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. :-)
In today's piece about the Jobs book I used a term I'm pretty sure I've never used before on Scripting News. That's pretty amazing, because I've been writing here since 1994, and you'd think I would, by now, have explored all the concepts I use in explaining stuff. But not this one.
Let's take a couple of professions and see how many steps there are in the ladder from starting out to reaching the top.
1. College professor. You start out by getting a bunch of degrees. If you're like most people you go all the way through a PhD and maybe do some post-doctoral work before you get offered a position as a lecturer, or if you're very good, an assistant professor. Some people stay right there for their whole careers, get tenure, sabbaticals, then retirement. But if you want to get to the top, you have to become a professor. Then win some awards. And if you're a guy who aspires to administration, there are a lot of steps before you get to be President of a highly-regarded university. If, instead, you prefer to be a scholar, then you hope to get a big prize, like the Nobel or Pulitzer or whatever. There's a lot of weeding out, and lot of passing people by, and a lot of places where you can get pushed off the ladder. But if you have tenure, are a Nobel laureate, and at a good university, it's fair to say you have climbed the ladder to the top and can look down on everyone else in academia. (Assuming that's your thing.)
2. Reporter. You almost certainly have to get a college degree, probably from somewhere good. Then you have to start out working at a local paper or news station, get noticed. Get promoted, win an award, then get hired by the NY Times, the Washington Post or the Economist or become an on-air reporter on CNN. But you're still not at the top. You can figure the rest out. All this ladder-climbing makes me tired, just thinking about it.
Now if you were a commercial software developer, born in 1955, as I was, you came of age in the mid-late 70s, and you show up in Silicon Valley. How many steps before you hit the top? Cold call Steve Jobs. If he thinks you have talent, he hires you and you go to work on the Apple II. Or cold call Dan Fylstra and tell him you have a big problem licked, get invited for a meeting and two weeks later sign a deal. Boom. That's it. In 1979, you couldn't get any higher than either of those two positions. There were a few others. You could have met Seymour Rubenstein, Bill Gates, Gary Killdall, maybe Fred Gibbons. Mitch Kapor went down this path, as did the Visicalc guys and the guys who wrote dBASE and WordStar.
That's what I mean when I say we climbed shorter ladders. Some of those people had lots of education, some had none. Most didn't go to school in computer science because in the 70s the field was tiny and brand new.
Not climbing ladders had a downside. You could still fall off, and if you did, without any credentials, you might have a hard time picking yourself back up. I'm sure there are other tradeoffs. But that's the idea I was trying to express.
As an experiment I moved four of my domains to hover.com, to see how painless the process is, and frankly to be sure it works, before deciding whether I should move the rest of my godaddy-registered domains.
Neither company has, imho, easy docs showing how to do it. So I thought I should take some notes as I transfer a domain.
1. Go to the Domains page on Godaddy.
2. Click on the name of the domain you want to move.
3. Click the Send By Email link next to the Authorization Code item. Screen shot.
4. Check your email. You should have received a message containing the authorization code. Leave this panel open in your browser, or copy the authorization code to the clipboard.
6. From that point the process is self-documenting.
If you have trouble:
1. Be sure the domain is unlocked at GoDaddy.
2. Be sure you have the privacy feature at GoDaddy disabled for this domain.
Sneaky Godaddy (what else is new):
When you get the email from Godaddy acknowledging the transfer request, they say "If you want to proceed with this transfer, you may accept it immediately or do nothing. If you wish to cancel the transfer prior to the auto-complete date, you must decline it before <fiveDaysInFuture>." They give you two different links for killing the transfer, but no links to "accept it immediately."
Luckily this one is not hard to figure out.
1. Go to the My Account page on Godaddy.
2. Click on the Transfer tab. Screen shot.
3. Click on the name of a domain.
4. Click on the Accept/Decline icon. Screen shot.
The rest is self-explanatory.
As part of Harvard's 375th anniversary, the Gazette is writing about the things that happened first there. And I was very pleased to have podcasting be one of the things they wrote about.
I was pleased because it helps me advocate for more of this!
Harvard's role, embodied by John Palfrey, was to provide an excellent cauldron for brewing something that took a bunch of iterating to make happen. The technical concoction was well-understood very early. But the human element, that was what we had to entice. We know how podcasting will work, now how do we get people to start doing it! Having the ability to call to us the resources we needed, with the power of the Harvard name, was a huge boost.
At the same time, Palfrey deserves a lot of the credit, though he's far too humble to say so (I was glad they put his picture on the article). He was able to marshall the resources of the university for us, to make our meetups (called BloggerCons) possible. Without which, there wouldn't have been podcasting.
This is something I think universities, if they ever knew it, forgot. That they have a unique role to play in the advancement of technology. The flow of students, with their fresh perspectives and hope for the future is just part of it. It's also the ethical standards that, if respected, help guide open technology into a market infested with predators. Podcasting was born in a safe estuary, before having to survive in the competitive market. That it survives today in the same form it was launched in, in 2004, is testimony to the good parenting it got in its early life.
This, if you recall, is how the Internet came to be. It was a non-commercial collaboration among academics. I want to do this again and again, and now that the podcasting bootstrap is documented, I have something to show the people I have to convince to make this happen.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, take a few moments and read this manifesto by actress Felicia Day about the importance of supporting RSS. She says that some sources are turning off their feeds. I was not aware of this. I subscribe to new feeds all the time, and rarely do I find a source that updates regularly that doesn't have one. I think I'd notice.
But what's reallly cool about this is that passionate and intelligent advocacy is coming from users. For me, that's new. And very welcome. I've felt like the only person who's willing to stick his neck out of the idea that we could have news flows that were not controlled by the tech industry. I was told that users would never understand why this is important. Well, looks like the people who said that were wrong.
This happens regularly in the tech industry, as I've written about so often. In the early days of a technology, in this case news feeds, users need training wheels on their tools. But a few years later, they understand how it works, and they can see how they're being controlled. Shortly after that they break free of the bonds and a new layer of tech comes online.
If you're a developer, it seems now is a good time to take a fresh look at building networks of news flow that doesn't run exclusively through Google, Twitter or Facebook. There is an architecture possible here, built on formats and protocols we all know well. XML, JSON, HTTP, DNS. All of it lightweight and easily cloned for lots of choice for users.
But at least read Ms Day's screed.
PS: I never nominate my articles for inclusion on TechMeme. I think that would be untoward. But there's nothing stopping you from doing it.
The reason is pretty simple, it's personal and painful and repetitive. Like Jobs, I was born in 1955, and up until 1979, there are a lot of parallels in our lives. I dropped out like he did, and did a lot of the same stupid stuff. There may even be some overlap in our personalities. But after 1979, when I moved to California, determined to be a software star, his story and mine overlap a lot. I was an Apple II, Apple III and a Mac developer. I've heard the stories of how wonderful Bill and Andy et al were and I know that a fair amount of of that is bullshit (actually a lot of it). This is one of those stories that is so big, so close to home, so well-rehearsed, so often repeated and over time has become fairly divorced from the realitiy that I lived.
The early years of Apple were hard years for everyone involved. We were young and stupid, and the world told us we were the super-exceptional people that Jobs apparently believed he was until he died. That's what makes this so hard to read. We weren't that special. It's just that the reporters had no clue how we did what we did, and to them, that made us geniuses. But what were doing is what any good engineer or marketer does. (One thing Isaacson does get right, is that it's the ability to combine tech and the humanities that's where the power is in this business. This is a very powerful and mostly unappreciated idea. A great book could be written about just that idea.)
The ladder we chose to climb was a very short one, unlike the ones the reporters climb. To get to the top meant convincing one or two people we could make a contribution. And there were, at the time, so few people who knew how to create commercial software, that anyone with any skill at all could get employed. That meant there were a fair number of bozos working at Apple, for Steve. Even though he was supposedly such a great judge of character. And some of the people he threw away were actually pretty good, and as humans, deserved better than he gave. Their stories will not be told in such an exalted manner, but they might have made a difference, had Steve not been so Steve.
The story about Dan Kottke is a heart-breaker, for example.
Also, while Isaacson is a good writer and a good reporter, he doesn't really understand how this stuff works. And you might think that's what it takes to explain it to someone who doesn't understand it, but I don't think so. So much of the Jobs story is how he related to people who actually made the products. If one doesn't understand the substance of those relationships, it's impossible to tell the story, imho. It would be like writing a romance without having ever experienced love.
It's 2011. Surely there are reporters who go deeper into tech than Isaacson. Hopefully his source material is available for other authors to approach writing a biography of Jobs from a different perspective.
I also don't support the author's belief that Jobs' life was strictly a net-plus for the human race. I think he stopped a lot of good things from happening. I once heard, second-hand, Jobs say of a developer who wanted to create software for the NeXT box that "We can't let just anyone develop for this machine." Even if Jobs didn't say those exact words, it's very consistent with the way he expressed himself.
Anyway, the book, for me, is a combination of boring, frustrating and naive -- from my very insider point of view. I may put it down and hope that I live long enough to see those days as worth remembering. At that point I might enjoy reading this book. Right now I have work to do.
PS: I'm looking forward to the new Stephen King book that's coming out in a couple of weeks.
PPS: On Twitter, the question came up of who would I recommend to write a great Steve Jobs bio. I actually have a few ideas. 1. Robert X. Cringely. 2. Randall Stross. 3. Farhad Manjoo. 4. Ryan Tate. All of them write insightful must-read pieces about tech. Stross has the advantage of having already written a Jobs bio, while he was still at NeXT. It's the best tech book I've ever read. Also, 5. John Siracusa, who writes definitive reviews of Apple products, in some sense is already a Jobs biographer. The best Microsoft book I've read was by 6. David Bank. Great reporting, he really got to the core of what made Bill Gates tick, unlike most of the other books about Microsoft. I might also tap 7. Paul Andrews or 8. Dan Gillmor. There's probably also someone who writes for Tim O'Reilly who would be up to it.