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What is bikeshedding?

If you have spent much time hanging out on technical email lists or forums you might have come across the term "bikesheding" essentially it means to spend time talking about the little details which everyone has an opinion on and to some degree ignoring the important things.

It comes from a book called Parkinson's Law: Or the Pursuit of Progress which is responsible for many economic theories but in particular the Law of triviality which talks about a committee approving a massive nuclear power plant and none of them really understand nuclear reactors so they approve it without comment.

But when it comes time to build the bike shed at the power plant for the employees to park their bikes everyone has an opinion on what material it should be made from, wood, fiberglass, tin and what colour the shed should be painted and so that gets discussed for hours.

Recently one of the technologists I admire most, Guido van Rossum, the inventor of Python stepped down after a change to the Python language that was made particularly difficult by the fact that everyone had an opinion. It was ultimately a fairly small change, but very controversial.

I've been in meetings about websites I'm working on where I've thought, I don't really like that font, or I don't really like that particular shade of red. But I've held my tongue because I know that if I start the conversation, everyone will have an opinion about the colour scheme. The thing is, as long as the colours are not so bad that they will cause accessibility issues, it's far more important to focus on content and functionality.

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