Baldur Bjarnason

... works as a web developer in Hveragerði, Iceland, and writes about the web, digital publishing, and web/product development

These are his notes

Kremlinology and the motivational fallacy when blogging about Apple.

“For developers, Apple’s Safari is crap and outdated – Perry Sun - Blog”

The reason for Apple’s self-imposed limitations on PWA-related web APIs? They’ll tell you they’re for user privacy reasons, which may be valid in certain cases.

But most of us know the dominant reason is because fully-capable PWAs would compete against the iOS App Store – robbing Apple of 30% cut in revenue it rakes in when an app is purchased, or an in-app purchase is executed.

This is an example of snatching rhetorical defeat from the jaws of victory. We don’t know Apple’s motivation in starving WebKit of resources. We know that it is investing less than its competitors. We know that it’s sceptical of many of Google’s proposed native for sound technical reasons (which are shared by Firefox). We also know that it’s a higher performing team than many others at Apple, but that’s a low bar because Apple is generally really bad at software these days.

What we don’t know is whether there is a single ulterior motive behind all of this that could be boiled down to a cohesive unified strategy like “we want to protect the app store”.

Personally, I don’t think Apple has anything resembling a coherent strategy behind any of its current software efforts, even the software that’s core to Apple’s success. Software quality at Apple, as a whole, is an ongoing disaster with major UI, UX and usability trainwrecks in every release.

But that’s neither here nor there. That’s actually irrelevant to this post and, as with constant claims in the web dev community that Apple is trying to protect app store revenue, does little more than alienate the anti-Apple crowd (who need it to be a Machiavellian supervillain) from engaging with the rest of the post.

By including a frankly vague and subjective assumption about their motivation we open our writing to counter-arguments that the remaining, objective, points do not. The assumption itself is what the comparative literature crowd (“humanities, ugh!”) calls the motivational fallacy. You are building your argument on something you can’t possibly know for sure.

It makes it easy to dismiss the entire post as Apple-hating (which I don’t think it is). This is a counter-productive tactic that’s endemic in tech writing and developer writing specifically.

That’s because our communities do not view writing as a tool for discourse or learning but use it primarily as a signalling mechanism to establish status and hierarchy.

By including subjective snark or assumption on motive in a post, you rile the troops and get them nicely agitated. Which does a great job of establishing your position in your community but makes the post easily dismissable by anybody who isn’t.

The other day I wrote that most tech and dev writing is hagiography (repeating the words of sainted CEOs and investors), Kremlinology (“here’s what I think Apple/Google are doing”), or catechisms (“let us recite the word of law, what we’re all supposed to do, as handed down to us from our betters”).

Kremlinology lets mostly uncritical people (hagiography and catechisms are indoctrination tactics) fool themselves into thinking they are being critical by delving into, analysing, and tearing apart imaginary policies of a poorly understood adversary.

What’s worse, indulging in Kremlinology when you have good points to make, lets people dismiss your writing as that of a fool who has tricked themselves into thinking they are being critical when you aren’t.

That’s an own goal you can easily avoid by resisting the temptation to recite truisms that are ‘known’ in your community but aren’t backed by any evidence to speak of.

“It just sounds true, y’know.”