Question: What’s brown and sticky?

Answer: A stick. 🙂

It’s not that kind of stickiness I’m talking about.

I’ve experimented with lots of technologies over the years – hardware, software, and services. Some of them have stuck and many of them haven’t.

I think it’s worth exploring what makes some technologies stick(y) and some not – based on personal experience, largely centered around personal automation.

So let’s look at some key elements, with examples where possible.


The technology has to provide sufficient value at a sufficiently low cost. “Value” here doesn’t necessarily mean money; It has to make a big enough contribution to my life.

To be honest, value could include hobbying as opposed to utility. For example, Raspberry Pi gives me endless hours of fun.

But value, generally for me, is productivity, reliability, enhancement, and automation in general:

  • Productivity: Get more done.
  • Reliability: Do it with fewer errors than I would.
  • Enhancement: Do things I couldn’t do.
  • Automation: Take me out of the loop of doing the thing.


If a technology is obviously missing key things I’ll be less likely to adopt it.

But there is value – to go with the irritation – of adopting something early. You have to look at the prospects for building out or refinement.

An example of this is Siri Shortcuts (neé Workflow). It started out with much less function than it has now. But the rate of enhancement in the early days was breathtaking; I just knew they’d get there.

And the value in early adoption includes having a chance to understand the later, more complex, version. I learn incrementally. A good example of this might be the real and virtual storage aspects of z/OS.

Also, the sooner I adopt the earlier I get up the learning curve and get value.

I’m beta’ ing a few of my favourite apps and I’d be a hopeless beta tester for new function if I hadn’t got extensive experience of the app already.

Usability And Immediacy

A first attempt at push-button automation was using an external numeric keypad to automate editing podcast audio with Audacity.

The trouble with this is that you have to remember which button on the keypad does what. I fashioned a keyboard template but it wasn’t very good. (How do you handle the keys in the middle of the block?)

When I heard about StreamDeck I was attracted to the fact each key had an image and text on it. That gives immediate information about what the key does. I didn’t rework my Audacity automation to use it – as I coincidentally moved to Ferrite on iPad for my audio editing needs. But I built lots of new stuff using it.

So StreamDeck has usability a numeric keypad doesn’t. It’s also better than hot key combinations – which I do also rely on.


What percent of the time does something have to fail for you to consider it unreliable? 1%? 10%?

I guess it depends on the irritation or damage factor:

  • If your car fails to start 1% of the time that’s really bad.
  • If “Ahoy telephone, change my watch face” fails 10% of the time that’s irritating but not much more.

The latter case is true of certain kinds of automation. But others are rock solid.

And, to my mind, Shortcuts is not reliable enough yet – particularly if the user base includes devices that aren’t right up to date. Time will tell.

Setup Complexity

I don’t know whether I like more setup complexity or less. 🙂 Most people, though, would prefer less. But I like tailorability and extensibility.

A good balance, though, is easy to get going but a high degree of extensibility or tailorability.


I’m probably more likely to try new technologies than most – in some domains. But in others I’m probably less likely to. Specifically, those domains I’m less interested in anyway.

The above headings summarise the essentials of stickiness – so I won’t repeat them here.

I will say the really sticky things for me are:

  • Drafts – where much of my text really does start (including this blog post).
  • OmniFocus – my task manager, without which a lot of stuff wouldn’t get done.
  • StreamDeck for kicking stuff off.
  • Keyboard Maestro for Mac automation.
  • Apple Watch
    • for health, audio playback, text input (yes really), and automation (a little).
  • Overcast – as my podcast player of choice.
  • iThoughts – for drawing tree diagrams (and, I suppose, mind mapping) 🙂

You might notice I haven’t put Shortcuts on the list. It almost makes it – but I find its usability questionable – and now there are so many alternatives.

There is an element of “triumph of hope over experience” about all this – but there is quite a lot of stickiness: Many things – as the above list shows – actually stick.

It’s perhaps cruel to note two services that have come unstuck – and I can say why in a way that is relevant to this post:

  • Remember The Milk was my first task manager but it didn’t really evolve much – and it needed to to retain my loyalty.
  • Evernote was my first note taking app. They got a bit distracted – though some of their experiments were worthwhile. And again evolution wasn’t their forte.

I suppose these two illustrate another point: Nothing lasts forever; It’s possible my Early 2023 stickiness list will differ from my Early 2022 one.

One final thought: The attitude of a developer / supplier is tremendously important. It’s no surprise several of the sticky things have acquired stickiness with a very innovative and responsive attitude. I just hope I can display some of that in what I do.

Published by Martin Packer

I'm a mainframe performance guy and have been for the past 35 years. But I play with lots of other technologies as well.

One thought on “Stickiness

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