Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#16: The build vs buy dilemma for personal decisions

AKA The Tinkerer’s Dilemma

As is probably true for people like me who work in code, and futz around in different note taking apps and personal blogs, I am what you might call something of a tinkerer. And so I often am faced with something like the build vs buy dilemma. But this internal tug-of-war does not revolve around organizational purchasing decisions. It’s more a battle of personal choices, of opting for one methodology over the other.

By “build” I don’t mean crafting a full-blown application from the ground up. I’m talking about putting together a collection of some light coding and no code solutions. This gives me something more closely aligned with my own personal workflow at the expense of all of that technical, maintained overheead.

On the other hand, “buy” doesn’t necessarily imply shelling out money for acquiring an off-the-shelf application (a lot of these apps are free). It’s more like buying in, embracing an existing approach and methodology. It’s about capitulating to a particular way of doing things, and trying to bend it to your will.

My notetaking and general organization tasks have been served by Obsidian for the past few years. Its unique blend of features suits my needs perfectly, and I’ve managed to create a system that is good enough, and that I don’t mess with all that much.

The other day, though, I got to thinking about something different. I had an urge to develop something similar to a second-brain app – akin to Obsidian or Roam, using my personal WordPress site. I immediately started mapping out all of the different blocks and plugins and little features that I would want to see in something like this.

And then a night passed. And I thought about it. I began going over the realities of this new project. That initial flash to my brain was energizing, but time makes fools of us all. There were enough details to consider and challenges to overcome and time investments to spend to make the whole thing immensely daunting. Regardless, the very notion of this venture sparked a sense of intrigue and excitement that is, to my tinkerer’s mind, worth exploring. At the intersection of creativity and practicality, I found a new project that’s brimming with possibilities and potential learning experiences. Maybe one day I’ll give it a shot.

Cassidy is kind of annoyed at React. She’s not the only one.

Reading through one of Cory Doctrow’s recent posts about the open web, I like that he paused on a point that I find particularly important about the web.

The web wasn’t inevitable – indeed, it was wildly improbable. Tim Berners Lee’s decision to make a new platform that was patent-free, open and transparent was a completely opposite approach to the strategy of the media companies of the day. They were building walled gardens and silos – the dialup equivalent to apps – organized as “branded communities.” The way I experienced it, the web succeeded because it was so antithetical to the dominant vision for the future of the internet that the big companies couldn’t even be bothered to try to kill it until it was too late.

The web wasn’t inevitable. It was a gift at the intersection of a perfect circumstance. That’s why so many people have attempted to control it and centralize it and turn it into something that it’s not. Next time somebody tries to tell you that such and such platform embraces free speech, just remember that the web is open. It’s free by default.