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Writers of Silicon Valley: How can we make the content design industry…better?

Writers of Silicon Valley is a UX writing podcast featuring interviews with content strategists and UX writers from around the world.

In this episode, Jane Ruffino talks to Patrick about how she bridges digital archaeology with the world of content design.

To listen to this episode, find Writers of Silicon Valley wherever you listen to podcasts:

This episode was originally hosted at Writers of Silicon Valley.

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Patrick:

So this episode, I’m speaking with Jane Ruffino. I’ve spoken to Jane for quite a while, but we have never been able to get on a podcast together until now. And I’m super glad we did, because Jane has probably, I think, one of the or the most interesting background and occupations in UX writing. So she is a UX writer. She’s a content strategist, and she’s worked for a number of different companies before doing that, including agencies. And she’s also worked as a journalist. And she is a course director of UX writing at the Berg School of Communication in Sweden. So she’s quite accomplished. And she’s obviously a content designer through her character agency. But she is also an archeologist. She’s studying a Ph.D. in archeology and it’s actually digital archeology. Her project is called Things of the Internet, and it’s contemporary archeology of the physical infrastructure of the Internet. Now, I think that’s just ultimately fascinating. And we discuss not only how that relates to UX writing and content design, but also the big question we discuss in this episode is how can the content design industry be better? How can it improve? And I don’t want to leave you waiting. So here’s my discussion with Jane Ruffino.

Patrick:

Well, actually, that’s a really good place to start talking about what you do, because you actually you do a few different things and your Ph.D. is so interesting to me. It’s in, I don’t know what you would call it, but you refer to digital archeology?

Jane:

It’s actually the archeology of the physical infrastructure of the Internet. The title of the Ph.D. is Things of the Internet. So it’s about the big thing. So when I started the research, when I pitched the project, it started years ago. It actually was my first attempt at doing a Ph.D., which was a disaster, but it was on the data fixation of landscapes and it was like 20 years ago and nobody was talking about this stuff and everyone thought I was weird. Now, I don’t care if people think I’m weird, so it’s much easier. But a few years ago, I started to try to bring back this concept that a few of us had been working on for a long time about archeology and privacy. And this is really before a lot of the big privacy questions started to be at the surface in the tech industry. I mean, they were still happening all the time in activist circles, but we started talking like these things are really related, the way archeologists collect data, the way we collect data in the tech industry. Now we’re starting to talk about it in the tech industry and we’re not really talking about it in archeology. And a friend and I had this proudness question that we’ve been playing with for a long time, which was, does deposition, as in the deposition of an object, something left behind, imply consent to be studied? And this was like years before GDPR. And we came to the conclusion that no. And that felt very scary because in a field that’s entirely dependent on digging things up that people left behind and couldn’t tell you whether it’s OK to have them, it felt quite scary that we were challenging the very foundations of our discipline, but it felt really necessary. And then what it brought me to was this idea of algorithmic decision making and technical products with, let’s say, decisions like automated decision making, having layers of time. So like an object, like something that has what in archeology, we call stratigraphy. So it’s like the layers that are laid down. These objects have time, they have materiality, they have space. It’s just very hard to register as an object. So I started thinking, like, how do I study these things? How do I study data as a material thing? It’s the most abundant form of material culture. And yet we have no way of studying the thing. Now with people doing digital humanities, people doing incredible work, archiving the web. But how do we understand data as a thing? So when I pitched this project, it had moved on quite a lot from then to how do we understand what data is as a thing is kind of quite theoretical question. And as soon as I started the research, I realized that in order to study the tiniest things, I really needed to turn to the biggest things. And that right now is the undersea cables. So I’m studying right now the undersea cables connecting Sweden and Estonia, that’s the first part. I haven’t gotten much further than that. And so it’s looking at two extremely advanced digital cultures, Sweden and Estonia, which has a really advanced kind of digital culture, but a very different recent history.  And they’ve always been really tied together. So this cable became one of the first physical connections for the Internet between these two countries after the end of the Cold War. So it’s going to end up being some probably some pretty interesting Cold War and early post-Cold War stuff. And obviously, because of COVID, I haven’t been able to do very much field work, thankfully, because this is all outside. Now obviously, I can’t see a lot of the cables, and that’s part of the research is like doing the archeology of things that we can’t physically see. So it’s really interesting. One of the things that I did recently was go down to this beach, this place where the cable comes ashore and just stand there and go like, what am I looking at? And I think this is where archeology and design come together as having a common method that’s really valuable. The first thing that you should do is go to the place, wherever that place is. I mean, it could be a digital place and go, OK, what am I looking at rather than looking for? Because if you start looking for, you’re going to miss a lot. So it’s really this just kind of radical observation, like I have no idea what I’m looking at. And it’s terrifying because you’re like a house, some water, there’s some sand and you have to get really, really basic and really obvious. And then you start to notice things that are less obvious. You start to notice, you know, there’s a sign over there that warns boats about cables under the water or there’s a shed over there. I wonder if that’s something that, by the way, that shed that I’m hypothetically referring to was nothing. It was just a shed, but there is a shed and I know where it is now. So it’s kind of like, what am I looking at and what am I going to do with this information? I have no idea yet. And being willing to sit, being uncomfortable with a problem for a while. And knowing that it may never take shape for you, so I think these are things that I, you know, that archeologists do or wish to do and that designers do all the time or should do all the time.

Patrick:

I really like that, that juxtaposing the what are you looking at? Versus what are you looking for line? Because I think many of us have worked in design teams where you work with people who are looking for something. And so you might be watching people at a usability testing session. And if you’re looking for something, you’re going to interpret their behavior in a certain way. But if you just stay objective and said, okay, what am I looking at? It leads to some more interesting discoveries and just opens up, you know, just a wide range of possibilities. My go-to example is if someone is looking at a screen and they’re hesitating and if you’re looking for something, you might say, oh, this person doesn’t like the content or something. But if you’re looking at something or you’re really witnessing in an objective first principles framework, is this person is hesitating and not doing anything. What does that mean?

Jane:

And that’s exactly what we do in archeology. Description itself is already interpretive. There’s no way to not be interpretive. So you have to understand that you start with description, knowing that it’s still probably a very different description than someone else would do. And these two disciplines are related because archeology is the consequences of design. Design is how it works. Well, archeology is what people did with it. So I don’t see them as separate from me. They’re not separate from me. The work is separate, but I use these methods all the time. One of the other things that I used to do is I was a not very efficient maker of radio documentary. And I made some mini series. And my first feature was on the property crash in Ireland. And when I pitched it for funding, it was about what they called these ghost estates. And it was kind of a derogatory term for all these like unfinished housing projects. It was like everything that I pitched was the opposite, not the opposite. But it was just so far from the reality. And it was, again, I went out to this place and county, Leitrim, which I originally didn’t want to do, Leitrim, because County, which is in the central north west of Ireland, has always had this history of being used as shorthand for poverty. And it’s where all of the major news networks were going and standing in front of a building and going, look at this disaster and then moving on. And I just didn’t want to subject them to more poverty. I didn’t want to do poverty porn. I want to take an archeologist approach and go, what am I looking at? What happened? And by being led by that question, I found stories that were nothing like what I had assumed. I thought property developers weren’t going to want to talk to me. And I met this one property developer, who I felt like he was trying to be a little bit like maybe he was going to get a redemption out of it. But I told him, like, I’m not doing angels and demons, but I’m also not doing redemption narrative for you. But he was super open. And I asked him, why did you keep building? He was driving me around the countryside and going, I built that one. Yeah, it’s a mess. It’s falling apart. I couldn’t sell any of them. I was like, well, why did you keep building? And so he explained this complicated tax law to me, that it had to have a friend in the tax office explain to me because it was so unbelievably convoluted that anyone thought this was a good idea. And he explained this to me and he said, you know, for the first time in generations in county Leitrim, peoples, adult children didn’t have to leave. So we were creating jobs. We knew we were just going to build houses and my kids could live next door to me. I could build them a house and they didn’t have to leave. He said, and every year I would have a guy in Dublin call and buy a house from me. Sometimes he wouldn’t even come and see it. He would just say pick me out one. And he’s like, why would I think about the end if this is how it’s going? It was a way of being like a bit of a hero in his community, even though he kind of knew he was deluding himself. So you get these stories about the places and the people. If you just look at and you go, OK, what happened? How did this get here? And it leads you to much more interesting places. Of course, I had to explain to the funding body why my documentary is nothing like what I said it was going to be. None of those things existed, actually. So it was. a really fun project that was completely inefficient. And I realized I could not do this for a living because I had forty two hours of tape that I had to make into a forty six minute documentary. This is a terrible idea.

Patrick:

Yeah.

Jane:

But it was really fun to do the work.

Patrick:

It’s the whittling down of notes and everything else. That is the issue. So they’re going to craft something out of the uncut marble that they’ve recorded. It’s interesting, though, because you talked about the number of things that you’ve done. You worked at radio, you working on this PhD, and you’re also a UX writer and you do a lot of freelance work. So it’s interesting to me that you’ve got, you know, this broad and very what’s the word? I guess you’ve got a variety of different experiences, which obviously, you know, is a great benefit for anyone who’s working in design. Could you talk a little bit about the work that you’re doing now in UX writing and content design? You’re mostly working with freelance clients, is that right?

Jane:

Yeah, and I’ve been in-house and I’ve been mostly working on a client basis, I really like it. I enjoy that inside-outside relationship where I can, like, build a good relationship with a team, but not be subject to, like, internal politics.

Patrick:

It’s a really sort of swings and roundabouts thing. Right. Because on the one hand, it can be hard to sort of integrate yourself into a team dynamic when they see you as an outsider, even though that’s not a great term. But you also get the benefit of what you just said, which is that you can bring a fresh perspective and an independent perspective that can obviously have a huge benefit.

Jane:

I think it can be hard because when you have a good client situation, it’s great, like I have a great client right now. I love them so much. The design team is two and I have access to everybody in the company and they let me actually solve real problems. I don’t have to only stick to the interface. So I’m learning a ton and I get to do really fun things. They also let me do a lot of research, which is nice because I think a lot of times if they don’t have a researcher, so that’s why. But I think a lot of times people can be like, no, you’re a writer, you can’t do research. I’m like, well, I’m also a professional researcher. So it’s probably OK. I think it’s going to be fine. So, you know, in some ways it’s for very practical reasons that I started doing this PhD. So I work a lot with freelance clients and I enjoy it because I also enjoy the kind of capacity-building role that I feel I can have, which is how am I going to be able to make space for the next person? Like how am I going to be able to make space? Like eventually most of these companies will need someone full time and that’s not going to be me. But how can I set them up so that that person has a good relationship with the work and the work has a good relationship with them so that they’re not constantly trying to explain what UX writers do, which I always call it the invisible second job of the UX writer, and I don’t mind doing it as much as a consultant. When I’ve been employed directly, I find it’s much harder to not kind of get too frustrated. So I just find it much less frustrating. And so, yes, I’ve been working a lot with freelance clients and I like the variety. I really like the variety of types of clients that I get to work with and types of projects I get to work on. So yeah, it works for me for now.

Patrick:

Definitely doesn’t stay boring. You can find that working in the same place for five years. You know, one of the things I found about working on MYOB was after five and a half years, you tend to know the problems pretty well and you know the customers pretty well and you know what needs to be done. And then you move from most of your time being about researching and finding out information about your users to battling against internal structures in terms of getting stuff done. So, yeah, turned into a little bit of a frustrating experience.

Jane:

My setup I have where I have like two careers at once, it was an accident, but it’s always worked for me. I think sometimes there’s a drawback, like the freedom comes with difficulty being legible to others. And I think that is a challenge. So, you know, you have to do a lot more kind of relying on your network and relying on other people to explain. No, no, she really is both.

Patrick:

And yeah, yeah, it’s a personal branding issue. And speaking of… no, go on.

Jane:

But I think in a lot of ways, in terms of background, I’m the norm. I mean, UX writers have this incredible diversity of backgrounds. So I’m not abnormal, which was really fun to find out. I did a survey of one hundred product content strategies and I made every answer free text, which I knew what I was getting into. It was not an accident. I was like, I know this is going to be a lot to analyze. And it was really fun. I still haven’t fully processed the results because people wrote a lot and I love it. I was really happy that people were like, I’m sorry I wrote so much like, no, I love you. So just finding out all of the things that people have done. And yeah, I’m the norm.

Patrick:

Yeah, I think so, too. I think the only difference, though, is that you are probably one of the few people who are sort of doing both at once.

Jane:

I would like to think that maybe more people will feel OK doing this later, as the industry changes. There’s a lot of barriers for people doing this. Like, I’m lucky that I don’t have to worry about, this is terrible and you know, I do not do Nordic fetishization, but I will say I don’t have to worry about having an employer with health insurance for me. I think that is a barrier that I don’t have to worry about and many other worries. But I think that’s a massive barrier. And I think if we saw it, if it was easier for more people to freelance, I think more people would.

Patrick:

Well, I think that gets into what you wanted to talk about today, which is working conditions and some of the structures that we’ve built up around work and content design and UX writing. What you just said reminded me that, you know, you and I live in countries with pretty robust national health care systems. So you and I are in a situation where we are a lot more free in our ability to pick and choose where we work and how we work. I left my job at the end of last year, started running the UX Writers Collective full time. I was able to do that without a second thought because I didn’t have to worry about where my health insurance was coming from. It wasn’t even a thought. Whereas if you are in the United States and you are a UX writer or content designer, you are obviously going to be drawn to companies that offer the best insurance you can get. And a lot of the time, those companies are large technology companies. So there’s a social structure there that has all sorts of feedback loops to it. And I know that’s something you’re really passionate about. It contributes to a cycle of, I don’t know if it’s negativity, but certainly a complex relationship with work.

Jane:

I think it’s complex. One of the great things is now people who have been writers for their whole career. And, you know, and I think one big piece of it is for a lot of us who’ve been writers for most of our career or some kind of communication media people. Like a lot of us, haven’t had stable careers. We’ve been kind of past piecing it together like blue lips and ears. So we have like these hot dog careers. Now, these companies have been able to create more stable careers for people. So that’s great. But, yeah, it also means that if you don’t want to work in big tech, then there aren’t a lot of options. And of course, outside of the United States, there are fewer big tech companies and a less mature UX culture, not just UX writing culture. So you’re sort of subject to the culture. And as a result of the big tech companies being the ones who kind of have been doing a lot more of the defining of the role, the role is now being kind of, I don’t want to say that it’s somebody doing it on purpose for a negative reason, it’s just like naturally the role is defaulting towards how the work looks in a big product company where you’re building a UX writing practice and where you’re, you know, you have a content team. And outside of the tech hubs. And I’m sure it looks this way outside of the tech hubs in the United States, not just outside. It’s not like that. You know, you might still have a situation where you have one writer doing everything. And I also run this course through Berghs this is actually how it’s pronounced in Sweden. But you can call Burgs. Students range from UX designers who are like I have to do the copy so I might as well take this or I want to learn to work better with the future UX writers, people who are already working as UX writers, but also people who are like, I am in charge of all of this content and I know I need to know the skill and I don’t know what I’m going to do. So a lot of the people are not looking for a role as a UX writer, I would say like maybe a third of them, but everyone else is like, OK, this is a skill that we need in our careers. What I think is really interesting about this concept is that it is OK for it to be a community of practice. It’s OK for it not to have a totally settled term about what we call ourselves, that eventually the job market will change and it could look different outside of the tech companies. And I think that we need to do our best to make sure that we don’t lose sight of that. Otherwise, we will end up with a situation where if you work in big tech, you have a stable job in-house. If you don’t, you are an insecure contractor forever. And I think outside of across Europe, you have cultures where, I have a student who is like I’m pretty sure I’m the only person in my country who calls himself the UX writer. Doesn’t know any UX writers. I spoke to a woman today who’s a design lead in Bucharest and Bucharest is a big tech hub, which I didn’t know. Apparently it’s a huge tech hub. And it’s not like a huge tech hub in the sense of like, oh, it’s Eastern European dev shops like, no, it’s a proper tech hub. But she said the design culture is not that mature and she doesn’t know any UX writers in Romania. It’s super immature culture. So she wanted to know, how do I hire, what do I look for, given that I’m not going to find anybody in this market who has had the title before. And I was really happy that she wanted to ask these questions because I’m like, yes, thank you. This is exactly what we need to be talking about, because otherwise you get into a situation where I mean, what was happening in Sweden for a while I think is changing a bit. You get these big tech companies and they only want to import people from other big tech companies so they would have open roles for like two years. And you’re just like there’s a huge local population that could do this job, but they didn’t know how to hire. So now that it’s more likely that a UX writer is doing the hiring, they may know a little bit more about how to find those people. But my worry is always like that can’t be the only path, because if that’s the only path, then number one, it means that the only place that a UX writer can work is a company that may not be a fit for everybody. So I think that we should be looking also more at what UX designers are doing, because they’re UX designers everywhere. Everywhere there’s a UX designer is the potential for there to be a UX writer as well. So when we talk about this field, it shouldn’t only be apps and big tech. Great people working in it, but it doesn’t necessarily suit everybody. And I think people will start to migrate away from some of these companies as soon as the opportunities arise.

Patrick:

I think so, too, especially as we’ve moved into this culture of remote work, you know, opens up so many more opportunities for people. I want to pick up on something you said, which was about taking our cues from big tech. I think sometimes as well, when people are hiring for UX writers, they’re not UX writers themselves or content designers themselves. So they aren’t really sure what to look for. So they really take their cues from people who have, I don’t know, just the first experience they’ve had with them. And so they don’t really have a robust understanding of how it works. I went for a job interview and I won’t say the name of the company. And I wasn’t offered the job. And that was right because I didn’t really present my portfolio in the best way. But in the interview, I showed some examples of some tooltips and they said, oh, do you have any examples of these? Like inside a product? And I was like, oh, no, not here. And they’re like, oh, but, you know, you know, we really want someone who has in-product experience. And I’m like, well, I have that. It’s just not my samples. But I asked them, what do you think is the difference between a tooltip that’s written in a logged-out state versus a logged-in state? What do you think the design process is? What’s different about that? And they couldn’t really articulate that. And so I think that’s because the person they had worked with previously, they I don’t know, I guess they were a very sort of savvy in-product person. Now, what they were really asking was, are you able to understand the importance of the metrics we’re using to track success in this product? Are you able to understand product strategy and how design scales up to product strategy? That’s what they were really asking. And so I think that they didn’t really understand how to articulate that in a way. It just came out as like, oh, I need someone who’s written these messages in a logged-in state. That’s what I need, because I didn’t really have the attention around that. So I think we really still have a lot of advocacy to do to get that knowledge up for people who are hiring content designers.

Jane:

Yeah, and I think that’s really important and it is advocacy that we need to do. If we have the microphone, we need to use it to make sure that people who are perfectly good candidates. This is UX writing. It’s not brain surgery. It’s learnable. And so many processes that a lot of people, a lot of people come to UX writing from communications background, a lot of people from sort of marketing side, a lot of journalists, a lot of teachers. And what I found with a lot of ESL teachers and I’m like, of course, that’s the perfect UX writer. Also from customer service. And so many of the mindsets of like I am here to make sure that people are getting what they need and also things like the editorial process. The difference between the editorial process and the design process is in the editorial process, you can’t fix it later. A lot of the time, you know, making radio documentaries, I think is actually very similar to the product design process, except you can’t fix it at the end. Once it’s broadcast, you can’t go back and iterate. So a lot of these jobs that people have had, like mostly they need the vocabulary. They may need some tools. It shouldn’t have to be this huge transition. One of the other things that I find very frustrating is if UX writing came along for you when you were like twenty eight or twenty nine, you might have a patchy twenty-somethings resume and you kind of get onto the management track and you’re away from precarity. But for a lot of people, I’m Gen X and I have Gen X precarity. I went through three recessions. And for people who have been writers for a long time, sometimes their resume shows that. And if you were lucky enough to live in tech hub and get like a tech writer job or end up then on, like, the marketing team somewhere early, fine. There’s a lot of people with really interesting career backgrounds and maybe aren’t as prestigious, but are kind of missing out if they’re going to miss out on these roles because they’re going to get overlooked. But this is a great career for people who have had a career already. It’s also a great career if you haven’t. But most of the people that we meet in this field have had a career before. This isn’t their first rodeo. And that’s amazing. And that I think if we focus on the whole field and not just big tech, because, of course, they’re an important part of it, then we get to shape a field that becomes a perfect place for career transitioners. And I think we have an opportunity to change the way that work works for people and make it work so that you don’t just like age out of the workforce at thirty five. You can do other things and it doesn’t have to be UX writing. Other fields are going to spring up too. There’s going to be a whole other slate of fields. There’s going to be subfields within UX writing. They’re already kind of starting. If we are too narrow about what we think and who we think can do this field, we’re going to end up suffering from a lack of imagination. And I think that everybody will be poorer for it, both figuratively and literally.

Patrick:

I think so too. I think, you know, speaking just people on this podcast, you know, the number of different backgrounds we’ve had is incredible. I mean, I started as a journalist, people in academia, we’ve had people who have worked as technical writers, you know, people who worked as teachers. So it’s as you mentioned. So, yeah, I just think it’s great that we been speaking with someone recently who was a truck driver for 20 years and now he is a professional UX writer. So it’s just very interesting.

Jane:

Working with e-commerce clients, one of the things that you realize is how important it is to know stuff about logistics. I would have so many questions. If you’re doing the job in the most exciting and fulfilling way, like you’re not touching an interface that much, you’re like, oh, let’s go to the warehouse and watch people stock shelves or load trucks and see how that works and see if we can figure something out about the the way that we do our checkout. I mean, that’s how nerdy I get about this stuff.

Patrick:

You have to look beyond the obvious. Right. Like he would say to me, like, oh, you know, I don’t really know what experience is transferable from being a truck driver. And I’m like, OK, well, on the one hand, you’re right. Like, there isn’t a lot of obvious crossover to working in a design team. On the other hand, you’ve seen what happens when something doesn’t get from point A to point B in the right amount of time. You’ve likely seen what happens when you know you know, logistics, as you just mentioned, is a chain of decisions and systems that are interlocking along a particular route. If one of those breaks you’ve likely seen what happens.

Jane:

Look at what just happened in the Suez Canal. I think that’s the ultimate example. One thing that I learned working with an e-commerce product a few years ago was we were doing supply chain stuff. And I was like, this is amazing because logistics is all these dependencies, all these systems that actually don’t necessarily talk to each other. And then once you get out to sea it’s paper. Everyone is on paper because the ships are owned by different companies. They have different systems. Some of them are totally high-tech, some of them are not. People are speaking different languages. It is not actually easy at all. So they are paper-based still a lot of them, not everybody. But there’s so much that’s paper. And that’s fascinating to me that the super important global trade system is still relying on paper and that is actually the most efficient way for them for now.

Patrick:

I feel like it brings it back to what you were saying earlier. When you’re looking for something versus looking at something. So the way you described that to me, I didn’t know that actually. I didn’t know that they mostly used paper. So if I was looking for something…

Jane:

I could be out of date. Like I’ve seen products that people were trying to make. I mean, I’m sure I’m being oversimplified, but it’s like there’s still a lot of paper.

Patrick:

Sure. But I think, you know, if you hear that information and you’re looking for a solution or you’re looking for a way to basically import your bias about digital tools into that situation, you might say, oh, we need to develop iPad apps for global logistics. And so you might think, yeah, cool, that sounds good. But if you’re looking at the problem and you say, OK, well, they’re using paper, there has to be a reason why, you know, like you said. And so that leads you to then ask, okay, well, why are they using paper? What’s so important about this?

Jane:

How are they using paper before why. How are they using the paper? What are they doing? Then you can say, oh, maybe we can understand why. Something I feel like I say every day: nobody needs an app. Nobody in the world is looking at their phone or looking at their iPad. And thinking, you know, this could use more apps. You know what? My work could use more digital tools. Nobody needs them. That is not the point of a digital tool. A digital tool is something you use when nothing else will work. That’s how we build around need. I’ve worked with a lot of startups and some of them are very nice. And you’re just like, this is wonderful and you’re fantastic people and you’ve built a beautiful tool. And no one is going to buy this because nobody needs this tool. Everyone has fifteen different tools. Nobody needs a thing that’s slightly better than Confluence. But everyone hates Confluence. Yeah, but you know what? I don’t want another password. Yeah, nobody. It’s just nobody needs another tool. Nobody. And yes, I hear there’s like fifteen people going: password managers. Shhh. I know that’s not the point. Nobody needs another password.

Patrick:

Exactly. So yeah. It’s a complex situation, but I think that, you know, as UX writers, we need to just be really careful about asking, I’ve said many times before, like what? What’s the actual problem solving? And as you described it, like, what are you looking at? Not what you’re looking for. I think that’s a great way of putting it.

Jane:

One benefit I feel I have as a consultant, I have definitely found myself locked into projects where we are building something that did not need to exist. But at least I can to some degree shape things in a way. And I think because when I walk in, I’m like I’m a senior consultant and they can choose to believe me or choose not to. I think some people just assume I am. And I was like, oh, OK, sure. You know, and you can shape things and you can kind of also always present it as like I’m trying to save you money because a lot of times users don’t need this. Actually, it doesn’t help because we are still dealing with egos. We are still dealing with, “But I want to build it because I want to use this technology.” I think it’s less common in a culture where the people are a little more mature, they’re sort of used to this. They’re used to going like, yeah, there was a thing, it was popular for six months and then everyone forgot about it totally.

Patrick:

I kind of feel like this is going to happen to Clubouse…

Jane:

I never downloaded it. I have an invitation. I didn’t get one for ages. And I was just like, I’m not in the club. Obviously it’s a club. Of course, I’m not going to be invited. And then my friend, sent me one, out of spite like, oh, shut up, Jane. Here’s an invite. And I never downloaded it because of all the data breaches.

Patrick:

I got an invitation and then I used it. I attended a couple of talks. I even participated in a talk. Once I turned off the notifications, because it was super notification spammy, I haven’t gone back to it. So to me, that’s a really interesting indication to me that the experience for me was not good enough for me to continue going back. So I don’t know what that says, but I get the feeling that, yeah, although it’s getting huge evaluations, that maybe it is going to stick around for a while.

Jane:

It could be or not. I don’t feel the pressure to be an early adopter. So if it’s like, oh this is going to stick around. OK, I’ll get it. It’s fine. Yeah. But I don’t feel the pressure to be an early adopter. I feel like I have enough tools in my life. I have enough places where I communicate with people. I don’t need any more right now.

Patrick:

I think one of the good things about a podcast like this is that, you know, I can transcribe this and I can put the transcription on the Internet. What’s going to happen with Clubhouse? Is everyone going to transcribe everything?

Jane:

And it’s not accessible either. I think we shouldn’t be building more cool hot tools that aren’t accessible. I think we have enough accessibility problems with the tools we have. Let’s fix the ones we have. And then we can worry about new ones. But of course, it’ll find its home. It might find its niche audience and that will be who will use it all the time.

Patrick:

People talking about Bitcoin probably.

Jane:

Oh God. Oh God.

Patrick:

That’s a whole other thing that we can’t get into. And in fact, you know, I was going to say, we’ve nearly talked for an hour, so this has gone so quickly. But we’ve covered such great, such great ground. I wish I could talk for two more hours. Well, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for joining me. Something I asked everyone is what’s something you’ve been reading or listening to lately that you think the listeners might get a kick out of? It could be related to UX writing or not. But anything that’s sort of been in your brain recently that you’d like to share?

Jane:

So, OK, I will tell you this book that I really love. Well, first, I’ve been watching Superstore on Netflix, and it’s amazing. If you’re tired of the world, Superstore is wonderful. But there’s the book, which I’m holding it up to the screen, Patrick. I’m holding a book up to up to my computer, which you can’t see.

Patrick:

I can’t see it.

Jane:

It’s by Andrew Blum. It’s called Tubes: Behind the Scenes at the Internet. It’s basically this and another book called The Undersea Network, which is a more academic book by Nicole Starosielski. Tubes is written as a travel book and it is fantastic. And Andrew Blum wrote this. I think he became inspired to write it when a squirrel ate the Internet cable outside of his house. And he was like, wait, what a squirrel can eat the Internet? And he went on this whole worldwide tour of Internet exchanges and data centers. And he met the people of the Internet. And it is a bit of what I’m doing. And it’s super fun. It’s a really great read. And I actually genuinely believe that my research is explicitly political. One thing about contemporary archeology is that we can be explicitly political instead of pretending we’re not. And my kind of positioning is that I believe that we absolutely must understand and appreciate the physical nature of the Internet, because it’s the main thing that it needs to be is interoperable. And the reason that the Internet protocol beat out all the other protocols to be the one. One small anecdote about when I started my research, I decided to return to using, just in my research, I don’t necessarily do this in my daily writing, to return to using a capital I with Internet. Because I realized that it’s really important when that decision to make the Internet lowercase, spelled with a lowercase I, has actually formed a horizon. It’s erasing the fact that there were many networking protocols that were all competing with each other and the Internet protocol, one reason that it succeeded was the ability of the people involved to cooperate with each other and for all of the physical pieces to become interoperable. And it’s really important that we understand and appreciate that because we are at risk of the Internet becoming so siloed that what we believe, what we have today will not exist in 15 or 20 years. That the open Internet has to be a public good. And then, of course, that’s relevant to UX writers, maybe not directly in our daily work, but it will be and it could be. So Tubes is a great travel book. It’s really fun. It’s very funny. It’s very smart. He’s also written a book about weather prediction, which I haven’t read yet, but I really recommend it. And then another one book sorry, never ask me about book recommendations, is the book. This is very much looking at book. It is called The Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Tsing. And it inspired me to do my Ph.D. again because I read this book where she she is researching a mushroom called The Matsutake Mushroom, which is the world’s most expensive mushroom. And the mushroom is just a reason. It’s not the focus. She follows the story of this mushroom. You go from the Pacific Northwest of the US to imperial Japan, to the forests of Finland. And you just follow this mushroom everywhere through the world, throughout history. And it sort of leads you on this incredible story. And it’s an academic book, I think it won a sort of popular science award? And she gets to the end of the book. I’m spoiling it, but I’m not. And she’s like, well, the point of my book was to show that this kind of concept of tying things up in neat ending is a capitalist myth. So that’s my book, see ya. I was like, wait you can do that? That’s amazing. you It was just like that with my book. See you later. I’m going to go get some soup. But it’s an incredible book and it talks a lot about the way that in late capitalist environments, these mushrooms. I mean, she’s using it as a metaphor that mushrooms can grow in what she calls blasted landscapes. And so I found it a really hopeful book about the future of our planet and the future of people and to look for the things that are blossoming and the things that are growing among destruction. So I found it really hopeful. This is amazing. So I literally put the book down and started writing a proposal. It’s very much a looking at a book. I’m going to follow this and see where it takes me. So I really would love to have more people read it. It’s a really amazing book.


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