My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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supporting the Mac is required for social computing

I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given, i’m really really really good at crashing everything.] Worse: i’m often asked to beta test things that don’t work on the Mac. I want to scream.

You can build enterprise software that doesn’t work on a Mac but you CANNOT build social technologies that don’t work on the Mac. Who are key driving forces behind sociable technology? Freaks, (independent) geeks, academics and other marginalized populations. What do marginalized groups use when it comes to technology? Surprise – they use subversive tools. Conferences organized by geeks, freaks and academics are like walking into an Apple distribution warehouse. If you only lived in this world, you would think that Apple makes up 70% of the market share.

It doesn’t. But it does matter, particularly if you’re building sociable technologies and you want the attention of the geeks, freaks and academics. This includes the bloggers, who are often bleeding edge geeky freaky academically-minded folks.

Sociable technologies are not enterprise technologies nor are they low-end consumer technologies. They require connecting clusters of people. And to do that, you start with the “mavens” to get to the hubs. Mavens are not mainstream users; they don’t play by mainstream rules. They value their position as outsider, alternative. They love new gadgets that have cultural value. This is the type that Apple has done a fantastic job at attracting and maintaining.

In a sociable technology economy, it is no longer acceptable to treat Mac users as second-class citizens.

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49 comments to supporting the Mac is required for social computing

  • It sounds like this may be analogous to the “long tail” trope that’s making the rounds these days.

    And frankly, workplaces that enforce majority-rule tend to create strong ties among the dissenters. After all, I’m a member of the MacSIG on campus, and back when I was out there in the “real world” we never did Microsoft-flavored work….

  • Clearly you CAN build social software without including Macs. What you are really saying is that YOU don’t WANT social software that can’t run on a Mac.

  • Noah: you can build social software. Software alone, however, cannot create a social network.

  • Andrew

    What are you testing? Are these products anything more than web sites? Does anyone actually build websites capable of crashing browsers anymore?

  • danah On Supporting the Mac

    danah, who is Mac-happy, points out that social tools vendors are stupidly risking alienating the very innovators that in principle they should be courting: [from apophenia: supporting the Mac is required for social computing – pointer from Cory at Boi…

  • Rob

    I’ve seen plenty of browser-crashing websites lately.

    Of course, most of those are due to some particularly taxing Flash-based ad banner that’s been embedded in the page.

  • yaxu

    What “subversive tools” do apple make exactly?

  • yaxu

    Err… So what “subversive tools” do apple make exactly?

  • John

    I’m not so sure that social software technology makers will bring a higher priority to QAing their stuff on Macs just because the bloggers, academics, and geek-conference-goers use them.

    Why ? Because MS Windows and the IE browser is so much more of a monopoly than most people on the Social Networking A-list realize. When over 90% of your potential userbase are running on browser A, then browser B is just gonna take a lower bug-fixing priority.

    Excellent examples are any of the articles written on the topic by Andrew Leonard and Chad Dickerson over the years. Both have found themselves at Linux and Open Source conferences, ready to write articles about them, only to find that the programs that they tried to use in the eat-your-own-dogfood way (i.e. OpenOffice, etc) would continually crash or not work correctly.

    I guess I just wouldn’t hold my breath on any company — social networking company or not — to change priorities for QA and bugfixing based on the OS/browser preferences of the bloggers and journalists who will cover them. In the larger sense, it’s just not that large of a percentage.

  • I’ll be the first to say that software should work on *all* platforms – but what sorts of sociable technologies do you think get through the “geeks, freaks and academics” filter you suggest? And how exactly does that help the rest?

  • Dave

    I’m sorry, you are not a subversive because you use a Mac. Apple is a big corporation, they just happen to be smaller than Microsoft. There is nothing radical about using a Mac. You are not sticking it to the man by using a Mac. You are not fighting the power. You’re just using some other corporation’s OS.

    Mac users, please get over yourselves. If any OS had a claim to being subversive, it would be a free software OS like GNU/Linux or BSD, since they are actually developed largely outside of existing corporate structures. But even this is far-fetched to the extreme. I run Debian myself, but I don’t tout it as a radical credential. Sheesh.

  • I’m not so sure that social software technology makers will bring a higher priority to QAing their stuff on Macs just because the bloggers, academics, and geek-conference-goers use them.

    Why ? Because MS Windows and the IE browser is so much more of a monopoly than most people on the Social Networking A-list realize. When over 90% of your potential userbase are running on browser A, then browser B is just gonna take a lower bug-fixing priority.

    But at the initial stage, Windows/IE users are not over 90% of your potential userbase, because most people will not have heard of you and not be interested in what you’re doing. If you’ve got some fancy new social networking thing your potential userbase is early adopters and trendies, and as Anne says, they use Macs disproportionately to the general population.

    If you’ve got some other means of testing and publicising your system you might be able to get away with concentrating on Windows/IE more, or if you’re basically copying some other established idea. Once you’ve got popular you can get away with it more too. You can’t at beta.

    If you’ve not got the resources to develop for lots of different systems you can always make a basic or web based client and release APIs, or open-source it, or whatever, anyway. Geeks will come along and write the relevant software. If your web interface can’t handle Macs you should get new programmers.

  • dee

    Hi. I work in the QA dept. for a major internet company and we put out the #1 social networking site on the Internet (doesn’t matter what, you can probably guess.) I use a Mac at home, and I bug whenever I find a bug on our site. The developers, unfortunately, deprioritize Mac bugs because they have historically (and correctly) believed the Win/IE market to be their main focus. Only recently have they turned their attention to browsers such as Opera and Safari. Social networking often plays to the common market, which is unfortunately Windows-based. However, it’s been my experience that the innovations and more interesting work is being done in Mac-based environments, simply because they have to. Because you’re working in a different environment, you’re forced to be a little more creative in how you approach problems. Only afterward do the new solutions become accepted as the standard. But that should be expected, really. Challenges stimulate growth. Just a few thoughts, ymmv.

  • Subversive: a radical supporter of a social revolution. From a radical Mac user’s perspective, their participation in Mac culture is to overturn the behemoth that is in power. That is why their obsessive use of Macs can be read and is often viewed as subversive, even if that power struggle can and should be challenged as its legitimacy.

    Yes, i’ve been using lots of tools that crash my browsers lately.

    I’m interested in the sociable technologies that have been emerging recently. They won’t be permanent geeks, freaks and academics tools. But look at the early users of YASNS, social bookmarking (del.icio.us, furl, etc), blogging, wikis. Of course, this has always been the case. Email and IM started out in use by precisely these groups. These tools don’t start out as mainstream community tools.

    Flickr is a good example of a company shocked by the high percentage of Mac users that come to their site; they’ve prepared accordingly.

    Last week, i was asked to get the word out about a new product; it only worked on PCs. I went through my addressbook as to who used a PC as their primary machine and found that over 1/2 of my friends used Macs. I told him that i would not pass it on because i could not support something that is supposed to be social and connecting, but automatically fragments my network, let alone someone else’s. Networks are the way that sociable technologies operate. You can’t use a fax unless someone else has one. You can’t use IM or YASNS unless others can too.

  • ch33ky

    “you CANNOT build social technologies that don’t work on the Mac.”

    Hmmmm, remember ICQ?

  • ch33ky

    “you CANNOT build social technologies that don’t work on the Mac.”

    Hmmmm, remember ICQ?

  • ch33ky

    “you CANNOT build social technologies that don’t work on the Mac.”

    Hmmmm, remember ICQ?

  • I am not a geek, I am not a freak and I don’t think I am a Mac user, I am an Apple user.
    And I don’t think that Apple users have to beta test anything else then Apple’ OS ;-)

    If you are the king of people able to crash anything that run on a computer, please, used the term I forged for one of the students who worked for a few months in a start-up where I had the CSO chair : Silicotoxic
    The guy was able to crash Windows 2000 just sitting in front of the computer (arrived twice!), or scratch a hard disk just by touching the computer while it wasn’t even running :-D

    Are you silicotoxic ?

  • jjankechu

    I’m so confused. Just because Apple appropriates Martin Luther King and Ghandi for their ad campaign, you think dropping $2500 on your computer makes you marginalized and subversive? Shoot…do you think the marginalized and subversive even HAVE $2500 to drop on shiny new baubles?

    I have generally enjoyed Apple’s design and I really like some aspects of the OS X GUI but c’mon…you all need to get over your bad selves.

  • jjankechu

    I’m so confused. Just because Apple appropriates Martin Luther King and Ghandi for their ad campaign, you think dropping $2500 on your computer makes you marginalized and subversive? Shoot…do you think the marginalized and subversive even HAVE $2500 to drop on shiny new baubles?

    I have generally enjoyed Apple’s design and I really like some aspects of the OS X GUI but c’mon…you all need to get over your bad selves.

  • Joe Buck

    If you visit a web site, and your browser crashes, it’s a bug in your browser, not the web site. If the browser crashes for any input whatsoever, it’s a bug in the browser, and it’s also a symptom of a possible exploitable security hole (once the bad guys figure out how to corrupt the browser’s memory, they can use the hole to insert executable code).

    If, on the other hand, a web site doesn’t function because it’s a steaming pile of broken HTML that just happens to work on IE, it’s the site’s fault.

  • Cowicide

    >you CANNOT build social technologies that don’t work on the Mac.”

    >>Hmmmm, remember ICQ?

    Yeah, and I remember using ICQ on my Mac.

  • Sean Neakums

    Self-regarding claptrap such as this is what steers people away from the Mac; and rightly so.

  • Good to see that the Macintosh persecution complex is still going strong. Apple really has achieved a coup by locking up the market of BoBo twits who want to be revolutionary from the leather-upholstered comfort of their luxury SUVs.

  • john

    “Flickr is a good example of a company shocked by the high percentage of Mac users that come to their site”

    This should not be a surprise to anyone, but I can assume that the number one browser they serve to is still IE/Windows.

    Stewart ? any confirmation ?

  • To those who are dissing the Mac ‘zealots’ — you need to rent an effing clue. I have worked for IBM, DEC, and Compaq (in web architecture — remember AltaVista?) — and the anti-Mac tripe I see in these forums makes me want to bitch-slap all of your sorry ignorant asses, and you know who YOU are. If you can’t deliver a web service that adheres to the platform-neutral spirit of what Tim Berners-Lee created (and he uses MacOS X, BTW, in case you didn’t effing know, you effing ignoramuses), then you deserve to be dumped in the rubbish bin along with all the rest of the effing dot-bust know-nothing garbage.

  • Random J. User

    Dude… You’re dreaming. Wake up.

  • Disruptive technologies from Apple? Hmm….let’s start with the Apple IIe and work up from there. ChemDraw, introduced in 1985 (on the Mac) transformed the way that chemical communication took place. We had scientific instruments controlled by HyperCard stacks running on old Mac SEs. All without the help of central IS infrastructure.

    Flash forward to today. iMovie has changed the rules for who can create content (sorry Avid). My 7 year old uses Garageband to create his own music. And during a recent move, he re-setup his computer by himself. The iPod has changed my life as a music listener and creator. As iTunes gets next gen meta tags and more community features (ie socialware intergration and morphs), look for that to continue to change the way that people interact with art and information.

  • I don’t think the article’s main point was that macs themselves are subversive — rather, that the people who use them tend to be. (This is all a bit of a tangent — “subversive” itself may have been a bad wording.) The point is that, by and large, the same people who use macs are the ones who beta test social software. Yes, in the wide, middle-american world there may be a lot of cloistered old mac bobos who don’t, but there are even more IBM-clone users who don’t, proportionately.

    For the argument to be complete it needs numbers, but it’s still not something to immediately dismiss, no matter how strong your apple antibodies are.

  • S. Ballmer

    Subversive software from Apple certainly the iPod as I’ve stated, along with our good friends the Beatles who will testify that Apple are subverting the terms of their last agreement with the other Apple who don’t actually make any new music.

  • As my good friend just pointed out so eloquently, one can’t ever go broke by playing into bad taste and a penchant for irrelevant, useless and ill-designed software features.

    Twenty years after, we’re still making a decently profitable effort to add value to effective, efficient and elegant products for the rest of us.

  • Sidelining non-MS users

    Hear hear, Dana:

    I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given,

  • Sidelining non-MS users

    Hear hear, Dana:

    I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given,

  • Sidelining non-MS users

    Hear hear, Dana:

    I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given,

  • Sidelining non-MS users

    Hear hear, Dana:

    I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given,

  • Sidelining non-MS users

    Hear hear, Dana:

    I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given,

  • Sidelining non-MS users

    Hear hear, Dana:

    I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given,

  • For years, I was one of a very few within my organization (a well-known top tier research university) who was openly a Mac user. While I was routinely marginalized in IT circles for my preference, I and my direct supervisors continued to hold down the fort and be proponents for the platform as best as we could.

    Several years in, and I note with amusement and irony that every meeting, consortium, planning group and so on in which I participate (and they are numerous) now features an ever-increasing fleet of Powerbooks at the table. They are being used by some of the brightest minds in computing and in academe in general, and are now regarded as the powerful and practical tools that they are. The advent of OS X, in putting Unix under the hood, changed everything. Now, serious people who rely on computing for their livelihood and their intellectual lives have no qualms about moving (or returning) to the Mac platform. In some cases, this is alongside other choices such as Linux of various stripes. In other cases, this means that former Windows users who relied on their computers to run organizations have now eschewed that platform completely in favor of the Mac.

    The observation posited in the initial post is accurate, in my assessment. Walk into a room of people involved in the advancement of computing, and you are likely to walk into a room full of Macs.

  • T. Weber

    Let’s try to apply logic. Companies wanting to spread (then sell) innovative products have to convince people to give it a try. Early Adopters are very easy to convince (hence the name). So companies could cater to eraly adopters. Many early adopters use MacOS X (because they are early adopters). So shutting the Mac out is stupid.

    No that’s settled I have some left over words: zealot, subversive, monopoly, ignoramus, radical, geek. Anybody need them for some slashdot Linux-vs-Windows thread?

  • steve

    What’s a BoBo?

    steve (Happy Macist. Well, at home anyway…)

  • If you write for Firefox (Firefox, right, not Safari or Opera) and support IE, you’re website should work with everyone else. There’s really no excuse any more for producing browser specific websites.

    Skype is a perfect example of an initially MS-Win only social tool. And it’s been instructive to find how many people I’ve wanted to talk to have been using Mac or Linux with AIM or Yahoo or whatever and couldn’t even try Skype. Now that Mac and Linux versions are available they still don’t want to try it because it’s “non-standard”. So it’s a good thing that it grew so fast despite excluding a large proportion of early adopters initially.

    From a dev standpoint. If you have to support Mac and Linux initially, this forces you into using open software and open standards. This is a *good* thing.

  • Chris

    Who says you can’t make enterprise software work on a Mac?

    http://www.macobserver.com/article/2004/06/30.11.shtml

    Apple actually run their customer call center on a single global instance of PeopleSoft CRM (disclaimer: I work for PeopleSoft). When you call Apple, whoever answers that call is getting screen pops coming up in Safari.

    http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=567

    There aren’t too many enterprise apps that are more demanding than running a large scale call center.

  • Peter

    I always wondered why your site is unreadable for me with any fontsize greater then medium. Now I understand the reason. I use windows/ie, and you didn’t test that. (At least not large fonts).

    But your point is a very good one. It is in the interest of any company releasing any innovative software product to support and test apple machines. Never thought of that. Thanks.

  • It should be noted that the word tested and this blog should not go hand in hand. As most people (regardless of system) have learned, this thing crashes constantly, is barely readable and utterly frustrating. I’m amazed that with all of this, so many people read it. I built it for me (actually on a PC), not expecting readers and i’m far better at breaking it than fixing it. I’m waiting for the day when i can find someone who will solve all of my template woes. When that happens, we can use the terms “tested” and “my blog” in the same sentence.

  • Sprocket999

    “In a sociable technology economy, it is no longer acceptable to treat Mac users as second-class citizens.”

    I agree, but actions DO speak louder that words. SpaceShip One just claimed the 10 mil prize a week and a bit ago. Surprised to find it was designed and engineered on Macs? There have been several other very advanced products recently either engineered or designed on Macs (can you say Dyson?) — noteable actions of ‘First-class’ citizens. My feeling is that the small Mac community will ALWAYS be the innovatiors and the large WinTel world will simply be relegated to continue to drone away at their mindless ‘Tasks’.

    Of course though, it would ALSO help Apple’s cause to let the public in general KNOW about these achievements, don’t you think?

    As far as ‘buggy’ web sites are concerned, it is just self-absorbed and rude NOT to consider ALL platforms (like many do). Anything less contravines the original ‘commercial’ purpose of the web. Many sites are so over-complicated and over-engineered for the job they are intended to do that it is absurdly laughable. Oh yes, and “Death to Flash!”. There. I’ve said it.

  • Mac Second Class?

    I came across this while doing my nightly rounds and figured I could add my own hyperinflated two cents: I keep beta-testing software the crashes this, that or the other on my Mac. [Given, i’m really really really good at…

  • P St-Arnaud

    I came here by serendipity, and I am floored by the level of discussion of Mac slammers in this thread. After all these years, I should be used to Win fans using personal attacks and demeaning statements when feeling threatened – most seem to lack anything more substantial to support their arguments.

    McDonald’s serves more food in a day worldwide than most quality restaurants put together. It does not mean McDonalds makes quality food – go rent Supersize Me for an example. In the same way, the superior market share for Windows does not mean it is a superior OS. I find the average Joe is unable to detect quality even if it bit him in the ass, anyway.

    Microsoft is not The Church Of Satan, we’ll leave that to Anton LeVey’s inheritors. But it is a corporate citizen that has been shown from day one (ie QDOS aquisition) to have dubious business practices, which has always been a great way to get rich. Read about railroad barons, or the history of the Kennedy or Bronfman’s fortune for proofs of that. If there is any reason I am adverse to Microsoft, this is it.

    Legal does not mean moral. Then again, few people today care about moral. But we all LOVE a winner, and are ready to forgive them how they became a winner.

    As an IT consultant, I am called to work on all computer platforms. I chose to specialize on the Mac because I’d rather do stuff with my computer than do stuff on my computer. Mac users will understand the statement. Windows users may not, until they try earnestly to work on a Mac for a couple of months.

    While each new Windows generation has narrowed the gap with MacOS, there is still enough of a difference in increased efficiency and intuitiveness of the GUI to support my choice.

    Of course there are things like the lack of Games on the Mac, or delays in availability for new title releases. But then, a serious gamer may want to consider a dedicated game box and projection TV with full Dolby Surround for the best experience…

    In the end, though, it’s all a right vs left brain issue. Which OS is best for you depends on how YOU work. Creative people like Mac so much simply because the GUI is far more intuitive.

    As for rabid Windows fans?

    Writer Steve Jack recently compared Windows IT managers to hostages with the Stockholm syndrome. In Dr Carver’s words: “The combination of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘cognitive dissonance’ produces a victim who firmly believes the relationship is not only acceptable, but also desperately needed for their survival. The victim feels they would mentally collapse if the relationship ended. In long-term relationships, the victims have invested everything and placed ‘all their eggs in one basket.’ The relationship now decides their level of self-esteem, self-worth, and emotional health.”

    And they call Mac users Fanatics!

  • btimlake

    The original post does not suggest that using Apple products is _in itself_ subversive. Rather, it says that the adventurous, the subversive, the early adopters, etc. are *more lkely* to use Apple products. The suggestion that buying Apple products makes one subversive is like saying that wearing a Che Guevara t-shirt makes one a revolutionary.