Even online, words have a tendency to linger long after you write them. And I recognize that the risk here is not only what those words mean to me, but others, too. So I want to revisit a topic today in the interest of moving forward.

I wrote a kneejerk post earlier in the life of CDM about MonoTouchLive, a single-touch interface with UI widgets inspired by JazzMutant’s Lemur. MonoTouchLive was (and is) Windows-only, standalone software for controlling Ableton Live. It’s now free of cost.

I’ll be honest: in my original post, I overreacted, and I didn’t choose my words as carefully as I should have. Some regular readers called me out on it at the time. Since that time, I’ve tried to be more careful. Some comment threads referred back to it, though, and the developer, Pablo Martin, has continued to push his tool and has been outspoken about not liking what I wrote.

It’s now clear to me that I can’t just let this go, as Mr. Martin today has posted a multi-page diatribe focused largely on my short, now nearly three-year-old blog post.

A little of JUSTICE please

To be clear: I got carried away. I have since come to the realization that copying – loosely or closely – isn’t such a bad thing. They’re a learning process, and if something really is original, it does tend to shine through.

Also, to my knowledge, Mr. Martin is correct: the layout on the Lemur was apparently a mock-up to show what the Lemur would look like if configured with the layout of the MonoTouchLive. I incorrectly said that both the widgets and layout had been copied, as I misunderstood the image I saw. Axou created that design as part of a thread with some complaints about the similarity to the Lemur widgets, but I now try to make CDM less like a quick forum post.

I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with MonoTouchLive. It may indeed be useful to some people, and I expect (as I even said in that original, ill-advised post) that the growing availability of affordable touch and multitouch screen hardware will mean many more such creations and ideas. DJTechTools even suggested a US$250 solution involving something like MonoTouchLive and a small, USB-powered external display:

The $250 Lemur

There are some of Mr. Martin’s remaining contentions, however, with which I still take some issue. First, he implies that this was some sort of ongoing thread on CDM. It wasn’t; there were two stories out of several thousand, but as is clear from the URLs he copied, they were posted on the same day, September 11, 2006. I don’t know what was going on with me that day, but I should have thought before I published. I understand his frustration, though – because I didn’t write a follow-up post, those stories continued to come up on Google. But, at least I can say truthfully, I didn’t mean for this to become an ongoing issue.

Second, while it’s true that MonoTouchLive didn’t copy a Lemur layout, it did clearly copy the look of the Lemur interface widgets. My original appeal, if poorly worded, was for creativity and variety, and I stand by that now. Mr. Martin is clearly a developer with some skill, and I’d love to see something that looks different. I stand by that criticism now as before – and because I’d love to see new visual ideas.

It’s worth noting, in fact, that I wasn’t alone – jaded, perhaps, by people copying designs instead of making their own, many in the Ableton forum responded the same way. The lesson here is, if something is a copy, you may want to acknowledge that and explain your intentions. The lesson for the rest of us is, we probably should have considered the author’s intentions before responding.

Lastly, while “JUSTICE” claims Dexter “saw the light” of MonoTouchLive’s fixed layout, I still like the idea of modular, editable layouts over fixed layouts. It’s part of the whole advantage of a touchscreen over hardware. The “JUSTICE” article also implies – intentionally or not – that JazzMutant was following MonoTouchLive’s lead, which I think is unlikely. That said, I’m sure MonoTouchLive could be useful to someone with a fixed layout, and they have their advantages – muscle memory, for one.

What Really Matters to Me: Looking Forward

I won’t say anything more about this matter. I think what JazzMutant did was really important, and I think MonoTouchLive is a worthy idea. But what I’m most interested to cover in the future is work that takes touch in new directions.

For touch and multi-touch to really catch on, I think these interfaces need to be substantially different in function and experience than conventional hardware knobs and faders. I’d aim that criticism at JazzMutant as much as I would at MonoTouchLive. I’m really eager to see more experimentation. I shouldn’t have pushed that desire on Mr. Martin and his work, though, and for that, I’m sorry.

Just complaining in this case was out of line. I believe criticism and frank criticism is part of the function of blogs – not pulling any punches, as the saying goes. But I also believe in being constructive, and I think those comments weren’t.

I expect I’ll continue to make mistakes, and I will be the first to defend the value of writing frankly on the Web – warts and all – and responding. It’s because of a few years of doing that, in fact, that I think I have a different perspective in 2009 than in 2005 and 2006 – because of your feedback. So always keep it coming.

I don’t view my role as a cheerleader, in case that isn’t already clear. But because I believe in the value of criticism, I’ll be working harder than ever to make sure it’s the right kind. Comment threads are comment threads, but I hope we’ll all consider that we’re leaving words for strangers around the world.