Sunday, November 22, 2020

Obvious (2009)

Editor's Note: this is a post from my old Serendipity weblog, "Pawprints of the Mind," which was originally posted almost 12 years ago, on 2009-04-28. The text below is reproduced verbatim from the original post.

When things like Amazon's 1-click patent come to light, suddenly there's a mob of Slashdotters decrying the idea as 'obvious'. My thoughts on the rsync protocol were the same: knowing that there was a program to transfer changed parts of files over the network, I turned my mind to figuring out how the changed parts could be detected. Later I came across a description of the actual rsync protocol, and it was indeed fairly close to my idea for it. Therefore rsync is obvious.

Or is it? The solution may be relatively obvious, but the problem itself was not something that ever crossed my mind before running into the program that solves it. The invisibility of the problem ends up hiding the solution as well.

Apple seems to be actively searching for non-obvious problems: the ones people don't even think of as problems until the iWhatever comes out and redefines the entire market for whatevers. The iPod's clickwheel seems innovative until you realize it's basically a mousewheel. An analog interface to digital systems. Apple only put that kind of interface on because they happened to see that purely binary controls on existing MP3 players were fairly primitive. Once the iPod was released, nobody wanted to admit to being blind to the problems Apple tackled, so their chosen solution (undoubtedly one of many obvious possibilities) was hailed as pure genius.

It seems that the magic is not in who you are, it's in what you choose to think about. If you've never asked, "How quick can we make it for customers to order?" then you'll never end up with 1-click shopping.

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