Not everybody likes using words


1413 I wrote you a message:Image by Simmy. via Flickr

It can be tempting, sometimes, to thing that online communities and social networks are about words. About people writing their current status, discussing in forums or sharing ideas. It can be tempting to think that text is king. And this just isn’t so.

There are many reasons for the over-dominance of text in some online communities, but two important ones are

  1. the original message boards and forums were predominantly for text communications
  2. until relatively recently text was the easiest way for users to get content onto the internet

But with a rise of both social media rich sites and of webcams and broadband connections this is no longer the case. People can now communicate their ideas easily in text, image, video or voice. As long as we let them, that is.

The truth is that not everybody likes using words, and even for those who do, sometimes an image or a video can convey things that words just can’t. If we want people to communicate their ideas and interests in our online communities we should then allow them to use whatever medium suits them best for the message they want to convey. We should allow images to alternate with text and video to be posted in response to written questions. If you make it easy for people to do this and to breakdown the barriers for communicating then you will find that you get both more and more creative ideas.

Images do foster creativity and they allow a different kind of conversation and exchange of ideas to take place. Just take a look at sites like Dailybooth to see this in action. The premise of the site is simple - members are encouraged to upload a photo of themselves everyday. But where it gets really interesting is to look at the comments. Photos beget photos - people respond to the photos with photo comments of their own. This leads to a level of creativity, ideas exchange and insight that just isn’t possible with text. Whether it’s people showing the latest item of clothing they bought, part of their home or just exchanging wishes by photo, this is the kind of insight that any brand or organisation could benefit from.

So not everybody likes words and, perhaps more importantly, words are constrictive.They don’t allow us to exchange many ideas that are or interest and of value. So no online community (and especially no online research community) should restrict its users to text-only conversation. The reverse should be true. They should encourage people to share ideas in whatever medium makes sense to them. Technology should not limit them and should be invisible. It’s the ideas that count, after all.


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  1. Andrew Davis:

    Very good article. I suffer from severe RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) and typing (text) is very difficult for me. I have found communicating via anything that doesn’t involve text a lot easier. Even managed to do this for a year at my last job (Marketing for 1 of the largest Social Networks) and it was revolutionary.

    Keep up the good work

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