Jon Udell, storytelling, and learning through imitation

Jon Udell visited Yahoo! last week to share some of his thoughts on language, visualization, and storytelling, among other things that all connected together in the end despite a seemingly random journey through his recent thoughts.  

One bit I really liked was his discussion on learning.  He talked about how human beings have an innate learning mechanism through imitation.  I've been thinking a lot about this recently as my 15-month old daughter is now reflecting back to us the words and signs we use to communicate.  Jon emphasized imitation as a way to communicate new user experiences on the Internet.

He talked a bit about in this context.  The social bookmarking concepts evolving from heavy users have incredible power and utility.  Jon said, " has changed my personal productivity more than anything else in the last 5 years."  

He went on to explain that the problem with wider adoption of is really about showing people how it works.  He said, "People don't know what they don't know."  Until you see someone else doing something that you didn't know about, you don't have any frame of reference for learning.

For concepts like subscribing to feeds or bookmarking with, you need really tight but very compelling stories that capture people's imaginations.  One of the more interesting storytelling vehicles to appear in the last 2 years is a Udell invention of sorts called screencasting.  His 'Heavy Metal Umlaut' screencast is the classic, the visual story that clarified to a lot of people, myself included, why Wikipedia is really something special.

The reason screencasting works, Jon argues, is because it gives you the opportunity to imitate.  You can be a voyeur of someone else's computer screen for a few minutes and watch what they're experiencing before applying it to your own experience.  His screencast was what converted me into a heavy user of the product and inspired me to convince staff at InfoWorld to join us in some experiments with the tool on the web site last year and to try some ideas in my own sandbox.

Similarly, he brought up the example of the Microsoft iPod packaging video on YouTube and the ACLU Pizza video which both visualized incredibly rich concepts through very tight and highly entertaining stories.  A screencast is worth a hundred MBA case studies.

Lots of thought-provoking stuff, as always.  I particularly liked the fact that all of his seemingly tangential thoughts were in fact loosley connected.  Just like the world he's evangelizing every day through his writing, his presentation swirled in one direction and another all the while routing in a random but purposeful direction back to the start.


Re: Jon Udell, storytelling, and learning through imitation
by ian kennedy on Wed 22 Mar 2006 07:20 PM EST

Slightly off topic but did you know that the Microsoft parody was actually an in-house effort?


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Jon Udell, storytelling, and learning through imitation