Thursday, November 8, 2007

Don't let me hurt myself

[This was originally posted at]

In the real world - apart from computers - it was always understood that you could do dumb things to hurt yourself. Therefore a level of discipline was always required. You could hold a sharp knife wrong and cut yourself. You could say something dumb to a friend and ruin the relationship. A sufficiently out-of-luck person could basically mess up anything they came in contact with.


What I find ironic is that with software, there seems more and more a demand to reverse all that - to almost make it impossible for a user to hurt themselves:

  • Through intuitive UI and instant validation, software hinders you from doing something wrong. It won't let you type bad input, it prompts you with warnings if your intent is unclear ("Do you really want to delete this account?"), and it lets you undo your action ("Please restore that account I just deleted"). Unlike a knife, good software won't let you get cut, no matter how incorrectly you hold it.

  • Every other product seems to have a long list of disclaimers on how not to use that product. "Don't do X, or you could get hurt, and our company is not responsible."

  • If you send a bad communication that blows something up, good software lets you undo it, edit it, or roll it back.

  • Even when building software, because you can instantly back up all your work (with source control), any mistake can be reverted. Imagine baking a cake and accidentally putting in one too many eggs - you can't just "undo" it.

While it's great that software keeps improving, I find this un-paralleled expectation very interesting.


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