We’re using that to share our thoughts and conversations, so that the people and ideas behind OnlineGroups.Net are more visible on our site.
Every month, a few of us meet up for dinner and geek conversation. We call it the Valley in Christchurch. Well, this month we were joined by a couple of actual valley guys, Peter Weck and Hans Brough from Simply Hired. They’re nice guys and we had an interesting conversation: interesting because it was mainly about us, and Christchurch and New Zealand. But we did find out a little about them, and to express their gratitude and generosity, they gave us tee shirts.
I am thinking about branding at OnlineGroups.Net right now, so I took particular interest in what they had on their tee shirts. I was impressed by the simplicity of the message: if you hate your job, then you’ll love our search. I figured that anyone would get that message, even without the graphics, and that even without the words, the graphics would get most the message across, too. I decided to test this with a four year old. I showed her the back of the tee shirt and asked “in this picture, who would you rather be, the elephant or the person?”.
“The elephant” she replied. Horrified, I asked why. “Because the elephant gets to stand on the stool”. Darn, that makes sense. Determined to salvage some dignity for us adults, I asked the same question about the picture on the front of the shirt. This time, she preferred to be the person. Why? “Because the person gets to hold the shovel.”
The complaint I most commonly hear from people whose tech-savvy loved one, or other tame geek, has attempted to help them learn to use a computer is:
They did everything so fast that I didn’t have a chance of figuring out what they were actually doing.
The cure for this is extremely simple:
Don’t let them touch the computer.
Not the mouse, not the keyboard, and not even the screen. This forces the geek to find a way of assisting you to do the things that need to be done. Advanced users of this technique can even try not letting the geek point. Make them describe things in terms that you actually understand. Obviously this can be difficult so they will need to begin by taking an interest in you.
Tell me what you are trying to achieve.
Describe what you see on the screen.
Bear in mind that this does not apply to consulting. There are times when you want your geek to make the computer work, and to set it up to work in useful ways. Getting your internet connection configured, for example. So let them work away on the computer until it’s done. Make sure they tell you why they are doing stuff, but never mind about what or how.
How do you know whether it’s a matter for training or consulting? Simple again.
If it needs to be done more than once a week, it’s training.
Once you know all the stuff that needs to be done more than once a week, extend the period out to a month.
All jobs in the World are some combination of three basic jobs.: geekery, wrangling and bitching. Actually, there is only one job: geeking and wrangling your way out of bitching.
All jobs require domain knowledge. It does not only apply to computing. It applies to building, opera singing and housework. In each case, particular knowledge is required to do the job properly. Which kinds of fastenings work best with particular materials. The historical and cultural context of a song. The cleaning product that is most effective for each surface. And why.
Domain knowledge doesn’t make things happen. Engaging and organising people, resources, and yourself, does. Managing materials, staff and contractors. Getting to the front of the stage and relating with the audience. Vacuuming without unplugging the vacuum cleaner. Wrangling is mainly learned though experience.
Bitching requires neither technical knowledge or leadership. You do it so that geeks and wranglers don’t have to.
Roles at OnlineGroups.Net
We are typical. Michael is Geek and I’m Wrangler. We both do plenty of each other’s job, and a fair bit of bitching, but we specialise. Alice recently joined us to do ‘support’ (you can’t write ‘bitching’ in a job ad). But her job is really to geek and wrangle herself out of bitching. No-one likes doing it, you don’t learn much and it’s not worth much. But if you systemise and automate enough, there’s hardly any to do. Our strategy is to sell high value services, systemise them and sell lots, and then give them away, growing new people up through those layers.
One of my new year’s passions is to be gentle with my body. If you use a computer a lot, and want to be gentle with your body too, use the mouse with your left hand. It hurts less. I am about to present two compelling reasons for this. I believe they are irrefutable (please tell me, if you think you can refute them). And it only takes a day or so to switch. I can go both ways now, but use my left hand far more than the right, even though I am right-handed.
Mouse and Keyboard in the Right Place
You use your Right Hand More on the Keyboard than your Left
Most keyboards have navigation keys, and a numeric keypad. Because these almost always protrude to the right of the keyboard, the right hand gets to operate these (and ‘backspace’), as well as its share of the alphabetical character keys. If you use your right hand for the mouse as well, your poor right hand is dashing all over the place, while the left sits idle. Give your left hand a share of the work. You can’t move the navigation and numeric keys, but you can move the mouse.
Mouse a Long way to the Right
There is More Room for the Mouse to the Left of the Keyboard than to the Right
If you like to have the alphabetical keys equally easy to reach by your right and left hands, the navigation and numeric keys already stick out to the right, leaving a mousepad sized gap to the left. If you use the mouse with your right, you must reach even further to the right.
Keyboard to the Left
I am working with Ron Kjestrup of Plains FM to launch an online public issues forum in Canterbury.
We’re going to use the approach taken by E-Democracy.Org and in the public issues forums in Minneapolis, St Paul and Roseville, Minnesota and in Newham and Brighton & Hove in the UK. OnlineGroups.Net has worked closely with Steven Clift and Tim Erickson from E-Democracy.Org as they have used GroupServer for all their online groups over the last few years.
The next step is to set up an independent and non-partisan steering team to support the forum. We are holding a public meeting for people who are interested in participative edemocracy, to introduce them to the public issues forum concept and to form a steering team.
If you are local, please support this initiative by publicising the meeting to people who are advocates for public participation in the democratic process. You can print and display this notice about the meeting (PDF, 37kb). And if you are interested in eDemocracy, please come along.
Although this project will help to build the profile of OnlineGroups.Net, it’s not commercially driven. I am doing it because I think it’s a good idea and I’d like to see it succeed.