Lightning Shows

Summary: Google and blogorrhoea have turned many conference tutorials into anachronisms. I propose an alternative that’s more like a Lightning Talk session.

I’m reviewing a pile of submissions to Agile2008. (You can too!) I just noticed a pattern in my comments. Tutorials often have this structure:

  1. Here’s a problem that needs solving. I have a solution.

  2. Here I demonstrate the solution… You now know enough to replicate the solution back home.

  3. Wrapup, pros & cons, questions.

What I’ve discovered while reviewing is that I’m much less interested in step 2 than I used to be. For a vast number of problems out there, a quick Google session will find me some tutorials or blog entries or screencasts, each of which probably gives me a poor-to-adequate understanding of a solution. I can fairly quickly dip into them to see if the solution interests me; if it does, I can install the appropriate software, gather all the facts of what would be a dynamite tutorial from the middling-to-poor ones I probably have, and likely find a mailing list to help me when that’s not enough.

That doesn’t work for real cutting-edge approaches, but honestly most of the time I just want to get Capistrano working.

So I find myself recommending something more like lightning talks. The nice thing about lightning talks is that they’re low risk for the listener: if the current talk is boring, the next one is coming in just a few minutes.

So what I want from a non-cutting-edge tutorial is:

  1. Here’s a problem. Here are some of its variants. Here are some constraints on a solution.

  2. Here I quickly demonstrate what one solution, in action, looks like. Here’s what I think about it. Notice the URL I’m putting at the top-right corner of each slide? Copy it down. That’s my collection of favorite links about all these solutions. It’s the only thing you need to copy from this talk; you get everything else there.

  3. Here I quickly demonstrate the next solution…

  4. So that’s where the state of the practice stands. What innovations do I see coming that you should watch for? What do I wish was happening that isn’t?

Note that I’m not saying that all tutorials should be like this. Some things aren’t documented well. Others have to be learned in a group. But, to an increasing extent, a tutorial presenter doesn’t have to be the Person Who Knows, but rather an editor who filters down a flood of possibilities into a few high-relevance ones and tells me a little about each.

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