4.12 Politeness in a software democracy

Modern software, whether web sites or apps, can no longer dictate terms to the people that use it, e.g. President Bush chose not to use e-mail because he did not trust it. The days when software can hold people hostage to its power are gone. Given this fact, successful online traders find politeness profitable. EBay’s customer reputation feedback gives people optional access to valued information relevant to their purchase choice, which by the previous definition is polite. Amazon gives customers information on the books similar buyers buy, not by pop-up ads but as a view option below. Rather than a demand to buy, it is a polite reminder of same-time purchases that could save customer postage. Politeness is not about forcing people to buy but about improving the seller-customer relationship, which is social. Polite companies win business because customers given choices come back. Perhaps one reason the Google search engine swept all before it was that its simple white interface, without annoying flashing or pop-up ads, made it pleasant to interact with. Google ads sit quietly at screen right, as options not demands. Yet while many online companies know that politeness pays, for others, hit-and-run rudeness remains an online way of life.

Polite software does not act pre-emptively but lets people choose, is visible in what it does, makes user actions like editing easy rather than throwing up conditions, remembers people personally, and responds to human direction rather than trying to foist preconceived “good” actions on people. Social computing features like post-checks (allowing an act and then checking it later), versioning and rollback, tag clouds, optional registration, reviewer reputations, view filters and social networks illustrate how polite computing gives choices to people. In the movement from software autocracy to democracy, it pays to be polite because polite software is used more and deleted less.