Is Obama the Open Source Solution?

by francine Hardaway on August 19, 2008

This post started as a response to comments on yesterday’s post, but quickly took on a life of its own, for which I thank you all. Part of the problem is that I was trying to write about two different subjects in the same post: technology innovation and political or social change. I was trying to draw analogies between one and the other, and I’m pretty sure I failed.

But I’m humbled by all the people who took the time to comment. This tells me innovation is alive and well, because most of the commenters were innovators and activists as frustrated as I am, but more cheerful about it than I was yesterday. And, oh by the way, I’m an incurable activist/innovator, which is why I’m not retired:-)

Evan Prodromou is right that UI designers are in short supply and UI is what’s wrong with most apps. And that’s why Space 4 on my desktop is for the killer app I know will come. I fully agree that the goal is conversing between apps, or bridging microcommunities, so that they can learn from one another and cross-pollinate.

But on the subject of changing human behavior, the issue is more complex. A small group of, let’s call them political activists, change junkies, or early adopters depending on the particular sector, are open and willing to try things. Often these are younger people — the kids who programmed the first VCRs for their parents, or started Facebook.

The mass of people behind them are, shall we say, less willing to change, which is why we do things like re-elect George Bush. (Let’s not even talk about voter fraud here, because that’s another post.) It’s why race is still an underlying issue in the Obama campaign (“well, we’ve never had one of THOSE before. So he must be a Muslim.”) Do you realize how much resistance to change is packed into this election cycle, even though we have nominated Obama?

The jobs of marketing, advertising, product development, campaign strategist, industrial design, and many others acknowledge this unwillingness. In products, it’s a bummer how much longer the adoption curve is than the entrepreneur thinks it will be, and it’s the reason many companies run out of money. In politics, it’s the reason I worry every day on NewsGangLive in full view of everybody that we will not vote for change or hope, but will elect the familiar and live with the consequences, like the mass of people do on Twitter.

Ugh. I didn’t clarify anything, did I. But thanks again for trying to help me through all the flaws in my thinking. I think fast, but not necessarily well:-)

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

ursulas August 19, 2008 at 7:58 am

Funny, I was just sitting here thinking the same thing before I read your post …the election of obama is really about race for many people.

Brian Roy August 19, 2008 at 8:36 am

I think you’ve hit on some important topics here. The only thing I would encourage you to factor in is the importance of balance.
Imagine a world where (and let’s stick with tech for a moment) everyone was an innovator/early adopter. We’d be whipsawed about mercilessly – often with no practical gain.
The thing about those change resistant masses is that they have to be convinced that the change is good for them… and all too often us innovators/early adopters fail miserably in that department… we do it because it is “cool” or “the hot thing” or some other nebulous reason.
Applying that to politics leaves a slightly less pleasant taste in one’s mouth (especially now) because it brings biases (racism, fear, etc) to bear that are unpleasant. But the effect is the same… imagine every 4 years electing a “change” candidate… again we’d be whipsawed about mercilessly.

The good news is I believe Obama has been VERY effective presenting his case to the massess… and honestly I think they understand why change is good for them… and that – as they say – makes all the difference.

Frank Cohen August 19, 2008 at 8:50 am

Hi Francine:

I find nothing wrong with what you wrote. You impress me. Alan Cooper has been my go-to guy when it comes to teaching software developers how to build highly usable applications. Alan spoke at Agile 2008 last month. He makes the case for Interaction Designers in an Agile environment. I blogged about his talk at


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