June 16, 2003

Bill Gates Declares War on The Full Stop

I've just been chasing my 'pending bad news' reading list and came across this article http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/itcommunity/chats/trans/ie/ie0507.asp. Most of you will not care one whit about the content (though it is a good example about why I am not sad about leaving an organisation that has moved to M$).
But I don't understand why they'd choose to randomly drop full stops out of the text. Or sprinkle apostrophes around with quite that lack of care either.
I've read some clangers in open source documentation, but somehow the way that these people are doing it without pay in the second language makes it slightly less offensive.
Perhaps it is a reasonable reflection of the approach M$ takes to documentation in general. Most of the time I get the impression that they are so busy being cautious about what they don't want to admit to, that they end up saying very little that is actually helpful.

Maybe they don't pay them enough, maybe there is a weak culture of documentation in M$, who knows? I'd just like to keep working with technology that is supported by people who understand the value of communicating.

Here follows a short rant about why I'm interested in the open source community as a production/economic model.

I've always been especially interested in occasions where natural human behaviour produces results - without that behaviour being about conflict or control. Essentially, competition, control and subterfuge seem to be inherantly expensive patterns of behaviour. If two people are constantly trying to beat each other, you may achieve improvements at a faster pace, but it would seem to me, that the higher pace would be more expensive than a peaceful or collaborative process.
Now, don't get me wrong, I've seen fine examples of 'nice' processes such as consensus produce fantastic loss of productive time and energy.
But if people (happily) have found common ground to work on, they can be hugely productive, *and* remain responsible and responsive to the rest of their lives.
The logical example of this that i tend to use is to compare two otherwise perfectly similar worlds. But in one world people gain utility by getting the better of someone else, and in the other world, they gain utility by helping other people out.
By definition, the second world is more efficient. The first world is inherantly playing a zero sum game (the benefit to the winner matches the detriment to the looser), the second world will tend to produce win-win situations, thus doubling the utility available to the inhabitants. Fundamentally, if I give someone something and we both gain utility from them having it, the total utility will be higher than if one of us has to feel ripped of by the transfer.
Generally, in production, there are some significant difficulties in being generous with what you produce. We all produce a certain level of things that we give away (even if it is just our opinions about how other people could live their lives better :) ). For some reason, the process of producing valuable things tends to make people happy. You couldn't stop New Zealander's from gardening if you tried. The material difference for the computing world is that making your produce available to others is very, very cheap (or may even have no additional cost, after you have already purchased the infrastructure for creating it). It is also easy to build on the work of others. The corrolary in gardening terms would be if you could provide your veggie garden to everyone with a hose, space and a bit of earth to put it in. A couple of people then weed the garden (and find another variety of carrot that is happier in those conditions) and provide it back to the group (and everyone's garden improves).
In a very short amount of time most people with an interest in gardening are producing respectable amounts of veggies for the same amount of work.

Posted by carla at June 16, 2003 02:06 PM
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