Activation Barriers, Cooperativity, and other needless physical analogies (Part III)

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Hello again and welcome to this third and final installment of obfuscation in the name of clarity (for now anyways). I wanted to get away a bit from discussion of using technology and focus more on how some of those ideas impact the way we are approaching the design of Less Annoying Software. So here goes.

Energetics, Kinetics, and Software Design
A brief foray into basic chemical reaction theory. Let's say you want to understand whether a particular reaction is going to occur (e.g. whether two molecules will bond together to become one). There are generally two dimensions that one focuses on to understand this reaction:

  • Is the ending state more favorable than the starting state (energetics/thermodynamics)
  • How difficult is it to transition from the starting state to the ending state (kinetics)

Often times when thinking about such things, the first dimension is the primary focus: if the end state is energetically favored, it will eventually win out. However, there are plenty of cases where the kinetic picture (i.e. how difficult the transition is) is crucially important.

The classic example of this is diamonds. Despite their "forever" label, diamonds are energetically unstable. It is extremely difficult, however, for the atoms that make up diamonds to rearrange into the more stable (and decidedly less precious) state.

Software design can be thought about in very similar terms. As Tyler has talked about, Less Annoying Software is a customer manager that helps organize lots of information about your customers, and, among other things, provides an easy way to survey the state of all your sales leads.

For many people who currently use some combination of Outlook, Excel, and a to-do list, we believe that even in it's current young state this tool can be a dramatic improvement to their work flow. That's basically an energetic argument (the first bullet above). As soon as we believed that our software would be useful for some people over what they currently do, we decided to release. We were already one up on diamonds.

While we are still heavily developing and enhancing the core functionality of Less Annoying Software (improving the energetics), we have also of late taken a decided turn towards improving the kinetics. A certain amount of this is marketing: among the biggest barriers to people using our software is their learning about it. I'll probably have some posts about how we're approaching this side of things at a later point, but for now, I'll just say that it's definitely a current focus. Other types of kinetic optimization, however, have come in the form of changes to the software and the site.

As I said, as soon as we thought we could make an energetic argument in favor of LAS, we decided to release. The last feature that we added before release, however, was the ability to import contacts from Outlook or other contact managers: a decidedly kinetic feature.

Importing contacts doesn't really add any functionality after you've been using LAS for a few months. As such, contact importing isn't what I would call part of the core software. It is however, extremely important, I believe to make the transition to LAS easier. Right now we're pushing LAS forward on all fronts, but keeping in mind which features affect the long term versus the entrance path (and which needs more optimization) will ultimately help shape the course of development.

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