The problem is, it’s 1994 again. Back then, I would meet someone whose business or life or project would really work a lot better with this new Web stuff, and I’d try to tell them about it, and they’d get this blank look and say “Well, we really don’t have time to investigate speculative new technologies right now, we have to get the job done”—or something of a similarly “go away, don’t bug me kid” nature—and this would make me crazy. It’s happening again, twice in the last month, only what I was telling them about was RSS. The question is: how do we explain it to people who don’t need know that they need to know?
One example was a group inside Thomson Publishing who provide frequently-updated high-value information feeds to people who pay big bucks to get at it. Set it up so it shows up in their browser when it gets updated, what’s not to like? The story didn’t seem to find any resonance, the way I told it.
This week, I’m in Washington talking to people in dozens of different Federal Government departments, quite a few of whom have recently been reorganized into the Department of Homeland Security. These people live and die by what they know, and the smart ones are genuinely thinking in terms of an information ecology. But when I tell them they could arrange to have the downstream end show up friction-free, via the browser, with no expensive software, they aren’t visibly reacting.
The trouble is, when I was trying to convince people that they could use the Web, I could just show them a few interesting sites and most people got it pretty quick. RSS is so personalized, though, that your set of feeds, or mine, are not apt to impress the person you’re talking to unless they’re a lot like you.
I’m not in the slightest dissing the people I was talking to: when I explain something to someone and they don’t get it, that’s my problem, not theirs. So I’d genuinely welcome—and I think it would be good for all of us—some discussion of how we can do a better job of explaining what it is we’re up to here and why it matters.