The cardinal error of design

The cardinal error of design is to survey your users, observe what they do, gather your use cases, understand the use cases in detail, and then design your artifact to embody each of those use cases as directly and faithfully as possible. It’s to design your artifact explicitly according to the way it’s supposed to be used.

Wait, what? Isn’t this how you are supposed to do design?

It’s not. People will not use your system the way you designed it to be used. It’s a mistake to assume it will be used one way, or five different ways, or as many ways as you’ve explicitly enumerated. However many distinct use cases or paths you identify, people will use it in more ways. They’ll use it their way. They’ll combine different ways and jump between one use case and another. Or they’ll interpose a different product in the middle of using yours. A well-designed product accepts that actual use patterns are emergent. You cannot list them, but you can hope to facilitate as many patterns as possible beyond the ones you’ve envisaged.

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Two tales of free speech

Amazon got WikiLeaks. Google got The Innocence of Muslims.

Each company hosted the controversial content, on Amazon Web Services and YouTube respectively. Both of these are self-service platforms. Members of the public upload what they wish and are legally responsible for it. The companies neither vet nor admit any legal responsibility for the content. Both companies have terms-of-use clauses that prohibit interfering with IT (flood attacks, etc) and copyright violations. Amazon also has a catch-all “no content that might reflect badly on us” clause, and YouTube doesn’t.

When the stories broke out, Amazon quickly kicked WikiLeaks off their servers. This was not motivated by a legal or political request – Amazon just decided to do so. See their statement here: So far, Google is still hosting the anti-Islam video but is blocking it in the Middle East. The White House asked Google to consider taking it down, but Google declined.

No-one has been harmed by WikiLeaks as far as I know, other than the source of the leak who is detained in the US. There was grave risk that people in the spy services, their informants, and perhaps well-meaning dissidents might be imprisoned, tortured, or killed as a result of being identified. The WikiLeaks team made a diligent effort to minimize this risk by redacting, and as far as I know there were no confirmed or officially claimed victims. Of course given the secrecy we may never know. So far, several people have been killed in Libya as a result of anger at the anti-Islam film, including the US ambassador, and there have been riots elsewhere.

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Time for one OS – Android

It’s time to have one operating system, and it will be Android. Yes, on everything. Google’s world domination will succeed.

There are two sets of things an OS does. It’s a user interface, app sandbox, and hardware abstraction. Android does these really, really well. It’s a fresh UI for fingers rather than mice. It’s the first to offer proper sandboxed security, so we can install apps written by random strangers, like we wanted to do since the 80s. It runs on everything and it’s free.

The other job of an OS is to be a deployment target for apps. A few years ago, the bulk and complexity of these APIs ensured the dominance of Windows. Now, the lock is breaking. Software is becoming a service. You don’t buy software, you download the app to access the service, or it’s just a Web page. Legacy software like Microsoft Office can run in VMs, or in the cloud.

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Marketing in software

Apple marketing
Hey, we understand you. You want a laptop to do these five or six things, right? Here, we’ve built one for you that’s very attractive and well-made and does the things that you want really, really well.

Microsoft marketing
You don’t really know what you want from your PC, and neither do we. We’re all in the same boat! So we made this software that has a whole bunch of features. Put it in your PC and it’ll do things. By the way your friends all have it, so if you go with the flow you’ll be able to share stuff.

Open Source marketing
User! You have no idea what you need and we’re not even going to attempt to tell you. Behind this link is our latest software, which we’re very proud of. If you use it, maybe you will see…

Guess who wins… Continue reading