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2015/01/27

On Market Research: Programmers Are Not People

"I have an idea for an app. This web service does A, B and C, but I really want it to do D."

You sit across the table from me. This is your idea, and you are excited by it. Maybe not as much as you were when you thought it up two weeks ago, but excited enough to meet with me on a Saturday.

I like the idea myself. I've always found getting through the OAuth barrier to the data itself not worth the time, but I broke through the day before the meeting and have done enough to know that it's finding out what the API has available that's the main issue. Your excitement is infectious, and I've caught it.

Then you ask a question. You ask the question.

"Do you think people will pay $1 for this?"

There is one thing you need to know at this point.



People have been running away from the command-line and toward windowing systems, web browsers and phone apps for over 30 years.

I have six terminal windows open right now, simply because I've been slacking off and don't need more right now.

People want tools to make their lives simpler.

I write tools to help me manage my complexity, to keep necessary complexity complex but hide details until they become important.

People have several thousand emails in their inbox.

I have several dozen folders and have my tools automatically sort my mail so that only the most blessed things actually stay in the inbox, and learned the intricacies of IMAP so, when the options available in Thunderbird and other ways do not allow me to do exactly what I want to, I write my own tools that give me exactly, precisely what I want.

People have phones which alert them whenever anyone sends them anything.

I have prioritized a few people in my life — parents, wife, children, boss, coworkers, friends — and anyone else who wants my time and attention will get it when I feel like granting it, and not a moment before.

People consider creating a PowerPoint stack as effective computer education.

I am offended by that thought.

I look at the developments of the last few years and am excited. The Internet of Things doesn't mean the rich have another channel to the bedrooms of the poor, it means I can control the bits of my house like I can control the electrons in a computer. Quantified Self doesn't mean that I'm a cog in the Big Data machine, it means I have a backdoor into the complex system of my body. Streaming and Cord Cutting mean I spend more time watching videos people made of the amazing things they learned to do, how they do them and how you can too than I spend watching actors pretend to be doctors, lawyers and policemen.

I figured out how to do that task for myself and run it every ten minutes. I enjoyed the process more than I enjoy watching Monty Python, and Monty Python is the bomb.

People use Windows and Mac because they don't want the hassle of real computing.

I use Linux because I want, I need, I revel in, I'm drunk with the power that I get from real computing. And I know that, as things go, I am barely scratching the surface of what's possible, and I know people who take it far beyond what I am.

Do I think people will want this app? I think people will want to learn to program, to find out how things work and how to make it work for them.

And I am wrong.

For purposes of this conversation, I am not People, I am  Kang or Kodos, orbiting the Earth in my flying saucer, To Serve Man in my left tentacle while I blink my one yellow eyeball and ponder the subjugation of Springfield. I don't want to be that person. I don't want to be trapped in a bubble-helmet, wondering what those meat-sacks want.

To switch references, what I do have are a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me necessary for people like you. Making this work? Finding all the data? Plugging in everything? It's what I do.

But I love what I do. I don't really understand why people don't do what I do. And that's a good thing. You want me at this keyboard, you need me at this keyboard. I don't understand why you don't pick up a keyboard and occupy a standing desk. Why would I do anything else?

But don't ask me about what people would do. I'm the last person to know.