Ten Lines Of Code Is Easy; Building Community Is Hard

from the yup dept

Fred Wilson has a good post pointing out how ridiculous it is for various elitists to scoff at a certain internet startup because it could be recreated in "ten lines of code." I certainly know the feeling (and have, at times, felt it myself), but as Fred notes, the comment is really far off the mark, and is a situation where techies tend to be doing the same thing that content owners have been known to do: overvaluing one part of the product over what's likely to be even more important. While content owners overvalue the content itself, techies often overvalue the code. But with certain services, it's the community that's more important than the code. The fact that the code can be (and has been) replicated is meaningless, if you can't also create the same community around it.

This is a point that's also important when it comes to the various discussions we have about patent law around here. Some patent system defenders insist that they need to "protect" their invention. But, again, if that invention isn't bringing users, there's not much worth protecting, at all. You can copy all you want, but if no one's willing to use what you do, you haven't done much valuable. Ten lines of code may be meaningless. But if those ten lines of code bring in millions of users, it's a different story.


Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    R. Miles, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 6:57am

    Ha! Another industry which can't think.

    But this isn't surprising, especially meeting many programmers over the years who still, to this day, feel it's their software people pay for.

    10 lines of code. Funny stuff. I think I'll patent those 10 lines of code and sue the entire world for using it.

    Seems to be paying better than writing 10 lines of code.

     

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  2.  
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    Felix Pleșoianu, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 7:21am

    I beg to disagree. In my experience, it's business people who usually overvalue code. A programmer is more likely to say "So what if we're giving them the source code, they could rewrite it easily anyway." Of course, that's only true for good programmers...

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 7:44am

    Yeah, I don't tend to value code much at all unless it's something extremely unique. As soon as I see something running, I can start ripping it a part and recreating it's code in my head... so unless it has some really ingenious solution, the code isn't that significant.

    If you can write it, someone else can write is as well or better.

     

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  4.  
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    Phillip, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 7:56am

    Re:

    I completely agree. This is what most programmers (myself included) I know would say.

     

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  5.  
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    Tgeigs, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:11am

    True

    "techies often overvalue the code. But with certain services, it's the community that's more important than the code."

    I'm not a programmer, I'm a network security guy, but I had a professor once say that some in the programming community undervalued things like the community because of a psychological function of working with coding. He called it something like "the if/then social problem", or something like that. Basically, programmers became so used to the general rules of programming that they expected the community to behave like the program, i.e. if you give the girl a flower, she'll go on a date w/you, never mind all of the social interactions at work.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:12am

    Re: Re:

    Yea, I was kind of baffled when my manager wanted to get some sort of IP protection on software that I wrote. Plus he tried a whole lot to get protection on the software itself so only people who purchase it can run it (even though its an interface for a hardware system and therefore is useless if someone pirated it) because he didn't want the competition to get a good look. I found this to be odd and needless. The only thing that would be difficult to recreate without the source would be some of the image filters we use, but they're third party anyway and the competition could easily purchase the same service.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:14am

    Re: True

    you mean the flower thing doesn't work? Damn it... and all this time I just thought I was using the wrong kind of flowers...

     

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  8.  
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    Tgeigs, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:16am

    Re: Re: True

    Maybe the flowers you gave her had corrupted petals or stems...

     

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  9.  
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    BillDivX, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:23am

    Ten Lines of Code...

    Aren't necessarily easy. Some mathematical concepts can be squeezed into ten lines of code if you understand them well, but if you don't, they will squeeze your brain into jelly.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:34am

    Re: True

    oh man, I have a friend that tried to make a website that would be a monster.com killer. He succeeded in everything but the human element. Brilliant code, brilliant database design, brilliant everything... except he prescribed to the idea of "If you make it, they will come."

     

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  11.  
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    Cixelsid, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:56am

    If there's one thing that's abundant on the internet...

    its free code. Most programmers, myself included, actually want our code to be put online for people to see... as long as you get credited.

    There's no point in writing a fast 2D line intersection algorithm in

     

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  12.  
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    Cixelsid, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 8:58am

    If there's one thing that's abundant on the internet... (cont.)

    There's no point in writing a fast 2D line intersection algorithm in

     

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  13.  
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    Cixelsid, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 9:00am

    If there's one thing that's abundant on the internet... (cont.)

    There's no point in writing a fast 2D line intersection algorithm in less than 10 lines or a matrix inversion routine in a single recursive loop if you can't show it to anybody for the ego boosting praise all we programmers crave.

    NOTE: Apparently plain text mode still interprets html tags causing my post to be cut. Sorry bout the double posts.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 10:42am

    Value may have a time factor...

    Per Mike:

    You can copy all you want, but if no one's willing to use what you do, you haven't done much valuable.

    If no one is ever willing to use what you have done, then it is true that you may not have done much valuable. However, what happens if 30 years from now someone needs a solution and discovers your long-expired patent? Or, what if, as happens to about 2/3's of all patents, it expired by the 8 year mark, and someone wants that technology ten years after it was developed? Now the technology is not only valuable, but readily available.

    Thomas Jefferson anticipated that patents would serve one primary purpose for society. It would get technology into the open where others could, after a relatively brief period of inventor control, freely access the technology. There have been numerous examples of technology that was not valuable or marginally valuable when invented, that ultimately became incredibly valuable years or decades after the IP was expired. Indeed, much technology is before its time and just about the time it becomes valuable the IP expires, allowing others to capitalize on the market-building efforts of the pioneer.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 31st, 2009 @ 10:48am

    Complexity does not equal value.

    I've seen too many sites where the owners seem to think that it does though. They "improve" the site by adding more layers, more restrictions, more hoops to jump through, more flash and bloat, etc.. And then, when their numbers are disappointing, they see that as a sign that they need to "improve" the site even more. And so it continues until they finally go under, due to "circumstances beyond their control" of course.

    You can't measure value by counting lines of code, and that drives accountants nuts.

     

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  16.  
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    CW, Apr 1st, 2009 @ 10:32am

    The 4 things every tech blog commenter should remember.

    Having worked as a software engineer, and now as a technical marketer for a consumer electronics company, I have seen both sides of the argument that the originally-referenced blog post discusses. I have learned that there are four things that escape the brains of many armchair-engineers-who-post-dismissive-comments-on-tech-blogs:

    1) You can be assured that there is at least one person in the world more clever or informed on a particular topic than you, and

    2) There is a non-zero, and often quite large, probability that one or more of the aforementioned persons are working for the company you are dismissing, and

    3) She/He/They have already thought of everything you're about to post, and several things that you didn't think of (many of them completely orthogonal to the engineering challenges), and have come up with the best solution they can given any reasonable constraints, and

    4) They are going to laugh at how ignorant you sound, acting all snarky and authoritative, if they ever read your post.

    As I try to remind myself of the above 4 things, I find myself posting much less and laughing much more.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 1st, 2009 @ 3:25pm

    Re: The 4 things every tech blog commenter should remember.

    "As I try to remind myself of the above 4 things,..."

    You need to remind yourself again.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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