Stuck systems
A young friend of mine needed to create a bibliography for a school project this weekend.
I had forgotten how annoying this task was. I was also pretty sure it was obsolete.
Why, exactly, does a teacher or reader need to know the city a book publisher is based in?
If your goal as a reader (or someone checking for plagiarism or quality of research) is to get to the books that the writer used, you need exactly one piece of data: the ISBN.
A quick online search didn’t turn up what seemed obvious to me: a free service that would allow a writer to type in all the ISBNs used in creating a paper and then generate two things:
1. a bibliography based on looking up the data onlline and
2. a web page that would allow the reader/teacher to see the books, their covers, links to Amazon, libraries, online references, etc.
Then, when the student hands in the paper, she appends the bibliography created by the site, and there, right on top, is the web address with all the links.
Now, the typical middle-school teacher is going to explain that kids need to learn to write biographies because it’s part of literacy. And a college professor is going to want to keep the tradition going because no one wants to be the first to end it. And an entrepreneur is going to hesitate to build the site I described because she’s worried about how hard it will be to spread this idea and how much effort will go into making it the standard resource.
And no student wants to risk a grade by breaking the system.
So, the marketer faces a challenge similar to the disruption challenge that most marketers face–how do you take a system filled with an inefficient, annoying, time-consuming, wasteful and yes, even stupid task and make it better in a way that serves all sides?
If it were me, I’d focus on being cheap and fast and viral. And the more you break the system, the better your upside.
JANUARY 3, 2006

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