Usability and Software Fitness

Clay Shirky clay@shirky.com
Sun, 19 Aug 2001 17:56:17 -0400 (EDT)


Bone, if I had remembered to make a zillion dollars when the internet
was having a two-for-one sale on money, as a public service I'd send
an editor over to your house to take these big posts of yours and break
them down, one post per point, so they could start lots of little
conversations instead of making the threshold one massive conversation
or none at all.

That said, I'm in general agreement with your assertion of a fitness
function, but two things jumped out at me for comment:

> So here's where you and I differ: you think usability is all about
> UI.  In fact, you think it's mostly about aesthetics.  I don't think
> it has much to do with UI at all.

One of the most intersting things to me about Napster is that it was
very usable software -- within 5 minutes of downloading it, you could
be serving files out to the net, something the web server crew never
figured out how to do -- while having an absolutely terrible user
interface.

Napster made the network usable, which was more than enough to
overcome the terrible UI.

> That was Be's biggest problem: they weren't relevant.  They didn't
> mean enough to enough people, they didn't solve a problem that our
> industry recognized that it had.

The failure of Be is one of those events, like the successes of MSFT,
or Yahoo, that was so overdetermined that I think it resists being
used for simple points like this. 

The network effects around operating systems are so extreme that not
only do we have no idea what it would take for a new operating system
to displace enough desktops from the existing two parties to be
economically viable, we don't in fact know whether such a thing can
ever happen.

-clay