Friday, 25 April 2008

Software is a Place

As part of the typical morning banter and during the brainless cereal munching ritual, my teenage daughter mocked her younger sister’s (10 years old) use of the word “software”. She challenged her, in a mischievously: “what do you know about software? My young daughter’s answer bowled me over.

Software is a place”, she answered confidently, elaborating “It is where you go to get something done.”

Software is a place. Yes, this is the most accurate definition I came across for the state-of-the-art software technologies yet. It sums up the conglomeration of all new concepts, from SOA, Software as service, S+S to all the Web 2.0 hype. I think it is its ubiquity that made me wonder what future software products should be like in order to meet the expectations of this new generation. I could not help but drawing parallels with urban design and planning theories, e.g. Kevin Lynch’s, of what makes a place a good place?

A place, (a location in space), where people visit to meet, socialise, entertain, work, study, play, etc. A place need to have an address, access routes, boundaries, landmarks and furniture. Fundamentally, it has sense of place that makes an environment psychologically comfortable, in terms of legibility, cognition of the visual environment and compatibility with human purpose.

Over history, places changed shape, design and function, mainly for 2 reasons: change of political system and evolving technologies. Concepts like Form follows function emerged. Designing new “places”, however, runs the risk of conflicting with human values. Examples are: loss of place and humiliation resulting from loosing one’s past, present and future sense of place and rootlessness and alienation due to continuity and change in the sense of place.

Read more bout sense of place in article by Yan Xu

So the questions are:

How far can we take this analogy when designing new software products?

Does that mean Second life type virtual worlds would actually work after all (you can sense my scepticism here)?

And finally, if we accept the idea of software is a place, then shouldn’t we seriously consider tools to build maps where by we can locate such places and navigate too? Something that actually work?

1 comment:

Stephen said...

Nice one Sameh - good to see your blog up and running.

Is software a place?
Examples such as Wikipedia/Ebay/YouTube definitely are.

And I'd suggest that traditional standalone windows applications can also be a place. Or maybe their users should feel part of a community to be more precise.

An example of this would be with FireFox. Two years ago no one thought that Internet Explorer could have a serious competitor. But FireFox, with their open bug/feature list and community aspects has achieved the unthinkable and has taken on IE.

As a result of this competition IE itself is now moving with the much improved IE7, the excellent IE Blog and the semi-open bug/feature list.

Maybe all software should try and create this open community behind it.