Being an indie PHP software developer

Being an indie PHP software developer

Posted on Friday, August 17, 2007

Over at Daring Fireball, John Gruber has an enlightening article discussing what it means to be an independent software developer building applications for the Mac. While reading his summary of the event, it occurred to me that there are some interesting parallels between the indie Mac scene and the 'packaged web application' community of which Pixaria is a member.

The aim of the recently concluded C4[1] conference was to bring together developers from the small software shops that are so important to the Mac scene and give them a forum to share ideas and learn from some of the best in the business. Luminaries such as Wil Shipley, founder of OmniGroup, and more recently Delicious Monster, put forward their perspectives on marketing, design, press and publicity - all of which must be taken into account if a product is going to be worth the effort put into building it.

The fruits of this approach can be seen in what's (sometimes annoyingly) been dubbed the 'Delicious Generation', a group of developers who don't really fit into the old-school Mac community and instead are part of a new wave of Mac developers who are pushing the boundaries of user interface, application functionality and design.

Coming from a Mac background, it's interesting to look around the web at packaged PHP applications and take stock of how lessons from the desktop scene are generally being ignored. As an example, I recently spent some time looking for an off the shelf customer management, user administration and subscription system for use on the Divestock website and was surprised to see how shoddy and unprofessional most of the products I looked at were, from the website right down to the actual software itself.

Now I'm (hopefully) not so arrogant as to think that I'm the best person at design and programming in the world but I do sometimes wish I was working as part of a programming community that had a bit more respect for itself and its customers.

An example of a group of developers that seems to be thinking about this in the right way is the Ruby on Rails gang. Somehow these guys and gals seem to have come through the dot-com collapse having learnt that good design, accessibility, adherence to standards and above all professionalism is more important than a good idea and a quick posting on HotScripts.

The question for me is: Is this a problem specific to the PHP developer community..? I suspect it might just be. PHP is now relatively long in the tooth (13 years) and many of its developers have been using it since well before the whole Web 2.0 bandwagon got rolling. Maybe because of this, they've fallen into bad habits or simply got lazy and we're now seeing the consequences of this in quickly thrown together and badly presented scripts.

In the Ruby on Rails and Mac scenes, those developers leading the pack are truly quite visionary in their approach, applying business logic, good design and marketing in a way that I've never really seen before. If PHP developers don't start to think in the same, 'joined-up' way, I don't think it will be long before PHP falls into disuse and that would truly be a pity...

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