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End Users Over All Else, Even In Our Tools

Written into the ethos of the Web is “Users over Authors over Implementors…” and I believe we must preserve this principle even in our tools. Otherwise we’re building an internet for developers and not an internet for everyone. — Dave Rupert

One of the long-standing critiques of “enterprise software” deals with the experiential chasm between the person buying software and the person using it.

Many companies produce digital products which, from the perspective of the end user, are terrible in terms of usability, performance, or even taste.

But terrible software doesn’t equate to nonuse. Many people don’t have a say in the software they use: other people make that decision for them.

Because of this dynamic, many makers (and sellers) of software don’t cater to or optimize for the end users of their software, but rather to the end buyers of their software.

While the consumerization of software has made strides towards putting the focus and decision making power in the hands of end users, many people are still required to use obtuse software because somebody from Company A took somebody from Company B out to dinner and a round of golf. In return, the person at Company B said, “Sure, we’ll throw you our business.”[1]

Which brings me to DX. I noted on Mastodon:

The critique of enterprise software was always that companies optimized for the people who bought it at a cost to the ones who had to actually use it.

Similarly, a critique of modern websites is that companies optimize for the developers making them at a cost to the people who actually use them.

DX can be a similar exchange: “Hey, you’re doing this thing that makes my life easier and more comfortable. In return I’ll throw you my business and use your thing.”

I get it: companies are optimizing for their customers but it often comes at a cost to their customers’ customers. If the DX is good, the UX need only be good enough.

Tools can too easily prioritize the interests of their users over the interests of their users’ users. DX, product analytics/telemetry, ad tech, these can be the trojan horse of third-party software that mars our experience of the web as end users.

  1. Fresh out of college I had a job where I was asked to attend a two-day session with a software sales rep who was going to show us how their software (which my bosses had already purchased) could be used by everyone in the department to Make Things Better™️. As much as those two days were pitched as education, they were just as much about “closing the deal”. The five of us, the most “tech-savvy” people in the department, sat in a room together trying to stay awake through back-to-back presentations on the internals of a behemoth piece of enterprise software. And between those sessions, we were treated to nice lunches, dinners, and a couple rounds of golf. ↩