19.736 the criticism of software

From: Humanist Discussion Group <willard.mccarty_at_KCL.AC.UK>
Date: Mon, 1 May 2006 08:56:33 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 736.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

         Date: Thu, 27 Apr 2006 15:09:40 +0100
         From: "William Cole" <bill_at_donutage.org>
         Subject: Re: 19.732 the criticism of software: where to look for it?


Regarding the "criticism of software," I would agree that there is
precious little that goes beyond what Willard refers to in 19.718 as the
"I know what I like" school. One exception, which I think would fall
into the coparatist approach suggested by Neven Jovanovic, is Ted
Goranson's column 'About This Particular Outliner' in the online journal
About This Particular Macintosh (full archive:
atpo.shtml>. Over the past 2 1/2 years, Goranson has been conducting
what amounts to a genre study of outlining software (an area that has
significant overlap with other activities like concept mapping, project/
task management, and personal information management), beginning with a
series of columns surveying the history, features, use patterns and
interface conventions and moving on into 'close readings' of single
applications, side-by-side comparisons, and examinations of particular
'problems' (text styling, data exchange, etc.) within the field.

Goranson specifically avoids summing up these columns into the numeric
rating or 'buying advice' blurb common to software reviews. Instead, he
is really exploring how software design decisions facilitate or impede
different kinds of work. The October 2005 article comparing TAO and
OmniOutliner <http://www.atpm.com/11.10/atpo.shtml> looks at these two
applications as embodying different philosophies of design. Of
OmniOutliner, he writes:

>What I mean by this is that the user's actions come first in terms of
>design. An outliner is all about interaction, how a user interacts with
>text (usually mostly text in this use). Designing the "Mac way" means
>you worry about the interaction first, the space between the words and
>the mind that is filled with screen display and hand motions. You design
>outside in, appending features to the interface.

By contrast,

>TAO comes from the other end of the development philosophy spectrum. The
>idea here is that real writers need power. Power and capability are
>king. You start with empowering users to do real work. You design your
>application from the inside out. User interfaces are pretty standard
>these days. As long as you are not targeting the kiddie or beginner
>market, you don't need pretty. What you need is cleanliness, and
>consistency. Control is primarily something for the keyboard--these users
>are writers after all.


>It all springs--everything below--from this philosophical difference. It's
>something that has been the stuff of religious arguments for decades,
>and in a way is behind the dual identities of OS X: Aqua and Unix. If
>you haven't already frozen your position on this, at least wait until
>the end of the column.

I'm not sure if this is really what Willard was thinking of when he
posed the original question, but I think ATPO provides at least one
example of what intelligent software criticism might look like, and it
is a model I wish were more broadly imitated.

William Cole <w.cole_at_moreheadstate.edu>
Instructional Technology Director, College of Education
Morehead State University
407 Ginger Hall || (606) 783-9326
Received on Mon May 01 2006 - 04:14:35 EDT

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