Alacrify Ltd

Recent Reading - Thinking About Meatballs


14th May 2009

Recent Reading - Thinking About Meatballs

I usually have about 4 books on the go at any point in time, usually a mixture of technical and business books and novels. Over the past couple of months, several of them have been not only very interesting but also memorable, both for what they said, and the quality of the writing.

Meatball Sundae - Seth Godin (2009)

This is the second of Seth Godin's books that I've read, having been impressed by "Purple Cow" a number of years ago. It covers the challenge to conventional business marketing models of the new media opportunities that now exist on the internet, in particular social networking and the "atomisation" of the marketplace.

Atomisation refers the the way that we have all become highly individual consumers, no longer satisfied with mass-market products and services, but wanting personal, tailor-made solutions that meet our particular need. Of course the web is the ideal medium to market these niche products and services as the capability to reach a large audience of  niche buyers is suddenly a feasible proposition. Seth calls this the "long tail" which refers to the traditional "bell curve" of sales with the majority of people buying middle of the road offerings at middle of the road prices. Now he argues that there is more at the extreme ends of the spectrum, both in terms of ultra-cheap / free (eg. ebay) niche products, or ultra-expensive, high end products (eg. high end hifi systems).

The book is written in a style somewhere between conversation-with-a-colleague and presentation-by-a-workshop-leader. It's not brilliant prose, but it's very memorable. His use of bite-size chunks to explain his ideas made it very easy reading over breakfast. He also has some thumbnail sketches by way of proving each of his points.

In practice the book has helped me to explain the opportunities offered by new media. social networks, and the web in a more coherent manner to our clients, some of whom are well placed to take advantage of the niche marketing potential of the web, and some of whom are already engaged in this interesting new area of marketing their business.

Don't Make Me Think - Steve Krug (2006)

I can't praise this book highly enough. It's so rare to find an absolute gem that is so perfectly formed in its purpose and delivery, and this book is just that. It sets out the principles behind web usability, framing all those things that you know, but probably hadn't realised; plus throwing in new ideas to enrich and broaden your understanding.

I've been making websites for over 10 years now and mostly learned the skills of good design "on the job". Periodically I like to read something as a milestone marker to see how well I'm doing in terms of current thinking and best practice. This book was bought to give me that opportunity for reflection on my practice. It didn't disappoint.

It sets out a way of understanding why websites work, and why so many fail to be useful. It describes the perpetual trade off between gizmos and gadgets on the web, and real simple usability for real ordinary people. As we work with real ordinary people and they want sites that speak to real ordinary people this book is right on target. It's not concerned with flashy design with clever widgets all over the place, its all about helping people find what they want, know where they are, and know how to get to where they want to be.

The book's approach is flawless in it's style and pace. I read it at one sitting, and then read it all through again. It puts together all the pieces of the jigsaw that are needed in good design in a way that is recognisable and also easy to implement. Our sites have been using many of the ideas for years, but it didn't feel like "teaching granny to suck eggs" it was more affirming and confidence building; Steve provides clear reasons for some of the things we had picked up intuitively, or worked out through trial and error.

This book has become a well-thumbed addition to my web-library now, giving a little bit of extra inspiration and confidence that the choices and recommendations we make for good website design are well-founded and clearly useful.

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