An unregulated fiat currency popular among technocrats and open source wonks. If that was all Bitcoin was, I wouldn’t be afraid of it. I just wouldn’t care. Instead, Bitcoin is an unregulated fiat currency popular among technocrats, open source wonks, and hedge funds. That scares me. Wall Street types going nuts over an unregulated fiat currency, considering their track record, should scare anyone.
There’s nothing to prevent fraud, and nothing to stop unscrupulous investors from crashing the currency and running off with the proceeds. Even worse, the very idea of regulation has already popped one bubble in the currency. Still, with people like famed hedge fund manager Hugh Hendry claiming a single Bitcoin could become worth $1 million , one can’t help but think there’s plans to inflate that bubble again.
It’s easy to be blinded by novelty. There’s enough people pushing and promoting Bitcoin as the latest technological salve and as a get-rich-quick scheme that I think most supporters are blinded. The dangers are real, and there’s real people’s money being invested in something frighteningly risky. I wouldn’t put even a penny of my money in Bitcoin, and as long as it remains popular among hedge funds and other unscrupulous Wall Street types. I’ll leave it to the technocrats and wonks to get burned instead.
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The truth of this was revealed to some Microsoft researchers, who in the early days of Microsoft Word asked lots of people to send them their configuration files. These were anonymous, because the researchers just wanted to find out what people actually preferred, so they could have those set as the defaults. To their amazement, they discovered that less than 5% had made any changes. At all. Even though there was a fantastically useful autosave feature but it was off by default. Why? Because a programmer inside Microsoft had set the configuration file to all zeroes for simplicity. And “zero” in the config file meant “no autosave”.
— Why the default settings on your device should be right first time | Technology | The Observer
Changing settings for an application or a piece of hardware is a power user move. Just another example to add to the growing pile of proof that technology companies don’t understand how ordinary people use technology.
There’s a joke in technology circles about how programmers don’t understand how non-programmers use computers. Daring Fireball used to have a “UI of the Week” feature that linked to UI atrocities that only a programmer could love. It’s true that not every piece of software needs to be as sexily designed as a piece of Apple hardware. There’s nothing wrong with a utility looking like one. It’s just one small symptom of a larger problem in computing as more and more ordinary people embrace technology.
Joel Marsh claims that Google and Microsoft “don’t understand people.” This is an understatement. Most technology companies don’t understand people. Often, it’s that their focus isn’t on the person who actually uses the software every day. Episode 39 and episode 40 of Accidental Tech Podcast go on deep dives into why so much Enterprise software is awful. In short, they’re selling on features to people who don’t have to use it. There’s no incentive make the user interface better, because it won’t move more units. Apple doesn’t get a free pass here, either. By all accounts, their back end for app developers and content creators to get stuff in people’s hands is downright awful. There’s also no incentive to make it better, because it’s clearly not keeping people from putting apps on the store and music on iTunes.
If only this problem were limited to enterprise software and tools for programmers. Apps that add new features because they looks good on a press release, companies getting into “social” because that’s the buzzword of the week , trendy redesigns that impede usability, and forcibly integrating unpopular new products into popular old ones, all of these are symptoms of not understanding people. Even worse, it’s thinking of people as eyeballs to monetize or wallets to pry open. Thinking about this problem, I come back to Tab Closed; Didn’t Read. The pattern of obscuring content with subscription boxes and social media buttons is exploiting a specific sort of knowledge about people. It’s a lazy technique that makes product guys think they’re doing something with a measurable benefit while frustrating people. Worse, it’s not a big leap to go from newsletter subscription boxes to popups that pretend to be system dialogs reporting fake system errors. Behaviors like this are common enough that they have a name: Dark Patterns.
Fundamentally, people approach technology from a task-oriented mindset. They sit down at their computer, or take out their smartphone because they want to do something: share their thoughts with their friends, buy a pair of socks, or fling cartoon birds at cartoon pigs. It’s the job of the technology to let them to do that thing they want to do with the least amount of fuss. It’s why iOS is still built around an incredibly simple grid of icons. If you want to share your thoughts with friends or fling cartoon birds around, you just touch. Apple builds its experience around reducing friction. To do such a thing, however, requires a willingness to understand the real human motivations and real human frustrations that come when trying to accomplish a task with technology.
The underlying reason for all of this? Most technology companies haven’t had to live in the consumer space until recently. It wasn’t until the Internet took off in the mid–90s that personal computers took off in the home among ordinary people. By this point, most of the companies in the space had fossilized around a business and design model that focused on business users and the odd hobbyist who wanted to learn how to use a computer for fun. (I was the second type.) It’s the enterprise software problem writ large, and companies are scrambling to learn how normal people think and use computers. Most of them aren’t doing a very good job of it.
What we’re witnessing here is the first wave of the second world pop-up war. Those of us who lived through the first one can only describe the horrors to our disbelieving children. This time though, the pop-ups are winning because we don’t yet have the tools to fight back. The web has seemingly evolved into something that actively antagonises people — why would anyone in their right mind hide the content that visitors are there to see?
— The Value of Content — I. M. H. O. — Medium
Andy Beaumont just launched Tab Closed; Didn’t Read, a blog collecting the worst abuses of obscuring content with newsletter subscription forms, app promotions, or any other awful crap that gets in the way between the reader and what they came to see. Naturally, some people are confused and angry, because those tools “work.” They get “conversions,” measured in signups, follows, or whatever miserable metric they’re trying to juice.
This behavior shows a complete disrespect for your audience. It’s the digital equivalent of a store having people shove coupons and flyers in your face as you enter. The difference is that in real life, it’s easy to avoid them, or just trash what they hand you. Online, most people don’t know how to escape, short of capitulation. And it’s ruining how we use the web.