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the smirk of the nerd

It’s been a while since I talked about “Grannies and Gurus“, so before getting into the meat of what we’re doing, it’ll help to first define the audience we’re aiming at.

Non-technical users are those that regularly put URLs in the Google search bar instead of the location bar. They’re people who’ve never used a text editor in their life, only Word and email. Non-technical people rarely use menu bars. They’re people who have yet to create a new folder in their email program, or even their file system. Non-technical people are the vast majority of computer users.

When I talk about this audience, most developers roll their eyes, though it’s the audience we need if the semweb’s gonna be more than a playground for large corporations and academic tweakers.

I see the semweb as a place where things aren’t all that organized, where human inconsistency doesn’t get in the way of doing useful things. What a terrific thing for those among us who have a tough time with hierarchies.

Here’s an excerpt from an all-hands email I just sent, prompted by this post: “We should never appear superior to non-technical users. Always talk about such users as real people with geniune needs, even in our private planning sessions. Always suggest that it’s our fault as software developers that things aren’t easier. If others get confused, it’s our failing, not theirs.”

The smirk of the nerd is powerful force in our industry, one that holds back forward progress for everyone. Ten years ago, when the web was young, people slowly started asking us nerds to help “get them on the Internet.” Remember how difficult PPP and browsers could be back then? Who benefited when it became easy for everyone? Everybody did.

Imagine if we could turn each smirk into a simple, smiling, “How can I help?” Imagine if we felt sadness rather than superior mirth as we told our tales of users who treat the CD tray as a drink holder. What’s funny about the immaturity of our industry?

After all, there is no them. We all benefit when things are clear.

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