At 12:00 AM -0800 2/2/97, Brad Knowles wrote:
> But, taking my AOL hat off now, how would you educate a large
>user community like this? I mean, the average Usenet poster seems
>quite clueless enough (give most of the posts I've read and personal
>email messages I get from people asking me to solve their problem for
>them), and quite incapable of reading the amazingly complete and
>accurate array of information that can be found in the FAQ archives.
>I mean, you can lead a user to the FAQ Archives, but you can't make
>them drink from the Font of Knowledge or the Well of Wisdom.
> How, then, do we educate a community of users that is even more
>clueless than this average?
> Does anyone have any ideas?
Okay, I've sat on this a few days (I know, I know, that's against the
Internet way of immediate response followed by endless followups as you
think it through.... grin), and I have a few thoughts.
Some of this is in generalities, to bring up the ideas so that people
can flesh them out (or alternatively, grind the bones into flour....)
First, let me set what I consider the key issues are:
1) help the user learn to use the tools and find the information
they're looking for.
2) don't make it so easy that the user gets in over their head and
drowns. Users should not start theri swimming career with the english
channel, yet too often, we don't post the right signs on the beach.
3) when a user DOES get in over their head, give them some tools to
help them get saved (or even better, save themselves).
Some thoughts on how I'd design this, just as a jumping off point.
First, the place where users go to find mailing lists on AOL should not
take them directly to the lists. Instead, it should take them to a
table of contents page that has documentation and other reference
points and help, and a second step take them to the directory:
1) BEFORE YOU SIGN UP FOR MAILING LISTS -- BASIC FACTS YOU NEED TO KNOW
2) USE AND ABUSE OF MAIL LISTS
3) PROPER MAILING LIST MANNERS
4) TOO MUCH MAIL? CAN'T GET OFF A LIST? WHAT TO DO (AND NOT DO)
5) CONTACT THE AOL MAIL LIST OMBUDSMAN.
6) SEARCH THE MAIL LIST DIRECTORY.
Now, we won't make them read this. In fact, that's not my intent. What
*is* my intent is that when they come to this page and skip on by,
enough will sink in that they'll come back to the page when they DO
have problems. Some will actually read some of the material before they
skip through to the directory page (this implies that you can *not* go
to the directory directly, or people will... A case of making things
*too easy* and thereby causing, not solving, problems).
Second, make sure the directory entries have really good unsubscribe
instructions -- higher profile than subscribe and hopefully easier to
find. Make sure the basic facts include how to find out what lists your
how, common contact points for list admins (postmaster@, info@,
etc...), strategies for handling e-mail load and warnings about busy
lists, that sort of stuff.
Third, point five above: the mail list ombudsman. This may, in fact,
simply be the AOL postmasters, but make it very visible and prominent
that there is someone on AOL staff who, if a user is having problems
with a list, that they can go to who'll step in and help. It's pretty
clear from what I've seen that many of these folks don't know who to
turn to -- so give them someone. That person can give them advice,
steer them to instructions, walk them through things, and if necessary,
step in the middle and contact list admins for the user and help get
things done. handholding and babysitting, but mostly, it's a
sympathetic ear and some choice pieces of advice for people who are
simply lost and don't know what steps to take.
In fact, I'll bet that the AOL postmasters already do this to some
degree or another. It's just that the users don't know they do, or how
to contact them. I've talked to a number of users who just sit deleting
mail, because until my address probe popped up, they didn't know what
to do. ("I've been trying to get off this list for, and nothing's
worked" -- well, did you write postmaster? Did you get the
instructions? Did you.... -- "Um... who?"). Make this function as
visible as possible, so they know they can go if they get overwhelmed
or in trouble.
That's what I've come up with -- punch up the documenation and put it
in their faces. They may not read it, but they should, at least,
recognize it's there so that if something starts going wrong, they can
at least browse it. Don't give them a path around the documentation, so
they're forced to at least subconsciously register it's existance. And
give them a human outlet to go to if they get in trouble, and make that
outlet as visible and high-profile as you can.
I think that goes a long way towards dealing with the issues, at least
as a first cut. From what I've seen, users have gone to a directory,
found out just enough to subscribe, and when it wasn't what they were
expecting, didn't know what to do. Eventually they give up, or they
lash out, or they start screaming. Raising the profile of the
documentation helps on one level by giving them better access to the
tools if they want to dig themselves out, and giving them a panic
button, so to speak, will deal with the other side of those who can't
dig themselves out of the hole and need someone to help.
Chuq Von Rospach (chuq @
com) Apple IS&T Mail List Gnome
Plaidworks Consulting (chuqui @
(<http://www.plaidworks.com/hockey/> +-+ The home for Hockey on the net)