Weekend Reading: Software Builders, Scarcity, and Open Source Communities

September 19, 2020 • #

👨‍💻 We Need More Software Builders, Not Just Users

On the announcement of Airtable’s latest round and $2.5b valuation (!), founder Howie Liu puts out a great piece on the latest round of changes in pursuit of their vision.

No matter how much technology has shaped our lives, the skills it takes to build software are still only available to a tiny fraction of people. When most of us face a problem that software can answer, we have to work around someone else’s idea of what the solution is. Imagine if more people had the tools to be software builders, not just software users.

📭 Scarcity as an API

Artificial scarcity has been an effective tactic for certain categories of physical products for years. In the world of atoms, at least scarcity can be somewhat believable if demand outstrips supply — perhaps a supply chain was underfilled to meet the demands of lines around the block. Only recently are we seeing digital goods distributed in similar ways, where the scarcity is truly 100% forced, where the scarcity is a line of code that makes it so. Apps like Superhuman or Clubhouse generate a large part of their prestige status from this approach.

Dopamine Labs, later called Boundless, provided a behavioral change API. The promise was that almost any app could benefit from gamification and the introduction of variable reward schedules. The goal of the company was to make apps more addictive and hook users. Like Dopamine Labs, a Scarcity API would likely be net-evil. But it could be a big business. What if a new software company could programmatically “drop” new features only to users with sufficient engagement, or online at the time of an event? What if unique styles could be purchased only in a specific window of time?

🥇 The Glory of Achievement

Antonio Garcia-Martinez’s review of Nadia Eghbal’s book on open source, Working in Public.

It’s really about how a virtualized, digital world decoupled from the physical constraints of manufacturing and meatspace politics manages to both pay for and govern itself despite no official legal frameworks nor institutional enforcement mechanisms. Every class of open source project in Eghbal’s typology can be extended to just about every digital community you interact with, across the Internet.