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From: Ruben Safir
Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] GMAIL - Free Software Models
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Back to front page Â» June 6, 2008, 2:58 pm The Hidden Danger of
By Saul Hansell
Two of Silicon Valleyâ€™s truisms are increasingly in conflict with each
other, and you can see the battle at Google.
The first is that to make software that is really powerful and easy to
use, you take out all but the most essential features. Apple has been
the leading advocate of this method. Google, too, has often, but not
entirely consistently, tried to introduce products where the complexity
is under the hood, not in the screens that users see.
The second very popular idea, competing with the first, is that software
and Web sites can be made far more useful if they are opened up to
additions and modifications from others. Firefox browser plug-ins and
Facebook social networking applications are two examples of this approach.
The conflict is obvious. A community of developers can enrich software
with creativity, fun and all sorts of utility. But it is virtually
impossible for a mob to keep it simple.
That is the challenge raised by the latest experiment from Google: Gmail
Labs. Itâ€™s a new program that lets the companyâ€™s overflowing cadre
of engineers design new features for Gmail and expose them to the public.
I first skipped past the frenzy of coverage in the Valley about these
relatively minor tweaks, but upon reflection, I think there is a
potentially dark side to all this fun.
Hereâ€™s how Keith Coleman, Gmailâ€™s product manager, described the
idea in his blog post:
The idea behind Labs is that any engineer can go to lunch, come
up with a cool idea, code it up, and ship it as a Labs feature. To
tens of millions of users. No design reviews, no product analysis,
and to be honest, not that much testing. Some of the Labs features
will occasionally break. (Thereâ€™s an escape hatch.)
The first crop includes 13 features. Some of them are handy tweaks, like
the option to change how your signature is formatted. Others are goofy,
like a game that has a digital snake crawling over the e-mail screen.
In one sense, all this silliness doesnâ€™t affect the simplicity of the
main Gmail program. Users wonâ€™t see any of these new features unless
they enable them in a new â€œLabsâ€ tab on Gmailâ€™s â€œSettingsâ€ page.
Still, this program formalizes and makes visible the war between more
features and ease-of-use. If a Gmail Labs feature becomes popular,
at least with a small set of early testers, there may be pressure to
promote it to the main program.
All this might be for the good. Each year that goes by, a greater
percentage of the population is of the generation that grew up with a
mouse in the cradle, and thus the demand for more power and flexibility
from software rises and the need for simplicity may lessen. And we see
every day how much value is created when the power to create is spread
But any creative process alternates between tightness and looseness,
between brainstorming and prioritizing. And I think that Googleâ€™s
ever-expanding array of services already suffers from the ills of too
many different authors. While most of its products have relatively spare
interfaces, the products differ as to how they work and, taken together,
are harder to use than they should be. Consider, for example, all the
overlapping and not entirely integrated ways that Google users can take
advantage of feeds and gadgets: iGoogle, Google Desktop, Gmail, Google
Reader, OpenSocial in Orkut and so on.
Iâ€™m not saying any of this experimentation is wrongheaded. But once
the experiments are tried, someone needs to shape what has been learned
into software that gives the most power for the least amount of effort.
Iâ€™m not sure how many Google engineers want to use the precious time
allocated to their project to consider what features to cut. But the
question Google, Facebook, and Mozilla have not finished answering is
how the power of open can be balanced with the simplicity of closed.
-- http://www.mrbrklyn.com - Interesting Stuff http://www.nylxs.com -
Leadership Development in Free Software
So many immigrant groups have swept through our town that Brooklyn, like
Atlantis, reaches mythological proportions in the mind of the world -
RI Safir 1998
http://fairuse.nylxs.com DRM is THEFT - We are the STAKEHOLDERS -
RI Safir 2002
"Yeah - I write Free Software...so SUE ME"
"The tremendous problem we face is that we are becoming sharecroppers
to our own cultural heritage -- we need the ability to participate in
our own society."
"> I'm an engineer. I choose the best tool for the job, politics be
damned.< You must be a stupid engineer then, because politcs and
technology have been attached at the hip since the 1st dynasty in
Ancient Egypt. I guess you missed that one."
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