Frank Catalano: The Practical Nerd Manifesto

The Geek Culture Manifesto

Creator: Frank Catalano is an author, consultant, and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies whose “Practical Nerd” columns appear regularly on GeekWire.

Purpose: The manifesto forms the guiding principles for his GeekWire column. “Practical Nerds don’t chase the next bright shiny object as much as they toil to make sure the playthings cavalierly toyed with by the digirati actually fracking work for normal people.”

The Practical Nerd Manifesto (edited)

1) Cool is not necessarily useful.

…I’ve been caught in this trap repeatedly myself, discovering that what works fine for a few days when I’m focused on it frequently requires me to modify my habits too much when I try to make it a regular part of my life…

2) Software is never, ever going to be “dead.”

Whether you try to dress it up by calling it an app, a cloud service or a virtual environment, it all still runs on code. Code makes up software, and software is what makes the hardware work. …If you’re selling a program or service that manipulates data or content, no matter how it’s distributed, embedded or marketed, it is software…

3) Free isn’t forever.

…Whether the user of that product or service directly pays out of pocket, through his or her attention (e.g., advertising), through time and labor and perhaps donation and foundation (e.g., open source and open content) – there is a price for continuity initially fueled by enthusiasts or aspiration or promise.

Companies that introduce cool new stuff that appears to be “free” without overtly relying on any of the above are trying to gain short-term market share for a longer-term payoff. Or they’re idiots, and you shouldn’t trust your data or content to them if you ever want to see it again.

4) Features aren’t products in the long run.

…Before becoming fully invested, financially or otherwise, in a fast-rolling new bandwagon that others are jumping on, it helps to think through whether a product or service can survive long-term on its own. Or whether the single ability to, say, send 140-character messages will make more sense eventually as a component of other products.

5) Bubbles happen.

Personal, digital technology is cyclical. …The “new normal” never is. And what some are calling Bubble 2.0 (social media/social networks) is more accurately personal digital tech’s potential Bubble 4.0. It wouldn’t be the last, either. When hype leads to hyperactive froth, expect a lather of bubbles. Prepare to rinse and repeat.


Finally, as this Manifesto implies, Practical Nerds do not care if we are in step with everyone else or with what’s “popular” in the digital world. Because, a nerd should be – by tradition and by duty – out of step with the mainstream. While at the same time tinkering to see if we uniquely can make it better.



Complete Manifesto as article on published July 19, 2011


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