Dave Winer, 56, is a visiting scholar at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute and editor of the Scripting News weblog. He pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in New York City.
"The protoblogger." - NY Times.
"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.
"Dave was in a hurry. He had big ideas." -- Harvard.
"Dave Winer is one of the most important figures in the evolution of online media." -- Nieman Journalism Lab.
10 inventors of Internet technologies you may not have heard of. -- Royal Pingdom.
One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.
"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.
"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.
"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.
8/2/11: Who I Am.
My 40 most-recent links, ranked by number of clicks.
FYI: You're soaking in it. :-)
I had a couple of hours this afternoon to play around, and thought I'd put a little time into finding some new feeds for the east-village.org aggregator. I thought it would make sense to add some news about NYU to the mix, and include news from NYU itself.
This led me to an interesting place. Either I can't find them, or NYU simply doesn't have feeds with news about NYU itself.
If you go to the home page, nyu.edu, you'll see that someone is adding news to it, keeping it current. There are items about Jon Stewart speaking at an NYU class. And the U.N. meeting in NY in September. A new study-abroad center opens and a new NYU bookstore on Broadway. Lots of other stuff. But no feeds?
In searching I came across the NYU libraries. Often a good place to find news-related information. They have blogs (that's cool) and there are tutorials about RSS and podcasting, but again, no site-wide resource for news about the university.
The NYU campus is unlike other campuses I've been on. Tulane has very definite boundaries, as does UW-Madison and Harvard. You always know when you're on campus or off-campus. But at NYU, even at the heart of what we think of as the campus, there's a huge public space, Washington Square Park that's not part of the university. And the campus itself is very dispersed, all over lower Manhattan. And it's growing.
Possibly this is why as I was a student growing up in New York, I was aware that there was an NYU, but if you asked me where it was, I couldn't have said. I even had family members who went to NYU.
So it kind of makes sense that it would be hard to find the central flow of the university's web presence. It's also why the university should over-compensate, do an especially good job of giving itself a recognizable center on the web.
I have some other ideas. One of the things I learned in my Harvard experience was to let the ideas out slowly, one at a time. And not expect to influence too much change. But another thing I learned from my Harvard experience is that there is a price to being too cautious and staying too much within the boundaries -- you miss things. While we were doing some nice stuff there in 2003 and 2004 at Berkman, I completely missed the Facebook bootstrap that was happening next door at the college.
If something like that is happening at NYU now, I want to be involved!
But the first step: let's find the pulse. And if we can't find it, help it become discoverable.
One year ago today was my father's last day on earth.
When people say other people were ready to die, I think there can only be a split decision. Who wouldn't want to go back to the sweet moments in life and live them again and again. And who doesn't have regrets, things they did they wish they hadn't. How differently things could have turned out.
And the mystery of it all. Who knows what bad things were avoided by good decisions?
A year later, there isn't a day I don't forget that my father is gone. But the feelings are further between.
You get a feeling over the years, that try as you may want it to change, it never does. Then boom, someone is gone and massive change happens.
In our family the change has all been for the better. I'm sort of sad to say that. A lot of deals had been made between family members that they won't do this if you don't do that. These are largely silent deals, not explicit. In many cases they were made before any of us were born, as each of us was molded to play a role that the others were comfortable with.
I may think of more things to add as the day goes by.
I've had the honor of emailing with Ted Nelson for the last week or so.
With my thinking mostly organized now it's time to write a blog post with the jist of what I've been wanting to say.
I've owned at least five copies of Computer Lib/Dream Machines. But I don't keep them very long. Inevitably, someone visits who I think needs to read the book, so I give it to them. A few years go by, and I come across another copy -- buy it -- and repeat.
I recently did this, giving the book to a young colleague, Nicco Mele. I say young, but that's relative. Nicco is in his early 30s, is an adjunct professor at Harvard's Kennedy School, and should be teaching the stuff in Nelson's book. But get this. He had never read it, had never even heard of it. That's not the tragic part even. He didn't know what was in the book. This frustrates and scares me. Nicco is a guy who goes very far out of his way to be informed. That he doesn't know the roots of the creative side of computers, of the liberation side of computers, says everything. And someday he's going to write a book, and everyone is going to read it, and they're going to teach it in schools, but it won't be informed by what's in CL/DM.
Nicco is also the founder of a tech consulting company, EchoDitto. He brought his copy of the book over to his engineers, and they took it from him. Bravo! But now he doesn't have a copy. (BTW, that's Nicco's wonderful son Asa in the margin of this piece. Think about him as you read on.)
So here's the thing.
1. The book is long out of print. The last revision, which no one likes, came from Microsoft Press in the mid-80s. The one before that went out of print in the 70s. I'm sure there weren't more than a few thousand printed.
2. If we could get our hands on a copy of the 70s book, and scan it, we couldn't upload it as a PDF (which is what I would like to see happen) because Ted doesn't want it to.
3. I've talked to a couple of book agents I know, asking if there's any hope of interesting a publisher in doing another edition of the book. I don't know how much thought they've given it, or who they've talked to, or if they even understood what I was talking about. But they said no.
4. I've thought of asking Ted to name a realistic number of dollars he'd like to earn from CL/DM in the next 20 years. And then ask, if we could get the money, would he let us scan the book and publish a PDF of it? The success people have had with Kickstarter these days makes me optimistic that we could get $50K or even as much as $75K this way.
5. Ted wrote a great book with some great thinking in it. But he doesn't love the web the way I do. I can't say he's wrong. But I have to stick to my beliefs. I think if a new publishing medium were to boot up now, it would have to emerge from the web, the way the web emerged from the Internet, and the Internet emerged from Unix, etc etc. There's a thread of development that's inexorable. That's why I feel intuitively that CL/DM belongs on the web. If for no other purpose than to illustrate how the web could be better. And because the printed medium does an inadequate job of representing the thoughts, and you can clearly see that from the way Nelson has set the book on paper, putting images of that paper on the Internet will make obvious the opportunity to collapse the paper into an electronic form. Also, there are now millions of programmers who know how to program networks. When Nelson wrote his book there were no more than hundreds. How much greater is the potential for achieving his vision of hypertext today than it was in the 70s? No comparison.
6. If we were to upload a PDF of the book, I would first get in touch with some of the best IP lawyers in the world, my former colleagues at Harvard Law School, and ask them to be sure that in publishing the book electronically, we were very clearly preserving the copyright, so that we could offer a print version of the book for a whatever price we thought appropriate. This PDF experiment could prove to a publisher that there's a market for the book. Or it could build a market for the print book.
I'm only interested in one thing here -- to preserve the ideas in Computer Lib/Dream Machines for another few generations. The work isn't done. They need to know where we came from. Anything that gets that done is great with me. The only unacceptable outcome is that the ideas continue to disappear from discourse among people working in this area.
I watched quite a bit of the TechCrunch Disrupt conference this week. Mostly the presentations were by startups competing to win a prize. Judges commenting on them. The products were all cut from a small number of molds. Somehow they have fixated on turning the internet into a game. The hamsters, you and me, are rewarded for jumping through certain hoops. We enjoy playing this game so we buy things to indicate our pleasure. The people who sell the things kick back a few bucks to the folk who made the game.
Reminds me of the time when the whole industry was fixated on pet food. Seriously. There was a moment.
But academic hackathons are imitating these crazy things. We put our programmers in a big room, feed them pizza and burritos and Jolt, and tell them to be brilliant for 24 hours. A lot of them will show up, especially after the Diaspora phenomenon on this campus last semester.
Since this is happening at a university, hopefully some of the projects will have scientific significance. If they don't I think we have failed as educators.
It's understandable that the commercial world gravitates toward deformities caused by the need to make a buck in a technology that wasn't really designed for making money. Recall that the initial Internet linked researchers at academic institutions. Try as hard we can, there are lots more applications in this area than the commercial ones. And the obvious commercial spots have been taken by the retail outlets and Amazon.
Now we're left to pick up the coins left on the ground after the people who pick up the coins left on the ground have come through. Funny thing is, if you got there first there were enough coins to get a $10 million cashout. But that's already happened. Now it's questionable whether there's actually any money left on the ground or on a table somewhere for the grabbing.
Instead I'd like to see, at a university hackathon, young computer science students get up and present to their teachers some new computer science. Some new use of graph theory. Or an old one re-applied to a modern world. We used to do that, when I was a comp sci grad student in the 1970s. I think we got way too caught up in the commercialism.
Example: Here's a group of researchers at ten universities scattered around the world. They're collaborating on a presentation they will do at a conference in eight months. Most of the research is done, they just have to assemble it in a convincing way, while giving each contributor proper credit for their work. Here's a list of the current tools they are using. At this hackathon each group will create a tool that in some new way helps them collaborate. The projects will be judged strictly on utility, not eye-candy appeal.
Let's take the focus off what this stuff looks like to a judge, and start making computers work better in an academic environment. This may not immediately yield an angel-funding-event, but that shouldn't be our goal, should it? We're here teaching computer science, not how to convince a judge at TechCrunch that you have the next get-rich gizmo.
Don't worry though, eventually there will be money here. But we're all better at using the Internet than pitching venture capitalists, we all get a chance to have some fun, learn from each other, and actually accomplish something useful in the time we have together. And why should venture capitalists be the sole arbiters of what gets built? Isn't that at least part of the job of academia?
Where this is headed -- teaching people with computer science skills how to be creative. You can engineer creativity to a certain extent. And create environments where it's more likely. There is such a thing as a checklist for creativity.
But the hackathon format probably isn't the most conducive. But we can start there, since that's what we're doing.