Monday, February 18, 2008

Revolutionary!, no

I was thinking about a presentation I was working on about my use of LaTeX for a specification document at work and I realized something: CSS really isn't all that cool. See, I was thinking about the fact that with LaTeX I can put document styles in a separate file that I can reuse for different documents. CSS does the same thing and when I first came across it, it was really cool. Now I'm wondering how many other languages/document formats support this.

This also reminds me of language debates. People are saying that I need to learn Python or Ruby or something else. My response to this is "what do they do that Perl/PHP/other, which I know already, can't do?" There are many languages that all solve the same problems. They just do it in different ways. Now, some languages have interesting features or specializations, but one or two features is not enough for me to just learn a new language.

I think I'm becoming a real cynic because I can apply this thought process to a number of different web sites/applications as well. Is Google's search really revolutionary? No, not really. I remember AltaVista having a similar interface. Granted, Google provides better results than most, but I'm thinking it's more evolutionary than revolutionary. Google's MapReduce? Again, no, not revolutionary. It's based on language features that existed for years in languages like Lisp. They're just applied in a different fashion. A site like Digg isn't really all that special in reality because when you really look at it, it's just a list of links to other sites that are rated by users. Whoopee. People have had lists of links to other sites since the inception of the World Wide Web. All a site like Digg did is provide a rating system that works reasonably well and encourages people to comment on the post and rate it, much like a forum.

One of the biggest offenders of the concept of revolutionary is associative databases. I discussed these with one of my coworkers and apparently these "revolutionary" new database systems are in reality the precursors to relational database systems.

In the end, I think I've convinced myself that I will not be creating anything revolutionary in my lifetime. Hell, Hollywood is having trouble coming up with original film ideas and they have an army of writers working for them. Why should I think I'm any better.

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