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Jul 14, 2021 • Issue #59 by Zoelle Egner

It’s time for no-code's remediation period to come to an end by Zoelle Egner

This week, I’m excited to welcome Zoelle Egner (@zoelle) as a guest poster. Zoelle led marketing and customer success in the early days at Airtable. Everyone enjoyed her last piece about no-coder who doesn't know what no-code is. If you haven't read it go check it out.

I'll preface this one by simply saying I regret nothing.

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When Aron agreed to let me write a guest post for his newsletter, I do not think he anticipated this post. Sorry in advance Aron, but “no takebacksies”, etc. Hope you’re all super excited to talk about LITERARY THEORY and NO CODE PLATFORM DESIGN.

Before I fell into the tech industry, I was a lit major. Specifically, I studied digital literature—how storytelling changes when it’s made with computers, to be consumed on computers. At the time I figured I’d write some hypertext fiction and get on with my life, but it turns out to have been super useful all these years later in thinking about the world of no code. 

One of the core ideas digital literary theory yanked from Media Studies is “remediation”—this common pattern that occurs when new media technology is introduced. Inevitably, users try to use the new thing the same way the old thing was used — with the same restrictions—because it takes a while to realize the full range of possibilities the new platform unlocks. The classic remediation example is the introduction of film: early movies basically just look like a home movie of a stage play, where actors appear on a single set, say some stuff, and the camera doesn’t move. It took a while for directors to fully realize everything that film makes possible, whether that’s different angles and cuts, or special effects, or even narrative techniques like rapidly jumping back and forth in chronology. 

As you’ve probably guessed, this same concept can be applied to software, particularly business software, particularly particularly online business software. Take a classic of the genre: Microsoft Office Online. The original Microsoft Office was a direct digital translation of physical office metaphors: a piece of paper, a ledger, filing cabinet. Things you might, you know, put on the top of your desk. You got a little digital chrome — PowerPoint animations! Macros!— but otherwise, pretty clear line from point A in the physical world to point B in the virtual. The same can be said for Office Online- it’s Office, but with the internet. Only now, a full decade after the launch of Office Online, and under bottoms-up pressure from more modular players like Notion and Coda and Quip, that Microsoft is starting to crawl out of remediation and into something more interesting. 

[Editor's aka Aron note: Google only recently announced pageless views that does not assume you're writing words that will need to be printed on 11" x 8.5" paper, more here]

Friends, I have a confession: I think no code platforms still haven’t made this leap beyond their antecedents (the Dreamweavers and Hypercards of the world, for all you olds out there who still remember those), and I think the reason is because most no code tools haven’t yet completely embraced the fundamentally new thing their technologies unlock. Most no code is just designed to ‘let me make the same types of apps that are already out there, but by dragging and dropping’, not ‘let me fundamentally rethink how I work and design processes based on my new ability to change my tech tools in real time to support what I want to do’.

It’s time for our remediation period to come to an end. It’s time to move past the old metaphors and see what this model can really do

What does that mean in practice? I’m not sure! I have a hunch that it involves committing even more deeply to one of the most fundamental bedrocks of no code: exposing more and more meaningful decisions to be made by the user. But what does that really mean, beyond aesthetics?

Consider this a call to imagine together:  

  • What does it look like when we stop trying to replicate apps past? When the people doing the imagining aren’t constrained by design decisions born in a different technological era?
  • How far can we push our users’ ability to *drive* the software they use before we lose them to overwhelm? What are the most meaningful decisions we can delegate to the people doing the work (not making the tools)?
  • Systems have historically been designed for durability, not resilience through iteration - what if the tool and system can evolve symbiotically? How does that change how the work gets done? How the platforms get designed? What breaks in that approach? What needs new kinds of support? 

by Zoelle Egner (@zoelle)

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