Software with a soul


I have never said or heard — except colloquially, that someone is described as a human with a soul.

It goes without saying, right? Humans have souls. Now we have said there are humans without souls, but that is very much the exception.

Intrinsically, we know two things:

  1. Humans are more than the sum of our parts.
  2. The ineffable quality that is a soul defines who a person is.

I’ve been stuck in a train of thought for a while now on the quality of the software we use and build. Why is software — on the whole — worse than it should be? What makes ”good” software? why does any of this matter?

I’m not sure about the rest but I can answer the last question.

Software quality matters because software is meant to make our lives better. I don’t mean code quality, or process quality, or delivery quality. The closest defined term for what I mean is the User Experience. But it’s more than what we traditionally consider. It starts with how software makes us feel. It ends with whether that software has truly made our lives better. But it’s more than that. At least in part it’s whether that software feels human.

Whether that software has a soul. I can list lots of software that feels souless. But the software that truly makes me feel good is software that I could swear has a soul.

One example, because it’s not an easy thing to define. WordPress is a well written piece of software, but I am typing this up on an iPhone in a mobile web browser and it’s clear no one ever anticipated someone typing on an iPhone. All of the affordances the iPhone is renown for — autocorrect, auto-capitalization, response speed, enter doing the right thing, the screen acting correctly are gone or severely hobbled.

And yet, if I were to type the same words into the Notes App, it would have been a butter smooth experience. It would have not felt frustrating, to say the least.

WordPress is a collection of features ostensibly geared to helping you write, but the Notes App really helps you write.

Between the two, I would describe the Notes App as having a soul. I wouldn’t say the same about WordPress.

Software should have a soul. I can’t get that thought out of my head.

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