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information pollution - a tech book disease?

Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
information pollution
I just read this usabilty piece from Jacob Nielsen which he sums up as

Excessive word count and worthless details are making it harder for people to extract useful information. The more you say, the more people tune out your message.

I think this applies to books equally well. Lately I've begun refusing to buy books that are thicker than my laptop, except if I'm looking for a reference book.
[ August 12, 2003: Message edited by: Pauline McNamara ]
Ernest Friedman-Hill
author and iconoclast
Marshal

Joined: Jul 08, 2003
Posts: 24183
    
  34

I agree with the general idea here, but the "thinner than my laptop" rule doesn't work, really. One quite thin, (somehow) highly recommended book I bought recently was Jeff Zeldman's "Designing with Web Standards" which, although it's quite slim, is actually 450 pages of set-ups without punchlines. Lots of little stories which sound like they're leading somewhere, without enough technical details to back them up. I kept reading and reading, waiting for the useful part to come -- but it really never did.


[Jess in Action][AskingGoodQuestions]
Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
That's funny, I just bought that book too. I haven't read much of it, but already it seems like he rambles and repeats a bit, bordering occasionally on evangelizing. It hasn't bugged me too much - yet - but it's true that I put it down and haven't felt compelled to pick it up again right away. I think I've put it in the bring-along-for-long-train-or-plain-rides category.
but the "thinner than my laptop" rule doesn't work, really
That's not my only rule
I just finished another book that also fit the "thinner than my laptop" rule, yet it too could have been less than half its size, or better yet, made into three thinner books that aim at and meet more specific goals.
Maybe that's what I'd like to see more of, thinner books that aim at and meet more specific goals. Reference books, of course, still have their (big, wide) place on the shelf.
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
I was talking to my editor the other day. She said there are two opposing trends in the industry.
If the books are thin, you can't charge as much for them, because the customer feels like he's not getting his money's worth. Also, if it's too thin (less then about 200 pages) it's not readily visible on the shelf (if sideways).
On the other hand, if the books are too thick, people don't want to lug them around. You also can't fit as many on the shelf (or in shipping).
It apparently varies between by two, by book market.
--Mark
Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
If the books are thin, you can't charge as much for them, because the customer feels like he's not getting his money's worth.
Interesting. I'm willing to pay more to spend less time sifting through filler. And feel kind of ripped off if I've paid more for a big book that's a pain to get through or that comes across as scattered.
Did she say what you can charge max for a "thin" book?
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
No. I doubt there are set rules. It's probabl more on an issue of marketspace and competition. The truth is, size has very little to do with pricing in general.
I think I once paid about $1/page for a 150 page book--but it was on cryptography (high specialized field and a small market).
--Mark
Michael Ernest
High Plains Drifter
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 25, 2000
Posts: 7292

Most readers seems to want a catch-all reference they can mine for gold time and time again. That's fine, but they're boring as f*** to write and rarely worth reading twice.
I have no interest in writing a brain dump, personally. I'd rather write a book that offers insights a reader can use time and time again to teach themselves how to think effectively. Of course, that approach usually requires technology that betrays a coherent architecture.
Looking back on my own Amazon reviews, I typically pan any thick book that is not a study guide (that way I don't pan myself ) or doesn't call itself a reference. The books I like are well-thought out and concise for that same reason. They're easy to carry, important points easy to bookmark and find again.
Give me the think book full of a few essential points. I can go drag myself through documentation for the API and general dregs of pure information.
Pauline McNamara
Sheriff

Joined: Jan 19, 2001
Posts: 4012
    
    6
Give me the think book full of a few essential points.
I like that. Think books as opposed to thick books.
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8801
    
    5
Someone like Gosling said:
"It takes courage to leave things out"
Yahoo!!
Focusing on the few, key essentials is one of the major approaches we take to our books. I second Michael's idea, I'd rather know the basics down cold, than a little bit about a bunch of details. If you know the basics you can look up the details.
I think 'Information Anxiety 2' does a great job discussing this.
[ August 13, 2003: Message edited by: Bert Bates ]

Spot false dilemmas now, ask me how!
(If you're not on the edge, you're taking up too much room.)
Mapraputa Is
Leverager of our synergies
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 26, 2000
Posts: 10065
I think 'Information Anxiety 2' does a great job discussing this.
Just yesterday I was thinking to ask you to review this book for our bunkhouse! So I do: pleeease!


Uncontrolled vocabularies
"I try my best to make *all* my posts nice, even when I feel upset" -- Philippe Maquet
Bert Bates
author
Sheriff

Joined: Oct 14, 2002
Posts: 8801
    
    5
Map -
My pleasure... give me a few days
- Bert
Mapraputa Is
Leverager of our synergies
Sheriff

Joined: Aug 26, 2000
Posts: 10065

We have the whole section in the bunkhouse for good non-programming books!
[ August 14, 2003: Message edited by: Mapraputa Is ]
 
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