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February 18, 2005 / jnolen

Who are you building software for?

JWZ's post about Groupware is the funniest thing I've read about software in a long time.

If you want to do something that's going to change the world, build software that people want to use instead of software that managers want to buy.

When words like "groupware" and "enterprise" start getting tossed around, you're doing the latter. You start adding features to satisfy line-items on some checklist that was constructed by interminable committee meetings among bureaucrats, and you're coding toward an externally-dictated product specification that maybe some company will want to buy a hundred "seats" of, but that nobody will ever love. With that kind of motivation, nobody will ever find it sexy. It won't make anyone happy.

Too right, mate.

I’ve heard the term “workflow” so many times in the last 3 months I could choke. I hope we remember that one of the primary reasons that Wikis have been so successful, and useful and empowering is their very lack of structure; their radical egalitarianism; their rejection of the authoritarian baggage of “workflow.”

Wikis thrive through voluntary participation. Useful information comes from all sorts of unlikely places. By hiding, restricting and locking down we risk killing the usefulness of the wiki.

Wiki-makers are going to be tempted to glom permissions features on to their tools in order to meet the demands of corporate bureaucrats. Very soon, they will be faced with the choice between adding a “feature” that will make for an easier sale in the boardroom or building a product that answers the needs of its users.

Every man-hour you spend building a permissions-workflow-system (which mostly serves to stop people from using your product) is a man-hour that you can’t spend developing something actually helpful; features that people will want to use; a product that people are going to love.

P.S. The grammar-nerd in me piped up and said that the title should actually read: “For whom are you building software?” But the other part of my brain said: “Cripes, that sounds lame. Just write a normal title, you twit.” So I did.

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