Why the Lucky Stiff removed most of his online profile on Aug. 19th, 2009. The author of Why's (poignant) guide to Ruby, Hpricot, and many other projects left behind many confused and upset users.

Zed Shaw called it a "dickhead thing to do".

John Resig called his work a "Sand Mandala".

Do developers have an unwritten obligation to their users? Does their obligation increase with their prestige?

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    Pardon my ignorance but personally I never heard of this guy before, nothing one can do about it other than wish him the very best whatever he does.
    – Simon
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 7:06
  • Is there now no distinction between "users" and "people who read your blog"?
    – TZHX
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 8:57
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    @TZHX: There were (and still are) many users of his code, such as the hpricot library for Rails (as mentioned). Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 10:51
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    In fairness, Zed only says mean things about anyone. Except about Zed. If Zed comments on you it will almost certainly be to say that you did something he hates.
    – glenatron
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 11:05
  • A man is free to do whatever he wants with his life. He only has obligations to himself and his immediate family.
    – Marcelo
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 16:53

5 Answers 5


You only have an obligation so long as you have an image you want to preserve. If you disappear, as _why did, then the only image you're hurting is the one you've abandoned, which presumably you no longer care about. It isn't your responsibility to the public to continue to provide your work publicly, and it may in fact be your responsibility to yourself to retract that work if it isn't being used or appreciated the way you'd like.

_why probably did it to demonstrate a point, or even just on a whim; after all, however prolific he was under that name, he was still known as something of a mad scientist.

  • Awesome. I especially like "mad scientist". Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 6:13

What obligations do highly public developers have to their users?

I assume from the context that you mean social obligations that are somehow related to their being developers. That is, you're not talking about the general social normative obligations that apply to everyone: for instance, to not commit fraud or slander. Nor, I assume, are you asking about obligations of software developers to not produce malware, and so on.

Developers do not have any additional social obligation to their users that I'm aware of. Is there something special about developers that would require different social obligations to be imposed on them?

Does their obligation increase with prestige?


Famous musicians are not obligated to make music you like, no matter how famous they are.

Famous authors are not obligated to write books you like, no matter how famous they are.

Famous actors are not obligated to make films you like, no matter how famous they are.

Why would a famous software developer be obligated to make software or software documentation you like?

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    This. For the "Famous Musicians" line, see everything Radiohead did post OK Computer. If artists have a responsibility it is to make art that they believe in in the time that it takes to create that.
    – glenatron
    Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 11:05
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    You’re comparing apples and oranges. If an author writes the best book in the world, and then burns it, he’s a dck (it might be his “right” but this doesn’t mean that it’s *right). In fact, Kafka ordered his books burned after his death. Luckily, his heirs ignored this stupid order. Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 12:24
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    @Konrad: I am not comparing apples and oranges; I am answering the question as asked. The question was not "is it right for an author to burn his own books?" The question as I understood it was "do famous software developers have a special social obligation to the users of their software?" I answered that question. If you want to discuss the morality of book burning, that's a fascinating discussion but I think this is not the site for it. Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 15:12
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    @Konrad: I know nothing about the specific situation. The question as I understood it was not "was why's action a nice thing to do?" The question was "does prestige entail any obligation?" which seems to me to be mostly orthogonal to the question of whether it's not nice to go deleting stuff you wrote that people like. You're not obligated to do nice things for people just because you're famous. Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 16:17
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    @glenatron: What precisely is it in your opinion that obligates artists to do that? I do not believe that artists have any such obligation. (I know nothing about "Radiohead"; I gather they are a pop band of some sort.) Commented Mar 4, 2011 at 16:22

Those were his works and it is his choice as to whether they stay up or go down. He owns the copyrights to them and can therefore do as he pleases. It may not be the nice thing to do, but his audience can't make demands of him either.

  • Practical and so true. Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 6:14
  • They should have offered him enough money to change his mind. Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 20:10

Users have expectations from highly public developers. This does not create obligations from highly public developers to their users. You are not responsible for the image others build on you.

  • Nice. Expectation != obligation. Commented Mar 5, 2011 at 6:14

You could call it obligation, but really isn't it as simple as just PLAIN F*KING COURTESY???

People were visiting these supposedly useful sites on the internet and then you just deliberately turn everything off. What is ironic is that the many people who were sentimentally defending _why's actions would probably be the first to consider a kid a prick who takes all his marbles home when he doesn't like to play anymore.

What _why did was very much like what an immature kid would do, except _why is supposed to be an adult and the stuff he put out is (supposedly) quite useful. Having all these annoying bizarre stuff removed from the net is no skin off my nose and not having to stare at the gobbledygook that is the content of whytheluckystiff.net and trying to make some sense out of it is one minor annoyance out of the way, but hearing about the way this stuff was removed does strike me as a very childish thing to do.

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    Childish, sort of like this answer right?
    – Jeremy
    Commented Jun 29, 2011 at 16:36

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