Thursday, January 22, 2004

What makes technology succeed?

What matters? "In many cases, it is much more important that a choice be made so that we as a society can benefit from the network effects, than it matters which choice is made...the choice between technologies is often of much smaller significance for us as a society than that there be a choice. Networks effects have their role in this and provide many of the benefits.

But if we want to benefit not just from the network effect but also from the advantages of technology, it is in everyone's interest that the network effects cut the right way: that we choose as a society the technologies that work best.

Now, if network effects are the best predictor, then we must infer that the people who actually are responsible for making a good decision are the early adopters. In IT, that means you. You have a responsibility to judge what matters not by network effects but by technical merit. This is a special case of the Categorical Imperative of Immanuel Kant, which you may dimly remember is phrased something like this: “act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law,”1 but which your mother may have expressed more colloquially as, “What would the world be like if everyone did that?”"

"But the reasons that it is a good idea for them to be widely adopted have nothing to do with the differences between SGML and XML, and everything to do with the essential characteristics of the languages...But the choice of any technology is a cost/benefit calculation. And the only changes XML made to that calculation were in lowering the costs of deployment, not in adding any benefits — unless you count the the benefits of the network effect, which are, as I have suggested, considerable."
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