The explanation problem

You may know this: I’m a fan of Common Craft, the folks who have put out those absolutely brilliant short videos “in plain English” on tech topics.

In a recent post, Lee Lefever wrote about “Discovering the RSS Explanation Problem” based on this exchange:

Q: What is RSS?
A: RSS is an XML-based content syndication format.

Say what? A true fact that’s not at all helpful.

He generalizes the “explanation problem” to point out that when someone says “What is …?” they usually mean “Why does … matter to me?”

So here are a few stabs at what is RSS:

  • a technology that changes the “pull” of visiting a web site to find its news to a “push” of the site sending you the headlines that you can collect with the headlines from other sites into your own personal “web newspaper”.
  • a technology that allows you to republish news from partner web sites on your own site

But do watch RSS in Plain English, and think about answers to the questions

  • what is Facebook?
  • what is a blog?

and even

  • what is AAUW?

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