“Where the people are”

A classic fork in the road here: reinvent the wheel, or don’t.

It’s funny, but as Zeldman describes his experience working in a small agency as a possible source of his habit building from scratch, I recalled my own experience as a reason for leaning into existing solutions. Like Zeldman, I was part of a small agency. But before that, I worked for a non-profit with a constrained budget that limited what resources were available to me. I quickly gained the reputation of a web-based MacGyver capable of cobbling sites and features together with bubblegum, Scotch tape, and a few spare paperclips.

We had to be where the people already were.

At one point, Zeldman leads with a heading about the “humility” of letting go of the idea that we have to build everything from scratch. I could nod along fast enough as he explained how leveraging existing tools can actually produce a much better user experience simply by way of convenience. Sure, we may want to lock users into our UI by offering conveniences there to entice longer stays. But they would rather stay put rather than having to jump from where they already are.

And when you think about it, if people already know how to use one platform, and have demonstrated a preference for doing so, it can be wasteful of their time (not to mention arrogant) to expect them to learn another platform, simply because that one bears your logo.

It’s easier to make things harder by attempting to make them easier. I’ve seen (and experienced) the tendency to provide solutions to problems that simply do not exist.

Where Zeldman looks toward the misgivings of existing platforms — say, Twitter and its freefall — I agree, but raise it a measure of pride. I’ve enjoyed working with some of the most brilliant web engineers. All of them enjoy a good challenge. They want an excuse to flex some development muscle and show what they can do. In more than one case, the idea of using an existing tool, resource, platform, whatever, led to all-out shoutiong matches driven not by what the user wants, but by the unwillingness to back down from a challenge.

As I’ve said, I’ve been there as well and am not absolved of allowing complexity and pride to taint my view of things.

And now we’re here in a day where automation and AI are evolving into a go-to resource for many. The exact implications of that, of course, are not the point here. But the existential threat of what it means for developers fearing an age of autogenerated code is.

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✏️ Handwritten by Geoff Graham on March 7, 2024


  • 💬 Jeff Bridgforth

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