Tuesday, September 04, 2007

"Fake Steve": The problem with Web 2.0 software development

"Fake Steve", we now know, is a Forbes journalist writing as a cartoon of Steve Jobs. It's often funny, but the tone has changed since he's been exposed. Over the weekend for example, he had to censor an article that went a bit over the edge for Forbes (I suspect it was the "estrogen" comment about a female NBC board member and Cisco CEO.)

On the other hand, even as he has to be a bit more careful, he can also be a bit more insightful. In a fake rant about Microsoft's puff piece in the NYT (the NYT piece was a nice bit of marketing, as Fake Steve admits with fake envy) he has some things to say about web 2.0 development that strike me as mostly true (emphases mine):
The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs: Another big sloppy wet kiss for the Borg

... Trust me on this. Nothing in Windows Live will work the way they say it will. And when you complain they'll tell you the problem isn't with Windows Live, that the system works fine, that people are loving it, that the acceptance has been amazing, better than they projected, subscriber rates are the fastest they've ever seen, and if you've got problems it must be because you're doing something wrong or maybe it's the version of Windows you're using and have you installed the latest Service Pack and maybe you should connect in with your computer so the Borgtards can verify that the software on your PC is legal and authorized and paid-for because probably you're a software pirate or you've installed the software on too many PCs and you need to buy a new copy of Vista.

Or maybe you'll just go online trying to find help so you can fix things yourself. And when you do you'll find some brain-dead "knowledge base" with mind-numbing instructions that turn out, even after you've read them, not to make any sense, because the people who wrote the FAQs were describing an earlier version of the software, or simply weren't paying attention, or were as pissed off and confused as you are after realizing that in fact the software actually doesn't fucking work, or worse yet, they were just bored and underpaid and decided it would be fun to fuck with your head by giving you instructions that nobody can understand. Maybe they have competitions to see who can be the most inscrutable. I don't know.

One thing I do know is how the Borg develops software. Imagine a hundred separate teams of Keebler elves all smoking crack and then being told to sit down in different parts of the world, without being able to communicate with each other, and dream up new cookie flavors, and you've got an idea how the Borg created Windows Live. Then a bunch of generic, soulless, humorless lab-produced MBA replicants (photo) who don't know anything about technology and only went to Microsoft because they didn't get offers from Procter and Gamble are put into a conference room and told to create some marketing plan for this pile of dog shit. Dream up a slogan and a name and some advertisements that will mislead people into thinking that Windows Live is all one big wonderful suite of software that was developed from the ground up to work as an organic whole, even though the pieces are all being rolled out at different times in different locations on different websites...
He's writing about the Borg (Microsoft, of course) here, but this is increasingly true for Google (except the marketing plan part, they don't bother with that) and has always been true for Yahoo!. Web 2.0 software development feels like a mess to gomers like me who expect things to work, and to have a bit of documentation on how they're supposed to work. Grumph.

BTW, there are parts of Windows Live that I really like. Windows Live Writer has nothing to do with web 2.0 (it's a traditional desktop application!) but it's fabulous. Windows Live Desktop Search (Vista style search for XP) is terrific -- but it's a desktop application too. As to the web 2.0 portions of "live" ... well .... no.

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