Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Families

I've written before about Solipsist design - those services which have been designed to work only for a very specific type of family.

I was taking a look at Google's "Family" proposition - which allows users to share their purchases with other family members. What I found didn't impress me.

Let's take a look at some of the more baroque requirements in their terms & conditions.

Only 5 family members are allowed

Does your family have more than five members? Around 10% of babies born in the UK have three or more siblings. It also ignores families which want to include grandparents and in-laws in their group.

Or, "Sorry little Timmy, we can only add you to the Google family plan once your granny dies."

You can only change families every 12 months

You're adopted, having been with a few foster families this year. You can't join the same Google family as your new brothers and sisters.

You split up from your partner - you can't join a new partner's family for a whole year.

The be the head of the family you must be 18 and have a credit card.

In the UK, you can marry and/or start a family at 16. Are a young married couple really excluded from sharing their media?

The credit card requirement also seems odd given that you can purchase media using pre-pay cards with no age restriction.

You cannot be part of multiple families. You must be in the same country as the other family members.

Your adult child is about to be deployed overseas. Can they remain in the family so you can buy them games & films?

You live with your mum & step-dad. Your bio-dad wants to add you to his Google family. What do you do?

Why does Google have such a narrow conception of what a "family" is?

Falsehoods programmers believe about the "falsehoods programmers believe" meme

A number of people on Twitter have taken the title literally. "This is about managers and lawyers!" they protest. But, of course!

All of the "Falsehoods" memes - including the original - are a shorthand for "Constraints placed upon a complex system by a mixture of ignorance, apathy, business requirements, or other legal constraints".

That's not quite as snappy!

This is undoubtedly a licensing issue. Google have used "Family" as a consumer-friendly term for "Group of people who want to share media but may or may not be related." The nuclear ideal of Mom, Pop, Dick, Jane, and one miscellaneous doesn't really fit with many people's reality.

If I buy a physical DVD or videogame, I can lend it to as many people as I want - whether they're part of my family or not. The friction of dealing with moving physical items is really the only barrier to me lending out my entire collection to the whole world.

The digital world obliterates friction.

So we're stuck with a situation where a mega-corporation and their lawyers try to define the minimum viable family which will keep other lawyers happy and, hopefully, won't piss off too many real families.

How do you think they're doing?


You can continue the conversation on this blog, or this Twitter thread, or on BoingBoing where Cory has written some excellent insder information on the decision making process which produced this.

4 thoughts on “Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Families

  1. says:

    Ah well, people who have too many children have to pay more for extra clothes, bigger cars, more food, school & medical fees etc. I don't see why they should get a special break when it comes to digital goods 🙂

    Mmm. It's easy to find holes in the current arrangement, but not easy to propose better alternatives. If they'd just called it a 5-cohabiting-user licence, would that have been an improvement?

    1. Kevin Lewis says:

      I get this, but there's no option to do that. In some cases it's not just about cost saving, but also organising your accounts - parental controls, etc.

  2. Anders Sandberg says:

    British Airways allow you to register a household account in order to share flight miles. Once you have it you can define your family (up to seven members, sorry Timmy!) and friends and share with them. Except in my case my husband lives abroad, and household accounts presuppose that you live at the same place, and it is not possible to have such an account for just oneself. Were I to include my non-family flatmate in the account I would now presumably be able to share with my husband. As I love to point out to BA, isn't multi-country families just the customers an airline would like to keep happy? Are people in single-person households bad customers? And would their marketing people really like a database spammed with workaround non-family members?

    I suspect that designing, programming and lawyering this kind of routines are not the among the top priority of many companies. The result is a lot of second-rate implementation, a bit like how computer hardware companies often tend to ship good hardware with appallingly bad software.

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