Us and Them

5 Dec 2020

Slack is IRC for the masses Dropbox is FTP for the masses Facebook is blogging for the masses Spotify is Napster for the masses Reddit is Usenet for the masses

What are nerds doing right now, that non-nerds would do if it were more accessible?

— Daniel Feldman @d_feldman, 2020-12-02

Creating an artificial separation between Us and Them to maintain exclusivity and a privileged position of expertise? (Just kidding; non-nerds do that too.)

Less snarkily, I dislike this kind of division as it smacks of gatekeeping. More importantly, othering your audience (with the implication that they’re lesser in some way) leads to worse products from a user perspective.

To expand on one example in the quoted tweet, Facebook is (approximately) blogging for the masses, but WordPress is blogging for everybody; people choose to use it even if they have the expertise to do it a more complicated way.

Looking at things that require arcane technical expertise and making them useable to a wider audience is a great idea, but it should be done by removing accidental complexity rather than dumbing down the core functionality. As far as possible; separating accidental and essential complexity isn’t necessarily obvious, and there may be trade-offs. Nobody said it would be easy.

To answer the original question: version control. Nerds (specifically, software developers) have access to powerful tools for managing documents and data that could be useful in a far wider variety of contexts, but they’re so complex we can barely use them ourselves.

This post was originally a thread on Twitter; I’m posting it here, lightly edited, to make it both more readable and under my own control.

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