Lately I’ve recoiled at attempts to use the software industry as a metaphor for online behavior by the rest of us, but Ben Collins-Sussman‘s Version Control and “the 80%” post has given me pause. (Ben is renowned as one of the original developers of Subversion, which I’m told is a [the?] leading version control system.)
Ben breaks programmers into the elite 20% and the 80% of the masses. The top 20% are “the leaders, trailblazers, trendsetters…the first ones to install Linux at home in the 90’s…they actively participate in open source projects; they’re always aware of the latest, coolest new trends in programming and tools.” The 20% corollary in the non-programmer world of web users is comprised of folks who blog, read Techmeme, use RSS readers and Flickr and understand w00t.
Among coders, “The 80% folks make up the bulk of the software development industry. They’re not stupid; they’re merely vocational. They went to school, learned just enough Java/C#/C++, then got a job writing internal apps for banks, governments, travel firms, law firms, etc. The world usually never sees their software. They use whatever tools Microsoft hands down to them…They know exactly enough to get their job done…” Among webusers, this represents normal folks.
Ben’s salient point, and one equally applicable to us civilians, is that the elite 20%ers don’t appreciate their eliteness; the fail to realize that they are outliers, unrepresentative of most people. Ben closes with a plea to his “fellow alpha-geeks” to “pull their head out of Slashdot and pay attention to the rest of the industry,” a message those of us interested in how people use the internet might consider.