Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, October 9, 2009

an odd puzzlement

I wonder if this ever happens to anyone else: surprisingly often, when I read about a new piece of software, I can't figure out what the software actually does, or is supposed to do. I suppose that means that I am not in the target audience for the app, but I’m not the target audience for many apps that I perfectly well understand the purpose of. Mathematica, for instance, or for that matter Photoshop.

But take Bento. What the heck is Bento for? It’s a “personal database.” Okay . . . but what does that do? Turns out that with Bento I can “display [my] contacts and calendars in new and exciting ways” — I can't even imagine what that means or why I would want to do it — or “organize contacts, clubs and mailing lists” — what do you mean by organize? — or “track projects, tasks, and deadlines” — so it’s a project manager? — or “manage students, classes, and lecture notes” — what does “manage” mean in this context? — or “store recipes and shopping lists” — wait, why would I want to “store” my shopping lists? And do I need a new application for that? Don't I already have apps on my computer that do all these things quite well? (And I downloaded and tried Bento when it first came out without resolving my confusion.)

I feel the same way about a new online service called AcaWiki, which is “Increasing the Impact of Research Using Web 2.0.” The idea seems to be that you post summaries of academic articles and then have discussions about them. Well . . . okay. But that seems like a great deal of work for a very small reward — at least until there are many thousands of articles that have been summarized. And even then, aren't there already many thriving listervs and online discussion groups for people in every academic field? I just can't see what this is adding to the party.

Note that I am not saying, in either case, that I’m confident that the software is useless — rather, that I can't seem to discern what the utility is supposed to be. It’s, frankly, rather disturbing how often I find myself puzzled in this way. . . .

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