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Fear and Loathing Online: Do people really want Xanadu?


Articles like this are increasing make me wonder: do people actually *want* real hypermedia, and would they use it if it were available to them? Look at the web: it is popular largely because it is relatively *static*, and even that popularity is waning. Click a few times, maybe type in a URL (though I've run into plenty of users who don't even know that it is possible to even do that; indeed, the AOL browser doesn't have an address bar by default, IIUC) and you get something that is pretty much indistinguishable from a glossy flier, or a newspaper article. Even simple interaction, like a menu bar, often throws users, I've found. Most don't want anything more than a faster way to read a newspaper or a mail-order catalog, it seems, and virtually *no* one wants to have to actually put any effort or thought into it - not even programmers, it seems. Thoughtfully designed interaction simply can't compete with mass-media crap, because the majority of users want to have everything handed to them without any effort. Xanadu may well be doomed, not because it isn't better, but because in the final analysis, it is simply more than most people want to bother with.

Sorry for such a down note, but I've been working tech support again, and it's a bit disturbing how little effort most people want to put into things. Now, a lot of that comes from the fact that current systems ask far too much from people, and promise more than they can provide; but I'm seeing a lot of people who find the idea that they have to *any* effort into *anything* offensive. Just doing a search, or sending e-mail, often elicits grumbling. It's *not* just that the current software does these thing poorly; it's that they want it all to be there without even that much effort. It's as if they were complaining that their refrigerator doesn't bring cook their food and bring it to them in the living room when they want it, immediately and without having to be asked. They don't want hypertext; they want magic. And the last thing, the very last thing, they want to have to do is *learn* anything. Maybe that's the real reason Xanadu won't catch on - it's all *about* learning and thinking and growing, things most people apparently respond to with fear and loathing.
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