Upon further reflection

Disclaimer: the thoughts expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others who participated in the conversation that inspired this post.

Here are some more thoughts about Echo:

  1. The success or failure of software is measured by the number of people who benefit from its use.
  2. Today’s weblog software is providing a lot of benefit to a lot of people. As that number grows, the fraction that cares about the backend details will diminish to rounding error.
  3. Many (most?) of the Roadmap signers are people who specifically care about the backend details, i.e. programmers. The best programmers have a keen sense of what is useful to people, but most don’t. [We tend focus on how much work we will have to do, or what is possible, whether or not it is useful, or our own personal notion of source code beauty. I.e. things that are invisible to 99.99% of the world.]
  4. As best I can tell, “today’s backend provides no value” is not among the reasons why Echo appeared.
  5. There is definitely an element of “today’s backend is not providing enough value, a better backend is needed”. That gets us into cost/benefit analysis.
  6. Immediate benefit: Echo is a release valve. People who feel that they haven’t had a voice now have a voice. For a while, there will be less grumbling and subsequently less bad PR. The grumbling will return when it becomes apparent that lots of people have voices and their voices want different things. But maybe this time it will be more effectively managed.
  7. Potential benefit: Echo delivers. A spec is published, tools are built, the world changes for the better.
  8. Cost: “Let’s hold off on implementing our feed/application/tool. There are too many competing specs. Everyone’s going to be doing Echo anyway. Let’s wait for Echo.”

So what can we conclude? Programmer grumbling is unfortunate but it is no match for the roar of happy users. If Echo does not deliver something substantially better than what came before, we will have a net loss. Will Echo deliver? I sure hope so.

10 thoughts on “Upon further reflection”

  1. Most users will also volunteer to be locked in a trunk by pseudo-“standards” that are controlled by a single vendor. cf: Internet Explorer, Word documents. The “roar of happy users” of which you speak is often based on a notoriously short-sighted worldview.

  2. Is the Microsoft comparison really apt? It has a certain emotional resonance, I guess, but I think it misses the mark. The weblog market is young and fragile; the browser and word processor markets are not. IE has 90% market share; Radio does not. Microsoft can put a competitor out of business by dedicating hundreds of programmers to embracing and extending their technology; Userland cannot.

  3. Also to Mark: So we agree that people will use software that gives them a benefit, even if they have to give up something in the bargin. We also agree that some companies use the “happy users” argument cynically to gain maximum advantage. I don’t dispute this and I don’t applaud it.

    But this is all a diversion from the important point, which is that people will not use software just because it gives a handful of programmers a benefit. The programmers must first use that benefit to create a genuinely better product.

  4. Thanks Andrew for having the courage to say the things that so many don’t have the guts to say.

    If Mark’s version were right, no one would have the right to invent something new.

    If Mark’s story were right, there’s no incentive not to use patents and closed formats to prevent people from cloning your work, as UserLand has. The irony is that UserLand has *encouraged* others to clone its products. No good deed goes unpunished, and Mark Pilgrim is the enforcer.

    If Mark’s story were right, he’d ask IBM for a disclaimer that they aren’t filing patents in this area, and that they don’t have any intention of taking ownership of any of this. IBM is a far larger company than UserLand, btw. (That’s kind of a joke, btw.) IBM uses patents to keep others from competing.

  5. “people will not use software just because it gives a handful of programmers a benefit”

    (rant follows)

    Back in January, I wrote and released a really simple RSS news reader, and released to an unsuspecting world. Since then, I’ve received quite a few responses, both via mail and via referrer links.

    The responses fall in two main categories:

    – Ordinary people, who tend to like it for its utter simplicity. A surprisingly large number of them are using it for their daily RSS needs.

    – Programmers, who hate it, for various reasons: it runs on the wrong platform, it doesn’t support every optional module in RSS 1.0, it doesn’t come with full source code, the documentation doesn’t mention RDF as the one true solution to every single program, it uses the wrong user interface toolkit, it doesn’t use Mark Pilgrim’s ultraliberal RSS parser, it isn’t released under the GPL, it is written in the wrong programming language, it does support RSS 2.0, it isn’t a SourceForge project, etc. The comments are usually written in a rather scornful way; I obviously don’t understand much about programming if I can mess things up this badly.

    After six months of this crap, my conclusion is simple: programmers are idiots. You cannot trust them to create anything useful by themselves; they’re not competent enough.

  6. Happy users like simple tools. Dave it seems as though people just want to contribute. Has anyone ever asked you the magic question? “Can I help?”
    He He Dave the best programmers have high self esteem and their ego in check. I have seen to many programmers fail as a result of flaming egos. Thats the problem with CSS you having a few months ago. CSS is easy but it can become very contrived with a large ego. Funny how a persons “id” can be reflective in their application design.

Comments are closed.