Trying and using

Most product reviews are based on trying something, not using something. That’s why many reviews are pretty thin or don’t get to the core essence of the product. The real deep knowledge of a product can only come from using it. Using it is what reveals greatness or failure on an intimate level.

Jason Fried, The difference between trying something and using something on the Signal vs Noise blog published by 37 Signals.

This short blog post, together with the thoughtful comments it attracted over four days, could be used as a starter for discussion about communities of practice and vicarious learning. I think that things, devices, with features that are obvious like old style cameras and radios (a few buttons, each performing a single function) can be quickly evaluated as they are designed to do one thing. A software based application often mirrors a process or provides a large range of functions that cannot all be visually linked to ‘buttons’ – just try switching on all the toolbars in MS Excel.

In the comments, Colin said

As a kid, after the first half hour of use I was thoroughly convinced Photoshop was the least useful piece of software in existence.

It wasn’t until a few months later when I watched my mother use a few times that I started to turn on to the idea of it.

In his case, mother was his ‘community of practice’ and the fact he could see her using Photoshop to achieve things and that he could see how she was achieving things was important.

Richard says

Later I talked with Bill Atkinson about [HyperCard’s wide use] and he humbly said that he was blown away by how many people were working at the scripting level of the software, he hadn’t expected it but was pleasantly surprised. I asked him why he thought so many people went deep and got hooked and he said many of the things said above: users could get traction easily and they could easily share their work with others leading to more learning.

So a piece of software offers surface usefulness but has hidden depths that allow much stronger uses to be ‘discovered’, and again there is a forum in which ideas can be exchanged. Like the village marketplace in a region where crafts are practiced?

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