Nathan Pearson, Sakai’s lead for the UX Initiative just forwarded a post from the 37signals blog. It’s referencing a video interview with Ira Glass, where he talks about being a fierce editor and moderator, cutting more tape than you roll. The post extends the interview’s mention of entropy as the disorganizing, enemy force to software.

In principle, I agree: entropy tends to bloat, delay, and complicate software. But the read-only experience of listener/viewer in storytelling is a bit different from daily use software. The post reveals some of the company’s “less is more all” philosophy.

I give them credit for about half of the simplification and clarity we’re seeing on the web in general. All told, Rails is pretty nice, and they don’t get enough credit there. Putting the spoils of the past 5 years of practice evolution in front of the new generation of tinkerers is a very good thing. Specific to their apps, I love that they push products that do something very small, very well.

I believe that being a fierce gatekeeper, refactoring mercilessly, and outright trashing old/bad stuff is paramount to evolution of a system. But I also believe that 37signals has had a little too much Kool-Aid. When you push practice into philosophy and eventually into religion, your inertia can get downright indomitable.

A case in point from their flagship, Basecamp

On the To-Do dashboard, each member across projects is listed in a drop-down, so you can see outstanding items assigned. Then there is an entry for “Anyone”. But it really means “No One” – items able to be picked up, but that no one has. There is no way to see “Everyone” (all undone items), so I asked them for it directly.

The response could have come from Cupertino. It’s good for you like this, eat it and be happy. This was the one feature I really needed, and they wouldn’t consider it. It was enough to kill the usefulness and curb my enthusiasm, to be sure. I could adopt their version of minimalism or move on with mine intact.

So, in response to Matt’s post… Vigilance against miscellany is critical, but it can’t become a fortress. I think we do well to say “no” a couple of times while thinking “maybe”. If it keeps coming up, “maybe” turns to “probably”, and the scale tips. YAGNI is great until someone DOES need it.

That progression depends on being the “ruthless killer” without becoming a zealot or a lunatic. We might know better than the user most of the time, but we should never be so arrogant as to assume it always and declare it so without consideration.

In the complex realm where Sakai lives, we should always be careful when giving people “a better way”. It’s possible to deliver obvious clarity about as easily as frustration and obfuscation in something so dear as the ability to educate and learn, all to uphold the “simple and better” philosophy. -NB

blog comments powered by Disqus


29 March 2008