June 24, 2006

Users vs. Developers

Trolling Chris Pirillo wants some.

He he! Well someone’s got to stand up and school the boy!

I admire people like Winer (who’s link I followed over there). I like the notion of “users and developers partying together”. I think developers have a responsibility to give the users good things. And that developers can’t know what these good things are without paying attention to users.

But the idea that development is a commodity - which is essentially what he's saying here -, that it’s like the water supply which can be turned on or off or piped-around at the will of the user, is wrong, wrong, wrong.

The reason is, that good software creation, like any other creative activity, requires a deep knowledge of the nature and constraints of the medium. You can’t invent the transistor without a profound understanding of physics. Nor write a great novel without being a master of your own language. Nor a great painter without knowing paint. Nor invent radio or television or the computer without a background in the relevant science.

Without knowing your material you’ll never see the statue in the block of marble. Never have intuitions about the possibilities that the medium holds. Users can, at best, offer advice for incremental improvements : “I want something like X but with these annoyances fixed.”

But that’s never going to give you radical new things. There are no great innovations in software that have been driven by user demand. (Name one!) They all come from geeks who knew what software looks like from the inside, who saw something in the computer and said “hey! I could make it do that, too. Kewl!”

Users and developers have common enemies : dinosaur software companies, companies who like to specify and buy software which they hope will impose particular work-practices on their employees, market-forces which require cutting-corners to get the product out of the door today rather than get it right.

Let’s work (and party) together to fight that.

But the other … don’t fool yourself. Users have been dreaming of getting rid of developers, like, forever. They never succeed.

Every time the users abandon us, we go away and create yet more cool stuff, on our own, for ourselves.

And eventually the users come crawling back, because they want more of our pure, raw innovation, rather than more of the stale old fluff which is all that they and the marketing people (who "understand real users better than those disfunctional geeks") are able to come up with by themselves.

Update : MP3 of Pirillo's presentation at BloggerCon. Yawn! ;-)
Post a Comment