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Monday, March 01, 2010

Does the Big Question Make Sense Anymore?

I’ve been facilitating the Big Question on ASTD’s Learning Circuit’s blog since sometime in 2006.  Last month’s big question was Instruction in a Information Snacking Culture?  The question was all about how we consume and work with information:

People seem to be spending less time going through information in depth and less willing to spend time on information. We seem to be snacking on information, not consuming it in big chunks.

In Stop Reading - Skim Dive Skim and that seems to be how people consume blog posts much more these days. I've also noticed a trend towards more twitter mentions of blog posts, but less deep commenting behavior much less thoughtful blog responses.

One of the comments was really telling:

Reading this blog has been an example of snacking for me.

I am very interested in the post and thoughts it provokes and read down the comments (skimmed) but when it came to links to other blogs I did not use them.

And since many of the responses provided (in comments and via blog posts) suggested that snacking is just fine, it seems hypocritical to say - “Well that kind of defeats a key purpose of the Big Question.”  But it does (and I am).  The point is for us to have an exchange of ideas around a topic.  But if no one reads the responses or exchanges ideas, then what’s the point?

I personally still feel like I get value.  If there are some meaningful responses to this month’s question Open Content in Workplace Learning?, I will likely learn a lot.  Please still do respond to it.  And if you don’t know about Open Content – take this as an opportunity to learn.

Still I have to wonder if we need to revisit the approach and value proposition.  Maybe we need to look at other ways of doing this?

Thoughts, suggestions?


jay said...

You can't please all of the people all of the time. That does not invalidate The Big Question, a series I both enjoy and learn from.

Cody said...

It is like reading the newspaper. People skim to find the stuff that jumps out at them. We are all victim to the 'Skimmer' at some point. However, I agree with Jay in that you can't please everyone. You put all this time into writing your ideas in a drawn out plan, but you can't make people read the whole thing. All you can do is hope.

Anonymous said...

I think the fact that people are skimming through information can mean two things. Either we are becoming more ignorant and lazy, or we are actually becoming more curious and thirsty for knowledge. I truly hope the latter is closer to the truth. I am a person who loves to learn about anything. I believe life is too short not to take the opportunity to explore new information and develop your thinking through interaction with others alike. But I admit being guilty for not so much skimming through information, but rather developing a system to try to absorb as much information daily as possible. This of course requires my brain to process knowledge at a faster speed. I also have to be highly selective and analytical when it comes to choosing which information I should retain. I would like to think my 'system' works, but it also inevitably leads to a situation where I cannot wholly focus on a specific subject. It is sad that we have to choose between quantity of our knowledge and profoundly understanding everything we know.

Tony Karrer said...

@Jay - good point, but that said - I've not seen you contribute in a long time. Do you read them? Do you get value? How could I create value for you?

@Cody - there's hope and there's trying to design things the best you can.

@finnscanblog - I want to be clear that I'm not expecting everyone to dive into great depth - skimming is perfectly valid and something I encourage - but if people don't even go look at the blog posts, I feel I must have a bad design.

Maybe a question I should ask is how much referral traffic there is from the Big Question off to individual blogs?

Justin Mass said...

People engage with content that resonates with them on some level. I'm constantly searching for experts, which means constantly perusing blog after blog after blog.

Add in the fact that I prefer a diversity of perspectives on any given topic and it's hard to stay put on one blog or author for too long before something they say doesn't resonate with me, or worse still, totally turns me off.

In a world of experts, I look toward those that don't comment on everything broadly, but instead those that comment succinctly, artfully on a few topics extraordinarily well.

It makes perfect sense that we are consuming smaller and smaller bits. We're looking for gems, brief nuggets of brilliance to drive our own thinking in the moment. Longer, more verbose, over-analysis, is better left for magazine articles and books. We don't hold the internet in our hands, we touch it with our fingertips, fleetingly. And when we grow tired or bored of something, we move on quickly without looking back.

Bloggers that spend too much time trying to meet post quotas, to remain in the constant stream of currency, trying to stay fresh in reader's minds, do so at their own peril. I, as I think most do these days, prefer a bite here and a bite there, and I'll always come back for another taste if it's worth it...

Jeff said...

I look forward to the Big Question every month and post responses on my blog as much as I can. Not only do I read and learn from others' responses, but it often challenges me to reflect deeper on my own knowledge of the topic, or lack there of.

For what it's worth, I would certainly miss the Big Question and the great responses I have been reading each month.

Kevin Thorn said...

I'll be the first to admit I'm a skimmer. I have over 300 blogs in my feed cataloged in different personal and professional interests. It's all I can do to keep my own blog updated regularly, let alone being virtually impossible to read every new post of all those blogs every day.

There are several blogs at the top of my list that are daily, weekly, and monthly blogs that quench my thirst for knowledge. The Big Question is one that I have come to depend on.

I don't comment every month, but I do read and I do read the comments. Often times I may see a commenter I've not seen before that prompts me to check their blog...and I'll comment on their blog in response to their response to the Big Question :)

So you see, we're here; we read; we consume; we enjoy!

Tony Karrer said...

@Justin, @Jeff, @Kevin - thanks for your input. It's helpful.

Andrzej said...

I will not answer the question "Does the Big Question Make Sense Anymore?", but express an opinion about superficial attitude towards any content. For me it is plain and simple. Most of things that we produce and learn today have very short shelf life. It is so hard to determine what is going to have lasting impact and stay with us for a while. It seems that whatever we buy or learn lately is just a buzz of today. As a result it is important for us to be selective deciding what we are spending time on and how much of mental space we give it. In fact I think that because of the escalation of the pace of product and knowledge depreciation the biggest challenge for us today is find methods to help prioritize and find things that matter.

Unknown said...

Tony, I don't have proof of this, but my guess is that regular followers of blogs skim. However, when someone lands on a blog entry that answers a question they have, they read.

Paul Angileri said...

Well for my part, I find the monthly Big Q a good topic to at least think about. I've only responded to a few of them lately (including March's), but I do at least read it. This month's Big Q is also very pertinent for a class I am in right now, as I discuss in my blog post.

As far as links go, I use them 50/50 (this means for all the blogs I visit, not just professional ones), usually depending on how much time I have. The two you provided in the Big Q this month were very helpful and informative. I knew what open content was, but was not familiar with these consortiums.

I say keep going.

Stu said...

No comment on the Big Q, but possibly with the increase in the quantity of information and the speed at which it comes at us, are we reaching overload? Too much to handle? I suspect a lot of people are missing valuable stuff they might otherwise find useful and interesting...

Paul Angileri said...

Stu, that is surely the case. The top skill I need to develop is how to organize and compartmentalize my information consumption. Spending some time choosing quality sources, setting times to review them, and to process information, is huge I think. And I'm talking for everything in one's life, not just professional info.

If anything, technology has shown us how limited we are and just how non-achievable multi-tasking can really be.

Kate Newsham said...

I found it ironic and comical that upon initially "Reading" this blog I realized I was doing, verbatim what you were blogging about. I was skimming through the blog, and then stopped and read more carefully a specific portion and then it sunk in that I had just "skim, dive, skim" to your blog.

Peter Casebow said...

I think it is even more important than ever to have places where important questions are reflected on and answers posted. I posted last week about the need for L&D professionals to be informed and well read to avoid the Snake Oil salesman, see so I wouldn’t want to lose the Big Question.
I'm guessing this ‘snacking’ is actually part of a bigger issue about how we help people acknowledge the value of time spent thinking and reflecting on issues that matter rather than trying to skim over all the sources that are available. We've got such a breadth of information available perhaps we are afraid to miss something.
Getting the balance of breadth and depth of knowledge is vital and how to do that is a much bigger question. Personally one of the things that has helped me is using David Allen’s GTD to help me focus on areas where I need to deep dive and spend my time.

V Yonkers said...

Both Karyn Romeis and I recently had posts about the changing face of blogging with the greater reliance of facebook and twitter.

There seems to be less discussion and blogging is more for presentation of ideas (in a more deep manner) whereas the discussion is moving to twitter and facebook. Even your blogging has changed over the last year.

Sreya Dutta said...


This seems to be a result of the changing trends and new tools that are constantly created and made available to people in a jiffy. I personally don't have time to write long blog articles often any more. The twitter kind of approach of short simple messages telling you what is happening works for most of the audience. So unless I am doing work on a specific area, I may not want to read a detailed article that aims at giving every single aspect of the topic. Thats irrelevant at a random point of time. But if i am given short, brief and specific information on a topic, it seems to click better. And yes, everyone does just skim through really long posts these days.

You are right that we need to find a better way of doing this. We need to be short, succinct and to the point, and try not to retell something someone else has told in different words. That should be a start.

Hope it helps!