First in Peter’s favourites from his feedreader, then from Matt Webb’s feed directly, which both showed up right beneath eachother when I opened my feedreader this morning, I read Personal Software vs Factory Produced Software.

In that posting Matt points to Rev Dan Catt’s recent week notes, in which he describes the types of tools he makes for himself. Like Matt I love this kind of stuff. I have some small tools for myself like that, and it is the primary reason I have been running a local webserver on my laptop: it allows me to do anything I could do online right on my laptop, as home cooking. Transposing code snippets into safe HTML output for instance. Or converting bank statements into something I can import in my accounting spreadsheet. Those are however somewhat of a mechanical nature. They’re by me, but not about me. And that is the qualitative difference specifically of the letter/cards tracking tool described in Rev Dan Catt’s post.

That is more akin to what I am trying to slowly build for myself since forever. Something that closely follows my own routines and process, and guides me along. Not just as a reference, like my notes or wiki, or as a guide like my todo-lists and weekly overviews. But something that welcomes me in the morning by starting me on my morning routine “Shall I read some feeds first, or shall I start with a brief review of today’s agenda.” and nudges me kindly “it’s been 15mins, shall I continue with …?”, or “shall I review …, before it becomes urgent next week?”. A coach and PA rolled into one, that is bascially me, scripted, I suppose. I’ve always been an avid note taker and lists keeper, even way before I started using computers in 1983. Those lists weren’t always very kind I realised in 2016, it became more a musts/shoulds thing than mights/coulds. Too harsh on myself, which reduces its effectiveness (not just to 0 at times, but an active hindrance causing ineffectiveness). I wanted a kinder thing, a personal operating system of sorts. Rev Dan Scott’s correspondence tool feels like that. I reminds me of what Rick Klau described earlier about his contacts ‘management’, although that stays closer to the mechanical, the less personal I feel, and skirts closer to the point where it feels inpersonal (or rather it challenges the assumption ‘if you don’t know it yourself and keep a list it’s not authentic’ more).

Building personalised tools, that are synchronised with the personality and routines of the person using it, not as an add-on (you can add your own filter rules to our e-mail client!), but as its core design, is mostly unexplored terrain I think. Because from a business perspective it doesn’t obviously “scale”, so no unicorn potential. That sort of generic scaling is unneeded anyway I think, and there is a very much available other path for scaling. Through the invisible hand of networks, where solutions and examples are replicated and tweaked across contexts, people and groups. That way lie the tools that are smaller than us, and therefore really provide agency.

It’s also why I think the title of Matt’s post Personal Software versus Factory Produced Software is a false dilemma. It’s not just a choice between personal and mass, between n=1 and statistics. There is a level in between, which is also where the complexity lives that makes us search for new tools in the first place: the level of you and your immediate context of relationships and things relevant to them. It’s the place where the thinking behind IndieWeb extends to all technology and methods. It’s where federation of tools live, and why I think you should run personal instances of tools that federate, not join someone else’s server, unless it is a pre-existing group launching a server and adopting it as their collective hang-out. Running personal or group tools, that can talk to others if you want it to and are potentially more valuable when connected to others, that have the network effect built in as an option.

6 reactions on “Personal Software

  1. If you look at the origin stories of many of the most commonly used software today, you’ll very often find someone at the root “who needed it for himself” (or herself). A very personal need turned into a product. As opposed to a company building something in-house or as their product.

    This includes language (PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby) databases (Elasticsearch) tooling (git) browsers (mosaic/netscape/firefox) operating systems (Linux) and so forth.

    So having personal tools, hacks and even entire suites is good for your own efficiency or work, it also lies at the root of many successful projects.

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