Building for builders

The title paraphrases, in terms that carry a distinctive ideological weight in the DH rhetoric, a formulation originally due to Mitchel Resnick (1996), I believe:

Constructional design is a type of meta-design: it involves the design of new tools and activities to support students in their own design activities. In short, constructional design involves designing for designers

Narrowing the scope to the specific field of text analysis, building for builders is what I’ve committed myself to doing in the framework of the Textable project: I have tried to build a construction kit for text analysis. While I became aware of this metaphor rather early in the project’s lifetime, I realized only recently that I am really just a node in a dense network of builders building for other builders.

Building for the likes of me are people such as the members of University of Ljubljana’s Biolab, creators of Orange Canvas, the open source data mining software of which Textable is an extension. I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with these fine people on the development of Textable’s latest version, and to appreciate the sensible difference between their degree of mastery in programming and software development and mine.

Building for the likes of Biolab are Guido van Rossum and the community driving the development of Python, the general-purpose scripting language in which Orange has been programmed. I can’t fully envision the kind of mental disposition it takes to create a working general-purpose programming language, not to mention a flourishing one. And these folks in turn have built on the buildings of a number of builders, including Alan Turing, who formalized an abstract computing machine in his well-known 1936 paper, as part of an even older discussion between mathematicians.

This could be pursued all the way back to the roots of rational thought, I guess. A radiant, ever-growing structure where the most central nodes have designed the most general and productive conceptual construction kits, and each new layer retains only the constructional features that makes the core, original generative power most readily accessible to ever more specialized classes of builders.

Have I actually written this grandiloquent account? In any event, what I’m wondering is this: given that those who have built for me have been built for by others, could it be that those who I’m building for will in turn build for someone else? If not, how does one get to that higher level of constructional design?