Forget Aunt Tilly

The Old Lady was resting
Photo by Victor on Flickr

There’s this concept of “Aunt Tilly” in the world of software and technology, where people often use the argument of “Aunt Tilly wouldn’t understand it!” to explain why some new idea/concept/software won’t work.

Aunt Tilly is sometimes the reason things become simplified and easier to use, but I also think the Aunt Tilly argument is used inappropriately.

For instance, you could say “Cameras are too confusing! Aunt Tilly can’t figure out how to use them!” as an argument that an easy-to-use camera is the the camera everyone should have. My complaint here is that while an easy-to-use camera is, easy to use, it’s not always the best camera for the job. There are point-and-shoot cameras, and there are DSLR cameras, and there are cameras like the Flip Video (or the Kodak Zi8) and there are cameras like the RED ONE. The DSLR and the RED ONE are not as easy to use, but they are powerful tools, and sometimes powerful tools have a learning curve, and that’s OK.

I can hand a point-and-shoot camera to someone and explain it in less than a minute, while a DSLR takes a bit more time to learn and become familiar with. This is fine. There should be a spectrum of knowledge and skills for such things.

This recent Advertising Age story We Tried to Resolve the Google+ Issue on Google Wave but… uses the Aunt Tilly argument, and I think it’s flawed:

Dear Aunt Tilly isn’t on Google+. She’s too busy playing “Farmville.” Sure, she signed up for Twitter, but she never used it. There was so much going on! Google+ confuses her. Is it Google Plus or Google Plus Sign?

While I’m often called an early adopter in the technology world, I’ve seen plenty of people who started on networks like Twitter or Facebook (or even Google+) not exactly sure what it was, or why they were there, or what they should do, and over time some of them “got it” and became experts, utilizing every aspect of these services, and becoming so comfortable with them, it’s like they’d been using them since the beginning of time.

If Aunt Tilly doesn’t use Google+, and just stays over at Facebook playing games, that’s fine with me. If she sends me a message via Facebook, I’ll probably still get it. Personally though, I’m finding way more signal than noise on Google+, and way more noise than signal on Facebook. Will that change in the future? Maybe… I’m willing to stick around and find out, and if the Aunt Tillys of the world don’t join me, I’m fine with that.

(And for the record, I’m one early adopter who thought Google Wave served no real purpose. Then again, I still believe email is useful.)

July 25, 2011 · Posted by in photo, social media, video  

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