Sep 132011

On the occasion of his retiring, Apple’s CEO is being hailed as the “recombinant mash-up” innovator par excellence.

The New York Times quotes innovation consultant John Kao as summing up the essence of Steve Jobs’ creative achievements as “recombinant mash-ups”–products like the iPhone that remix elements of existing technologies in new ways.

Wired, meanwhile, contrasts Jobs’ artsy inclinations with the engineering bent of his rivals Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

What is the secret to Apple’s success? After introducing the iPad 2 in March, Steve Jobs gave one answer:

“It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing — and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices….”

Without Jobs, Apple’s only missing piece is the role he unofficially filled for years: Chief Advocate for Media, Humanities and Liberal Arts. If that sounds trivial, remember this: at several key points in its history, Jobs’ skill in this role saved and transformed the company.

Jobs famously isn’t a trained programmer, engineer or MBA, or even a wünderkind dropout steeped in any of those fields like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg. (The New York Times even did a discussion panel earlier this year titled “Career Counselor: Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?” contrasting the two founders’ engineering vs liberal arts approach to education….)

Apple’s unique success with the iTunes store shows that “technology married with the liberal arts” is not just an issue of making devices that look pretty and are easy to use. User-centered design is a huge component of what Apple does and why it and other companies have been successful in the consumer market. But it’s also a question of being able to translate between technology, media and creative industries. This ability is what delivers key partnerships; this ability is what allows technology companies to build platforms.

Sep 062011

John Bell and I have pointed out that version control — systems widely used in software development for logging the incremental versions of an application as its being developed — would have benefits for all creative production if adopted by other disciplines:

Part archive, part message board, and part management tool, sites like meld project development with open access and documentation. Version control software like git and subversion facilitates asynchronous collaborations between contributors by standardizing how their work integrates. If the creative community documents their work in as structured a manner as coders have, and with the same eye toward future integration with the work of others, it will be a boon to those trying to preserve and build upon the cultural artifacts created today.

But as this article by The Daily WTF founder Alex Papadimoulis points out, the are many types of version control systems representing different philosophies. For there to be a boon, picking the right one for each discipline (or knowing which one not to use) is critical.  For example, systems specific to code creation might not be the best for storing essays.

But source code – though just a bunch of text files – is a special kind of data: it represents a codebase, or the living blueprint for an application that’s maintained by a team of developers. It’s this key distinction that makes source control a special case of revision control, and why we need an additional dimension for managing changes in source code.

At the same time, Alex’s article does a great job of explaining the technical aspects of version control system. For anyone interest in GitHub, but having trouble understanding its Forks and Repos, this is a great primer.

A fork copies a three-dimensional repository, creating two equal but distinct repositories. A commit performed against one repository has no impact on the other, which means the codebases contained within will become more and more different, and eventually evolve into different applications altogether.

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