Three Nice Qualities

One of my friends has been working on a sort of community software for several years now. Uniquely, this software, Uncommon, is designed to avoid invading and obstructing your life. From speaking with my Brian, it sounds like people often mistake this community for a forum or a social media group. That’s natural; we often understand new things by comparing or reducing them to old things we already understand.

The real Quality Uncommon is trying to embody is that of a small dinner party. How do people interact in these small social settings? How can software provide constructive social norms like you’d naturally observe in that setting?

I’m currently reading How Buildings Learn (also a video series). It’s about architecture, building design, fancy buildings, un-fancy buildings, pretty buildings, ugly buildings, etc. Mostly it’s about how buildings are suited for their occupants or not and whether those buildings can change over time to accommodate the current or future occupants. The main through-lines of the book are 1) function dictates form and 2) function is learned over time, not specified.

A building that embodies the Quality described by How Buildings Learn uses learning and change over time to become better. A building with the Quality answers 1) How does one design a building such that it can allow change over time while meeting the needs and wants of the customer paying for its current construction? and 2) How can the building learn about the functions its occupants need over time so that it changes at a lower cost than tearing it down and starting a new building?

Bret Victor has bigger ideas for computing. He seeks to design systems that help us explore and reason on big problems. Rather than using computers as blunt tools for doing the busy work of our day-to-day jobs as we currently do, we should build systems that help all of us think creatively at a higher level than we currently do.

Software that embodies that Quality is less like a screen and input device and more like a working library. Information you need, in the form of books and videos, line the walls. Where there are no books, there are whiteboards for brainstorming, sharing ideas, and keeping track of things. In the center of the room are wide, spacious desks; you can sit down to focus on working something through or stand and shuffle papers around to try and organize a problem such that an insight reveals itself. You don’t work at the computer, you work amongst the information.

They’re all good qualities. Let’s build ’em all.