It may be time to adjust your thinking on software design. Admittedly, we have been skeptical of Charles Simonyi's Intentional Software plans, which even he described as making it as easy to create an application as it is to create a PowerPoint presentation. As his plans have become clearer, though, the idea has been growing on me - though, I still think it will be difficult to pull off. However, I'm beginning to think that I've been looking at it completely backwards. Clay Shirky has just written a fascinating article on "situated software", talking about how kids today, when asked to write a program, are approaching it in an entirely different way than those who learned to program for the web. Instead of focusing on issues like "scalability" and features that make it easy for a generic user, they designed specific apps for their social groups who they knew would be using it. They didn't worry about the big issues that would come up if the application would be expanded to a larger audience. In fact, it appears that many figured out a way to use the smallness of the userbase to the application's advantage. Reading this, I realized that this is exactly the way we've been working on certain applications within our tiny "Techdirt Labs" operation. These are applications that are only for internal use, where things like scalability and generic uses take something of a backseat to features that fit with what we need (improving the ability of our analysts to do their work). As such, something like Intentional Software (if it works) suddenly seems a lot more appealing. Everyone involved in these projects has ideas, and if they can all easily make adjustments and create the software that works for them or their small group, it would be much easier. Shirky's article makes one other interesting point along these lines. He talks about how MySQL makes it insanely easy to create an application on top of a database, and points out another reason why outsourcing fears are overblown. While firms like Gartner are predicting that there will be "fewer programmers" in the US due to outsourcing, Shirky goes the opposite direction, suggesting that this lowering the barriers will make more people programmers - just not in the traditional sense. He compares it to someone in the 80s saying that there would be fewer typists in the 90s. Technically, it's true, but it's missing the bigger picture. The same could be said for switchboard operators years ago. Nowadays, we're all switchboard operators. As with switchboard operators and typists - the new tools, and what they allowed opened up tremendous new possibilities. It looks like software development may be next.
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