Convince the Convincers

Geek-tastic glasses! by SteffanyF! on Flickr

Audrey Watters recently wrote a piece for ReadWriteWeb, looking at Diaspora, and questioning the general value of including technical details in a product pitch. Her position is immediately comprehensible: a typical user or investor simply isn’t interested in most of the technical details. In her words:

Investors and customers are probably not all that interested in, for example, the intricacies of how you plan to use JSON to handle your payload. They need to know that your product works and works well, and just as importantly, you need to show them why they’d want to use it.

On one level, she’s absolutely correct. Many of the interested parties don’t have the technical chops for such technical jargon to be particularly meaningful. They probably won’t read the technical descriptions; if they do, the technical information will be neither useful nor persuasive. However, it is important to include the geeky bits. In fact, the geeky bits play a crucial role in persuading even lay users.

Non technical folks may not get the geeky bits, but they’re not fools. They understand that there’s something important to the technical specs. Most of them have surely used enough systems that just don’t quite work to know that technical features can make or break a product. However, they also know that they can’t parse the technical info. What they can do, is read the opinions of technical folks that they trust. If the tech specs are up to scratch, the technically-minded are likely to comment on it. Part of the buzz for Diaspora comes from geeks, squints, and quants backing up it’s free, open and secure anti-facebook credentials.

That’s how tech specs persuade the non-technical. Incomprehensible tech-speak is parsed by techs, and converted into human readable conclusions, commentary, and recommendations. Non-geeks read their favourite geek blogs, and evaluate the spread of opinions on a project or product. By the time they read the project’s pitch, they don’t need to attempt to decode the jargon: its already been translated for them.

This doesn’t mean that jargon-only pitches are a good idea, far from it. A better approach is to present varying levels of geekery to your readers, and let them choose what they want – like the Creative Commons does with its licenses. Each license has a simple, human-readable front page. Those with the appropriate skills, time, and curiosity can click through and see the legalese in all its fear-inspiring glory.

The same idea works for other projects and products: provide a human-readable abstract, but let the geeks poke around in the technical descriptions, warts and all. Who knows, maybe they can see a problem you missed, or fix a flaw that was stumping you. In any case, the principle is the same: include the technical details. They may not convince all your readers, but they will convince the convincers.

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About flamsmark

I do privacy at Mozilla. Years of security have left me incurably paranoid. Tech, policy, security, privacy, & anonymity are good. Open is better. GPG: 80AF07D3
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