Innovation isn’t just about the future

Wired News ran an article last month talking about the recent phenomenon of warez traders and illegal music downloaders flocking back to Usenet to ply their trade. I find this fascinating considering the number of “modern” file sharing applications like Kazaa and BitTorrent which are easily available. The article cited anonymity as the primary force behind the shift, but it also cited speed as a factor.

Uh, excuse me. Speed? Usenet’s reputation as a sluggish maiasaur when it comes to file downloads is uncontested, right? Well, not exactly. A new XML-based open source technology called the NZB file is allowing pirates to search for and download files at rates faster than traditional peer-to-peer file sharing apps. Add to that the nifty fact that files uploaded to Usenet are always there (at least until they scroll off the list) and you see the benefit.

What does this mean for us as software developers, though? Simply that no matter how old or antiquated a technology may seem to be, there is usually always a new, different, and better way to use it. The trick, of course, is finding it. The warez traders are motivated to innovate by their apparent addiction to circumventing the law. Where does our motivation come from?

I suggest that our motivation shouldn’t come exclusively through the vehicle of exciting new technologies and methodologies, the latest craze, or the slickest new toolset. The technologies of today were built upon the achievements of the past. I suggest that we should also dedicate a portion of our time to examining what’s been done before, even if it may not be popular right now.

There may be value hidden where we least expect to find it.