Monday, 12 December 2011

Too Much Information? Five Pros And Cons For Sharing Knowledge Online

The availability of code demos and tutorials online has made it possible for me to learn my craft in a relatively short space of time. I have leapfrogged from basic to advanced web design in eleven short months after years of tinkering with HTML and CSS. This raises the question: are the designers and developers who make these giving too much away?


One of the reasons I've been able to learn so much about my craft is that kind people have put tutorials on the internet to teach noobs how to set up websites properly according to web standards. When new code attributes become available, they make demos of how to make use of them.


And if that's not enough, there's a fantastic array of generator tools that enable me to make rounded corners, drop shadows and even web page layouts on the fly. I couldn't possibly be any more grateful; I am deeply in their debt. However, when it comes to paying it forward, I find myself wondering if being so generous is such a good idea.


At 10.18, this video demonstrates the point I'm making here in this post.


 


Here are five pros and cons for posting tutorials, etc. online.


Pros


1. Helps to popularise your blog or website


When I first started blogging four years ago on other sites, it was all about me. Me, me, me. My website. What was on it and why it was so great. Why you ought to join in, etc. Whoo! Prizes! Join in the fun! It didn't last. When I went professional and got paid-for hosting and everything I started to seriously research good blogging techniques. The number one thing that's recommended is to consider why you subscribe to certain blogs and keep up with their latest posts. I have to admit, it's the tutorials ones that keep me coming back because I've learned everything I know from them.


2. Demonstrates your knowledge


People tend to put more trust in people who can prove that they know what they're doing. Writing tutorials has opened a lot of doors for me, leading to partnerships with people in parallel trades, e.g. backend developers with more in-depth skills than I have.


3. Gets you more involved in communities


I'm subscribed to several online communities. One of them is a WordPress users group. Being able to help people solve problems has encouraged them to think of me as a knowledgeable person. This can lead to fantastic opportunities down the line, including getting overflow work.


4. Raises your online profile


If you Google my name — just my name — there are many thousands of results for me. This is because of my frequent blogging. The variety of subjects I touch upon gives me a great number of keywords to bring me higher up the search results. Now if I only ever blogged about my latest projects, that would show that I am busy, but would not be as attractive to potential clients and partners as sharing what I've learned with others.


5. Makes you a leader in your field


If you lead at least one person, you're a leader. Now I'm not trying to suggest that I'm THE leader in my field; I'm not, I'm still learning my craft. Any serious professional is always learning. The point is, I can be PERCEIVED as a leader because I know what the reader perusing my blog wants to know. And that's what counts.


Cons


1. It takes time to write original works


Many of my tutorials are written from the point of view of a noob trying out a new technique. The others come about from personal experience as I finally work out how to do something. I do borrow from other bloggers but I don't just copy and paste their work in or just rewrite it. I try them out to see if they work (sometimes they don't!), then write from that experience. Some of them aren't relevant to my personal experience because they're written from the point of view of someone with a different server or they have their own, so that's a gap I can fill. However, doing this takes up time I could be spending doing other things. And I always have a HUGE amount of things to do.


2. Might make you redundant


It has occurred to me that since I learned all I know from t'internet, others can too. To be fair, they'll learn it from the same people I learned from if I don't write tutorials, but I thought I ought to mention it. Speaking of which...


3. Gives too much away to competitors


This is the thing I worry about, to be honest. It's what prompted the picture above. I actually got an email from some geezer who effectively wanted me to teach him how to leapfrog me in a series of tutorials that I was expected to write for him. Cheeky or what?! But paying it forward is how the web standards, design and development community works. You're supposed to give something back because they give so much to you. Now this guy doesn't devote himself to learning his craft so I haven't got that much to worry about. It's the ones who do want to learn to do it properly that scare me.


4. Exposes your weaknesses


The level of tutorial you write shows the level of your knowledge. I'm not writing HTML5 tutorials for a reason: I'm only just dipping my toes in it at the moment. The people who can learn from me are at the beginning to intermediate level of web design. I'm only one step ahead of them and trying to compete with people who know more than I do (This is my "Attention, neighbours!" moment).


5. Other bloggers might surpass you


Web design is my primary discipline. I don't devote myself to blogging, but to designing websites and learning how to do better at it until I'm the best I can be. Therefore, people who spend more time blogging than I do can do it better because that's all they do. And people who write better tutorials or are better known for it become the go-to guys for tutorials, so all you're really doing is taking up space on t'internet.


Conclusion


It's important to continue the pay it forward ethos of the design and development community, but maybe I worry too much about giving too much away. The fact is, there's more to design than colours or background. JavaScript has its place, but what you're really aiming for is to understand the underlying principles. In eleven months (so far) I've had to learn how to integrate the principles of good design with aesthetics, and that the look of a website should never supercede its primary purpose, which is to give its readers information about what it's intended to represent. Getting all that on straight is what takes up the time, not the technical side. Design is a discipline that requires, no, demands intuition and that's not something you can get from a tutorial, so I can relax. And write more tutorials.

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