If some people don’t HATE your product, it’s mediocre – Kathy Sierra (Chinese ver.)

If some people don’t HATE your product, it’s mediocre
– 如果沒有人憎恨你的產品的話,那麼它就是平庸的。

via Creating Passionate Users Dec 23, 2004
(translated by Uta, special thanks to StephenH for reading and editing the draft)

That notion is shared by lots of folks including Don Norman, and we’ve taken it to heart, given how many people hate (with a passion) our books. But if you take the safe path, your chances of breaking through the market clutter is almost zero. There’s simply too much competition for virtually *everything* today–and with so many choices of products, services, whatever, making a dent requires something dramatic. Dramatically different. No, not just different, but different in the ways that matter to the user.

包括 Don Norman在內,有許多同行都認同這一概念,而我們也由忠地知道,事實上有很多人痛恨(很強烈地)我們出版的書籍。但如果你採取安全的策略,你從市場中突圍而出的機會可能就等於零。對於今天的幾乎*一切*事物,競爭就是太多了 —看周圍有這麼多的產品和服務,要突出自己便需要一些引人注目的元素。那些元素不但要令你看起來有點不一樣,而是要令用戶覺得你與眾不同。

Seth Godin has a comment (I think from the Purple Cow book) that goes something like this, “Today, being safe is risky, and being risky is safe.” (I might have mangled that, but that’s the idea.)

Seth Godin 曾經有過如下的評論 (我想應該是在 Purple Cow book 內提及的),”今天,要安全就是在冒險,有風險倒是更安全” 。 (我或許寫得有點凌碎,但大意就是這樣)

So we had a choice with our first book series (the Head First books): do we play it safe and write a good, solid, decent programming book that the widest range of readers can appreciate, or do we completely abandon the conventions in favor of something that many would HATE, but that would be a dramatically better experience for others? If we played it safe, we knew we’d have to kick and scream and claw (and the publisher would have to spend a fortune on marketing) to take even a tiny piece of the market already well-served by at least a dozen well-respected, technically excellent books. But if we took the unsafe path, we risked getting viciously BASHED in public (just *imagining* what Slashdot would do to us was made me ill) and losing whatever minor reputation we’d built with javaranch. But really, we had almost nothing to lose. It was O’Reilly that really took the Big Risk (more on that story in another post), since they DID have a reputation at stake… a reputation crafted over many years and with thousands of books.

所以在我們出版首個書系時(Head First系列),我們有一個選擇:應該以最安全的方法來寫一本看起來很好,而且嚴肅和具體面,並可以供最廣泛的讀者欣賞的編程書籍嗎?還是我們應該完全放棄傳統方法,使用很多人都會 “討厭” 的形式,但那卻對某些人來說是個極吸引的更佳體驗? 如果我們採取安全的方法,我們就必須要大聲疾呼,狂叫狂跳(和出版商將不得不花費金錢大攪營銷)才可得到一小片的市場,而這個市場早已備有至少十數本極受推崇,且技術層面上優秀的書籍。但是如果我們採取冒險的途徑,我們就要冒著被大眾惡意”攻擊”的危險(就是*想像* Slashdot資訊科技網會如何對待我們已令我不安)及失去在 javaranch 僅存的小小聲譽。但說真的,我們沒有什麼可以失去的了。其實是 O’Reilly 冒了”很大的風險” (將會在另一篇文章內談及更多有關的事),因為他們確實是在風險中建立聲譽的…那是從多年來成千上萬的出版書籍中所建立出來的聲譽。
 
So we thought about it for around five seconds and decided to go for it ; ) We took Seth’s advice and chose the risky-is-actually-safer road by questioning nearly every assumption about The Way Things Are Supposed To Be. Instead, we asked, “If there were no constraints other than the ones imposed by the 2D page/book format, what could we do to help people learn better, faster, deeper?” We knew a lot about how to answer that question (from years of research and experience working on it), but we also knew that some people would hate it. REALLY hate it. We just crossed our fingers (as did O’Reilly, thanks mainly to Tim’s personal pleasure at being disruptive) and hoped that just a few more people would LOVE it than hate it, and that the people who really loved it would care enough to spread the word.

因此,經過了大約五秒鐘的思考後,我們決定坐言起行 ;)我們採取了 Seth 的意見,透過質疑 “事物其實是怎樣被設想” (The Way Things Are Supposed to Be)中的幾乎每一個假設,我們選擇了  “冒險才是較安全” 的方法(risky-is-actually-safer road) 。並且,我們提出了以下的問題:除了平面印刷/書籍格式的本身局限外,如果在沒有任何其他的限制下,怎麼才可以幫助人們更有效、更快及更深入地學習 ?我們其實知道很多有關於這個問題的資料(從多年的研究和經驗,在工作中得知),但我們也知道有些人會討厭它。是”真的”憎恨它。我們唯有交叉雙手並希望好運的來臨(如 O’Reilly一樣,這主要歸功於享受分裂性格的 Tim),並希望”喜愛”它的人會比憎恨它的人多一點。而那些真正愛它的人,會為我們宣揚開去。

And thankfully, that’s what happened. Several things surprised us though:
而且非常感激地 ,那就是已經發生了的事。有幾件事情確實令我們吃驚:

1) More people loved it than we expected. Head First Java went immediately to the top of the Java bestseller list in the US (across both online and brick-and-mortar stores, according to Bookscan), was a finalist for a Jolt Cola/Software Development award, and was chosen a Top Ten Computer Books of 2003 by Amazon), and stayed on top for 18 months until it was replaced by our Head First Servlets book (which was selected as an Amazon Top Ten Computer Books of 2004). The other two Head First books became instant bestsellers in their categories as well. We could not possibly care more about what our learners have to go through to learn this stuff, and that caring and extra effort (these books are much more difficult and time-consuming to build) is making a difference.

1 )比我們預期中有更多喜愛這個書系的人。Head First Java 在美國立即排在java暢銷書排行榜的高位(據 Bookscan所知,那是包括網上書店及實際書屋),也成了一個Jolt Cola/軟件開發獎(Jolt Cola/Software Development award) 的入圍選手,並獲選2003亞馬遜十大電腦書籍之一,且佔據高位達18個月之久。而取代它的是我們的 Head First Servlets 書籍 (它也被選為亞馬遜2004十大電腦書籍) 。就連其他兩本Head First書籍也立即在其所屬類別中成了暢銷書。我們非常關心讀者們在學習過程中的需要,而那些關愛和額外的努力(完成這些書籍是十分困難和費時的)使我們的書籍獨一無二。

2) Of the people who hate it, the most vocal have been other computer book authors. We chalked this up at first to a simple Who Moved My Cheese thing, but later realized it isn’t that simple. We now believe that a lot of it has to do with defining what a “book” is… and that most of the computer book authors were writers, and many of them damn good ones, who saw our books as a degradation in writing, a kind of “pandering to the MTV generation”. In many ways, that’s *exactly* what our books are. But we don’t consider ourselves writers and we don’t consider our users to be readers. We consider them learners. And that means our job is not to write but to help them learn. Another issue is that many folks believe that it is just unprofessional to put such “silly” things in a technical book, and that it shows disrespect for both the learner and the professional topic. We violently disagree, of course, because everything we do in the books has a very specific purpose based on reaching the brain, and we’re very passionate ourselves about both the topics and the act of delivering them, but that’s a more involved topic I’ll look at later.

2 )而對於討厭這個書系的人(主要是其他電腦書的作者),我簡單地把它視為如 “誰動了我的乳酪” 一般的事,但其後我們才意識到,它並非如此簡單。我們現在相信,其中很多的不滿是來自於對什麼是”書本”(what a “book” is)的定義…與大多數計算機書籍的作者是作家不同,他們其中不少是非常捧的作家,他們覺得我們出版的書籍是一種寫作的降格,是一種” 奉承MTV 世代”的行為。但在許多方面,這*正是*我們書籍的特點。但我們不認為自己是作家,我們也不認為我們的用戶只是讀者。我們認為他們是學習者。這意味著我們的工作不光是寫就足夠的,而是要幫助他們學習。另一個問題是,許多人認為我們的書籍很不專業,把那些”無謂”的東西放在技術書籍內,它對於學習者和專業課題雙方都不尊重。在這一個意見上,我們強烈的反對,當然,這是因為我們在書籍上所做的一切,是有很具體的目的,就是與大腦溝通,以及我們無論是對於課題或是怎樣把它們傳遞出去都是充滿熱情的。以後,我們會再深入研究這一點。

3) Of those who started out hating it, some later found it to be “an acquired taste”, and some of our initial vocal haters later became vocal supporters.3 )在那些初期不喜歡它的人群中,有些人後來開始對我們的風格習以為常 (an acquired taste) ,還有另一些開首時直言不喜歡的人,後來更成為響亮的支持者。

4) Of the folks who hate it, most (but certainly not all) are not in the target audience. In other words, they believe it’s bad “for others”, rather than evaluating it as someone actually trying to use it for its intended purpose. In other words, they believe they’re speaking on behalf of the people who really ARE in the target audience. So we get a lot of comments like, “How can ANYONE learn from this crap?” from people who already know the topic.

4 )在討厭這個書系的人群中,大多數(但肯定不是全部)都不是我們的目標受眾。換句話說,他們相信這些書對”其他人”是有害的 ,而不是實際上使用它後才評價它。也就是說,他們相信他們”是”目標受眾的名義發言人。所以,我們得到了很多這樣的評語,” 哪有人能從這些垃圾中學習?”,而這些人早已掌握了這些課題的知識。

5) A surprisingly vocal group hated it *not* because of its format, but because its very premise–making it easier to learn Java–was just BAD. Bad for the tech industry. Bad for the existing Java programmers. Bad because it would allow those who “don’t even DESERVE to learn Java to start taking our jobs”. We dismissed that as ridiculous at first, but then we heard that a few other authors of beginning Java books had experienced the same phenomenon. One well-known author of an excellent, but very advanced Java book, put it this way, “I guess it makes sense that your book would be successful now… all the SMART people already KNOW Java.”

5 )最令人驚奇的是,有一群人討厭它的原因竟然並*不是*因為其格式,而是因為它的特點 – 使學習Java 變得容易 –- 這竟然是 “錯的”。對於科技行業而言這是不好的,對於現行的 Java 程序員而言也是不好的。差劣的原因是,它將使那些”根本沒有資格學習 Java 的人開始從事我們的工作”。 開首時我們認為這個荒謬的想法不值一提,但後來我們聽說其他幾個行家開始寫作Java 書籍時,都有類似的經歷。一位編寫了一本非常出色的高階 Java 書籍的作者把事情這樣理解, “我猜想這是有道理的,你的書將很成功,現在……所有 “聰明” (SMART)的人都已 “學懂 (KNOW) Java 了” 。

What did NOT surprise us was that the audience for the Head First books is skewed younger. People with brains wired up in the 60’s and 70’s are more likely to find our books [euphimism]unpleasant[/euphimism] than those wired up in the fast-cut visual sensibility world of Sesame Street/MTV/Video Games. This is not 100% (and let’s just say that Bert and I grew up when and Space Invaders were considered “stimulating media”), but we used the research that points to differences in brain wiring and visual perception between those raised on slower media and those raised on, well, the faster stuff. I’ll talk more about those brain differences in other posts.

我們沒有感到出奇的是,Head First 書籍的讀者群都是較為年輕的。那些大腦與60年代和70年代有聯繫的人,較那些與視覺情感世界如芝麻街/MTV/電子遊戲有接觸的人,容易覺得我們的書籍是更” 使人厭惡的”, 這也不是 100% 絕對的(因為Bert 和我也是在 Space Invaders 這些”刺激媒體”的年代長大的),但我們的研究結果指出,那些在快速視覺媒體及較慢速媒體中成長的人,他們的大腦神經分佈及視覺感知的發展是不同的。我會在日後的文章再談及這些分別。

We couldn’t possibly be more supportive now of the “be risky” and “embrace the hatred” model for launching a new product or service. Because let’s face it–getting people to choose your excellent-but-mainstream product over all the other excellent-but-mainstream products that serve the user’s needs is an uphill (if not impossible) battle today, and even if it’s possible… who has the marketing budget?

我們這刻實在有極多的支持,讓我們在”無懼風浪”並能勇於”包容憎惡 “的模式中推出新產品和服務。因為我們清楚知道–要既能滿足用戶的需要,且讓他們選擇你優秀的主流產品 (excellent-but-mainstream) (而不是其他所有優秀的主流產品),這顯然是一場苦戰(如果不是不可能),而即使它是可能的…誰又願意付出這可觀的推廣支出?

So take a chance, and be brave. My skin isn’t as thick as it needs to be… when people trash us, for good or lame reasons, it hurts. But it’s worth it. We offered this series to two other publishers (more on that in another post) and they didn’t just turn it down, but turned it down with impunity…laughing as in, “Oh, like THAT is going to work! Ha-ha-ha…”. I was virtually fired from Sun for some of the ideas that proved to be most-liked by customers (in other words, Sun said, “Customers will hate this… shut up about it OR ELSE.”). But thankfully for us, O’Reilly was more than willing to take a chance (although rumors abound that it caused quite an internal battle at O’Reilly–with Tim and Mike Loukides and Kyle Hart on one side, and many, many others suggesting that Head First books would seriously damage their reputation).

所以我們應該勇敢地作出嘗試吧。我的面皮並不是如需要的那麼厚…當人們把我們的心血掉入垃圾桶,無論背後的原因是否充份,也會傷害了我。但這是值得的。我們曾經把這一系列書籍的出版構思提供給另外兩個出版商(以後會再詳述) 他們不僅否決了我們的提意,更是以不當一會事/很冷漠的方式來否決…笑言” 哦,就 “這樣” (like THAT)真可行嗎! 哈哈哈…”事實上,那些已被證明是很受客戶歡迎的想法就是我被 Sun 解僱的原因 (換個說法是 ,Sun 曾說: “客戶會討厭這些的… 收口吧,否則後果自負”)。但對我們來說真的很感激,O’Reilly願意給我們一個機會(雖然有傳言指O’Reilly 的內部也經過了一輪激烈的爭論, Tim, Mike Loukides 和Kyle Hart 都意見相同,而餘下的大部份人則表示 Head First 書籍系列會嚴重損害其聲譽)

As my partner Bert likes to quote, “If you aren’t living on the edge… you’re taking up too much room.” (Of course, we were lucky enough to have O’Reilly footing most of the bills for this *experiment*, but still…the first book took six months of pouring our heart into it, day and night, for both Bert and I). To all of our early adopters and vocal supporters, THANK-YOU! We owe you so much, and when you take the time to tell others — and even better, to tell US — what the books have meant to you, that makes it so worth it. Computer books are not a way to make a good living today because the tech book market is down so far today, but the emails from happy user/learner folks keeps us going.

正如我的夥伴Bert喜歡引用的一句話” ,如果你不是生活在頂峰… …你就是佔用太多空間了” 。 (當然,我們幸運地得到O’Reilly 的支持,並承擔了這個*實驗*的大部份費用,但仍然…第一本書的誕生是經歷了六個多月的時間,日以計夜的投入了我和Bert所有的心血)。給我們早期的讀者及表態支持我們的人,”感謝你們” (THANK YOU)! 我們欠你那麼多,你們花了不少時間來告訴別人–更好的是,告訴了我們(US) – 我們的書對你們有著什麼意義,這使我們所有的付出都變成值得的。現今計算機類的書籍並不能給人們賺取豐厚的生活,因為今天科技書籍的市場已經萎縮了不少,但收到快樂的用家/學習人仕所寄來的電子郵件,就是支持我們繼續向前的動力。

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Uta Lam

I love Tech! I love design! I love inspirational speeches! I love all the beautiful and chic stuff...

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