Monday night—as I was driving home from work, making dinner, and puttering about the house—I listened to The City Club
's podcast of their June 14th 2006 forum featuring Blake Ross
, inventor of Firefox
While I've been subscribed to The City Club's podcast's for quite awhile, I thought Blake's talk might be of interest to you because many of the ideas he applies to program development also apply to Web development.
Blake Ross, a 21-year old student and developer, realized some time ago that programmers can't work in a vacuum; instead of focusing inwardly on their code, they need to understand the regular users of the world—people like his parents and grandparents. This was the attitude he brought to the development of Firefox. For those few of you who don't already know, Firefox—a spinoff of Mozilla—is the most standards-compliant Web browser available.
It is an open-source application that is not only the preferred browser among the tech crowd, but also quite popular among the less technical who use it. If you are still using the Web browser that came with your computer or that was provided through your Internet service provider, I highly recommend giving Firefox a try
. It is very easy to use, displays Web pages properly (if they are coded properly), includes nifty features such as tabbed browsing, and is quite adept at preventing those nasty little pop-up windows that breed so readily in some other browsers.
One of the reasons this product has turned out so well is that developers from around the globe have been sharing input, ideas, bugs and solutions throughout the development process. Regular end users have been able to share their input as well. Instead of building something that would simply outfeature the competition, the development team built what users said they needed. And, when the users got what they needed, they told all of their friends, neighbors, and strangers on the street.
In his talk Blake mentions the disdain developers often have for marketers, but as it has turned out they themselves have become enormously successful at viral marketing. Word has spread very well; even the words I type right now are contributing to that process.
I think we can apply similar models to developing our Web sites. As I've mentioned before, it is important to learn what the end user expects to find on the site. It is equally important that we understand what our colleagues in our departments wish to communicate through our sites. While we don't need to commission expensive surveys or focus groups to do this, we do need to communicate with the relevant parties.
And when all is said and done, and our site is ready, we need to get the word out and let people know how to find it. If you listen to Blake Ross's podcast, I think you'll get some ideas on how to do just that.
In case you missed it, I also recommend the City Club's May 05, 2006 forum featuring Dr. Vinton G. Cerf, VP and Chief Internet Evangelist, Google, Tracking the Internet into the 21st Century. Among other things, he offers great clarity on the Net Neutrality issue.