Friday, March 9, 2007

Talkers and Doers

Reading LazyCoder's "Do'ers vs. Talkers", choosing to read the blogs of those actively doing, rather than just talking, struck a chord, as I've been leaning that way myself. I'm not sure there's just doers and talkers, though, I think there's a continuous spectrum.

We can talk about some points along the spectrum, but those points don't represent the only choices, they represent some rough clusters that we can talk about, with no hard lines between them. One blogger might fall between these clusters, or represent two or more clusters, depending on the post. There are no hard and fast rules.

As the title says, these are people who are actively "doing" rather than "talking". Most of their time is focused on getting something (e.g. software development) done. When they're not busy with that, they take the time to share their experience, their frustrations, challenges and successes with us.

These people are valuable because they have first-hand experience with the subject matter, they know the things that you only learn when you stick with it day after day. These insights are hard to get any other way: it's why I really value what they have to say.

Sometimes, these are people who aren't directly involved in the day-to-day doing, but are so closely connected as to be indistinguishable. Look at Martin Fowler: I'm not sure if he spends much time coding, or even directing the architecture of projects these days, but he does a fine job of synthesizing architectural patterns.

Because doers focus on doing, they are usually less prolific than most of the other categories here. They're also fairly focused in theme, as a given doer is focused on the things he or she is doing, and there's only so much one person can do in a day. They're also fairly focused: there's only so much one doer can do in a day.

Conversing Doers
When one doer listens to another doer and joins the conversation, he or she becomes a conversing doer. This conversation can take place in the blogosphere, in person, at a conference, over email -- as long as one of the two shares the results of the conversation. This can be more valuable than the doer alone, because you may get the benefit of two or more different, hard-won insights on one subject.

Conversing doers can be slightly more prolific than doers, because they don't have to have put as much effort into an area to share some insights. For instance, if someone were to share their EJB3 experience, I might not have any of my own, but I can contrast that with how I use Hibernate, or my ancient experience with EJB 1.1.

Doer-Connected Talkers
These are people who are focused on talking, rather than doing, but who are closely (or directly) connected to the doers. They know so many doers that they can share tidbit about what each is working on. They can help direct you to the doers, and to what they're doing.

In some cases, Doer-Connected Talkers will simply be consuming what the doers the know are already sharing, and passing on the pieces they believe are interesting. In other cases, they'll talk to doers directly, and share 'by proxy' what they've learned. This is particularly useful when the doers don't have the time or the interest to share their insights directly.

Some of the information is often lost in translation; because these talkers don't know the subject matter as intimately as the doers, they aren't likely to do a perfect job of sharing what there is to know. However, they can be very prolific, and cover a broad range of topics, because they focus on talking, and on finding interesting things that the doers are doing. This niche is filled by people like Robert Scoble.

Unlike the doer-connected talkers, aggregators aren't directly connected to doers. They're in the business of finding interesting information and passing it on: aggregated communication. It doesn't matter if this information comes from a doer directly, second-hand, third-hand, or somewhere else entirely, as long as they believe it will be interesting and that a significant proportion of their readership has not already read the original source of the information.

There's another spectrum here, one of speed. An aggregator can try and react to information quickly, directing you to a broad range of topics rapidly with a minimum amount of added information. They're trying to stay hours or days behind the information as it arrives. These are the Slashdots, Diggs, Reddits, the linkblogs.

Other aggregators do not focus on speed, but rather on comprehensive coverage of the topic. Some of these make a deliberate choice to 'slow down', while others are slow due to the medium (e.g. print, rather than web). They're likely to be days, weeks, even months behind the day's activities.

This 'slowness' gives you the freedom to do deeper analyses, to commission content rather than simply share what others hae created, to talk to an array of sources about one subject to synthesize the informed opinion of many people. This kind of work takes time, the kind of time most fast aggregators don't have. These are the newspapers, books, magazines, conferences, and the websites that share 'articles' rather than 'blog entries'.

Who Do You Listen To?
Although I do read things from each category here, I do so for different reasons. RSS has done a great job of allowing me to stay connected to doers directly. This has reduced my reliance on aggregators.

Doer-connected talkers and aggregators are still useful to help get me to the doers in the first place, much like Radio can help you discover the music you enjoy.

So what about you? Do you find yourself increasingly moving to one end of the spectrum?

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