Technical Blog

The One True Format: Technological Snobbery

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There’s an odd phenomenon that occurs as one transitions from an outsider writing code to someone who actively contributes to a community.  The more you contribute to mailing lists and blog discussions, the more you realise it.  You have an opinion.

You never meant to have an opinion, you just meant to write code.  Let brighter minds decide how it all works and just build the solution.  Code, not specs, not politics.  Re-use what’s out there in new and interesting ways.  Yet this, in and of itself, is an opinion.  The more you contribute, the more you realise that you are no longer just asking that things be made easier for implementors or answering questions about past decisions: you are advocating solutions.

This has happened to me more than once as I have transitioned from community to community.  The first was when I began a project to write my own feed reader (BoxtheWeb) and simultaneously became involved in the Blogger Hacks community.  I slowly went from a hacker who thought feeds were cool and wanted to build stuff with them, to an advocate of the RSS2.0 format.  Somewhere in my coding I decided that format was the easiest to use and the best suited for what I wanted, and I began to advocate.

Next was JSONP.  One of the few things I have advocated that gained much headway fast (through nothing I did, I’m sure, but still exciting to see).  Yahoo, coComment,, and others all jumed on the JSONP bandwagon and I was happy.

Other formats got either on my “good side” (OpenID, OAuth, POSH, Microformats) and my “bad side” (ATOM, EAUT, PortableContacts) for one reason or another.

Ridiculous.  Sure, solutions should be chosen based on technical merit, but who gave me (or anyone) the right to decide which technologies have merit?  It’s time to get back to basics.

If it works.  That’s the key.  Working code.  RSS, ATOM, ActiveChannel, hAtom, or a list of URLs in a text file… really, I don’t care.  As long as the data is there and I can read it, I can write code.  Who cares if EAUT takes off or if http://me@you.tld/ remains valid?  If people can log in: we win!  Not only is there not One True Format, there is no long-term difference between formats.  Sure, there may be reasons to choose one over another, but ultimately it’s just data.  What users (or, even better, developers) can do with that data is what’s important.  These days, we’re better at working around the deficiencies of services (*cough*twitter) than building ones that do what we want anyway.

One Response

Johan Sundström

Once past the initial question (“does it work?”), the next step tends to be “is it hackable?” — often phrased as “does it yield sought output/effects in good proportion to my effort put in?”.

From there, myriads of paths (many futile) go on in the interfacing between different people of different preferences, knowledge, capacity, experience, capability, and so on, and with a bit of luck and growing wisdom, we spend more of our cycles improving things, figuring out and showing how to do things well, than we do flaunting our snobbery or denouncing scraps we would not look at ourselves, that suit others better than ourselves.

I read your story above as one of finding, recognizing, acquiring, adopting, improving and evolving tools, sharing them back, and the lessons you learned, with others that follow a similar path, lowering thresholds and warning-flagging a few of your dead ends so others can see flaws or aspects that need work with less effort, investing their time either in better places, or where most needed.

And the better we are at doing this without any of our experience getting intermingled with our identity, the better.

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