Technical accuracy, and the whole product concept


I’ve been diving more into legacy data and file formats again. This 2003 article by Jack Schofield is about the VHS–Betamax format war, but as I read it I could apply it to so many things, emphasis added:

… the next time someone tells you that, of course, Betamax was superior to VHS, you can tell them that they are wrong. It’s an urban myth. This is not news: the information has always been available to anyone who could be bothered to look. However, it seems to me that the survival of this and many similar notions is not just a matter of techno-arrogance: it shows a failure to understand how technology markets work.

Substitute Betamax for any technical endeavour. Heck, even political ones. I’ll say climate change because my home country is still on fire. But lest you think this is a nerd dismissing The Normies, there’s a lesson for us too:

… almost no journalists, and no geeks, have ever come across the concept of “the whole product”, though it is well known to marketing people. Real people may not be aware of it, but the “whole product” model is an accurate description of the way they buy things.

What is the whole product? Emphasis added:

… when someone buys and uses a product, the technological aspects are a small and often uninteresting part of the decision. When you choose compact cassette, you are also buying into a vast infrastructure of capabilities, services and support. These include the availability of cheap cassettes on every high street, cheap personal stereos, and the ability to use the same format for a wide range of applications

I make this mistake constantly when talking about consumer tech. People don’t care if something is higher quality, or dare I say even more ethical, if it’s harder to use. That’s not to say there isn’t value in understanding technology, more that it’s not purchased in a vacuum.

Worse is better and agile development are variations on this theme, now that I think about it.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and IaaS engineer in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person in bios. Wait, not BIOS… my brain should be EFI by now.

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