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The return of fancy tools

Tom MacWright:

Technology is seeing a little return to complexity. Dreamweaver gave way to hand-coding websites, which is now leading into Webflow, which is a lot like Dreamweaver. Evernote give way to minimal Markdown notes, which are now becoming Notion, Coda, or Craft. Visual Studio was “disrupted” by Sublime Text and TextMate, which are now getting replaced by Visual Studio Code. JIRA was replaced by GitHub issues, which is getting outmoded by Linear. The pendulum swings back and forth, which isn’t a bad thing. Some of the reasons for the last pivot - from complexity to simplicity - have been solved. Webflow fills a need, and produces better output than Dreamweaver did. Notion is more accessible to people who don’t know Markdown. VS Code is very helpful. Excessively helpful. It’s fine.

The same problems will crop up. In structured editors like Notion, the tendency to overstructure is common. Usually you’ll see a lot of structure - a table of nested pages with types, very particular formatting, a well-chosen icon. And then, after putting the structure in place, the content arrived and didn’t fit it. The columns aren’t filled in, or are filled with heterogenous information. The structure is encoded, but doesn’t reflect reality or doesn’t reflect how people actually thought about the information.

Webflow has buttons to add effects. It’s easy to add effects. Effects will be added, because there’s a button to add them. Everything for the next few years will slowly fade in as you scroll. I don’t know why. Stripe did it.

Fancy tools aren’t bad. Professional authors use Microsoft Word and they have the absolute courage, the phenomenal self-control, to never fiddle with fonts. I, however, don’t. Give me iA Writer to save me from myself.

I’ve run into this several times over the years. Dreamweaver was great for static websites, but it struggled with interaction, server-side code, responsive design. Evernote was great for ingesting information, but if you wanted to clean up text in order to make more sense of it, good luck! (I ended up using Sublime Text with a plugin to connect to my Evernote notes to do that.) Trello is really nice for planning, but with no real data portability I ended up recreating tasks from scratch when I decided to move on. (No, JSON ≠ data portability solved!)

And it’s not just apps where the pendulum swing has happened. I have bitter memories of Microsoft’s Small Business Server, which was super-helpful but quickly fell back to regular Windows, complete with obscure error messages, if anything went wrong.

Like most things in life, removing friction is good as long as it’s in moderation. Sometimes it’s helpful to actually think through what you’re trying to do.

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