Collapsing Communities

At one time the Lisp and Forth communities were exciting places. Books and articles brimmed with optimism. People were creating things with those languages. And then slowly, slowly, there was a loss of vibrancy. Perhaps the extent of the loss went unnoticed by people inside those communities, but the layers of dust and the reek of years of defensiveness jump out at the curious who wander in off the street, not realizing that the welcome sign out front was painted decades earlier by people who've long since moved away.

This is not news. Time moves on. Product and technical communities grow tired and stale. The interesting questions are when do they go stale and how do you realize it?

The transition from MS-DOS to Windows was a difficult one for many developers. Windows 3.1 wasn't a complete replacement for the raw audio/visual capabilities of DOS. Indeed, the heyday of MS-DOS game creation took place in the years between Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. But even in 2002, seven years after every PC booted into Windows by default, it wasn't uncommon to see the authors of software packages, even development environments, still resisting the transition, still targeting MS-DOS. Why did they hang on in the face of clear and overwhelming change? How did they justify that?

Unfortunately, it was easy to justify. "Windows is overly complex. Look at the whole shelf of manuals you need to program for it." "I can put a pixel on the screen with two lines of code under MS-DOS versus 200 for Windows." "I'm not going to take the performance hit from virtual memory, pre-emptive multitasking, and layers of hardware drivers."

Even if some of those one-sided arguments hold a bit of water, they made no difference at all to the end result. It would have been better to focus on learning the new platform rather than tirelessly defendinding the old one.

I've been a Flickr user since the early days. Oh, the creativity and wonder touched off by that site! But there have been signs that it is growing crusty. The iPhone support is only halfway there and has been for some time, for example. I wouldn't say Flickr is truly collapsing, but the spark is dimmer than it once was. I'm far from shutting down my account, but there's more incentive to start poking around the alternatives.

When I do move on to another photo sharing site, I won't fight it. I won't post long essays about why I won't leave. I'll simply follow the vibrancy.