Every industry has a certain level of insularity. It’s human nature to want to be part of the in crowd and knowing the buzzwords and inner workings of a sector carries cache. The emerging tech industry, though, takes insularity to a whole other level. It’s easy to get caught up in the morass of social services and tools; a day spent immersed in tweets and status updates, FriendFeed links and Seesmic videos can easily cloud one’s mind. Spend enough time in here and you find yourself wondering why the gas company doesn’t just send your bills via Twitter. (On second thought, that’s a hell of an idea…) So it’s always a pleasant surprise to talk to my stay-at-home-mom friends, the ones I dragged kicking and screaming to Facebook. They give me a much needed reality check as to what’s going on in the real world.
I had one of those conversations this morning with my friend Polly, who is marginally tech-savvy, mainly because she’s too busy raising three boys to be otherwise. We talked about several tech-related issues, some of which I’ll post about in the coming days. But perhaps the most interesting talk concerned Facebook, in which she bemoaned the hesitance of some of our friends to join the site. She’s surprised to find that a few of her friends won’t consider a Facebook profile; that there was even a level of disgust at the idea. We threw around a couple of theories but I suspect the answer is pretty simple: ego. There is an air of ego – mistaken in my opinion – around Facebook and social networking in general. From the point of view of my generation and older, Web 2.0 is about ego: telling people what you’re doing at the moment, referring to articles you’re reading, posting pictures of yourself and the parties you go to – all actions that are second-nature to younger generations but anathema to anyone born before 1973 (or so).
Here’s my point: these services we’re building and testing and funding – where are they headed? For what mass audience are they intended? Take FriendFeed. I love it, you love it, we’re all (mostly) in agreement that they’ve built a nifty little service for those of us inside baseball. But how am I supposed to explain it to someone who’s never heard of an RSS reader? Someone who exclaimed, “Wow, you can do that?” when I described Google Reader to her? She wants to know about FriendFeed but I don’t even know where to begin. “Well, first you create an account at six or seven different services that you’ve also never heard of…”
I know I harp on this often but we desperately need to take all this fantastic innovation and share it with the outside world. The fact that many people think Facebook to be an ego trip (and equate it with the less-mature MySpace) is our fault. The fact that RSS still hasn’t made it to the mainstream is our fault. We’re the insiders with a wealth of knowledge and fulfilling tech experiences to share. The point of evangelizing is to win new converts, not to continue preaching to the already converted. Isn’t that the definition of insanity – doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result?
I’m not entirely sure who I’m directing this rant towards. Perhaps it’s to everyone who has forgotten the larger audience – bloggers, pundits, marketing strategists, investors and entrepreneurs alike. We need to broaden our reach, talk to everyday consumers about their technology uses, likes, and dislikes. Think past the TechCrunch reviews while building a product and plan for its uses in the real world.
While there is certainly a stage at which a product needs to be honed first within the industry, we should recognize the point at which it’s time to take it to the masses. Time to take the acronyms off and present it to consumers in a manner they can understand. Time to build products that will extend beyond our secluded little world. Time, it seems, to stop staring at our navels.
**Update: Just after I posted this entry, I came across this on LaughingSquid. A series of short videos featuring people describing Twitter, it’s a perfect illustration of the disconnect between technology insiders and mass consumers. Evan Williams is a brilliant guy who built two fantastic products – but he needs to learn friendlier language that will appeal to mass consumers. Alex North’s description wins my vote – a real-world case for using Twitter.