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Is Newer And Shinier Better?


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#1 Adrian

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 07:13 AM

Looking at new stuff being built can be fun, cool quirks, interesting functionality, shiny looks. And that's what this particular forum is all about.

Yesterday posting at Coding Horror is worth bearing in mind when looking at all this new shiny stuff though. Magpie Developers talks about how some people are always moving onto the newer 'better' programming language, and poo-pooing what the mainstream are using, and how really, as long as were making stuff that works, and does what it's meant to, it can be fairly irrelevant what language it's done in.

It's a good way to return to earth, and get your feet back on the ground when various communities tend to do nothing except evangelise about certain things. If you follow Reddit, you'd be forgiven for thinking most of the web was built with Python, and other, more obscure, languages like Erlang were fairly common.

The same is probably true to a broader spectrum of things than just programming languages. When looking at the kinds of new shiny things were hoping to post about in this forum, one of the things we should ask ourselves is whether we need it? Is it actually going to make a difference?

A few years ago CSS was one of those shiny new things, and it's stuck, there have been some very good reasons for using it, but not all new things that pop up are like that, and as Ruby On Rails seems to be experiencing a bit at the moment, you can be the poster boy one minute, and getting slated the next.

#2 DCrx

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 07:44 AM

Good post. The allure of the shiny and superficial is what causes stakeholders to dig in their heels. They've seen each new thing become nothing more than an end unto itself.

The other term for Magpie Developers is resume driven development. The "nest" these developers are adorning with trinkets is their resume.

Years back, when CSS was the new thing, I found it striking you couldn't find a good pull quote tutorial or an interesting layout for interviews. Both extremely common applications for CSS, useful for layout, but not in the interest of advanced feats of gimmickry.

Couple this with the religious wars the article mentions, and you've got a recipe for the reactionaries to shelve your initiatives. They come armed with a long list of failures generated by others who went for the shiny project that didn't do anything for the business.

The antidote to Magpie Development is use-centered development built around a strong business case. Who's it for? What's the benefit?

Edited by DCrx, 07 January 2008 - 09:41 AM.


#3 EGOL

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 08:52 AM

I usually don't post when I don't have anything to add to a conversation. However, I really enjoyed your comments Adrian and DCrx. I agree.

My rule for these things is to ask... what does the person talking have to gain through their position on the topic?.... and.... is this person making any money or seeing any substantial improvement for their website visitors or are they simply on a personal crusade?
:-)

#4 yannis

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 08:57 AM

Adriaan

Good points and they were in my mind too! I was about to post a thread headed 'Greasing the Old Gears' in praise of older technologies when your post came along.

I am all for the Creative tomorrow and I like to play around with new technologies. However, the trusted reliable methods in programming cannot be found in these new technologies. In most instances neither the promise of 'quicker' solutions. Greasing the old gears means using your existing technologies to their maximum. For example we talked in another thread about outputting a specific font into a header tag, the siFR library that uses Flash etc. It took me about 10 minutes to write a php routine to do the same with the in-build GD library.

Evangelizing between clans of programmers has been going on for a very long time. What is hard to learn and none of the new technologies help newcomers in this respect is the actual process of 'software design' and the methodologies of programming itself which is independent of language, IDE or Rapid prototyping techniques.

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 09:16 AM

I tend to prefer older methods... simply due to reliability and experience.

In many cases, something new is still growing, asn as with many young things, there are feats that take time... such as crawling and walking.
Jumping on a band wagon before checking out where it is intending to go, how it intends to get there, and whether it can actually make the journey strikes me as a little niave.

If playing with shiny new things is for fun, as a hobby or a side interest... then go for it.
Once you know it and are happy with it adn know it will do what you need, then from a business angle it is safe to go ahead with.
Yet out of personal experience, I've found far to often that the shiny new thing isn't quite robust quite yet... and my new little toy breaks far to easily!

So I'm a fan of olde rtoys that have been in the market for a while - okay... so not as shiny, not as clever and maybe not quite as efficient... but reliable, and tend not to break in my somewhat careless, rough hands.

#6 Ruud

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 12:01 PM

[...] one of the things we should ask ourselves is whether we need it? Is it actually going to make a difference?


I'm guessing that we need new shiny things for their cumulative experience-and-learn effect.

Tripod, Geocities, FortuneCity -- they were all "good enough" to host your (free) website. They did some of the early online-editor work, enabling anyone to have a website. If good enough was good enough that's where things would still be happening today but instead we're loading WordPress, using Blogger, etc.

Yet out of personal experience, I've found far to often that the shiny new thing isn't quite robust quite yet... and my new little toy breaks far to easily!


Uhuh. It's why I went from a software-beast, installing new software on a daily basis, to a trusted toolkit pattern.

Using non-new but solid, known, working tools gives its own good feeling -- and its own payback.

Jerry Michalski has been using the TheBrain for 10 years. It contains over 80 thousand data entries. There's a lot of value there. Not only in the data itself but in the ease of use, the deep knowledge of the application.

#7 Adrian

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 12:08 PM

Good points to raise Ruud, this shouldn't discourage people wanting to develop new shiny things, progress can be good :)

But shiny new useful things are great, shiny new useless things might be an unproductive distraction ;)

This is why I find it difficult to see all the fuss about the iPhone, as an example. To me it's a shiny new toy, that absolutely does not justify the extra expense over the phone/contract I've got.

Something a Craft, Design and Technology Teacher said in school some years ago that stuck with me was "Justify it". If you can justify it's use, use it :)

#8 Guest_Autocrat_*

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 12:37 PM

I think there is a major distinction between technology and gadgetry.
Technology tends to be something that proves useful, often flexible and adaptable.
Gadgetry tends to be flashy, singular of purpose (or more restrictive in application), and more often towards beign a bauble.

New developments etc. are great, and without innovation we'd still be hitting things with clubs (is change a good thing?)... but as stated by another member, the whole "permenant beta", "underconstruction" and constant "in development" stuff is mroe than annoying.
It means that in some cases, we can spend a week or more learning something new, only to find that it doesn't actually do what it is meant to, and find a developers note saying "Todo" (which is to do, not the name todo!).


Maybe it isn't so much as what is being developed that is a problem, but more how it is released?

#9 Ruud

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 02:35 PM

I think there is a major distinction between technology and gadgetry.


But often only time will show the distinction between the two.

In some cases repetitively releasing basically the same thing over and over again is needed before it catches on.

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Posted 07 January 2008 - 03:30 PM

Ah... spoken like a Marketer :D

Still, humour aside... yes, it may take a fair bit of effort before thigns catch on.
It's also interesting to see the trends and the upshots.

Look at things like JS, AJAX/JSON/JQuery..... MySQL/MSQL etc... so much similarity, soo much potential usage, yet they perform diferently, are taken up by diferent people etc. (I don't know many that use all the different JS libraries... they seem to find one or two more suitable).

Is it different people, different needs... or does personality come into play?
Do particular people lean towards particular things (I can name at least 5 people who will buy just about anything so long as it looks interesting, is expensive and is marketed as being "special" - it doesn't matter if it's a chromed tin-opener or an iPod!)
So does the same apply to technologies and innovations on the net?

#11 Adrian

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 04:53 AM

But often only time will show the distinction between the two.


Indeed. Which is Ruby on Rails? Cool gadget, or useful technology? How about all these frameworks generally?
AJAX is actually a tried and tested technology now, coming from xmlHttpRequest, which MS built for Exchange 5.5 was it? So that underlying technology is a few years old now.

It's good having the competition between similar things, it drives development in a way you don't get if there's a near monopoly. The Javascript frameworks are probably a good example there, between the likes of JQuery, Moo Tools, Prototype, Scriptaculous, Dojo, there's a lot of development and advances being made to make them better, do things better, work more easily, do more stuff.

And different things do suit different people. Like with the JS Frameworks above, some of them are quite different to others, and they appeal to different people because of that.

Same with all the programming lanugages, the reason there are so many in use is because they all do things differently, and suit different people. Some love Python and the way that works, other find it annoying and go for Perl (and it seems relatively few like both :(), some go for ASP.NET, some go for PHP, and so on...

#12 Guest_Autocrat_*

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 05:45 AM

Ah... but is it solely what the htings do, or how they are presented?

Does the view of those partaking in things alter the end result?
Infact, is it due to peoples reaction that things stay shiny and new, as cerrtain things are always improving, whilst others slow down and stagnate, ( a prime example is the common view of Open Source development... quite often they seem to fail as interest wains, and they get tarnished?).

Additionally, do people flock to things due to the "packaging", because friends and associates are using it, becasue it is actually going to do what it says, because it's new... or because it actually suits the current task, it will suffice for future things, it seems to be going where they want it to etc.?
Sort of ... which side of the coin do people pay attention to... or is it trully a case of different people means different sides, or even different coins?


Be interesting to know what sort of ration of up-and-commers turn into long-term-runners, and see if there are common factors.
Also, does open source, common groups or private development make a difference?
What about usage by creators... do things that are created for a specialised purpose make for better usage than those that are designed for general usage?
How about timing... we know that in many cases things are thrown to the masses several times before people pick them up (or the they are picked up by more than a few)... yet is it due to human nature and marketing, or does releasing thnigs at a special point or when certain other things are happen really make a major difference?

Is it possible to measure such things... or is it a case by case basis, or even solely independant of other things?

#13 DCrx

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 08:18 AM

I think the distinction between technology and gadgetry is a good one. Does the design bring anything new to the table for the user?

Almost made to order for this thread is Smashing Magazine article Innovative Designs and Devices. Some are superficial, others aren't -- what makes the difference is doing something innovative for the user.

There is always room to see where the status quo is letting users down and design something that makes good on the broken promises of competitors. That does not always mean pushing the cutting edge of technology, or going with the untried or unproven.

There are several ways to get a creative tomorrow. One is to be technology centric. Another is to innovate the interaction design. Apple is criticized for unimpressive specs and technology which doesn't push the cutting edge. They eat everyone's lunch by competing on innovative interaction, not shiny new technology.

Edited by DCrx, 08 January 2008 - 08:30 AM.


#14 webforce

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 09:08 AM

I love new and innovative tools more than anybody and I'm often tempted to deploy those tools in place of the old, reliable software that has been serving me well.  However, your goal is to run a successful website, whatever it may be about.  To that end, remember my old fallback adage:

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

#15 eKstreme

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 09:24 AM

Newer and shinier is, as a long-term trend, always better. In the short-term, it can be both good and bad.

To illustrate the long-term trend: we can do things now on our PDAs and phones that we weren't able to do 20 years ago on a main frame. Go back 20 years ago, and you would have said the same thing, mostly along the lines of "we can do more things on our 386s and 486s more than a main fame did 20 years ago". IMHO, it's a fact that along with all the bloat we're experiencing today, we've also seen a massive surge in productivity and functionality. Usability varies.

Ask yourself thins: What can I do now that I couldn't have done not 20 years ago, but 5 years ago. Right now, a well-architectured site using the right back-end can serve millions of users easily and cheaply. 5 years ago, having that kind of hardware was a serious competitive advantage and a serious barrier to entry.

Take HTML: HTML on its own has been around for ages. HTML 5 is a decade or more away. Always, people have found ways to extend the basic HTML to add functionality to the user. We've had Java applets, Flash, and many more plugins that people of the 90s remember installing (a few megs of download on dial-up to be able to make use of the more megs of downloads you're about to embark on). That first round was decidedly won by Flash. And the battle is heating up again.

The interesting thing is that there was always a set of competing technologies and one won out. And so as we now contemplate whether Newer + Shiner = Better, let's be sure to note that the winner will be Better, but the currently available options may not be. Actually, most of them won't be.

This forum was started with a simple idea: how do we choose? What are our experiences that collectively mean we have a huge set of case studies and insights tell us?

And no, the answer is not 42 ;)

Pierre

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 10:01 AM

Actually, though I'm not much of a Mac user... compared to MS, I think they do rather well.
It is also a fine example of the fairly thorough throughness of development... something that I cannot help be say is often overlooked.

In many cases people say "don't re-invent the wheel"... yet what happens if you 'can' make it better?
There is to my mind a major 'edge' to be gained by ensuring that somethign does all that it can, and damned well... whether it mbe new or old makes little to no difference to me.
Alot of companies fail at that sort of thing... instead jumping tracks and trying something newer.

Alot of people believe innovation means creation of something new... and seem to ignore that can be the introducation of a new usage for that item etc. as well. Add to that that more than a few thigns are actually built upon far older ideas, precepts and even technologies.
Actually, I'm thinking the term "cutting edge" is a little off the mark... should it not be leading edge or forward cutting edge, as it is possible to develop with older stuff to create newer variants or different applications, yet not be any where near the forefront...?

#17 Adrian

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 10:04 AM

I think cutting edge refers to the fact that there's a fine line between having that competitve advantage, and the 'bleeding edge' where the downsides outweigh the improvements.

#18 Ruud

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 10:43 AM

Does the view of those partaking in things alter the end result?


Yes, absolutely. The early-adapters are a crucial first step in this regard. They form the base "common notion" we have about Twitter, Kindle or Ruby.

I think the distinction between technology and gadgetry is a good one. Does the design bring anything new to the table for the user?


It's a good one but hard to work with, for me. A gadget utilizes a technology. Is a PC then a gadget (application of a technology) or a technology in itself?

AJAX is nothing in itself: it's an application of two technologies. But it's far beyond being a gadget.

This forum was started with a simple idea: how do we choose? What are our experiences that collectively mean we have a huge set of case studies and insights tell us?


Given how "we" have collectively failed, that's a hard one.

David Sarnoff imagined no commercial value at all for the "wirless music box" (radio). Edison ridiculed AC (alternating current). The car, steamboat, train, telephone, television; clear-cut winners were predicted to fail.

How do we choose? Apparently not just by looking at the facts. The Betamax vs. VHS story remains an outstanding example.

How do I choose... What "worries" me there is that at times I have to come back to a product, or use it much longer than I would have thought at first, to see if it truly provides value to me or not.

Some software applications are so dense or so different, it's not instantly clear whether or not they bring (enough) value to the table.

#19 DCrx

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 10:52 AM

If it's broken, don't fix it has a flip side -- if it is broken get it fixed.

The problem comes in when we become complacent and practically blind to the shortcomings of the status quo. Second, a disturbing number of companies using "If it's not broken" mindsets have no practical way of assessing the working status of things.

In other words, they never test the supposition a thing is either working or not. This keeps in place processes and kludges which are really not "working" in a basic sense. These Rube Goldberg contraptions just haven't caused a total collapse.

I have actually seen things broken beyond belief -- literally not working on even a minimal level -- but defended by "If it ain't broken" dismissal. The particular element might not be working, but the reality distortion field certainly was.

For one disturbing example, take the recent dramatic interstate bridge collapse into the Mississippi. That's the consequence of an "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. And this lack of fire prevention insures management and staff are always occupied putting out all manner of fires -- usually a hallmark of poor management.

Another example is Mattel's penchant for wave after wave after wave of mass recalls. A recurring pattern which evidences a basic misunderstanding of source problems and what's working and what's not on a practical dollars and cents (and sense) level.

A management can (and has) used "if it ain't broke" right up to the bottom step of the bankruptcy courthouse.

The "if it ain't broke" MP3 market pre-Apple shows where, if you don't fix it, someone else will. The iPod was laughed at when it debuted into a marketplace of every kind of MP3 player with all sort of technical feature and specs superior to the early iPod. It was completely sensible to say "if it ain't broke don't fix it" until Apple exploited the gap in the market. Just about every recent success, from the iPhone to Apple stores run contrary to "if it ain't broke."

It's not that the cell phone market wasn't broken, it's that the players become blind to the flaws. A good deal of Apple strategic success is dependent on the lethal lethargy and general unresponsiveness of competitors -- not the mythical Apple marketing.

Contemplating a creative tomorrow implies you have the luxury of management competence which allows for a few minutes aside from the panicked immediacy of the status quo. From the point of view of "If it ain't broke" the only problem with the Titanic was not having bigger buckets to bail with.

Edited by DCrx, 08 January 2008 - 11:32 AM.




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