inessential by Brent Simmons

Collegiality clause

I’m thinking of doing something a little radical. Please tell me if I’m all wet or not.

I believe, strongly, in three things:

1. Collegial competition is better than enmity. For instance, I have a policy about not criticizing other feedreaders or their developers. Illustrating distinctions is cool, but in a professional way. Saying that X sucks or Y is stupid or Z is bad is not cool.

2. I like it when apps inter-operate; I like it when apps are compatible. I like this as a user, because it means choice, and I like it as a developer, because it means I can help make users happy, and it means I can promote #1 above.

3. The above principles are related.

One of the things I’m most proud of in NetNewsWire is that I documented the clipboard formats NetNewsWire uses, and that a bunch of other apps now support those formats too. This means you can drag (or copy-and-paste) headlines and feeds into those other applications. (It’s possible, though I haven’t tested it, that other feedreaders also generate the same formats, which is cool if true.)

Even though I know how it works, I still think of it as a form of magic.

So here’s what I’m thinking...

In NetNewsWire 2.0 there will be a few more things like that clipboard format, new things that I’ll document and encourage other developers to support.

This makes it so apps are more compatible, so they can work together, which makes users happy (and, frankly, delights me personally).

What I’m thinking is that I could put a collegiality clause in the documentation of these formats. It would say something like this: “By supporting this format, you agree that drawing distinctions between your application and competing applications should be done in a professional manner, and that expressing strongly negative, subjective value judgments is not professional.”

Obviously, this isn’t something that could be enforced, but it’s something, at least, a good step.

Millard Fillmore and Andrew Jackson

To show what I mean, let’s invent two feedreaders and their developers.

Millard Fillmore has taken a wild approach—his app is a lot like iCal. His idea is to emphasize the time-based element of feeds. It includes full archives, going all the way to back to when you first started using the app. Lots of people like it for its strengths as a knowledge-management tool, though it’s not as good when it comes to just skimming through the headlines as other feedreaders.

Andrew Jackson, on the other hand, took as his inspiration John Norstad’s venerable NewsWatcher application. (Which, if you weren’t a Mac user way back when, was a great Usenet newsreader.) Jackson’s feedreader is great for skimming headlines, but Fillmore’s app has more knowledge-management features.

Both developers, in promoting their applications, could talk about the different approaches in a professional way, recognizing that different people have different needs.

Or they could go negative.

Fillmore writes, “Syndication is the TiVo of the Web. Jackson’s brain-dead application takes no notice of that fact. I can’t believe anybody uses that piece of crap.”

Jackson writes, “The whole point of syndication is to make it easy to see what’s going on right now. Fillmore’s stupid app, with its clunky calendar-based UI, totally gets in the way. I can’t believe anybody uses that piece of crap.”

That’s the kind of stuff I don’t want to see. It’s not only bad for the developers, it’s bad for users, since Fillmore and Jackson are not going to work together on anything, which means users don’t get the benefits of compatibility and inter-operability.

Maybe I’m all wet...

I like the idea of promoting collegiality, but I’m not sure this the way to do it. It’s just something I’m thinking about.

I trust you’ll tell me if I’m nuts.