Keyboards, kids and game theory

ID-100117391The last few months have been a really exciting time for me because my daughter has just started at school. It is amazing to see how quickly kids learn new things once they are at school.

She is learning her letters and also learning to write. I guess they have to learn to write but as an adult I hardly write anything any more, everything I do is typed on a keyboard of one sort or another.

This got me thinking about how early a child should learn to type and then whether even that will be worth doing if the method of inputting changes in the next 10-15 years. Maybe we’ll move on to something beyond keyboards, or maybe we’ll move away from QWERTY keyboards to something else.

How do we know that we are teaching our kids something that will really be useful for them in the future?

It is possible that we won’t be using keyboards in the future, but if we are they will almost certainly be QWERTY ones – because of game theory.

Although the QWERTY keyboard is by far the best known layout of the keys there are other options available. One of the best known alternatives is the Dvorak keyboard which puts the most commonly used keys on the middle line of keys which then minimizes the amount of finger movement that is required to type. It is arguably a better layout than the standard QWERTY keyboard.

But choosing a keyboard layout is really a big co-ordination game. If I decide to change to the Dvorak keyboard because I think it is better then I can change my own computers but every other keyboard I come across in my day will still be a QWERTY one so I will need to be able to type on both which will be harder work.

If everyone changed to Dvorak then we would all be better off but whilst the vast majority stay with QWERTY it is better to stay with that, even if it is a slightly worse layout.

A new product has to be significantly better if it is to break into a market where it is better for everyone to be using the same product. Another example is with social networks. A challenger to Facebook has to be good enough to convince enough people to change even though at first not all their friends will be on the new network. Once the new product reaches a tipping point then take up will be quick but getting to the tipping point can be nearly impossible.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

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2 Responses to Keyboards, kids and game theory

  1. Lou says:

    Hello Barry. I really enjoy your website, and I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for your writing. It is informative and valuable in these exciting times.

    • Barry Hughes says:

      Hi Lou,

      Thanks for your comment, I’m really glad that you are enjoying the blog.


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