Monday, September 20, 2010

When the Only Tool you Have is a Hammer, All of your Problems Look Like Nails

I've never understood the attraction to software that is supposed to be able to "do it all". Just like those printer/fax/scanner things you see on the market, do-it-all software may to it all, but it will do it all poorly.

For example, 'FingerPoints' is supposed to be able to do content management, and at least one person has commented that we could dump our WCMS (which works great) and use FingerPoints instead. We'd save the licensing fees for our WCMS, the argument goes.

But that's a false economy. As we learned when we went through our WCMS process 3 years ago, just because a piece of software says it does something doesn't mean that it does it in a way that is useful or that meets our needs. 

Consider one of the WCMS products we seriously looked at. "WCMS editor allows upload of image files": CHECK. Sure, but what that 'check' doesn't say is that only administrators could upload images into the WCMS and all images went into a single common 'library'. There is no way that something like that would be even remotely useful or usable for us or our users. 

Part of the problem is asking the wrong questions, or asking incomplete questions. "WCMS editor allows all content editors to upload images to their site space and insert them into page content as desired" would be a better (but still not perfect) question. 

Part of the problem is the reliance on checklists of features. We learned this when we purchased our first WCMS. When we purchased its replacement, we required vendors to give us a sandbox and sufficient training to be able to use it enough to determine if it met our needs. Those vendors that refused were stricken from the list of potential products without compunction. Think of shopping for a car and having the dealer refuse to let you test drive it. You wouldn't do that. And software can affect many more people and cost more than a new car.

And part of the problem is trying to use software to do tasks for which it was not designed. Our WCMS was designed to be a Web content management system. And it does that task great. It would be possible to try to repurpose it to be a wiki, but it wouldn't do that task very well. I suppose it could also be used as issue tracking software, but it would completely and totally suck at that. It's not what it was designed for, and though you may be able to make it do something like what you want, it will never be what you want.

I believe in using the right tool for the right job. We have wiki software that works great. It costs money, but because it works well for our needs, it actually saves us money in increased productivity. I for one, would scream bloody murder if they tried to take the wiki away.

They say when the only tool you have is a hammer, then all of your problems look like nails. My response is: invest in better tools because with better tools you get better solutions. 

Oh, and a final caveat: I haven't been put in charge of anything, nor is it likely that I'll be put in charge of anything. This is just a horrific fantasy I've cooked up in my mind. One problem with this cartoon is that so many posts have been based on real life for so long that when you do something completely fictional, people think it's real. 

P.S. There are still some HighEdWeb 2010 TFRL T-shirts available. But there's only a few left, so order yours now! I only have design #2, in medium, large and XL, mostly in black, but a couple in other colors as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

FingerPoints sounds very familiar to our product called's a WCMS that does's soo AWESOME...and it'll save us soooo much MONEY.....what we save in money we make up for in headaches and time....