Daniel Lemire's blog

, 7 min read

How often do superior alternatives fail to catch on?

9 thoughts on “How often do superior alternatives fail to catch on?”

  1. Rod Savoie says:

    Or … that it depends what “superior”means. It all depends on what is more valuable to a user (and to use your Betamax / VHS example, better picture quality – that could or could not be discernable at the time – or storing a full length movie). So I don’t believe they are all necessarily false stories, but circumstances that had variables that were not evaluated properly :).

    1. Yeah, “superior” in this sense seems to be whatever is better at performing a particular function. I could use a nice camera to capture my vacation in France, but if the allure of using my smartphone is its size, then the function is less important than the device’s practical use. With many of these examples, there are competing interests.

  2. James Jones says:

    You might want to take a look at https://itotd.com/articles/651/the-dvorak-keyboard-controversy/ and in particular the references at the end.

    1. kdtop says:

      Thanks for the link. That was an interesting article.

  3. A Hacker News says:

    It should be noted here that the exception here is Rust, which is clearly superior to C++.

  4. What is ‘superior’? It’s a false question, because superior/inferior are relative terms, and completely dependent on the user’s perspective and what they are trying to accomplish.

    For example, lowest price could be the metric I use to determine what is best (superior), while someone else might prioritize materials (gold vs platinum vs plastic vs wood), and another might prioritize ‘fit and finish’ or sustainability or packaging or even branding. In every case, what we judge to be superior will depend on a complex mix of alternatives, trade-offs, preferences and needs. Some will consider a Tesla superior, others a Ferrari, while others a Hyundai Elantra — it all depends upon suitability for purpose and what you value.

    There are very, very few instances where anything can be judged to be objectively superior versus all other alternatives. Your article hints at this without actually saying it. It’s not that the stories are weak or false, but that the premise that we can agree on ‘superiority’ is false.

    What I think is superior never fails to catch on for me. And occasionally the superior product or tool is simply the one that’s available to do the job. That’s where your attention should focus — what’s the desired outcome, or job I need to get done? Only then does the question of what’s superior have meaning.

  5. Bruce Ediger says:

    I think you should be careful citing “The Fable of The Keys” as anything other than an overview. The authors performed no experiments that I could see (it’s a long paper), and merely seem to review real studies. You should definitely read it yourself, and not take my word for this.

  6. ant says:

    The concepts of superiority and progress are illusions with respect to suitability of form or function in a dynamic environment. Lemarckian and Darwinian evolutionary theory contrasts spring to mind.

  7. Robert Roberts says:

    Blog comments are superior to the articles, because they are unbiased by editing, forethought and often times a sound mind.