After god-knows-how-long, last week I finally attended a conference. (I guess the last one was MWC and the Digital Dutch, which are more a trade shows then conferences… and before them, some Hungarian mobile related ones and Mozilla Summit back in the early 2010’s… So it was long ago.)
Anyhow, so I was at a conference, out of my own will — it was the Nextcloud Conference 2020 in Berlin, or in my case, my desk with my cat:
First off, the conference was overall great, considering the circumstances. It was remote (of course). Live stream on Youtube, plus a full Nextcloud install as conference server, with (mainly) calendar and chat; and with one specialty: it was running on Nextcloud 20, announced during the conf itself. Nice touch!
Then the product of course. Having used it for some years now, Nextcloud still blows my mind, more now than ever. The keynote of Frank, to us geeks was bomb after bomb of new and exciting stuff. I made some notes for this post, I really like the status setting and chat bridging continues to fill a big gap our world has today around messaging silos. Continues, because of course this is what Matrix and XMPP and some others are about as well… but of course this is an uphill battle against the silo forces — Google, Facebook, and the likes.
But I don’t want to dive into features; I think the official presser sums up highlights perfectly.
What I really wanted to mention though
Besides the actual topic of their talk (usability and Moodle-Nextcloud integrations; and don’t get me wrong, these are interesting topics) what really caught me is something you seldom hear on a for-profit product related conference:
The society context.
The larger picture. The sustainability, the humanist-humanitarian angle. The “why we are doing this”.
This brings to mind something I’ve already wrote about — the “good enough” economy; and something I haven’t yet, but have been planning to: something I called “ethical consulting” in my head.
Now maybe this sounds (and in case of the “good enough” post, reads) funny, but this shit matters. Software (and products in general) should better society. They should have an outlook on usability not just from the “how will this result in higher engagement of my product” and “how will this drive sales”. Because yes, we develop products for users, but (as Laura put it):
“We’re always, always in society”
Martin started his remarks on Moodle’s future from the context of the UN’s 17 sustainable develpoment goals.
And so the direct ux of a product is just one part of ux. Interoperability comes from this. Privacy comes from this. Sustainable development comes from this. Fair pay and employee work-life balance come from this. Uber can have the nicest experience to hail a ride, when it fails all its other “products”: the community product, the taxation product, the employer product, and so on. (Just at the writing of this they are trying to push through proposition 22 via dark pattern political advertising so they can continue exploiting their workforce.) Maybe even more common, a lot of product miss the user’s society context from ux out of sheer ignorance and as a result, fail at something people would normally deem important. Reminds me of the time when I had to share personal and financial info with my bank for a loan application and as they asked me to “just email them”, I ended up using my Nextcloud and sending them a link and a separate password. I’d expect a privacy mindset from my bank.
I’m not saying that free software, open source, and the likes will inevitably result in keeping the above values and rivers are made of chocolate in FLOSS-land (fairtrade chocolate of course) — there is a Linux distribution made by Oracle, after all… but the community mindset picks up these generic “be good” values more easily. I hope it will spread.
Appendix: the talks
Laura’s talk (unfortunately I couldn’t find it separately; in case the video below doesn’t jump there, it’s at 3:05:18):