Start Small

Kshitij Chandan has a link to a quote by Linus Torvalds:

Nobody should start to undertake a large project. You start with a small _trivial_ project, and you should never expect it to get large. If you do, you’ll just overdesign and generally think it is more important than it likely is at that stage. Or worse, you might be scared away by the sheer size of the work you envision.

So start small, and think about the details. Don’t think about some big picture and fancy design. If it doesn’t solve some fairly immediate need, it’s almost certainly over-designed. And don’t expect people to jump in and help you. That’s not how these things work. You need to get something half-way _useful_ first, and then others will say “hey, that _almost_ works for me”, and they’ll get involved in the project.

And if there is anything I’ve learnt from Linux, it’s that projects have a life of their own, and you should _not_ try to enforce your “vision” too strongly on them. Most often you’re wrong anyway, and if you’re not flexible and willing to take input from others (and willing to change direction when it turned out your vision was flawed), you’ll never get anything good done.

In other words, be willing to admit your mistakes, and don’t expect to get anywhere big in any kind of short timeframe. I’ve been doing Linux for thirteen years, and I expect to do it for quite some time still. If I had _expected_ to do something that big, I’d never have started. It started out small and insignificant, and that’s how I thought about it.

Steven Johnson’s Next Book

Steven Johnson (author of “Emergence” and “Mind Wide Open”) writes about his forthcoming book – “Everything Bad Is Good For You.”

Unlike my first three books, which were all to varying degrees intellectual travelogues with me as a kind of tour guide (“let me travel with you through the world of emergence, or neuroscience, and show you the interesting landmarks”), Everything Bad is a pure work of persuasion, an old-fashioned polemic. It’s shorter than the others, and barely has any chapters, and I’m not really introducing the reader to outside experts as the last two have. It’s just me trying to marshal all the evidence I can to persuade the reader of a single long-term trend: that popular culture on average has been steadily growing more complex and cognitively challenging over the past thirty years. The dumbing-down, instant gratification society assumption has it completely wrong. Popular entertainment is making us smarter and more engaged, not catering to our base instincts.

I call this long-term trend the Sleeper Curve, after that famous Woody Allen joke from his mock sci-fi film where a team of scientists from 2029 are astounded that 20th-century society failed to grasp the nutritional merits of cream pies and hot fudge. (In conversation, I sometimes describe this book as the Atkins diet for pop culture.) Over the course of the book, I look at everything from Grand Theft Auto to “24,” from Finding Nemo to “Dallas,” from “Hill Street Blues” to “The Sopranos,” from “Oprah” to “The Apprentice.” There’s some material about the internet, too, though less than you might suspect. (And I’m pretty sure the word “blog” never appears — imagine that!) The critical method I’ve concocted for making the argument is one of my favorite things about the book — it draws a little on narratology, a little on brain science, a little economics and media criticism, a dash of social network theory. But it tries to yoke all those disciplines together in a consistent and unified way. Or at least I think it does.

Utility Computing

Business Week has a special report: “Whether it’s tech industry’s giants or a new class of startups that push computing into the easy-to-use world of utilities, customers will benefit the most. In this special report, BusinessWeek Online explores various facets of this trend, from wireless technology to big bets being made by Sun to the impact on small businesses. It will also examine how well browser pioneer Andreessen has done in his efforts to address the problem, and it follows the venture-capital money to a new generation of tech startups.”