Too Cool for School

This post was inspired by a conversation by @chriskeene and @ostephens, which i was invited to earwig on when Chris made the shocking announcement that messing about with authentication and authorisation was dull but necessary, to quote: “discovery is more fun (catalogues, link resolvers) than delivery (authentication).”

Now I’m not going to start trying to convince you that access management is the most fun you can have in the work environment, but Owen then posed a difficult question – what makes technology ‘cool’ for developers? I’m going to have a crack at answering that question and dare to try and second guess the murky mind of the geek. Wish me luck.

It is cool if:

  • There is something visually rewarding at the end of the process. This might be as simple as a light bulb turning on or as complex as the brilliant DoodleBuzz by Brendan Dawes. This is where things like authentication are undeniably dull – the visual reward is minimal. I’ll call this COOL BY REWARD
  • Someone tells you it is. Tim Berners-Lee embedded the term ‘cool URI’ into our vocabulary. The equivalent in JISCland? Probably it is cool if Dave Flanders is playing with it 🙂 I don’t think anyone has ever tried to claim that access is cool, except for perhaps the OpenID guys who try to be a bit funkier than the rest of us. I’ll call this COOL BY ASSOCIATION
  • You can easily achieve your end-goal. The benefits of open data and tools such as yahoo pipes are allowing techies to quickly and simply create applications to match a concept. Again, authentication fails in coolness as it only works when plugged in to big systems within organisations that are probably outside of most techies direct control. It is burdensome and slow. I’ll call this COOL BY OWNERSHIP
  • It is not run of the mill. Again, Brendan Dawes highlights this well in his presentation to UKSG, where he demonstrated that you can pull down a browser window on an i-phone to reveal….nothing! All this does is ping the window up and down, so why is it there? The simple answer – because it can be. Access management, I’m sorry but you are all about the functional and not the funky so it is another fail for you. I’ll call this COOL BY NONCONVENTION.

So, those are my four rules of cool for techno-geeks and I hope it goes some way to meeting Owen’s challenging question. Given I’m neither a developer nor a queen of cool, I’m probably way off base. So this is a call to all the techies – what makes it cool for you?

3 thoughts on “Too Cool for School

  1. Owen Stephens

    Thanks! These all resonate with me to some extent – and the idea that basic infrastructure like Access Management struggles to be ‘cool by nonconvention’ – almost by definition – has something in it for me.

    I wonder if there are other aspects of cool – cool by exclusivity? (perhaps an aspect of non-convention) – if I’m the only person with a gadget, or I’ve done something unique, or I’m breaking new ground – relatively dull tech can become cool through being unique?

    Also cool by extremes – some technologies are cool simply by being at the extremes in some way – very very big, or very very small, extremely fast etc. (I actually think being very slow can also be cool – a kind of anti-tech coolness)

  2. Andy Powell

    An alternative approach might be to try and define what isn’t cool (who said Microsoft at the back?).

    ISO standards will probably always struggle to be seen as cool? SAML (while not an ISO standard) probably suffers in the same way. OpenID didn’t in its early days but is gradually becoming uncooler I suspect.

    Refering to Owen’s ‘extremes’… I think that very very big things have more trouble being cool than very very small things?

    Cool tends to go along with ‘alternative’ or ‘not mainstream’ which is related to Owen’s uniqueness thing I guess.

    What was the question? 🙂

  3. David Harrison

    I’ll add another Cool – Cool by participation. I had a chance to have a chat with David Flanders recently and expressed a view, that I’m sort of growing, that OpenSource will have a big part to play in crisis-times. Therefore it’ll be COOLTO PARTICPATE and be part of the code-base community for Access Management software.

    What d’ya think?

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