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thrice all american: Software Curating?
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Software Curating?

· Posted Tuesday September 23, 2008 by jamie

I reflected a while back on software development’s parallels to gardening. In checking out some of the reports out of last week’s Web 2.0 Expo, I was fascinated to see 37signals’ Jason Fried pull out a completely different metaphor for software development: museum curating.

Regarding collecting customer feedback and incorporating it into your software:

People love giving you feedback. Every time you make a mistake they give you feedback. Give people great products and you’ll get feedback… You have to take it all in and then you have to make decisions on behalf of your customers. Decide what they’re actually trying to tell you. You have to be a museum curator and think about what makes sense for the product. An editor, a curator, looks at an entire universe of options and picks a few of em.

An interesting perspective, but probably worth noting that this is coming from a non-developer (Jason is one of the co-founders of 37signals, and has more of a design background than a programming one). I like that his example puts a lot of stock in the customer needs and wants, while also taking a great deal of pride, somewhat of a near-arrogance, in what’s ultimately right for the product. That is right on.

That said, I still like the gardening metaphor better. In both cases (a museum or a garden) you are attempting to create an aesthetic that is pleasing to the visitor, and you are likely to get feedback, some of which you will incorporate. But the museum analogy stops at the choice of whether or not feedback is acknowledged (and ultimately leaves the actual creation of art out of the picture). In gardening, the feedback alters what happens on the ground, in the garden: how the plants are pruned, how all-season interest is maintained, how to attract wildlife, etc.–a truly iterative process that, to me, is a more apt analogy to the actual development of the software.

Maybe from a project management perspective, museum curating is a good approximation of how the customer feedback loop works, but from the trenches, as a programmer, it just feels too simplistic. I’m sticking with the gardening analogy.

Check out notes from Jason Fried’s presentation here. (Lots of other great info about 37signals and their “Getting Real” philosophy, too!)

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