What SproutCore might represent

This is just me playing amateur psychiatrist, tossing an idea out for dissection. Don’t read too much into it.

Google News turned up an article at News.com.au tonight… after reading it I realized I had read it already. But I still had to rethink it to recognize it.

Here’s how it starts: “APPLE is not content to dominate the post-PC era of mobile devices alone. It also wants to remake the internet in its own shiny, user-friendly image. While Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are preoccupied with one another, Apple has been laying the foundations for the next phase of the web.” We’ll come back to this later.

Here’s the part that triggered the Google News hit: “SproutCore is shaping as a challenger to Adobe’s Flash format, the de facto standard for visually rich interactive applications on the web. Flash has been widely adopted, but as a closed, proprietary format it is controlled by Adobe, and developers must rely on Adobe to maintain and support it. Flash support on the Mac and iPhone, for instance, has been lacklustre.”

If I had someone say that to my face, I’d bite my tongue, then try to get them to narrow down to their main concern first, rather than chase all the little red herrings strewn about the path. This might also be possible in a mailing list. But I don’t see a real way to talk with the original author in weblogs, to learn what their actual concerns are. When someone goes around asserting a half-dozen things that others might not agree with, the lack of two-way openness foils communication.

(Some of the red herrings: A JavaScript framework’s capabilities are limited to the intersection of those browsers in which you might be running; “closed, proprietary” is the new dismissive pejorative but I don’t see if he’s even heard of Open Screen Project; the browser runtimes are just as controlled by Others as the media runtime, and you’d be bound by the *set* of other-controlled browsers your audience chooses; it’s browsers which have had the actual problems with adequate support the past decade; when people say “Flash sucks on a Mac” I have to refrain from pointing out that all the browsers on Macs seem to trail those on Windows; and the statement “Flash support on iPhone has been lacklustre” just makes me throw up my hands. Those are used as evidentiary assertions in the original, but I suspect they’re not really the main objection, so let’s let them slide.)

What’s my own position? If Apple is blessing a JavaScript framework, that’s great. The more tools the better. But you need to rationally compare them, not just go on with the branding.

Frameworks promise developmental ease, and hope to reduce testing time. But they don’t add capabilities to the audience’s machines. Runtimes do that. Targeting the intersection of various runtimes (as with HTML/JS/CSS) costs more than targeting a single universal runtime (Flash), whether in testing, support, or (critically) range of supported functionality. Calling a framework a “challenger” to a runtime is strange, because they’re at different logical levels. The narrative falls apart.

Charles Jolley and his work seem valuable to me, but it’s the storytelling around it that makes me uneasy.

Tim Anderson had a similar observation last week, in “The RIA dilemma: open vs predictable”: “It is easier to get away with a requirement for, say, Flash 9, than to insist that users choose a particular browser or operating system.” (And Player provides capabilities beyond browsers, as well.)

So why might this whole storyline have gained so much attention? Take a look at that front paragraph again: “APPLE is not content to dominate the post-PC era of mobile devices alone. It also wants to remake the internet in its own shiny, user-friendly image. While Microsoft, Google and Yahoo are preoccupied with one another, Apple has been laying the foundations for the next phase of the web.”

There’s probably someone in some boardroom somewhere who really worries about domination. There’s a wider number of people within any company who want to be successful, who want to reach their quarterly sales goals and get a new car. But the base of geek culture is built upon doing something useful, that you and others find rewarding. Domination and re-makes are a foreign thought. When I read prose like that, I go “wha…huh?”

But ideas of domination are useful to those who wrap themselves up in a brand, and who feel their self-worth erode as “Microsoft, Google and Yahoo” advance their work on the net. The article may serve emotional needs in its readership.

Test this hypothesis out… change around a few nouns and pronouns, but keep the sentence structure the same: “You are not content to dominate your environment alone. You also want to remake the world in your own image. While people who frustrate you in daily life are preoccupied with trivial conflicts, you have secretly been laying the foundations for the new world order.” That’s the *form* of narrative being spun — that’s the emotional basis of the storyline. Psychiatrists call this “projection” or seeing in others what we actually see in ourselves.

That’s the hypothesis: “The SproutCore story was more about some readers’ inner needs than about objective reality.” I don’t know whether I believe this or not, but it’s a viable hypothesis, and explains much of the unreality. How does such a way of looking at it seem to you, can you refine the hypothesis or its tests further…?