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Creating online doesn't have to be lonely
I was sprawled on all fours. It was my first Yoga class. My Downward Dog looked more like doing a push-up. I glanced sideways to the much more poised Yogi on my right. Ohhh, my butt needs to be raised way up. More like an elegant inverted V shape. Ah, got it.
We watch how others work. From young, this is how we learn. We all do this. And yet a new revolution is arising from this oldest of behavior. This time, online.
You may have heard about an AI service that is sweeping the world. No, not ChatGPT but MidJourney. It creates gorgeous images based on what you type or your prompt. What makes MidJourney extra special is that it is not a web app or even a mobile app. You interact with it primarily inside Discord, a chat app like Slack and the overwhelming choice of GenZ and gamers.
User @jrotx typed in “/imagine Technical 3d rendering of AI designed, robotic, weaponized dragonfly robot exquisite detail, accent lighting octane rendering unreal engine 8k photorealistic multiple angles” and out came this beautiful rendition:
Since this is done inside a chat app, everyone else sees what @jrotx is doing and can comment on it. More intriguingly, we all get to learn from them as they are creating. So, we can see the many different iterations that @jrotx attempts in their quest for the perfect weaponized mechanical dragonfly.
@jrotx’s last iteration used the prompt “AI dragonfly robot in the style of Peter Lee, hyper realistic, weaponized, 30mm cannons mini missile pods sleek elongated cinematic view gunmetal gray blue and red lighting accents armored, octane rendering, unreal engine 16k quality 3d zbrush deadly --v 5.1”, producing:
You can see the prompt changed quite a bit and that’s the thing about the prompt as UI. Even though it’s just a string of text, it’s endlessly variable and nuanced. Oh, I can use “in the style of <artist name I admire>” in my own prompt. Or the style of this image uses terms like “octane rendering” and “unreal engine”. I wonder what those terms mean. There is a lot of depth and experimentation to progress from a newbie MidJourney user to an expert. Simple instructions only get us that far. We basically master MidJourney by watching how others do it.
Our early experiences with computers and phones have been more solitary experiences in that we learned how to operate them mainly on our own. It's intuitive to move a cursor on screen by sliding the mouse and clicking on an icon. It is even more natural to swipe to scroll. Or swipe left to reject your unappealing Tinder prospect.
As we seek and are required to do more online, the tasks we need to do may be multi-step or cognitively demanding, like generating images magically from text! Thinking in terms of taps and flicks is no longer sufficient. Solo learning can only take us that far. MidJourney shows we can go further by learning from each other how to use the product.
When I was stuck searching everywhere for that rare Hylian shield in the latest Zelda, I watched a YouTuber show me the path. As programmers, we know that our coding problem has probably been solved a dozen times before and a google search usually yields the right code to paste faster than we can even type.
But what is different on MidJourney is that this “social learning” is happening inside the product itself. This means you don’t have to be an expert and you don’t have to take the time to produce a video. You are an active creator right alongside everyone trying to figure things out. The fact that users can see and “feel” other users creating with the product at the same time means there is just a buzz of examples flowing by. Users can not only pick up technical tips, but there’s also a social or psychological feeling that you are not doing this alone. Others are in this journey together with you and you can see the mistakes as I am making them and how I’m improving.
As I experiment with my Next Small Things, I’m going to try bringing this age old design pattern of social learning into the next online services I build. I’ve written about how we should bake distribution into product design. My gut tells me that is very synergistic with this idea of building social learning into your next online product. As I learn more, I’ll have much more to share. Till then, I may see you in the next in-person Yoga class as I found myself absolutely lost in Zoom Yoga. Namaste
Thanks toand for helping me shape this
Inspired by a podcast interview of Kevin Kelly by Tim Ferriss