We all want things made easier. Google has made knowledge fairly easy to access in some cases. Amazon has made products accessible like never before. You can jump on youtube and catch the best parts of movies, you can read blogs to get summaries of speeches or the news. No fuss no muss.
Seth Godin points out that this isn’t necessarily all good: Which Parts are You Skipping
Reading the cliff notes version of “Atlas Shrugged” won’t drive Rand’s point home. Sometimes you have to knuckle down and dig in for the long haul. Getting fast on a motorcycle is not something that happens overnight. It takes a lot of practice, work and patience.
Seth points out how our new rapid access to information is causing problems for marketers. If they can’t hook their audience quickly then the audience will move on. My point of view as a technician is that I don’t see a problem. My specific context is technical writing, consultant’s reports, technical books. The stuff all these authors are pumping out to Barnes & Noble, Amazon and occasionally on blogs.
Technical people, particularly programmers, suck at communication. Which is really funny when you look at what we do. As a programmer, or in my case an architect, our job is communication. For programmers it is talking to computers. For architects it is talking to programmers about how to talk to the computer. We suck at it.
Go to B&N and start flipping through the latest “C# 4.0 for Genius Savants”. It is probably three hundred pages long. Half of it is actually written prose, the rest of garbage sample code that is completely useless outside of the book. Focusing on the prose – for every ten pages there is maybe a full page of useful content. The rest? Burn it for all the value it delivers. The problem is: which nine pages do I burn? The page of useful stuff is scattered throughout the ten pages.
We take to long to make our points. Hour long user group presentations that contain five minutes of good content.
Why is it this way? Same reason those stupid “Consultant’s Reports” are three hundred pages long. We went to college and the professor told us he wanted a lab report that was thirty pages long talking about our titration experiment that took us a whole thirty minutes to do. Or English literature papers that were ten thousand words long talking about Princess De Cleve and the great chain of being. Huh? All that stuff had maybe two or three pages of interesting content. The rest? Filler.
So in response to Seth’s point – most of the stuff can be safely skipped. Authors (and marketers) have two choices:
1. Learn to come to a point quickly and deliver the details quickly
2. Learn how to tell an interesting story while doing #1.
Learning to tell interesting stories is too hard for most people. So learn to be brief.
And to drive the point home: this entire post could have been chopped down to the paragraph above.