, , , ,

Now in my line of work I fight an endlessly losing battle against people who are trying to make the un-hip hip and the terminally boring palatable.

“We must,” comes the endless cry, “drive people to engage with us, with our information.”

Me: “Why?”

Information is the currency of the twenty-first century. We love it, we create it, we manage (and mis-manage) it, we gorge on it or glory in our lack of it. If I want to know who a minor recurring character in The West Wing was (see my previous post regarding Wikipedia) I can find out in seconds what it might have taken days to discover only twenty years ago. Not only can I find out, I can know the character’s middle name, home state and preference in toilet paper.

(Incidentally, I’ve never been able to get that concept out of my head after coming across it in a marketing questionnaire. “What is your preference in toilet paper?”. Well, since you ask, my preference is that there should be some.)

And this sort of stuff is cool and funky and very with it. Knowing tiny snippets of pointless information can make you a hit at parties, or more importantly , make you look trendy in front of teenagers (which, once you get over thirty, is a huge and incalculable point of pride.) However, what’s not cool and funky or indeed with it is the vast amount of information that many organisations think we should have. For every bit of wiki-fun that we want to read, there’s three hundred official documents that we don’t. And no amount of being driven to engage with it is going to make this sort of information fun. Yes, I am even talking to you, Google, you the princes of the friendly conversational style when discussing changes in security policies. Generally speaking, unless an NPC in World of Warcraft (other MMORGs are available, please check your stockist for details) starts spouting it, you’re still not going to get through to your user base. And even that’s debatable because who listens to NPCs, anyway?

Now, I know what you’re thinking: I’ve honestly not got the wrong title on this post. I started thinking about this whole issue because of classical music, and the increasing desperation of various agencies to try and make classical music accessible. Rather than “Why” I’m now almost plaintively going to say “Don’t.”

Don’t do it. Your product is unique. It has a USP. And that USP may be that it’s structured and stodgy and non-hip and useful and painfully accurate, like most of the information large companies pump out. That doesn’t make it bad. It has a place, the same as everything has a place, and pushing it out of its place into a place where it shouldn’t go is going to end badly for all concerned. (Ask the night staff in any hospital emergency room for examples of this in action.)

Classical music is my drug of choice when I’m writing or researching. It does things to my synapses that pop can’t reach. I like that it is different, that it is not attached to the cult of celebrity, that I don’t have to see Luigi Boccherini gyrating on MTV with his back-up entourage of nearly naked women painted up to look like cellos. And if that makes me any of the following:

  • Your nan
  • A boring old fart
  • An upperclass twit
  • The Queen
  • An upperclass twit who is also your nan
  • Brian Sewell

I’m prepared to live with it. Except the Brian Sewell option.