I heard an interesting anecdote a while back. I don’t know how true it is, but bear with me because it serves to illustrate a point. The story goes that when the first motion-picture camera was invented, it was intended to be used to create photographs in which the people could move, smile, wave, whatever; think wizard photos from Harry Potter. People made, sold and used these things for years before eventually, some bright spark came up with an idea: don’t just capture a single static scene, but several scenes in succession.

Suddenly, the landscape changed. This new medium wasn’t for helping you remember what Auntie Doris looked like. It could do that, but that wasn’t what it was for: it was for telling stories! And now, it’s used for teaching, disseminating information and even for two-way communication. The rest, as they say is history.

The point of the story is that when new technologies emerge, we tend to interpret them in terms of what we already know. It generally takes us a while to figure out how to use new tools that we’ve not seen before; sometimes the problem that the new tool solves doesn’t even exist yet.

So when you come across a new tool (and this applies to all walks of life, not just the web), don’t just think about it in terms of things you already know. Have a play, try a few things out, then ask yourself:

What is this for?

Then keep asking until you’ve figured it out. Then tell everyone your idea and ask again. With any luck, your eventual answer will surprise even the clever folks who made the tool in the first place.