Simple, Durable, Yours |

When designing and building software, I take inspiration from tools like this. I've owned one of these watches for years. They're simple and elegant, indestructible, and run for years on a single battery. Sometimes, less is more. (Photo by Adriano Pucciarelli on Unsplash)

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

I think the subscription model came about because software is easy to copy, and needs and the market changes much more quickly than in the physical realm. Much as I don’t like it, it does seem inevitable from a business perspective.

Most software like this are CLI programs, or one man shows. The one thing they have in common is they are written by people who don’t have to, or want to, make money off it (directly).

Casio isn’t making money constantly from that F-91W, but they keep coming up with new G-shock models. But I bet it doesn’t cost them that much to make a new design - they’ve got it down pat now, and the market for watches should be a well understood one. In a way, because software is so much more malleable, it is harder to scale. We don’t even know what we want - on-premise/cloud/edge, do we want to work in this fashion or in that fashion? Whatever we choose now, the pendulum will swing the other way eventually and new software startups spring up.

It’s like the splitting headache you get when you try to figure out a new space with tons of dimensions. It’s tiring (costs energy). I guess the subscription model is like that, financing the exploration of a new virtual space with unbounded dimensions.

Or maybe it’s greedy (groups of) humans, focusing on stuffing themselves full of value instead of making a value that can be shared with all humanity.

Thanks for weighing in :slight_smile: You know, regarding the subscription model, as I think about it, actually it doesn’t bother me all that much. I think paying for useful software is totally fine, with the caveat being that I should either have control over my data, or at the very least, be able to easily export it anytime in a standard format. Ideally, software would be open source, and I could run it on my own if I want to, or else I could pay someone else to run it for me - sort of like what Urbit is doing with their hosting model. In any case I prefer an honest business model like a subscription - dollars exchanged for a service - over the underhanded “free” surveillance capitalism model we have now.

There are definitely differences between watches and software, you’re right to point this out. As you said, software can easily be copied. Software needs ongoing maintenance. There are more security considerations. Etc. So maybe the business model for software can’t or shouldn’t be the same as for physical, durable goods. But I believe there are business models that should allow software to have these three desirable properties: simple, durable, yours. The hosting model is one possibility. Freemium in general is another. I’ll give this some more thought, it would be an interesting area to explore in future posts.

That’s an interesting thought, I wonder if you could expand on it further. I tend to think of software as being very scalable, especially compared to manufacturing something like a watch :slight_smile:

I think there’s a longer arc here, and we tend to end up back where we started. We moved compute from the desktop into the cloud to the “edge”, but I think it will end up back on the desktop where it belongs - except that this time the “desktop” may be something virtual like a personal Urbit, encrypted and running in the cloud somewhere. Maybe a bit like how farming went from organic and local to industrial and global and now the trend is back towards organic and local!

Exactly! The thing is, we all pay the price for this sort of behavior. We need better models of cooperation and coordination to escape from these Moloch traps, I think that’s ultimately the only way humanity moves forward. Incidentally, have you read Team Human or The Infinite Game? :grin:

Sorry for the late reply, I was enjoying not thinking at all over the holidays.

The problem with the watch analogy
Both types of wares (software/hardware) are living things. We probably just think it’s durable because it’s on a different timescale. Our needs for a watch don’t change that much. A capacitor in your digital watch doesn’t age so quickly. but if we didn’t need time anymore, we’d still throw the watch away. Hell, even if it still worked to tell the time, we have another hidden need - to stay fashionable. We’d keep the watch in a drawer if it made us look bad.

Also, you didn’t use a car in your analogy because cars have so many more parts, and the durability is limited by the shortest lived component.

So they’re all the same. It’s just that for software, things change much more quickly.

Actually I mostly forgot what I was thinking at the time, but it went something like this:
Some needs are well understood and defined. Mostly because of physical limitations. As as a result, most physical objects are scalable in the sense that it will keep delivering value for free, so we don’t need to pay monthly subscriptions for upkeep, or stay relevant.

Other needs are not well understood and defined. Mental needs for example. We don’t really understand ourselves, nor the best way to do things, of which there are infinite things to do. It is hard enough to do as an individual, as a society it is… hopeless. Therefore once a software solution is produced, it will need to change and be maintained. In this sense it is not scalable like solutions for well-defined problems.

Or maybe, I’m just rationalizing the current situation because it is not commonly accepted to have ongoing charges for a physical purchase. What’s the difference between rationalization vs actually explaining the situation? Perhaps they are the same thing?

I have not, The Infinite Game sounds good (read the synopsis). I keep being reminded little self-directed life organisms coming together to make one larger, sentient thing (my post on this, the article that inspired me). Your talk of humanity moving forward sounds to me like a step on this path. Cells to humans, humans to a society that functions like an individual.

For this we need longer term memory, i.e. studying history. It has been very useful to read my older journal entries and engage in a longer-term loop then, when normally I’d have forgotten it all already in favour of things that happened recently. Just like markets - you can stay on the hourly candles or move up to the daily or weekly timeframes.

Yup, I’m back to overthinking again. I am generally uneasy about thinking at this level because there is not much I can do with any insights I make at this level. It all requires inspiring a large amount of people to be a certain way…

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Damn Urbit keeps popping up. I really need to spend the time to check it out.

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My turn to apologize for a slow reply!

I’m thinking about this some more, and I think a.) it’s true that our needs for various classes of products don’t evolve equally quickly, but b.) watches and cars are both poor examples of the difference. One need only glance at the latest wearables and smart watches to see what I mean :slight_smile: Maybe that’s because software is just eating everything these days, including hardware!

I think a much better example is a screwdriver or a hammer. With few exceptions, these basically got good enough, then stopped evolving. And I think there are examples of software and protocols that have done this, too, e.g., IPv4. I think of this in terms of “checkpointing”: develop a new technology, perfect it, get it to the point where it no longer needs to evolve. Then it tends to fade into the background and become a platform upon which further innovation can happen.

I actually think our software might be much better - stabler, more usable - if it didn’t change so fast. I think a lot of that speed is driven not by user need, but rather by the need of big, for-profit companies to keep many engineers employed and to convince Wall Street that they’re “growing.” This leads to lots of superficial “innovation” that’s really more moving buttons around. If Gmail never changed again, that would be totally fine by me.

That’s interesting, so you’re talking about scaling in terms of time. I was kinda blown away by the idea of “social scalability” when I first learned about it. I need to give this one some more thought too :slight_smile:

That’ll be the day! In the meantime, we can dream… I think even the most tight-knit, functional large-scale societies, like nation-states, are still very far from this ideal. It arguably works at the scale of the tribe, and breaks down beyond this point.

Do it more! And write and talk about it more. That’s the only way any change ever happened. Inspiring a large amount of people just requires starting by inspiring a few people, which is something I can think we can do here!


Definitely. Urbit is fascinating. Take a look at it. Let me know if you need a hand getting your first planet and getting started :slight_smile: