UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Fashions In Internet Technologies

Posted by Brian Kelly on 5 October 2007

The Apache server software saw steady growth in its use from its launch. But I never heard anyone criticise Web server administrators for being fashionable, or doom merchants predicting that the growth would come to an end and, therefore, there is little point in using the software.

And yet such arguments are being made when other software, such as Facebook, becomes popular. Why is this, I wonder? In part, I think this is because services such as Facebook don’t fit in with the ideology of the ‘chattering classes’ – it’s not, open source, for example. And, unlike Apache, there is a lot of money associated with Facebook, with large companies (such as Microsoft and Google) looking to invest in the company. Such rampant capitalism again doesn’t fit in with certain ideological perspectives. In contrast, plucky underdogs, like Twitter and Jaiku are to be admired, even thought (or perhaps because) they  seem not to have gone beyond the boundaries of the geeks and early adopters.

I also feel that some people like to distance themselves from the vulgarities of profit and success. We’re British, after all; let’s leave the Americans and the Australians to boast about their successes, while we pride ourselves on heroic (or less than heroic) failures!

My view is that, whilst we may wish to reflect our national characteristics in the sporting arena (and I’m writing this in advance of this weekend’s Rugby World Cup games) as professionals we should base our judgments on evidence, rather than beliefs and, if the evidence shows that our beliefs aren’t working, then we may need to modify our beliefs, rather than ignore the evidence.

On the other hand, maybe Apache is starting to become unfashionable; after all as a recent Netcraft survey reportedits market share [is] declining closer to the 50% mark, as Microsoft … gained over 3 million hostnames“.

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11 Responses to “Fashions In Internet Technologies”

  1. Tom Franklin said

    I think that there is a fundamental difference between the likes of server software and the likes of facebook.

    Server software is essentially invisible and matters only to the people running the server. I dont know (or care) what server you are running this blog on for instance.

    However when it comes to something that in some sense expresses who I am then I care about the system and what it says about me. If facebook is the place to be then I might want to put in an appearance there (and yes I do have an account), or second life (tried it didnt like it). But if the fashion changes and the people I want to converse with (if that is the right term) move to other systems then so will I. And it has nothing to do with whether they are commercial systems or not. I use the tools that will be effective.

  2. Why is Facebook labelled as a fad?

    Brian Kelly wonders why some software/Web2.0 products are considered to be fads and why some is not. He says:

    The Apache server software saw steady growth in its use from its launch. But I never heard anyone criticise Web server administrators for bei…

  3. I’m so pleased to say that my prediction of an heroic failure in the Rugby World Cup quarter final against Australia has proved so wrong – it was an heroic success :-)

  4. Hi Brian,

    I did wonder whether this was something of a Friday night fishing expedition to bump up your comments ;-) OK, I bite…

    First, I’d second Tom’s point that in comparing Apache and Facebook, there’s an element of comparing apples and oranges. They are different classes of thing, used in different ways, meeting different goals, and subject to choices made by different categories of people, according to different criteria.

    Second, I think it’s quite reasonable to point out that the use of social networking services is highly dependent on changes in popular opinion: arguably, “fashion” is part of their raison d’etre! Certainly, such services rise and fall based on changes in the shifting perceptions and preferences of their (highly dynamic) user community.

    But more to the point, I think (in this post – I know you’ve touched on the topics elsewhere) I feel you’re rather misrepresenting the arguments against Facebook, or at least (in this post) focussing on one rather superficial argument while ignoring the more substantive ones.

    The arguments I see being made against Facebook are not that it’s “fashionable” (or that it’s owned by a commercial enterprise) but rather that:

    (i) in some aspects, it’s a “walled garden”, in the sense that it’s much easier to pipe/put content “in to” Fb than it is to get that info “out from” Fb
    (ii) the Fb terms of service raise concerns over rights of ownership of the content you provide
    (iii) if you aren’t careful with your privacy settings, you may expose content to more people than you realise
    (iv) for many users, it becomes a source of trivia and distraction (says he, just having discovered Warbook over the weekend)

    As for championing Twitter because it’s the “plucky underdog”, crumbs, if that was my motivation, I’d have chosen to use something much less popular than Twitter ;-)

    Finally, I’d just note that (IMHO) a consideration of the socio-economic (and ultimately ethical) dimensions of service ownership, provision and delivery, far from being dismissed as “the ideology of the ‘chattering classes’”, is a perfectly valid and rational part of assessing the pros and cons of using or buying a service or product.

    Sure, at the end of that process we all make our compromises. But the services and products offered by News International, McDonalds, and Starbucks are hugely popular and (according to some criteria) successful, but I’m not about to start using them any time soon.

    If that makes me an advocate of “heroic failure”, I wear that epithet with pride ;-)

  5. Hi Pete
    Many thanks for your thoughtful comments.
    The main point that I tried to make was that many of us will use the term ‘fashionable’ with negative connnotations – we won’t drink in fashionable wine bars, support fashionable football teams, etc.
    However we’re not neccesarily typical, and it is inappropriate to engage in a discussion simply based on use of this word. Similarly to predict that a fashion will turn into a fad ignotes that possibility that the fashion becomes embedded. I can remember in the mid 1990s when people(inbcluding Jon Made, the developer of the Boddington VLE at Leeds) began to Web-enable various applications; this was dismissed as a fad by some, who failed to predict the multi-million pound industry that developed.
    I completely agree with you that the debate should take place on issues such as interoperabilty, lock-in, privacy, etc.
    We will be discussing these issues at the UKOLN workshop on Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks which will be held in Birmingham on 26 November 2007.
    Brian

  6. Maybe the arguments weren’t made about Apache because the same “chattering classes” weren’t involved, it was mostly techies?

    I like the fact that Jaiku is a plucky underdog, albeit one that has now been bought by Google :)

  7. I kinda disagree with you. When people ask “is Facebook fashionable?”, it could be reworded as “Will Facebook be relevant in 3,4,5 years time?”. This is the very sort of question that everyone needs to ask themselves if they are to launch any service which they put a large amount of resources into and they hope will be running on a long time scale. I think its especially relevant to Facebook and Facebook Applications because if somebody is going to spend, say, 2 months writing a web app, you want to know it will still be valid in 3 years – simple Return on Investment judgement call (obviously, though, it would not be the only factor in whether the project would be worth doing).

    I agree we should be 100% professional when judging software and services. You are correct when you talk about the “chattering classes”, especially on certain topics. Its really unfortunate that open source falls into that category, but it does. The problem is, people have extreme views on things like this. Some people see open source as “hobby software”, whilst others see it as a “fifth ace” – if you have 2 pieces of software and one is absolutely perfect and matches your every need but is closed source, and the other is a piece of junk but open source, these people will recommend going for the open source one. Its not nearly at either of those extremes, and should be judged with necessary evidence (ie. your development resources, what community/support does the software have, time constraints, etc). As you suggest, that isn’t happening as often as it should.

  8. […] by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on October 20th, 2007 I recently suggested that the English secretly prefer being failures, as we enjoy complaining about our failures and […]

  9. […] Comments We Are The Champions… on Fashions In Internet Technolog…Pete Johnston on Should Open Content Be Open Fo…D Cook on All UK Government Web Sites Mu…Brian […]

  10. […] per post seems to have been fairly consistent throughout the year (although, as Pete Johnson commented recently, this can be a slightly contentious metric for indicating engagement, potentially leading to […]

  11. […] Brian Kelly wonders why some software products are considered to be fads and why some are not. He says: […]

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