Aral Balkan makes some good points on his piece, IndieWebCamp., but misses the mark in several cases. This post is an attempt to clarify many of the arguments made and provide more context on the goals of
The Trickle-down economics analogy
Aral states in his post:
Does trickle down economics work? Given that 1% of America has 40% of the nation’s wealth, the answer is no, it doesn't.
This was countered nicely by a comment on the hackernews thread for this article: "This is a fallacy based on a complete misunderstanding of trickle down economics. The premise of trickle down economics is that a rising tide lifts all boats, which has occurred. The poor today are considerably richer than even the middle class of earlier eras." (by Chris Stucchio)
Open source exists in the consumer space
...the glaring lack of open source adoption in the consumer space
This anecdote is amazingly false. There are three open source products that reach millions of consumers I can think of off the top of my head:
Almost every single device you use runs at least some open source software. Even iOS and OS X are built on the open source Unix underneath, where Apple put a closed-source UI on top of it. This is not an uncommon pattern.
Aral must have a specfic model of open source software in mind that he's referring to, because the counter-examples are too obvious.
Aral points out:
In technology, some of us share a similar philosophy to trickle‐down economics. We believe that when a technically‐savvy elite of enthusiasts build tools and technologies for themselves, that technology will eventually trickle down and help less technically‐savvy members of society.
I don't expect the tools I'm building for myself (p3k, etc) will ever end up being used by anybody except myself. I'm building these tools to explore UX patterns and figure out simple protocols like webmention to use to communicate cross-sites. When I can, I also build open source components so that code can be re-used by others.
Following the selfdogfood methodology is the only way we've been able to get closer to solving these very challenging decentralized protocols. It's not that we're building tools we expect to trickle down to everyone else, we're using our own tools to solve these very real challenges. Building small pieces at a time lets us iterate quickly and make mistakes faster, which will lead to better building blocks down the road.
The enthusiast-consumer hybrid
...we expect products created by enthusiasts (who we lazily and colloquially refer to as 'geeks' or who I like to call 'über geeks') to also eventually meet the needs of consumers (in other words, regular people; or as Steve Jobs used to call them, 'mere mortals').
Nearly everyone in the #indiewebcamp IRC channel lives in the middle of the enthusiasts/consumer spectrum.
I used to tear apart computers and re-build them, swapping out midi cards and graphics cards and hard drives. at some point I became more interested in using the computers than tinkering with them, which is around the time I switched from Windows to OS X. For my main computer that I use every day I want it to just work and don't want to think about the internals, but I still install stuff on Linux servers when I need to.
I also wrote and have spoken about what I call low friction personal data collection. I'm willing to put out some amount of effort to collect personal data to use later. Personal data is something very much in the enthusiast space right now, even though there are many companies producing consumer products. But even I have a threshold of the amount of crap I put up with to use these devices, so I end up not using many of them. @t refers to this behavior as being a "UX-driven enthusiast."
I take personal offense to Aral's statement that enthusiasts and consumers are "two very different demographics with very different levels of knowledge". Even though he attempts to add a disclaimer,
"Needless to say, enthusiasts and consumers are not necessarily mutually exclusive demographics. We can also view them as modes that people subscribe to at different times."
I think he still manages to set up the enthusiast/consumer dichotomy there as well, by saying "you may be an enthusiast when playing with your Raspberry Pi and a consumer when you just want to talk to your boyfriend over FaceTime."
He's missing the case where I am building my own tools (enthusiast) but want them to work seamlessly (consumer), as if somehow by building my own tools I only want to build something complex and hard to use. To use Aral's own words, the IndieWebCamp culture really does "focus on what the technology enables [us] to achieve".
Fitting the needs of consumers
"We cannot create solutions for enthusiasts and magically expect them to also fit the needs of consumers."
@t brings up several counter-examples of solutions that were specifically created for enthusiasts that eventually now fit the needs of consumers.
URLs were never designed to be something people were supposed to remember and use. They've accidentally succeeded at a great scale to the point where they're on nearly every consumer product. People can type them into a browser, no matter whether into the address bar or search box or whatever, and they go to the right place. URLs were an enthusiast-first solution specifically NOT intended for consumers, and yet, now consumers are totally exposed to them and using them (whether they know it or not). Tim Berners-Lee also said the same thing about HTML, which ironically scaled because every barista could teach themselves HTML during the dotcom boom.
Chris Messina suggested hashtags as a simple thing for himself and his geek community of BarCamp to use. They have exploded and become super-mainstream consumer now, can can be seen on nearly every TV show. This was an enthusiast-first technology, designed for enthusiasts, which also semi-accidentally succeeded. To Messina's credit, he did create them with an eye towards semi-broad applicability/usability (he has a design background).
@Jack brainstormed and designed what he wanted for himself from Twitter. In 2006, Twitter was designed for (and rapidly adopted by) not just technology enthusiasts, but insider, SF-focused, technology enthusiasts. This was of course a very small, very geeky crowd. Through continuous iteration, it has now become perhaps the top device/network-independent messaging platform in existence.