Friday, October 9, 2009

Taking the geek out of tech

One of the best things about using Blogger is that, on the whole, what you write is what you get. You don't need to learn any codes to write your blog and as a result it's highly popular. There are now so many similarly user friendly applications that we have grown to expect full transparency. But things are not always so easy.

I enjoyed reading a post on Lisa's Teaching Blog, Four web technologies that shouldn't be geeky anymore, where she lists RSS, wikis, tagging and embedding as four technologies that should be much easier. They are all extremely useful but in most cases remain relatively inaccessible due to what she sees as unneccessary complexities.

RSS, for instance, is probably my most important tool at work. I use Netvibes to gather hundreds of feeds. I find it easy to use but it still involves the process of finding the RSS button on an interesting website (not so easy even on popular sites), copying the link and then pasting it into Netvibes. One click should do it. RSS is one of the most useful web services around, especially for teachers and researchers, but very few that I know use it. It just hasn't been adequately hyped I suppose. The name doesn't help either. "Really Simple Syndication" - yes, quite.

Wikis are widely used but I also wonder if they couldn't just design them so we could dispense with the few codes and symbols they use. One teacher I know tried to get students to use MediaWiki but they found it too complicated, lost interest and solved the task using other tools. It's not that complicated but for many people the mere sight of coding turns them off instantly. The easiest wiki tool I've used is PBworks which hasn't so far required me to write any code at all.

Of course I admit that these problems could simply be down to my own reluctance to learn the finer points but the four technologies mentioned here might be much more widespread if they were just a bit more straightforward.

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