UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

It’s Cool to be Cool!

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 December 2006

“Have you seen LibraryThing – it’s cool!”. “I agree. And I’ve written a cool XSLT script to take data from my OPAC and upload it to LibraryThing – and also to del.icio.us.” “That’s cool!” (see footnote).

A common response to hearing discussions such as this is to be dismissive – “It’s just geeks being clever. We need to adopt a user-focused approach to development, and we must deploy formal user needs analysis. And we should be dispassionate about the services we’re developing – so the ‘cool’ word is banned! “

Although there is a need to take a user-focused approach to development, I would argue that there’s also a need to encourage a ‘cool’ approach to development, especially at a time of rapid technological development that we are currently seeing.

One reason for this is to build on the work of the early developers and bridge the ‘chasm’ in the Gartner hype curve.

Gartner hype curve, showing the 'chasm'

For developers to be pleased with their work and wish to share their successes with others is, I would argue, an approach to be encouraged. And if the vocabulary includes the word, ‘cool’ then that’s fine by me.

There is also a need to have a better understanding of the positive aspects of the term ‘cool’ in development circles. At the international World Wide Web conferences which I have attended, the word cool is often used to refer to development work based on simple and elegant implementations of new standards and technologies elegant; the emphasis in this community does not normally focus on fashionable user interfaces.

However I would argue that development of ‘cool user interfaces’ should also be encouraged. Andy Powell has commented on the differences between Slideshare.net and JORUM – and I would argue that Slideshare’s cool interface has contributed to its popularity.

There is, however, a danger to being cool. Cool can be used to refer to innovation for its own sake or fashionable user interface features which may result in degraded experiences for some. Let our mantra be “Let’s do cool cool stuff and avoid the bad cool development”. If you’re a manager and you hear your developers talking about cool applications, grill them to find out which meaning of cool they are using – if they are good developers, you may learn something; and if they’re not you will need to make use of your management skills.

Footnote

See Dave Pattern’s blog entry about how he integrated data from the Library OPAC with LibraryThing and del.icio.us – and the first comment :-).

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