Like wine, whiskey, and celebrities with access to skilled plastic surgeons, software improves over time. Typically, the goal is to build a product with a limited set of features that solves a specific problem as quickly as possible. After that, gradual improvements based on user feedback refine a rough, often hastily improvised software offering into something functional and delightful.

Not a lot of other creative work proceeds in this manner; imagine if Monet had periodically pulled his paintings off the walls of galleries and private homes in order to brush in a few extra water lilies, or if Dickens occasionally tweaked the ending of Great Expectations. I suppose George Lucas came close when he recut and revised the original Star Wars movies, but it’s worth noting that those edits were not particularly well received by fans.

The case could be made that there’s a fundamental difference between a painting or a piece of writing as an art object, and software as a product design object. If art is the evidence of an act of self-expression, perhaps it has achieved its highest purpose as soon as comes into existence. When an artist alters a piece of art, he creates a new work; when anyone else makes a change to that piece of art, it constitutes an act of vandalism. Reproductions are worth a mere fraction of the value of an original because a copy is not authentic evidence of the artist’s intent.

In contrast, software achieves its highest purpose as soon as an agent uses it to do something; the value of a piece of software is based primarily on its utility. Not only that, the value of any subsequent copy of a piece of software is identical to that of the original files. It does not degrade when it is used or as it is distributed. In my mind, this sets up an expectation that software should be improved until it ceases to be useful, at which point we should abandon it and build something new.

It might seem strange, but I actively enjoy the fact that, when the projects I’m working on have outlived their welcome, they will quietly disappear into the electronic ether without leaving a trace. I also love that I can keep working to make apps better and more useful – that there’s almost always the chance to fix mistakes.

(originally published on BAD YEWEX)