It’s so 1999 again…

I just went over to GitHub to comment on a ticket. I wanted to put an URL in the comment. No problem, usually all those comment boxes have a help function nearby, that explains you how the markup works.

GitHub has a link next to the comment box that says “Parsed with GitHub Flavored Markdown“. When you click it, you end up on a page that tells you how their flavour is different from the standard one and then…

If you’re not already familiar with Markdown, you should spend 15 minutes and go over the excellent Markdown Syntax Guide at Daring Fireball.

They’ve got to be kidding me. Not only had I to follow a link with a totally unhelpful label. But then they have the balls to tell me “please waste 15 minutes of your time reading some external documentation before posting a comment. Thank you very much.

I tell you what I’d have expected: A link called “Help” that shows you a popup with a summary of the most important markup tags. Even the most retarded forum software can do that.

It shows in other places, too. Their help pages consist of a kind of wiki with a semi-random collection of help articles. You’ll only reach them if you figure out the difference between “Help” and “Support” in their ever-changing footer. Once you get there, the only way to go back to to home is to click their logo in the header. Unless you accidentally went to “Support”, where you have to use the “Back to github” link. I usually rather use Google to find something on their site, wondering how you can violate such basic rules on a commercial, professionally designed page.

But my problem isn’t really with GitHub or with a new product having some teething problems. I guess my problem is with the attitude of that blogosphering, Twitter-following, Web 2.0-hyped geeks that are around at the moment.

It dawned on me that it’s 1999 all over again again. The “Web 2.0” really is the new economy with the new kids thinking that the old rules don’t apply to them any more. The hubris is the same, just with less funding: We will make the old world obsolete. We’re the avant-garde of the how the future will look like. Our software is opinionated, and we’re proud of it.

And, above all, the new kids want to look cool, and I suppose that reflects in the interface: “Help” is boring. But look, Ma, I can parse my own flavour of Markdown – how cool is that? And I’ve even have a page showing you how it works! Supercool! With source code!

That’s how things like RESTful authentication are born. There’s no actual reason why authentication should have a REST interface. There are no resources involved, unless you subscribe to the mind-boggling notion that a user session is a “resource”. Still, all the other cool kids have REST interfaces in all the wrong places, so you want one too. Totally cool.

You may even get away with it – people don’t care what’s inside, as long as it works. Still, you’re walking a dangerous path. Although it’s possible to make a living by creating cool stuff that make people look cool – just look at Apple – it doesn’t happen that often. If you can pull it off, more power to you. Otherwise beware.

Guess what: The old rules still apply. Those of us old enough to remember the world 10 years ago have seen it before. Your bosses, customers and financiers give a flying fart about whether you look cool. They just care if your stuff is useful to them. And if it’s not, they’ll probably get annoyed and blog about it.

Or they just walk off to work with those boring people who actually care.


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