Tuesday, June 30, 2009

End of Indexes

I believe in Clay Shirky's "Law" : the social software most likely to succeed has “a brutally simple mental model … that’s shared by all users” [Michael Nielson].

I'm going to suggest that, for the average person, the mental model of the library is "free learning materials that I can use because I belong to a particular place or group".

I'm still working through the ramifications if I'm right about our users' collective mindset. Here's one particular consequence I'm giving serious consideration: libraries shouldn't provide indexes anymore. In libraryland lingo, its fulltext or bust and we let discovery happen at the network level.


Kristi said...

I'm not sure about this on a whole number of levels. The "law" sounds catchy, but to be honest I'm not sure its actually saying anything significant. Take Facebook, where I came across this post - reasonably successful, but in part at least because it's become a platform for app development and is repurposed in all sorts of complex ways that are NOT shared by all users. If you drilled down you could probably come up with a brutally simple mental model that is largely shared, but I'm not sure it would tell you anything significant about why Facebook works for its users. And even it did - would that necessarily be evidence that excising everything that wasn't congruent with that model in the strictest possible sense would improve the user experience?

Another example might be the I-Phone, which is at least as much a social media tool as the library is - it's achieved success not by paring down and only being a phone, but by being many things to many different users, and by letting users define their own preferred model, at their own preferred level of complexity - by customising with apps, for example. Which is why the IPhone's currently outperforming the Blackberry, which stuck for too long to its simple model of email only. My guess is that there is at least a subset of social media tools that succeed based not on simplicity, but on chaos - on crowdsourcing. There's probably generally a theme that links together the shifting functionalities and varying user groups of a successful chaotic-model social media tool - "sharing stuff with my friends" on
Facebook, "books and reading" on Librarything.

Just some random thoughts...

Mita said...

I would say that Facebook started out with a "brutally simple mental model" - it was the online equivalent of the print photo books already available at Harvard. And then, over time, it turned into a platform.

Now that I think about it, much of the most successful social software out there started as very simple single-purpose sites (Flickr, Twitter, LibraryThing) and then let others start building with and onto to them which then turned them into platforms.

So maybe we are both right?

Kristi said...

That sounds reasonable. "Start simple" as a reasonable development model isn't unique to social media, though.