Secret handshakes of software
Thursday, January 28, 2016 by Dave Winer

I read Walt Mossberg's recent piece about how Twitter is too hard because of all the "secret handshakes." 

There's no doubt it's hard to come into a story late and catch up on all that's happened along the way. That's how software development processes work. Version 1 is easy to get onboard because if it weren't there would be no version 2. Then the feature lists reflect the wants of the users (this is good!), and that's how the secret handshakes creep in. 

For single-user software this isn't such a problem. I was always a very casual spreadsheet user, and used a tiny fraction of the feature set. It didn't matter to me if they kept adding features as long as I didn't have to use them. 

The evolution of programming languages has the same problem. I had more or less figured out the features of JavaScript, until they came out with a new version of the language late last year, and then there were lots of features I didn't grok. Not a problem until I have to read someone else's code that uses the new features. So you tend to get dragged along whether you want to or not. (The new features are very worthwhile additions, btw.)

I don't know if anyone has yet to figure out a solution for this. But it's yet another reason that tech is cyclic. Some bright creative developer might figure at this point, with Twitter becoming congested for experienced users and there being too much culture to absorb for newbies, that it might be a good time for a fresh start. Just re-read the recent Tech is Cyclic piece for a story of how that replacement works. 

PS: A rebuttal to Mossberg's thesis. I find that Facebook has lots of secret handshakes too. I tend not to feel them in Twitter because I started near the beginning, in 2006. I was a much later arrival on Facebook, so the culture had already been through a number of iterations when I got there. I see little vestiges of its history here and there that more experienced users might not see. 

  • Every community (and sub-community) has its "secret handshakes". At some level, isn't that just "culture"?