible to experiment given our current
technology. You can build crystal palaces of thought, working from first
principles, then climb up inside them and pull the ladder up behind you.
People who can reach preposterous conclusions from a long chain of abstract
reasoning, and feel confident in their truth, are the wrong people to be
running a culture.
The pressing ethical questions in machine learning are not about machines
becoming self-aware and taking over the world, but about how people can exploit
other people, or through carelessness introduce immoral behavior into automated
there is this idea that with the nascent ai technology, computers are going to
become superintelligent and subsequently end all live on earth - or
variations of this theme. but the real threat here is a different one. these
seductive, apocalyptic beliefs prevent people from really working to make a
difference and ignoring the harm that is caused by the current machine learning
When I was young I used to read pseudohistory books; Immanuel
Velikovsky's Ages in Chaos is a good example of the best this genre has to
offer. I read it and it seemed so obviously correct, so perfect, that I could
barely bring myself to bother to search out rebuttals.
And then I read the rebuttals, and they were so obviously correct, so
devastating, that I couldn't believe I had ever been so dumb as to believe
And then I read the rebuttals to the rebuttals, and they were so obviously
correct that I felt silly for ever doubting.
And so on for several more iterations, until the labyrinth of doubt seemed
What finally broke me out wasn't so much the lucidity of the
consensus view so much as starting to sample different crackpots.
almost as bright and rhetorically gifted as Velikovsky, all presented
insurmountable evidence for their theories, and all had mutually exclusive
I guess you could consider this a form of epistemic learned helplessness, where
I know any attempt to evaluate the arguments are just going to be a bad idea so
I don't even try.
the smarter someone is, the easier it is for them to rationalize and convince
you of ideas that sound true even when they're not. epistemic learned
helplessness is one of those concepts that's so useful you'll wonder how you
did without it.
A few years ago I read a study – I believe it was in Scientific American –
about the efficiency of locomotion for various species on the earth. The study
determined which species was the most efficient, in terms of getting from point
A to point B with the least amount of energy exerted. The condor won. Man made
a rather unimpressive showing about 1/3 of the way down the list.
But someone there had the insight to test man riding a bicycle. Man was twice
as efficient as the condor! This illustrated man's ability as a tool maker.
When man created the bicycle, he created a tool that amplified an inherent
ability. That's why I like to compare the personal computer to the bicycle. The
personal computer is a 21st century bicycle if you will, because it's a tool
that can amplify a certain part of our inherent intelligence.
i just love steve jobs’ idea of comparing computers to a bicycle for the mind.
so much actually, that i used it in my talk
the lost medium last year.
we humans are tool builders and we can fundamentally amplify our human
capabilities with tools. tools that take us far beyond our inherent abilities.
nevertheless we're only at the early stages of this tool. we've already seen
the enormous changes around us, but i think that will be nothing to what's
coming in the next hundred years.
The phrase “technology and education” usually means inventing new gadgets to
teach the same old stuff in a thinly disguised version of the same old way.
Moreover, if the gadgets are computers, the same old teaching becomes
incredibly more expensive and biased towards its dullest parts, namely the kind
of rote learning in which measurable results can be obtained by treating the
children like pigeons in a Skinner box.
there is this notion that our problems are easily being solved with more
technology. doing that we're throwing technology against a wall to
see what sticks rather than asking what the technology could offer and who that
could help. papert is talking about education, and even if that is a vital part
of our society, his thinking applies to so much more.
The idea of integrating computers seamlessly into the world at large runs
counter to a number of present-day trends. "Ubiquitous computing" in this
context does not just mean computers that can be carried to the beach, jungle
or airport. Even the most powerful notebook computer, with access to a
worldwide information network, still focuses attention on a single box. By
analogy to writing, carrying a super-laptop is like owning just one very
important book. Customizing this book, even writing millions of other books,
does not begin to capture the real power of literacy.
Furthermore, although ubiquitous computers may employ sound and video in
addition to text and graphics, that does not make them "multimedia computers."
Today's multimedia machine makes the computer screen into a demanding focus of
attention rather than allowing it to fade into the background.
computers should fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter
theirs. especially mobile computing is a major paradigm shift, but right now
we're becoming slaves of our own devices. weiser puts out some very interesting
ideas on how computers could integrate in our environment and enhance our
so yesterday i had a coffee with a friend. they run a small consulting shop and
he proudly showed me their new website. they were working hard on it for
months, and to be honest, it was looking good. it was responsive, had a great
design and good copy.
they were still failing to attract new clients and leads over their website. he
asked me if there was anything glaringly wrong with their website. one thing
jumped out: there wasn't a call to action. prospects would have to scroll down the
whole page, find the contact form, fill out 10+ fields and hope somebody would
get back to them.
but this was just a symptom, and not the main problem. the main problem was
this: they failed to understand that websites are processes.
all websites "sell" something, whether you are selling an actual product, a
service, you want to do outreach, get more attention or just simply share your
ideas. but it takes time to get visitors interested and willing to buy your
service or product. and this is a process. take any sales professional and
you'll find an efficient, tested process they stick to. and we can do the same
with our websites, fully automated and scalable.
let's have a look at the process in detail. it starts with strangers coming to
your website. maybe they saw you at an event, got your business card, found you
on google or some article you wrote a year ago. they have a look at your
website and in case they are interested, they want to learn more.
next you start talking specifically about what you do and how you can help your
clients. as you convince your audience that your product or service is the
right solution for their problem you move them to the next stage via a call to
action where they become leads. this can be done with a free email course, a
cheat sheet or any other value exchange.
at the next stage, your audience is convinced that you're able to help them
solving their problem, but trust and connection is still missing. as people
only stay a
(if you get more than 20 seconds you're really lucky) on your websites, this
step is needed in order to extend the conversation in which you can nurture the
connection and exchange value. drip campaigns or well crafted newsletters (no,
not these awful spammy things, but something like a personal email) are good
tools for this step.
lastly, by giving away valuable content and helpful tips you establish trust
and set yourself up as an expert in your domain. only now you have all the
ingredients to make a successful sale.
it is important to note, that the only goal of each step in this process is to
help your visitors get to the next step. this is not about you, it is about how
you can help your clients.
so think about your website for a moment. do you have a process similar to this
in place? if not, you're losing money.
i am trying to build a jigsaw puzzle which has no lid and is missing half of
the pieces. i am unable to show you what it will be, but i can show you some of
the pieces and why they matter to me. if you are building a different puzzle,
it is possible that these pieces won't mean much to you, maybe they won't fit
or they won't fit yet. then again, these might just be the pieces you're
looking for. this is summing up, please find previous editions
The computer world deals with imaginary, arbitrary, made up stuff that was all
made up by somebody. Everything you see was designed and put there by someone.
But so often we have to deal with junk and not knowing whom to blame, we blame
Everyone takes the structure the computer world as god-given. In a field
reputedly so innovative and new, the computer world is really a dumbed down
imitation of the past, based on ancient traditions and modern
oversimplification that people mistake for the computer itself.
it is quite easy to get the idea that the current state of the computer world
is the climax of our great progress. and it's really not. ted nelson, one of
the founding fathers of personal computing and the man who invented hypertext,
presents his cynical, amusing and remarkably astute overview of the history of
the personal computer - after all he's been there since the beginnings. it is
especially interesting in contrast with our current view on computers,
information and user experience.
A lot of the language around data is extractive. We talk about data processing,
data mining, or crunching data. It’s kind of a rocky ore that we smash with
heavy machinery to get the good stuff out.
In cultivating communities, I prefer gardening metaphors. You need the right
conditions, a propitious climate, fertile soil, and a sprinkling of bullshit.
But you also need patience, weeding, and tending. And while you're free to
plant seeds, what you wind up with might not be what you expected.
This should make perfect sense. Human cultures are diverse. It's normal that
there should be different kinds of food, music, dance, and we enjoy these
differences. But online, our horizons narrow. We expect domain experts and
programmers to be able to meet everyone's needs, sight unseen. We think it's
normal to build a social network for seven billion people.
we hear a lot about artificial intelligence, big data or deep learning these
days. they are all referring to the same generic approach of training a
computer with lots of data and it learns to recognize structure. these
techniques are effective, no doubt, but what we often overlook is that
you only get out what you put into it.
Leonardo could not invent a single engine for any of his vehicles. Maybe the
smartest person of his time, but he was born in the wrong time. His IQ could
not transcend his time. Henry Ford was nowhere near Leonardo, but he happened
to be born in the right century, a century in which people had already done a
lot of work in making mechanical things.
Knowledge, in many many cases, trumps IQ. Why? This is because there are
certain special people who invent new ways of looking at things. Henry Ford was
powerful because Issac Newton changed the way Europe thought about things. One
of the wonderful things about the way knowledge works is if you can get a
supreme genius to invent calculus, those of us with more normal IQs can learn
it. So we're not shut out from what the genius does. We just can't invent
calculus by ourselves, but once one of these guys turns things around, the
knowledge of the era changes completely.
we often ignore the context we create a digital product in. however the context
defines the space of possible solutions. and not only that, it also defines the
borders of our world. what is so interesting about this thought is that you
don't need a massive brain, but you need to be able to see and connect ideas in
order to advance humanity.
this is way less annoying than that would be. anyway, i've prepared a
behind-the-scenes landing page cheat sheet i use to build and improve
successful websites for my clients.
subscribe now and i’ll send it to you, for free. i never spam and you
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