Permanently Important Information Systems

During the heyday of the Internet Boom, I started to chat with colleagues about the nobility of 'permanently important information systems' -- anything less seemed unworthy of the energies of the gifted engineers and designers I had met. Digital media content and games seemed to attract a disproportionate amount of attention in those 'convergence' years. But my highest admiration was reserved for the builders of large-scale information systems. As we've grown comfortable with the Web, we've seen how software can enhance our most important institutions, making government more transparent and effective, engaging more people in the political process, and generally strengthening our democracy. Growing numbers of us are beginning to recognize the need for 'permanent' systems, with open data formats and no vendor lock-in.

But there are far more qualified commentators than I on this subject. Ted Leung of the OSAF makes some interesting remarks on a recent essay by Dan Bricklin on software that lasts 200 years. The sentiment is out there, among the key influencers.


Favorite Reads: Karl Popper, "The Open Society"

Fifth in a series of favorite reads on human nature, society and information technology.

When Karl Popper made the case in 1943 for guiding human society in an open manner with modest 'piecemeal' social engineering replacing grand 'oracular philosophy', his arguments foreshadowed a battle waged over how to develop software systems. Popper reminded us of a much older question: Should aristocracies make decisions on behalf of the general populace, or could the populace be trusted to judge and decide on the best course of action? In the software realm, 'oracular' interests favored specification-driven methodologies while 'piecemeal' advocates argued for an iterative prototyping approach.

Centuries passed before democratic institutions could establish their efficacy in the eyes of the world. But only a few decades were required to confirm the viability and enhanced quality of software systems developed iteratively in an open manner. The parallels between Popper's prescriptions for humanity and the ideas espoused by the open source software movement beg for a careful study of both.


On images and blogging

9-11 Memorial Site
Originally uploaded by lyndon.

The combination of writing and photography makes both elements more interesting. Those fortunate enough to live and think today have incredible tools of expression at their disposal, and the rest of us are fortunate to be their beneficiaries via the Web.

In centuries prior, the ability to express ideas with a synthesis of writing and imagery took considerable effort to cultivate, and could be shared only with the privileged few. Now, the tools required to develop these talents, and to share the progress with everyone, are available to vast numbers of us.

What does any of this have to do with a photo of tourists surveying the site of 9-11-2001? It reminds me of how fortunate I feel to live in the present, despite the challenged state of the world.


Flickr, blogs and photo sharing

NYC Sunset
Originally uploaded by lyndon.

Just surfaced from 1.5 hours riveted by the FlickrLive environment, where I may have witnessed the future of online photo sharing -- nearly 6 months after Marc Canter said as much to the whole world. Flickr successfully melds a number of ideas about online communications, photo-sharing and community building. It's simple to use, integrates well with multiple blogging services, and it works from essentially any Web browser on any OS. Ludicorp's Flickr thus also proves the viability and joy-in-use of rich Internet applications delivered via the Flash player.


Software engineering for Internet applications

Stumbled on an interesting book based on a relatively new undergraduate CS course at MIT. Focuses on creating community-oriented web applications.

Worth marking for future reference.