My Lame App

Wednesday, 2006-10-04; 00:03:00

Why this "My Dream App" contest is so lame

So I've been a voter in the My Dream App competition for the past 3 rounds so far, but my initial reaction to the contest was one of skepticism. The results so far haven't really tempered that any.

Is there really anyone who is excited about what will come out of this contest? There were only two apps that I was really upbeat about, even at the start of the competition when there were more entries. Chatboard was the first. Chatboard was going to be a "virtual whiteboard", and from the initial description, it seemed to be something NetScrawl-ish. Since there hasn't been any app like that at all on Mac OS X, I was eagerly looking forward to Chatboard. And then all the lame judges and developers and bloggers turned it into some sort of file sharing app. Seriously, WTF? Do we need another fucking way to transfer files? Let's see... iDisk, AIM file transfer, e-mail, random annoying file sharing websites that are strewn with ads and timers that make you look at the ads, built-in Mac OS X web server, built-in Mac OS X AFP server, built-in Mac OS X FTP server, etc., etc. And now Chatboard? Come on.

The other app that I initially took a liking to was Desktop Wars. The initial description was to be able to wage a war with someone else's desktop using your icons. But then that idea devolved into some sort of strategy game that was simply waged on your desktop (as opposed to using the actual items on your desktop), with slick army guys and tanks and OH MY GOD WHY DON'T YOU JUST GO PLAY SOME LAME WWII GAME, YOU KNOW, ONE OF THE MILLIONS THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN RELEASED? *sigh* The original idea was supposed to be a fun, random, totally off-the-wall game that you could play in three minutes and be done with it -- something like this, and even simpler would do fine. (Let's not mention the fact that it seemed to be a fairly un-implementable app, but maybe one of the developers was creative enough to pull off a war of your icons.)
One of the things that's attracted me to the Mac is that both the operating system and the hardware put aesthetics and functionality hand-in-hand. The eye-candy is not gratuitous. The enlarge-and-fade effect that you get when opening an app or a document indicates that your action was recognized. The genie effect lets you know where your window went. Even Time Machine, while admittedly cheesy with the starry background, doesn't use gratuitous effects. But can we leave crap like this off the Mac?

All of the other suggestions are just kind of lame. Atmosphere shows the weather on your desktop. Ever heard of a window -- no, no, like a real one? Herald is basically an RSS reader that just formats everything into a newspaper-like interface. Oh, and that would be so much more convenient than current newsreaders, you know, what with the articles appearing in random places, and the page flipping, and all that good stuff. Ground Control puts common information at your fingertips. Hmm, Ground Control, thy name is Dashboard. Portal is a file-synching app. Ooh, that might actually be useful if it weren't for the fact that half of the purpose of the app is to use gratuitous eye-candy.

Now that I'm on the eye-candy point, I should point out that it doesn't help that one of the developers of the eventual three winning apps, Austin Sarner, created AppZapper, a completely useless app that costs $13. If you want to un-install an app, drag the damned app to the trash and empty it! *sigh* I hate ragging on Austin, because I don't have anything against him, but in reading all the comments he's made on all the entries, it seems like he's just a happy-go-lucky guy that doesn't know a bad idea if it hit him in the face. I mean, I haven't seen one negative comment from him at all!

And then there comes the annoying productivity app suggestions. Oh, the damned productivity apps.

Please. Can you tell the productivity apps to stop? I'd like to get off.

Gah, it's like people spend more time organizing stuff than they actually spend doing stuff. This whole "Getting Things Done" fad seems to be much like all the dieting fads that come and go. There was the Atkins diet, and then the Shangri-La diet, and numerous other diets that I can't remember, all of which real doctors and health professionals said were unhealthy. (Seriously, Aaron Swartz, I love reading your thoughts on technology and how to improve Wikipedia, because you have some great ideas, but can you please stop being a Shangri-La fanboy? All this crap you're spewing about set points, and being able to simply take a few spoons of olive oil a day without changing any other habits is just crappy pseudoscience that's not science at all. Daniel Jalkut is spot on when he says, "I find it a little bit revealing that you describe your new meal habits as 'most days I just have a couple crackers in the evening,' and then quickly imply that this is an easy way to 'eat healthy.' / It seems exceedling unlikely that those crackers could provide balanced, healthy nutrition.")

GTD seems to be just another one of those fads. If you took the money you spent on GTD books, GTD software, GTD apparel, and GTD pledge drives and put it in a bank account instead, you'd probably find yourself far better off in the future than knowing whatever those books contain. If you really want to get things done, figure out what distracts you (e.g.: browsing the internet, falling asleep, listening to music), and eliminate those distractions (e.g.: move to a room with no computer, eliminate comfortable chairs and couches, eliminate iPods and other music-playing devices). Can I have $100 for that stellar advice, please?

(Let it be known that I'm not exactly one to always be on the ball with things. I have procrastinated 'til 5 AM in the morning browsing YTMND, or watching episodes of Family Guy, or writing code, or writing weblog entries *ahem*, anything other than doing what really needs to get done. 5 AM. Sometimes regularly, throughout the week. But hell if I'm going to waste my money on GTD.)

Oh, and don't get me started on that "artistic" photo of Jeff Greenberg, the guy who suggested iGTD for the My Dream App contest.

This whole My Dream App contest is a textbook example of why applications shouldn't be created by committee, or (by extension) the public. Original and great ideas get pulled in every which way by people who have differing views on what the app should do, and eventually it gets hammered to death and ends up being something which does too much or nobody likes. The contest is predicated on user feedback, because everybody's voting on the apps, so necessarily the ideas that win will cater to the majority. Some, nay, most of the best Mac apps I've come across are apps dedicated to specific problems that cater to only a small amount of people. This My Dream App contest will create none of that.

Worse, users have no idea of how feasible it is to implement various ideas (*cough*Desktop Wars*cough*), and I feel sorry for the developers if they get saddled with an app idea that will be difficult to impossible to implement. Sure, an app that scans physical objects via your iSight and creates a perfect blueprint of how to create that object is awesome in theory, but how will you accomplish that? How will you account for scanning the internals -- will the user have to disassemble the object? Will the user have to position it perfectly straight in front of the iSight camera? How does the app get a sense of depth of the object? How does it know how the object functions? Sure, it's a ludicrous idea, and that's the point! Good ideas for apps start in the developer's mind, who is perfectly able to assess whether he can create that app or not. Having end-users make mock-ups and decide functionality and make weblog posts about a theoretical application is not the way to create an app!

So far, the only app that hasn't succumbed to 1) unimplementality, 2) majority-ruality, or 3) eye-candyality is Cookbook. And it sounds like it might be useful, were it not for the fact that I would be very hesitant to bring my computer into the kitchen to use it. Sure, many people would, so this might actually turn out to be a good niche app. But I'm not excited about it.

Oh, you know the most annoying aspect of this whole thing? You get free software for voting at each stage, but from what I can tell, all of the apps that you get for free will not provide updates to the free build that you download. In other words, if there's a bug in the current version, you'll have to pay up to get the fix, no matter how minor. Yeah, it's free software, but it'd be far more sensible to just give out a few registration codes for the normal builds.

My Dream App: it's basically the software equivalent of a political opinion poll. Sounds interesting, but is completely irrelevant. Have fun voting!

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