This is a quote taken from a conversation I had with a lawyer about her consumption of news:
“The problem is you people in the media are stuck in your own little world and forget that we’re also quite busy in our own little world and we don’t have time to keep up with what you’re doing.
“We don’t want to have to understand your RSS feeds, we just want to get the information that we need as quickly and easily as possible.
“Handing over 50p and getting that information printed on paper is an easy transaction. It makes sense.
“Fiddling around trying to understand and set up an RSS reader doesn’t.
“When it comes to information online the quickest way is to Google for it. Everyone just Googles.
“Then, if you find a useful easy-to-use site in the Google search results, that’s the site you’ll go back to.”
Truth is RSS isn’t easy, or more rather there aren’t any feed readers that have a shallow enough learning curve. I’ve spent hours looking for that will introduce people to the joy of being able to collect everything you’re interested in.
There needs to be a distraction-free (no other stuff) version of the way that iGoogle – for example – lets people add feeds, but able to expand and show full feeds rather than just links. And they need to be able to try it without registering, clicking on emails, yahoo accounts…
The 50p transaction for one days news still looks a good deal if the price of the “new way” seems to be days of getting concepts and learning new interfaces – when all they’re really doing (to start with) is picking to save their most used news sources.
What’s interesting here is how much people are being exposed to new sources of information through Google. They will give them an opportunity to establish credibility. It indicates how ephemeral media brands really can be.
We shouldn’t be expecting to fit everyone into the same mould. Not everything is for everyone. But if a format is not available then no-one will benefit from it. Some people will be comfortable with RSS, some won’t.
I’ve often thought the same thing when reading people such as Jeff Jarvis. This isn’t an attack on Jeff, who often makes a great deal of sense, but I can’t help thinking that apart from the real news junkies, most people simply want an authoritative, accurate source of news they can access when they need to, whether it is in paper or online form. The notion that being inaccurate is not disastrous as one’s readers are one’s editors and will provide corrections doesn’t fit this model. The main problem is, I think, trust and its disintegration over years. Surely the role for professional journalists is to build that trust by providing timely, authoritative etc, etc for people who are too busy to monitor news feeds 24/7.
The odd thing is we lawyers pride ourselves on our research skills. We’re trained on how to use a law library and how to search through Hansard, Westlaw and other reputable sources.
These skills are generally built up over the course of a law degree, a year at law school and two years training, until you get to the point where you have a trainee to do your research for you (I joke). However, your lawyer friend has broken the great taboo – despite all this training and the expensive resources to hand ‘Everyone just Googles’. It would drive our librarians (and insurers) spare to hear it but it’s true.
However, how many of us are taught how to use Google and other online tools properly? I certainly never have been, probably because we’re not meant to use it. I know a little because I happen to take an interest in new technology (partly a professional one, due to one or two clients).
Your friend (and many of my colleagues) could almost certainly save valuable units of time both searching more efficiently and receiving information without having to search for it. For example, I have Google News alerts set up for my key clients – this has proven invaluable and isn’t the sort of thing I could purchase for 50p at the news stand.
However, I absolutely agree with her – lawyers should be too busy with fee-earning work to gamble their time finding out these training needs . This sort of thing should be built into the firm’s training programme (not to mention the LPC). In the meantime my trainees are all told to set up Bloglines/Google Reader and a few alerts in their first week with me.
Apologies for writing several times more than you have but this is a topic close to my heart – thank you for raising it!
The lawyer does have a point: not everyone understands – nor wants to understand – the minutiae of the internet and how it can work for them.
It is like having the same sides of a magnet trying to push together. It just won’t –from. whether it’s the positive side or the negative. Neither will truly understand where the other is coming from.
It takes time and effort to learn about online workings – it’s something I am only just starting to become comfortable with and I have a mountain the size of Everest to climb before I really get to grips with all it could do for me.
It’s like Michael said, there is no “one size fits all”. When it comes to media consumption, some people will like the convenience of seeing it online and will find the time to set up RSS feeds and the like so that it is tailored for them.
Other will prefer to have the paper version in front of them. I’m sure newspaper editors are grateful for that, too.
The only problem with RSS feeds is actually explaining what they are. I think the term RSS (like most acronyms), combined with talk of downloading extra software scares the beejesus out of some people and they go running for the hills.
Most modern browsers have a live bookmarks feature built in, so personally I wouldn’t waste time talking about feed readers etc, just call it a ‘live bookmark’, and explain how to use it in different browsers. People who are savvy enough to use feed readers will know what to do with it anyway.
I certainly don’t think “everyone just Googles”, unless you’re looking for something specific, Google doesn’t cut it.
Just to highlight the other area, which perhaps feeds back to a previsous post here, is that “50p transaction.” As more people die off, the people who are replacing them don’t see that 50p transaction as value for money. When you have newspapers like Metro and the London Evenign Freesheets, there’s already a push to negate that transaction and part of print media’s income.
Add in the availability of broadly the same information online at a newspaper site, and you start to see a pattern of free information arriving. The challenge is where to make that 50p transation, and who to make it with, IMO.
For the price of a months subscription to a national paper you could pretty much fund a contract that will get you an iPhone which offers a pretty good browsing experience of all the news sites you’ll ever need.
I think that puts the 50p transaction into an interesting perspective.
RSS is hard because it’s a difficult to understand that things will just appear, it’s also pretty tech you have to get this little address thing and then paste it into Google Reader.
If the experience is easier and more carefully designed then more people will use it, unfortunately this isn’t easy because there’s the site in question, your browser and the actual newsreader all getting in the way.
I’ve been recommending http://rososo.com/ a way in to showing people RSS without confusing them, you add sites that you visit most and it shows you which site has updated last, less clutter and easier to get.
We still very much on the edge of a technological and social revolution. Some people just wont adapt. others will, and new generation will wonder what all the fuss is about.
I cant get over the fact that were a year away from being a decade into the 21st centure and only now theres a US president who has mobile email
It is true that RSS is not as user-friendly as paper in many respects. It is also true that information delivered via RSS can be more relevant, timely and tailored (and thus, potentially, more valuable) than that delivered via a 50p transaction. So we either have to make RSS more accessible or make newspapers more relevant.
I give up on the second task, but on RSS I can imagine a future for it where it is a “back-office” technology that automatically feeds consumer products such as iPods, phones and e-book readers on the basis of GPS data and the information in those devices’ users’ profiles.
And if people need to find something specific, they’ll just Google like everybody else.
RSS is perfect for those people who want their news, immediately and near infinite. Newspapers are great for those people who like their news more distilled and finite. The first does not necessarily have to supersede the second.
Anything which requires training to use is always going to have a limited audience. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth using, just that many people won’t use it.
People “Google” because it’s easy – if you want to know about Manchester United, you type the words Manchester United into a box and press enter.
The technologies that win out will be the ones that make things easy. Google News http://news.google.com/ is halfway there with the ability to create news alerts and customise your Google news page, but it still seems just a little techie.
Technology which makes the process very easy, almost invisible, to the non-technical user, will eventually emerge. The challenge is not to try to push people into using technology they feel uncomfortable with, but to be ready for the more intuitive and widely-accepted technology when it comes.
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