So when Nicola asked me to write a Friday post introducing myself on the ScraperWiki blog, I never thought I’d be writing it during such a momentous few days. I was meant to entertain and beguile you with talk of my MSc research into Open Data at Oxford, tease and tantalise with news of how we’re making ScraperWiki cleaner, faster and more intuitive.
But suddenly, all of that seemed pretty unimportant. In the small hours of Thursday morning, people all over the UK woke up to find that Steve Jobs, one of the greatest and most controversial legends of the technology world, had passed away. The news rocked Twitter — there was pretty much nothing else in my stream all day — flowers and candles were laid outside Apple Stores around the world, people published poems and pictures and stories and bittersweet obituaries. Many of the highest–traffic pages on the web displayed humble banners with his name. Some simply shut down and devoted every pixel to his memory.
And it got me wondering — what does a guy do to cause such a stir? Books will no doubt be written (in fact, they already have) answering that question. They’ll talk about Steve the college dropout, Steve the child of the Sixties, Steve the garage marketeer. They’ll picture him bowtied and bespectacled grinning above the first Macintosh, clad in the inimitable blue and black at one of a hundred keynotes, and worryingly gaunt at the height of his battle with cancer. They’ll talk about how he revolutionised not just the computing industry, not just the software industry and not just the music industry, but also the animation industry, the movie industry, and the technology retail industry. And they’ll be right.
But if you ask me, the real reason why we’re all laying flowers for this guy, writing poems for him, even talking about him at all, is because he put the user at the live, beating heart of everything he did. Steve didn’t invent the mouse, or the GUI or the personal computer, but in a world of green-on-black, of FORTRAN and BASIC, he had the foresight, the passion and the balls to back these weird, unpopular and user-centric technologies, because he knew, once normal people had access to the liberating power of the silicon chip, their lives would change forever. It’s only a matter of time until someone (hopefully us!) does the same with data.
I’m no Steve Jobs (I look terrible in turtle-necks). But if I can do anything here at ScraperWiki, it’s to try and bring some of that user focus to the world of data science. Life is too short to spend it puzzling over dubug console output, or commenting out lines of code one by one. And most of all, life’s too short to be doing all of that alone. I have two goals as the ScraperWiki UX guy: to make the experience of using our services as smooth, as intuitive and as integrated as possible, and also to make it as social as possible—not in a Facebook way, but in a hackday way—so you can all benefit from the wealth of experience, backgrounds and talents around you, right now, on this very site. There’s some amazing work being done by our members, and it’s my job to make sure you can keep on doing it, keep on getting the scoops, informing the public, serving your clients, no matter how hideous the HTML or unstructured the PDF.
Like I said, I’m no Steve Jobs. Who could even try to compete? But like Steve, I have an email address – firstname.lastname@example.org – and I want to hear from you. Yes, you, right now. And in the future, whenever you have a problem. Whenever you think of something ScraperWiki should be doing for you, or whenever it fails to do something it says it should. Drop me an email and we’ll work on a solution (I promise my responses won’t be as famously acerbic as Steve’s).
And with that, I’ll leave you. Our brilliant new Editor interface isn’t going to design itself, you know. But before I go, I should take one last chance to say thank you. To you amazing ScraperWiki diggers, to Francis and the ScraperWiki team, but most of all, to Steve, for making all of this possible. I hope we can do him proud.