June 10, 2015 | latest | permalink

about basiscraft

basis n., pl. -ses. 1. A foundation upon which something rests. 2. The chief or most stable component of anything; fundamental ingredient. 3. Principle; criterion.

craft tr. v. crafted, crafting, crafts. To make by hand. [Middle English craft, strength, skill, device]

excerpted from ‐ The American heritage dictionary of the english language (1981, ed. William Morris)

Prior to the 1970s, with only marginal exceptions, software did not take a commodity form. Naturally, software hackers believed that their role was to develop and share useful programs. The publications of that earlier era record an explosion of human knowledge about computer programming.

In the 1970s the situation changed. Colonialists arrived on the shores of the islands where software development was taking place: the labs and offices and garage workbenches. The business people had decided it was time to turn software into some kind of commodity, like shoes, or cornflakes. They had decided the way to handle software was for people to go to a store or talk to travelling salesman and buy a software. Or several softwares. Maybe there could be fashion trends, even, so that to keep up you had to have the latest softwares for spring and then fall.

When that happened, the hackers learned that they were no longer hackers. They were now programmers. Professional programmers.

Once they were programmers, it was no longer the role of the used-to-be-hackers to develop and share useful programs. Once they were programmers, their role was to develop programs in secret, sharing them only with a boss. The role of the bosses was to sell glimpses of these secrets for huge sums of money, and to give a sliver of that money to the programmers.

When all the hackers turned into programmers, most of the publications about computer programming turned to shit. An explosion of human knowlege about programming was replaced with a trickle of knowledge about running a software assembly line.

The software itself, too, went all to hell. Its quality was so obviously bad that for a while, the heads of the biggest universities and the biggest government institutions talked about a software crisis. They said it was a big problem that software quality had gotten so bad. Surely this would be bad for society, they said.

They were probably right but they couldn't solve that problem using programmers and meanwhile, all the hackers were gone or turned into programmers. So the big wigs decided maybe the software crisis wasn't that important after all and went back to planning their retirement.

Today, there are still some alive who remember all this, because they lived through it. They lived through the capitalist colonization of software. They endured the privatization of programming knowledge.

I am one of those people.

Now I want to try to reconstruct and extend what it was like to think about software before there were programmers. Back when there were only hackers who could program.

I want to do this because I think when software is not a commodity, we think very differently about how to create it, and how to structure it. And I think that when software is not a commodity, we can create software of much greater quality, in every universal, human sense of the term.

That is what basiscraft is about.

Thomas Lord, 2015 | lord@basiscraft.com