Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The DUH Effect (or, the WWID generation)

Let me preempt these comments by saying the following generalizations are not necessarily true of all members of my generation. They are, I believe, more prevalent in my generation than those who have come before us, however.
I just read Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier, way to build a successful web application by the guys over at 37signals. The book is smart, well-pointed, and a fun read the whole way through. However, one word stuck out in my mind after nearly every sentence: DUH!
The same word has gone through my head with every business book I've read recently: The Long Tail, The Tipping Point, Wikinomics, and nearly every Seth Godin book out there.
This mental commentary is not reflective of the authors; rather, it is reflective of the difference in mindset that a few years makes.
The readers of my generation don't need to be told that niches exist, that collaborative knowledge is powerful, or that breaking down barriers (including broad advertisements) between a company and customers can bring lots of benefits. DUH!
We know these things. We assume them. This is how our world works. All the processes that these books are built to break down, we never knew existed. We digest the world in snapshots and snippets, diving deeper into only the specific realms that pique our interests (for example, the reading I've enjoyed recently has involved the brain's cognition and processing of music and the many definitions and significances of infinity).
Take social networking for example: it took someone of my generation to get it right after other, slightly older tech geniuses got bogged down after building great promise. While many of us were frustrated with it's abrupt implementation, the Facebook News Feed proved to be the most significant feature of it's growth. Zuckerberg noticed that students were spending hours on Facebook digging through each others' profiles and walls trying to find out who had changed something recently or had a conversation with someone else recently.
We as humans seek transparency into the people and companies we care about. Due in large part to lack of technology, past generations rarely realized or acted upon this human urge--but why were newspapers started? Why have sit-coms succeeded? Why do tabloids make billions?
The personal focus, the focus on the individual, manifests itself in countless ways. There's the urge to participate, to make yourself feel like you made a difference--volunteering at a homeless shelter or contributing an entry on Wikipedia. There's the urge to get your personal message heard--sending Christmas cards or blogging or, most recently, Twittering. There's the urge to know what other individuals are up to, as noted above.
My generation recognizes this personal focus and has an understanding of the tools necessary (mostly web-related) to act. When we get stuck creating something for public use, we simply ask "What would I do?" and chances are pretty good that there are some other people out there of the same mindset--be it a large market or a niche one. And if asking WWID doesn't work, we look at who we want to reach and explore their wants, needs, and what they're doing. Then we go back to our drawing board and change accordingly.

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