Assuming Too Much About The Web We See

I wouldn't call it disappointment, but rather a dose of reality.  I spent the last week in Las Vegas at the Community 2.0 conference and with my family thereafter.  Coming back, I must say that the trip gave me some much-needed perspective. Let me explain.

We work from home.  We make videos, we put them on the Web, people watch them.  We track our views, our Technorati links, our mentions in Twitter, our blog comments. A good percentage of people we see in social situations in Seattle are aware of our work.  Most of the email we receive is about the videos and of course, it dominates our discussions at home.  This is all misleading and a bit unhealthy.

It's too easy to start making assumptions - assumptions about general awareness, about the number of people who really know what's happening in "our" online world.  Viewed from the comfort of our living room, bookmarked pages and social circles, the Web looks pretty small and awareness looks pretty big.  It's too easy to assume that people have heard about the tools and sites we use everyday.

But they haven't. In real terms, no one has. I look at Las Vegas as a cross section of the US.  At any moment there are people from every state and many countries.  They are the General Public in a lot of ways.  I sat back and asked myself - forgetting Common Craft - do these people know about Twitter?  Has Flickr become part of their world?  What about wikis, do they care?  Are they using RSS readers?  My completely anecdotal evidence says the answer is no.  In our own little online world, it's too easy to assume they do.

I'm writing this because I've caught myself assuming too much lately and I'm hoping for new perspectives.  While we spend so much time debating the merits of Twitter (for example), there is literally a world of people who are still perplexed by the basics of computers and the Web.

In terms of Common Craft, there is still so much work to be done and now the challenge seems even greater.  We can't assume that we've reached any sort of milestone.  The race is long and we've only taken the first few steps. 

Our challenge, you included, is to remember that our web-based world can become a deceptive echo chamber.  We may think we're creating awareness and change, but until our work, our ideas can get outside the chamber and impact people walking around Las Vegas, I fear that we're just talking to ourselves.