The Floating Piers Lago d’Iseo by Ralf Streithorst

Information technology have developed greatly in the last couple of centuries. Starting with handwritten to paper, the industrialization of content aggregation has grown exponentially.

Since the invention of the GUI by Trygve Reenskaug (under Alan Kay at Xerox Parc), and later in the mass indexing of the internet, we have grown to be very proficient in monetizing data, and proprietary interface points.

If I want to start a business, and already have an idea for a tool (that is hopefully purposeful and needed), a database and a unique interface point are mandatory. This is mainly due to a legacy of we’ve been carrying around with us since the end of the 70s.

Model View Controller (MVC) has created a norm that I call Gated Products.

It is worth refreshing our memory about Model View Controller, and the systems it drives.

As evident by its name, it is broken down to those 3 respective parts. The model is the database, the view is the interaction point, and the stacks of controllers are in between, responding to human or machine relays.

That correlates to the fact that Google stores your searches, Instagram your photos, and Facebook your friends. All of those businesses also have their own apps (or websites), which they build and maintain. And lastly features and controllers are being built as a matter of design, or business.

Gated Products

It is easy to draw an an imaginary line around the data, app and code of each singular business. That enclosed area is that gated domain, or product.

There is an entry point, and once the user is in there are certain stops that the business will want the user to make. Facebook might want a user to have 5 friends, and Twitter might want you following 10 people. Stationary users, as data are not beneficial in such gated systems.

That is an impossible eco–system, and the reason that some companies fail while other prevail.

Hard Systems

This gated operation is very efficient by force of training. It can listen to predefined metrics and adjust–sometimes in realtime–for the lightest potential of optimization.

Such systems are hard in funneling data and their rigid designators. They’re metrics machine, mapped to business goals, built to compute a result.

The roots to this result–oriented thinking are complexed, but I argue that they are linked to functional thinking from the early 20s century. Namely ideas brought to life by Adolphe Quetelet and Frederick Winslow Taylor.

The core idea was one of industrializing human output. At the time that took place in factories, as assembly lines were setting the speed in which tasks should be completed. It was when business potential was in reach, but lines were lagging behind that made for the ideas of Taylorism and scientific management so appealing. On the face of it the idea of improving output seems sound and well intentioned.

We should remind ourselves that those were the days of industries. We were harvesting natural resources and producing goods. Most of the innovation we’re referring to above deals with a new age – the Industrial Information age.

The methodical packaging of information into a taylorist formula. Proprietary database, interaction point and code, gated as a matter of business, ready to be maximized for metrics and computed for a result.

If we were to imagine a bird eye view of this we could see the internet as a metaphysical collection of small ad–hock bootstrapped companies, next to mansions of stability and an array of gradient stops in between.

“I am just visiting …”

What becomes wonderfully apparent that all of this farms are trading in something that is not theirs at all. Data does not exist prior to the domain being occupied with curious individuals. The presence of users in itself is not sufficient as well. Data is not evergreen — having the data stored on a company’s server doesn’t make for a healthy business.

It is the soft movements that could make the hard system survive. It’s the inertia that those companies seek, if they’re aware of it or not.

That inertia does not confide to those IP gates. Users travel between different domains, using machine (hard) hardware and software, and human (soft) tools.

Smart phones, TVs, iOT are facilitators, and communication makes the building blocks. Fostering faster communication between friends, family members and service providers – using both humans and machines – is something companies such as Facebook, Snapchat and even Uber are thinking about very actively.

It is clear that information is becoming more nuanced, and that most of the exchange is happening between real (soft) individuals. But those individuals are just visiting those “domains”, an app selling, or shutting down will not dissolve a friendship.

The channels of communication are incredibly intricate, and independent of tools.

Yet, we keep inventing more of them. More congregation points, more media format. And to what end is unclear. As an exercise I urge you to try and articulate the mission of 10 apps on your smartphone home screen right now.

Hard tools are on their way to become obsolete, unless they serve a purpose. And soft communications are growing stronger, more nuanced and more intricate.

Technology is cheap. Information is cheaper. Tools make themselves. Purpose validates.