How to Grow Standards

Michael Feldstein, Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, Jul 04, 2006
Commentary by Stephen Downes

Michael Feldstein responds to Scott Wilson's comments on standards mostly by accepting the point and giving an example. Still, I'm not sure he sees the issue here. Begin with his 'Step 1'. "Identify a user problem that you need to solve." Right off the bat we are in a situation where we are solving a problem for them. I would start with 'Step 1'. "Identify a problem users have solved for themselves." Now the solution may not have been implemented, but you can be sure it has been suggested. Why is this important? Because users have different priorities than you do.

Consider Feldstein's example: "The assignment to the students was to read and comment on their classmates' blog posts. Where do those comments go? ... In an ideal world, I would want to mirror the blog's comment thread..." And away we go, off into La-La Land. Why do we need all this? Because we're mirroring. But couldn't we do the same with a simple reference when one post comments on another, leaving the problems of display up to the software? That's what we actually do when we quote each other - we don't mirror the entire text!

See, what has happened here is that we went from a fairly simple problem straight into a goofy and complicated Microsoft spec because it was the only apparent solution to the problem (Feldstein even said so - he said "I'm not aware of any. The closest I've seen..."). His exposure to the Microsoft approach, but not to actual instances of the use of references (or, I guess, of my description ;) ) drew him astray. For this reason, it is important to enable users to create their own solutions. After all - you can't pave the cowpaths if you litter the lawn with signs saying "Keep off the grass."
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