Good technology

I’ve never heard of Stephen Downes, but he’s awfully clever. Robin Good posts an excerpt from his unpublished book, “The Learning Marketplace: Meaning, Metadata and Content Syndication in the Learning Object Economy” the Nine Rules for Good Technology – and damn fine good ones at that.

Good technology:

  1. Is always available. Availability strongly depends on price, but not overly so. Example: ATMs.
  2. Is always on, or can be turned on with a single command. Examples: Telephones, broadband internet access.
  3. Is always connected. And will transfer data to where it is needed, automatically. Example: GPS.
  4. Is standardized. Standardization guarantees interoperability. Example: W3C’s HTML spec allows anyone in the world with a web-enabled device to see your website.
  5. Is simple. When he talks about simple tech, he means it’s intuitive. Example: An insulin pen is simpler to use than a syringe; a diabetic just unscrews the cap and jabs.
  6. Does not require parts. “Perhaps even good technologies, such as portable stereos that require CD-ROMs, need parts. But a portable stereo that does not need CD-ROMs because it can download MP3s from the Internet would be better.”
  7. Is personalized. Technology should customize itself to fit your needs. Example: adjustable foot pedals on the Ford Taurus.
  8. Is modular. Technology should consist of independent entities that can be arranged into a desired configuration with minimal effort. Example: The Linux kernel allows it to be the brains inside TiVo players and Volvo automobiles alike.
  9. Does What You Want It To Do. Good technology is idiot-proof, robust and just damn works.

A VC points out a interview with Clay Shirky where Clay sums this up by stating that good technology is that which gives its users freedom of choice. “Microsoft gears up the global publicity machine its launch of Windows 98,” Clay says, “and at the same time a 19 year old kid procrastinating on his CS homework invents a way to trade MP3 files. Guess which software spread faster, and changed people’s lives more?”

Which is the core benefit of open source software – users are given autonomy from vendors and are empowered to choose, share and alter their software as they see fit.

Aside: Be sure to read that interview at the Gothamist. Clay is one of the most endearing and fascinating interview subjects I’ve ever read about.

In the end, good technology is so good, using it is second nature: “I was coming home in a cab from LGA in the pouring rain a few months ago, and sliding through a pool of water, we rear-ended the cab ahead of us. Both drivers got out, furious, and, before saying a word to one another, took out their phones and photographed each other’s license plates.”