The Importance of Audience

One of the most disturbing things about the Web 2.0 Summit
in San Francisco last October (aside from the small number of women in
attendance) was a panel discussion by what one might call “average
users.” The theme of this year’s Summit was “Discovering the Web’s
Edge.” The organizers took that theme and explored the edges of gaming,
technology, social networking, and–in this case–the edge of the Web’s
users. Namely, older users (at the mid-to-high end of the baby boomer

The panel consisted of three men and two women and began as good, clean fun. One of the couples already had a YouTube presence,
which was discovered partway through the panel and then broadcast on
the big screen to the delight of the audience. The facilitator asked
questions about how they used the Internet which, not surprisingly,
consisted mostly of emailing, personal ads, and Craigslist–which one
user had recently discovered and was extremely excited about. Her
excitement was amusing to everyone. (In fact, she seemed to think
Craigslist was the Internet.)

But, what started out as a few giggles from the audience over one
user’s Craigslist enthusiasm soon grew into uproarious laughter over
just about everything that came out of the panelists’ mouths. At that
point, we looked at each other in horror and realized that the audience
was no longer laughing with this panel, but at them.
Everything at the Summit up until then had been a lot of preaching to
the choir: designers and developers talking to each other, about each
other and for each other. At that moment, the Summit audience should
have been listening more closely than ever. Sure, some of the
panelists’ statements sounded naive or silly or uniformed. But, like it
or not, these “technically impaired” users represent a far greater
portion of our audience than those that are more “like us.”

It’s easy to insulate ourselves from the real world and ignore the
needs of the average user. But, we’re not building experiences for each
other, we’re building them for a particular target. And we would
venture to guess that 9 times out of 10 a target audience is made up of
those “average” users. As developers, we run the risk of contributing
to the lack of usability on the web by building for ourselves in spite
of the research or user information we uncover in the process. Admit
it. We’re all guilty of it. You want your clients to “think outside of
the box” or grasp your brilliant “creative.” We’ve heard more than one
irritated Creative Director suggest, at one time or another, that the
client just doesn’t “get” the big idea or can’t possibly embrace this
cutting edge technology? We know they are out there. We’ve worked with

Yes, we have a responsibility to push our clients to think about
their business and the Internet in ways that may seem new and
unexplored. But, at the end of the day its not really about them, or
us; its about the user. The user that thinks that Craig’s List is the
internet. We don’t work with the average user. We’re barely aware of
them any more. We gorge ourselves on the latest trends as dictated by
our favorite blogs and news sources and summits and conferences and we
get farther and farther away from that user. But who says we’re really
the experts and we get to decide what’s bleeding edge? We’re just as
guilty of insulating ourselves by reading the same blogs, the same
feeds, using the same technology and not exploring anything outside of
our technological comfort zone. This leads to an unhealthy sense of
what’s happening in the world around us and what our mission as
creators of Interactive experiences is really about.

So, does every site need to be created with your mom (or grandma) in
mind? No. But we need to make real efforts to define and understand our
site audiences — even when their technology skills may not be as good
as ours. There are generations of people that aren’t “here” yet. But
that doesn’t make them stupid. If we don’t reach them, we’re missing
out on a significant faction of our commercial targets. And we’re doing
our clients a disservice by not reaching their intended audience.

[cross-posted at the MIMA blog

Technology Purge

As part of my resolutions for the New Year, I’ve decided to do a technology purge. This may sound odd, coming from a self-described "geek girl," but let me explain:

I recently read a post at 43Folders where Merlin Mann was describing the stress he felt about trying to keep up with his RSS feeds. Someone rightly criticized him because the stress was self-imposed and as such, was rather silly.

This got me thinking. I’m pretty good about keeping my RSS feeds culled down to only the ones I really want to read, but I realized that there are other pieces of technology that I’m either using, or abusing, to my own detriment. So, below is an audit of the technology I use: what’s gotta stay, and what’s gotta go:


Last year, I blogged about Twitter and got several friends and co-workers using it. At first, I thought it was sort of a fun little thrill. A few co-workers and I used it. But, very quickly, it became a burden. A few people I was following began tweeting about every move they made. Literally. I’ve started to realize that I am getting no value at all from this application, aside from being distracted every time someone decides to type, "I’m sleepy."
Verdict: Jury’s still out. But it’s on my shit list.


While Future Tense recently blogged about the fact that the younger generation views email as old-school and too slow, for this old dinosaur email is a vital daily tool. I not only use it to communicate with colleagues and family members, I use my emailboxes to manage my to-do’s, random stuff I want to read, things I’m waiting for. I centralize 6 different accounts into my MacBook’s Mail app, and now use it to track most of my RSS feeds, too.
Verdict: Can’t live without it.


My personal blog is sorely neglected. Frankly, so is my work blog (but we’re working on updating it and getting it rolling again). However, I do find that I get some amount of value out of blogging. I like that it gives my far-flung family a window into my life (and my kid’s life). I like that I can look back on what I was thinking or doing months or years ago. Professionally, I’m starting up this venture with Nancy, and am also making efforts to revive the Clockwork blog (once that’s done I’ll link to it here).
Verdict: I’m bringing blogging back.

Social Networking

This is the one I’ve really got a bee in my bonnet about. Where to begin? Let’s start with the one I’ve already purged: Friendster. I signed up for this when it was still a beta. It seemed intriguing at first, and of course I ran off to find everyone I knew and link them up. Then I kind of forgot about it. I remembered I had a profile when I was Googling myself (hey, a girl’s gotta keep an eye on her online identity!) and realized that another site was scraping profiles and aggregating them. Time to kill my long-neglected and never-used Friendster profile. My crosshairs are on MySpace, but I haven’t pulled the plug because once in a blue moon I’ll get a MySpace event invitation that actually sounds cool or fun. I have to keep Facebook one, mostly because…well, all the cool kids are doing it. But, I’ll publicly admit that I don’t quite "get it." The sole purpose of Facebook appears to be stealing my time. And steal my time it has. To minimize this, I rarely respond to "vampire bites" or the like and have removed most of the useless apps that I installed on a whim at some point.
Verdict: Some will stay, others must go.


Aside from the burning hell that is known as AT&T mobile service, I love my iPhone. It has made my life easier and continues to do so. I’m able to keep my phone easily synced with my calendar, check email, get maps and keep myself entertained on flights with videos and music on iTunes. Finding directions and coffee in other cities is so incredibly easy, that I don’t know how I lived without this thing. Now, if only AT&T could manage not to drop my calls several times a day…
Verdict: I’m in love.