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When does cool become useful?

Gerrie Swart, from the "counterculture junkies" thread:

> What I'm interested in is: where does the cool stuff cross over into the realm of truly useful? When does it start adding value to non-tech people? What criteria do you use to assess the validity of the technology, and most importantly and most difficult: how do you know it will last long enough?

Portabella
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Also: many techies know the pains of being an early adopter.  Lame explanations to the customer that "the software doesn't support that yet" or "that's a bug that will be fixed in the upcoming version" being high on the list. :)

But there are also benefits as well.

In the early 90s, I knew someone who introduced Perl to a financial services company. He was able to knock down some barriers and deliver some real value with it. A few months later, Perl was in widespread use in the company, and he got a lot of the credit for it. To be fair, I think you'd have to say that he was *right* to ignore all the nay-sayers.

Much the same story could be told about Windows NT, Linux, Java, J2EE,C#, .NET ....

Portabella
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

"where does the cool stuff cross over into the realm of truly useful"

When you are programming a release, and during development you no longer have to keep rewriting bits because a new version of the tool was just released introducing many breaking changes, but that at the same time fixes many problems with the old version and has the new "I realy need this to get it to work" stuff.
When you can release a version of your product based on the tool and keep of upgrading the tool till the next release of your widget, then it becomes useful.

Now when it gets predictable & long support lifetimes, it transitions from usefull to mature (e.g. v3 is still supported and bugs fixed even though it was released 4 years ago and v4, v5 and v6 have been released in the mean time. Support for v3 will end in 3 more years. We plan a migration to v6 next year, which we know will be supported for another 5 years after our transition). It takes a long time for things to mature. Certainly by that time the stuff is no longer "cool".

Every environment I know has a mix of mature, useful and cool. Cool can be great fun. It can also be a disaster if you do not like the cool flavour du jour but are forced on its treadmill by a clueless manager falling for the latest emperors new clothes.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

"where does the cool stuff cross over into the realm of truly useful"

Simply put, the minute it starts making or saving money for an organization. Non tech people could not care less about cool, they want profitable.

Patrik
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

uh... WHen it's useful?

Why are the two exclusive?

Mike Swieton
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

You might wanna consider cool and the gang

o' my
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

"What I'm interested in is: where does the cool stuff cross over into the realm of truly useful? When does it start adding value to non-tech people? "

That's easy: when it's easy enough to use.

Or, to elaborate, when it's easy enough for "non-tech people" to use. 

-Rich

Rich
Wednesday, October 08, 2003

>when it's easy enough for "non-tech people" to use

Really?  I'd tend to agree with the positions mentioned earlier.  I.e. when it saves people money or time.
E.g SQL/DS from around 1980 was kinda cool, as was the earlier System R.  Today we have things such as Oracle which people in areas like sales or marketing seem find rather useful (or at least the output of queries), though the average person in those fields are decidedly "non-tech people" and are unlikely to even know how to turn it on without help.  The fact that it is not easy enough for them to use unassisted is minor though as it saves them time and hopefully helps them make more money.

Old but not very good
Thursday, October 09, 2003

"Simply put, the minute it starts making or saving money for an organization. Non tech people could not care less about cool, they want profitable."

That's pretty short sighted. A playstation doesn't help anyone (other than game developers and sony) make money, but I'm sure most game players would say it's both cool and useful.

Not all technology is restricted only to a business environment.

Sum Dum Gai
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Oh hell, I didn't even see this thread... My time zone is GMT+2 (B) so I guess Portabella and my times differ somewhat :)
Portabella: >many techies know the pains of being an early adopter.<
Oh hell yes, and I think some of us have burnt our fingers so badly that we shy away from any new tech; then we wait till it is all over the media before we touch it. Sad that.

Just me (Sir to you): >...you no longer have to keep rewriting bits...<
Yes, this is true. Immaturity of specification has burnt quite a few development efforts methinks. If rewriting is not an option, at least wait till it is a standard of some sort. (W3C recommendation, bla bla, something like that :)

>Certainly by that time the stuff is no longer "cool"<
Why is this? This is true for most developers, but what is it we crave? I mean, with new technology I tend to look at feature X and in amazement remark something like "Oh my looooord, so this is basically just a hashtable! this is so cool!" (or something similar).
Why does the shine wear of? The equation seems to be new == cool && established_cool != new. But it is *still* a cool feature, we just don't like it as much anymore.

>It can also be a disaster if you do not like the cool flavour du jour but are forced on its treadmill by a clueless manager falling for the latest emperors new clothes.<
YES! We can look at XML (the saviour of mankind, destroyer of all evil, guardian of the universe) some time ago. But for all the misapplied solutions and horribly uninformed decisions, it does actually help the maturation of the technology. So the managers want X but don't quite know why. We moan (with BLOODY good reason I might add ;) but we learn as well. We become conversant in the technology, teaching us how to: 1. better apply it in future and 2. create compelling arguments if management wants to misapply it again.
I guess a lot of tech is better supported than equivalent tech simply because they became the flavour of the day and the other tech didn't.

Patrik: >Non tech people could not care less about cool, they want profitable.<
Agree. Non-techies look at the bottom line (be it ROI, profit, turnover, whatever) for them, and their bottom line is *not* "elegant" or "easy to maintain" or... ;)

Rich: >That's easy: when it's easy enough to use.<
Would you mind clarifying here? Are you referring to Computer-Human Interaction (UI design basically) or other features of the technology that increases ease of use? thanks :)

Sum Dum Gai: >That's pretty short sighted.<
That *is* the way the world works however. Business guys want to see the business aspects improve. And my original post does (in an unclear way, given) refer to business usefulness.

>Not all technology is restricted only to a business environment.<
Disagree. Your playstation is useful to the business guys at Sony, believe you me. Its popularity among gamers is what makes it useful to the business guys, because the gamers go "cool" when they see their game, and the Sony guys go "cool" when they see the money :)

Gerrie Swart
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Now as to my version of "how to find cool useful"

I try to look at various "symptoms" of usage. For example, .Net. BTW no language / tech wars please, this is just an example.
I look at something like .Net in the following way:
Data:
1.) .Net is a Microsoft technology
2.) Microsoft evangelists love it
3.) More than just the Ms crowd seems to like it
4.) .Net is majorly hyped
5.) People are porting quality tools to .Net (Nunit, Nant) or creating cool ones (Ndoc) without expecting remuneration. So they love it.

There are more, but let us stick with the ones above. So we can conclude that:
1.) <Gross generalization> The opensource community generally does not like Microsoft</Gross generalization>
So. This might mean that you won't find as much free support for it as one does for other opensource tech.
2.) This is a useless datum. So what? I love my own tech, no shit. So we disregard this.
3.) O my. This is interesting. Java fundis going "boing" all over the place saying why C# isn't *that* bad, a lot of forums saying they like it and so forth. Sure, there are guys moaning, but all in all the reception seems to be positive.
4.) Means managers WILL want it as the flavour du jour, to quote :) So people will be forced to work with it.
5.) This is the most significant. It means the crowd described in (1) is accepting it as a valid alternative, and this to me means a lot. If you can change the perception, you can make it an important technology

So it seems that .Net is being accepted, it has cool features, it can add business value (e.g. ASP.net is just faster development-wise than ASP), so is cool & useful. That narrow border between (4) and (5) combined with (3) is where cool became useful, for me anyway.

BTW: in this fictional example I didn't even touch upon all the factors that should be weighed up. One should consider ease of development, deployment speed, tech features, licensing, standards compliance; you name it, we look at it. So don't use the previous example for production code ;)

How do you guys (guys meant gender unspecific) go about it?

Gerrie Swart
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Sum Dum Gai,

>That's pretty short sighted.

Call it short sighted, narrow minded or cynic.

The home electronics market (game consoles, DVD players and home theather systems to name a few) is not bought on merits of usefulness.  They are bought on the merits of coolness only.

These examples constitues recriational products. The money to buy these come out of the same pile of money that you take out of to go on vaccation.

So bad years, when you have a smaller pile of vaccation money that will not take you on that 2 week trip to Bali or the Carribiean, you buy a Playstation 2 or DVD instead.

There has been reports that Nintendo, Sony and other game console makers are less impacted than others when there is a ressecion in the economy.

However, useful products gets bought no matter what, because there is a finanical incentive.





"Simply put, the minute it starts making or saving money for an organization. Non tech people could not care less about cool, they want profitable."

A playstation doesn't help anyone (other than game developers and sony) make money, but I'm sure most game players would say it's both cool and useful.

Not all technology is restricted only to a business environment.

Patrik
Thursday, October 09, 2003

I've done some social work with really poor families and I can tell you that you can go to a house where there are 12 people sleeping to a room with no beds but just sheets and pillows on the floor. They may own no furniture at all. They don't have a car. They have no health insurance. But there are two things you will find in every house:

1. *Big* screen TV.
2. Nintendo or Playstation.

The video game/TV you might think is insane but it has the largest entertainment/$1 ratio you can get unless you decide to go to a park or playground. But you can't do that because they don't build playgrounds anymore and the ones that are left have sandboxes full of heroin needles, people trading AIDS strains in the bushes, and drugpushers. Cops won't do anything about it because their either getting paid off or are genuinely terrified of the pushers who have better weapons.

Also, the playstation can keep the safe kids at home while mom and dad are struggling to make ends meet with their crappy $4/hr sweatshop jobs with no benefits. Childcare is out of the question, as is one parent staying home to look after them.

Playstation is the only daycare that half of the population that needs it can afford.

So, it has incredible economic value to its purchasers.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, October 09, 2003

Never!

o' my
Thursday, October 09, 2003

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