Dave Winer, 56, is a software developer 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 and NYU, 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.
scriptingnews2mail at gmail dot com.
My 40 most-recent links, ranked by number of clicks.
FYI: You're soaking in it. :-)
Twitter made a change in the last few days that's going to contort the web outside of Twitter in a whole new way. Not that Twitter hasn't done that before, they have. The 140-character limit forced everyone to use URL shorteners. After years of experimenting, I felt I finally had something that was fun and interesting, for me and for people who follow my links. Only to have Twitter nullify that by hiding my URLs and replacing them with the long and often very ugly URLs behind the shortened URLs.
To be clear, in the design of the web, the URLs were meant to be visible, but not in your face. Twitter changed all that. The URLs became the primary user interface for accessing web content.
Now they display my stories with the full URLs, even though they still route through my URL shortener, so I get the click counts. But I can see them changing that again, and replacing my URL-shortener with theirs. They now use theirs and mine. So there are three URLs in the mix: 1. The original URL. 2. My shortened URL. 3. Their shortened URL. What a contortion of TBL's invention. And I'm sure there are more twists and turns coming.
To be clear, none of this should ever have happened. The URLs should not have been in the 140-characters of a tweet. They should have been transmitted as metadata, with all the other metadata that accompanies a message. We've been through all the arguments over and over, and that's what it comes down to. They made a mistake, and the result was an ugly scar for the whole web.
Now, when I look at how Twitter is displaying my messages, I think I'd better change the way my CMS works, so my natural URLs are very short. All this movement, just to stay in place. The web, as an open platform, was much better without Twitter contorting it. I've been writing about this since the inception of Twitter, and they never respond. It just gets worse. If Twitter breaks, huge portions of the web will break with it. That was never the idea of the web.
Like a lot of people, I've become an NBA addict this spring. It started with Jeremy Lin, but it didn't stop there. I've become a fan of the sport, and specifically the Knicks. This isn't new. I went to Knicks games with my grandfather in the sixties and seventies. I was there for the great team that won it all. But you aren't a fan because your guys win. You're a fan because of love. Because you see things from the same perspective of other people who love the same team. It's visible evolution. We have a need that's unmet by the world we live in, to be part of a warring tribe. We live and die together. So we invent something to satisfy that natural urge.
At times this season I felt the Knicks should clean house and just go with the rookies. It's still a great fantasy, but after all the ups and downs of the season, I now really feel intense admiration for Carmelo Anthony. He's not quite the Last Man Standing in the Knicks battle, but it's pretty close.
In the last few games of the season you could see Knicks coach Woodson tutoring Iman Shumpert, a wonderful young rookie, trying to toughen him up for the playoffs. It was going to be something watching this young guy with all that great energy get schooled by the Great Miami Heat, but he was stopped in battle before the first game was finished. And of course Jeremy Lin is injured. And in the first game whenever Carmelo Anthony was about to take a shot, two intense Heat players would block him out. That was when you knew that the Knicks would pay the price for having no real Plan B. The Heat were saying, you guys can score any other way, but you can't use Melo.
Somehow, for at least three more games, two of them at the Garden, the Knicks are going to have to find a way around that block. It's going to be a tough remainder of the series. I don't want to say exactly how bad it looks. But I do want to say that Melo has my admiration. He got the booby prize and he's taking it like a man.
Can you imagine that someday you will be able to say to a computer: "I want to follow the NBA playoffs very closely. Find me a great feed, or create one, subscribe to it and when playoff news has slowed down or stopped, unsubscribe."
Can you imagine that that day won't come soon? Or that it isn't already here?
I posted a thread question yesterday about the existence of a great feed for news about the NBA playoffs. I'm pretty sure what I'm looking for doesn't exist. But it really should. After all, RSS was discovered to be a wonderful way to distribute news over ten years ago. Ten years. But there's been very little improvement since then, and I'm afraid I include Twitter and Facebook in that appraisal.
So why doesn't this feed exist?
Because there are two dominant products in RSS, Google Reader and iTunes. Good luck getting any new features into the base in any meaningful way.
And Twitter and Facebook are not the answer for news. Neither are First Amendment platforms, and you can't run news without the basic protection of free speech. And they are not open to new software, so we would be just as stuck waiting for them to invest as we are with Google and Apple.
If news is going to work on the Internet we need a lot of suppliers, both in technology and in feeds. No way around that. No one company is going to clean it up, because if that happened, it wouldn't be news anymore.
This is a permathread in the tech discussion, and it's basically always true, and the discussion is always the same.
First, there are the mature companies, ongoing concerns. They are never part of the bubble. Apple makes products that people buy. They will likely make faster CPUs and disks will get bigger, so we'll buy new computers periodically. And they also invent new stuff and we buy that too. Any business that makes products that people will continue to buy long-term is not a bubble company.
Then we hear from VCs, and they report on it as if the front-line of whether it's a bubble or not is in their minds. If they're making decisions based on sound business principles, they believe, then it's not a bubble. It's understandable that they're self-centered, that's the reflex we all have. And money -- everyone likes to talk about money. That's why when VCs speak lots of other VCs come to listen, and the press, and prospective entrepreneurs.
The reason it is a bubble has nothing to do with the minds of the VCs. Nothing.
The question is this. Are the new businesses, the startups, making identifiable products that make sense, and will they make money selling them, and how long will that last, and most important, will they grow. Because that's fundamentially what makes companies worth something. If you put money into them, how much will it grow.
If they are making good businesses that will be profitable and will grow, then no bubble. If they aren't -- depending how frothy the startup scene is -- that's the extent to which we're in a bubble.
An example of a bubble was the derivatives market that grew up around junk mortgages. that popped in 2006 through 2008. No one is in that business anymore (at least I hope so!) and the collapse took a lot of people's futures with it. Jobs were lost, houses were lost, and sure some investors lost money too. But the big concern are the people who could ill-afford to lose. When they lost they were put out into the street, or unemployed, future-less, hope-less. Fucked, as we used to say in the dotcom crash of the early 2000's.
This time around they're building businesses whose only way of making money will be through advertising. Are there as many different ways to slice things as all the startups, collectively, would have you believe. And when they're done, what will happen to them. What institutions will the bubble-pop take with it. How many people, and which people. That's what we have to worry about.
You do know that a lot of universities were hurt hard when the real estate bubble crashed because they got greedy and put their endowments into the derivatives market. This time around it's going to hit universities even harder. And the people who will be fucked won't be homeowners. They'll be young people whose lives are just beginning, who have student debt to pay off, and post-bubble will have few prospects. It's a vast game of musical chairs, and there really aren't that many chairs.
We're not worried about the VCs, or we shouldn't be. They are the promoters. They have the money, and they surely will protect themselves against losing everything. It's the generation that will be lost, and the educational system that will go with it. That won't be fun to see. I'm totally sure it's going to happen. We've seen this so many times, how can we pretend not to see it this time?
How many times have we been through this? Here's a good indicator. I wrote this piece in seven minutes. Believe me, it's well-rehearsed.
Mathew Ingram asks on GigaOM if we should be as worried about CISPA as we were about SOPA?
I say that's not a good question -- because our response to SOPA was inadequate and wrong, and proves that Internet that's supposed to be so responsive to threats, is as centrally controlled as Viacom, Disney, Fox, Apple, Google etc. Instead of being controlled by a few media and tech moguls it's controlled by Jimmy Wales. So he did what MSG did when they didn't like the terms that Time-Warner was offering. Wales got what he wanted this time, but I don't think it's going to work again. That bullet, once fired, can't be fired again. And sooner or later someone is going to ask the question, if the Internet is a chaotic cacophony of the free and brave, why is it that one person can turn off Wikipedia?
The tech and media moguls might ask aren't you just like us? And the answer is yes. We are just like you.
What had to happen, and what still has to happen, is as unlikely as the people of the earth waking up one day and realizing that unless we all radically reduce our production of carbon and also stop having so many children, our species is looking at some really hard times, if not extinction. The Republicans are worried about Social Security running out of money in 40 years. We might run out of oxygen before then.
There won't be a mass uprising in defense of freedom on the net. Some people will get book contracts, and we'll probably be watching Wolf Blitzer on Twitter and/or Facebook before too long.
We didn't have much of a wad to shoot, but it's shot. It would have been so much more impressive if we made sure Wikipedia was functioning 24-by-7, without interruption, no matter what the government did.
Harry Truman said I don't give em hell. I tell the truth and they think it's hell.
Here's a day I learned a little truth, about myself.
I was sitting in my car in San Francisco on a beautiful morning. I had just spent the night with a loving woman who took very good care of me. She had hopped out of the car to get us some coffee. We were driving up to Marin for the morning to go hiking on Mount Tam, and then to have some lunch and drink and more love-making. But I wasn't feeling happy. My mind drifted and I daydreamed. Then saw a couple walking hand in hand and the thought popped into my head, involuntarily, that it would be nice to be them. I saw another couple and thought the same thing. Then a moment of self-truth-telling. I realized how foolish this desire was. I remembered that moment.
I didn't learn to think those things about myself until I was in my early 40s, btw. Before that pain and happiness would come and go without me understanding how independent these feelings were from events.
When people ask why you feel blue, if you pile up enough of these experiences you realize there is no reason. It's not about reason. Feelings come from somewhere else.
So then the big question -- what does it all mean? Why are we here. What's after death. And fear of all that. It's always waiting for you when your mind pauses. So you try not to pause! But eventually you do have to stop.
Lately I've been thinking that fear of death, like almost everything else about us, comes from the natural selection process. That animals that had no natural predators might not fear death at all. But our evolution must have selected people who were very scared of death. Because people who weren't thinking about it night and day and always preparing for it didn't procreate as widely as those who were obsessed. So fear of death might just have to do with genetics.
I've heard that once you give up, when your body knows there's no hope, you relax about it. I don't know if it's true. But then I know it might be a feeling, and you can't think your way to the answer, as was previously demonstrated.
Smartest thing I've heard today is that we ought to be looking for more planets that can support life. Because this one is heading off a cliff. But I have a hard time really feeling that. You know. I'm more concerned with my end, than the end of the planet. I guess I have good genes!
I loved a lot of things about the Apple II and came to hate quite a few others. But the biggest thing it brought to my world was memory-mapped video. It's probably a foreign concept to programmers today, because we're so far from it, but it was the coolest thing. It was the guarantee that you could make the hardware do anything it could do that you could think of. Which back then wasn't really very much.
Here's the deal. There was a two-dimensional array of memory that you could read from and write to, just like any other memory. But the display hardware read the memory sixty times a second and smashed the bits out onto the display. So the way you changed a pixel from white to black is by clearing a bit in the right place. No APIs, just write directly to the memory.
There were actually two screen buffers, or was it four?
There was a bitmapped display and a character-mapped display.
And there were two versions of each so you could prepare a new screen out of view of the user, and then change the address of the screen buffer and blam the bits would all change at once.
Maybe that was on the IBM PC -- it also had a memory mapped display.
That idea didn't make it to the Macintosh, though I wish it had. But they had something even cooler, Quickdraw. Those were the days.
The reason I think of it is that I have become a rabid consumer of CSS tricks to make today's screens do impressive things that wouldn't even be slightly impressive on an Apple II or PC of the early 1980s.
If Woz is out there reading this, a virtual hug to you! What a great hack. I totally loved it then, and I love the memory of it today. Keep on truckin.
Some things I push to Twitter are bits that I want to come back to.
I use Twitter the way people used Delicious, or Instapaper or Readability.
Because there's room in my mind for just one bookmarklet that "Routes this somewhere."
The same channel is used for must-read bits. Or pictures I took in the park, or on a bike ride. It's a mishmash that no one is supposed to make sense of or remember in any general way. It's my contribution to the fog of realtime.
That's all I had to say today.
I caught on that there was a conference in NYC as it was happening called Hacking Society, put on by Union Square Ventures. They invited a lot of famous Internet thinkers and the CEOs of some tech companies, and people from Washington.
I only listened to the end of the audio feed, so I only know what was discussed through people's summation. So I don't know if what I am about to say was said. If it was, it bears repeating.
The best way to preserve Internet freedom is to use it.
That means creating a network that is of the Internet, only. Without any corporate ownership of rights to individual people's content. As nice as the VCs are that ran this show, and the execs who were there, and they certainly are very nice people, it doesn't matter. Corporations behave like corporations. And freedom and corporate ownership are two things that don't mix well.
It also means creating a network of people who vote.
That's the main way to get lawmaker's respect, I hear. From a pretty good source. Sure they need to raise money, but their opportunities to make money are greatly enhanced by being in office. And votes is what puts them in office and keeps them there.
That means, esp if you are a Republican, fighting the voter suppression efforts of the Republican Party.
I downloaded and installed Google Drive right away of course.
I can share a folder publicly, which is useful.
You can also link to an individual file in Drive.
This link should take you to a picture of the White House if it's working. Only sort of. It tkes you to a page that includes the picture. I'd like to link to just the picture. Let's see if this link lasts.
The picture of Carlos Boozer to the right was being served from the Public folder of my Google Drive folder, but then the link broke. So you can't point directly to a file. The link isn't persistent. That's an advantage that Dropbox has. Here's the link to the small picture of Carlos Boozer on Dropbox. It won't break.
Drive begins with the same two letters as Dropbox. So when you're typing the name of one into the browser's address bar you'll see the name of the other, if you've been to their website.
Question -- will Google's search engine go into folders that are marked public. I don't see why it shouldn't. I think they want to go in there.
Gotta wonder how long before Google-Plus features show up when you view a folder or a file.
Update: Here's a place for comments.
Fred Wilson really started an interesting thread.
It continues over on Rex Hammock's blog.
He says that everything is programming. That you have TV itself and you have shows. People may have thought I Love Lucy or Johnny Carson were bigger than a TV show, but in the end they weren't. Are the companies Fred helps get started really companies, or are they really shows? To which I said -- they're rock bands.
But there's more to it.
Sometimes things that are TV shows have features which are sucked down into the medium. It's how there's a continuity between the TV of Lucy and the TV of Linsanity (which is thoroughly captivating TV, even though Lin himself has been sidelined). The platform is shifting and adopting features from its programming.
Podcasting, RSS, blogging, YouTube, I would argue Angry Birds and Twitter -- all become part of what the Internet is, but they started out as programming. Before that Compuserve, MCI Mail, AOL. AppleLink. Craig's List. MySpace. And on and on. Each came out as a program, then became part of the platform.
Look at how magazines as a platform have changed. It used to be a gatekeeper model. Now lists like Time's 100 most influential are revealing because they have become jokes, anachronisms. Why did we care who influenced the editors of Time? Becuase that was the only path to fame. Now there are so many other paths to fame.
Postel said be liberal in what you understand and conservative in what you say. You could think of that as the law of platforms as much as it is about interop.
McLuhan said The Medium Is The Message. It's really the same idea.
Said another way...
We're paving cow paths.
I've been doing a lot of writing and thinking about computer education these last few years, and it seems this is what it comes down to.
"It's not enough to understand how computers work, because you have to understand people too."
So far we've had the software created by young minds for the needs of young bodies. And mostly young male minds. If you get what I mean.
The next step is to make software from more depth.
When I was a kid going to Edward Bleeker Junior High in Queens I had a math teacher, Mr. Brickman, who said there were only two subjects worth studying, math and grammar. And he wasn't so sure about grammar.
He was wrong, and I knew it. Because I didn't love math class. I did however love English.
I remember sitting down for the first day of high school English and thinking "I bet we're going to have some great discussions here!" I was a kid. Kids get enthusiastic about things they like. I liked English. I didn't feel that way about math. BTW, my English teacher was named Miss Dragnet. In my mind she's a lot like Sarah Palin. She didn't lead really good discussions, unfortunately. But my History teacher, Mr. Goldman, did.
My freshman college English teacher taught me that in writing it's better to remove words if you can. I don't remember her name, but I remember arguing with her. I thought flowery English was good. Now I know she was right. And guess what, the same principle applies to programming. How about that.
My belief is that you'd be crazy to study one or the other given the world we live in today. It's not enough to understand how computers work, because you have to understand people too. And you'll be taken advantage of if you don't understand how computers work, by people who do.
To get a good education you should study both.
PS: Check out this piece that says if you study computer science you'll end up working for an English major. Perhaps another good reason to study English.
PPS: Miss Dragnet was mentioned in a Village Voice article by Nat Hentoff about a famous event that happened at Bronx Science when I was a student there. Now I remember why she makes me think of Sarah Palin!
I love the idea of minimal apps.
Pick an application category and start building a product with just enough features to be useful for a newbie. One that might last a non-demanding user forever.
For example, the way I use a text editor, I don't need a lot of features.
You can see the need for this if you're one of the people who was just switched to the new shell for Gmail. All of a sudden all the stuff that faded into the background comes to the front, demanding attention. Because you have to wade through all that to find the commands you need. The ones you used to be able to find with just the intelligence at the base of your spine. No need to involve higher brain function. You can see the need for a bare-bones email interface because you're looking at the bloat of a mature product that's been hitched up with all kinds of sales jobs. It has to sell all the other Google stuff. But all I want is email. I thought maybe I'd switch to Yahoo Mail, but it's worse. It actually has the new style ads with obnoxious and deformed people dancing and looking weird, to draw your attention to their message, selling whatever it is those ads sell.
What are the basic operations in email?
What else can't you live without?
Maybe I'm missing some stuff. This would be the subject of debates and conferences. There might even be a professional standard set of features that must be in an email client in order for it to get the "minimal" seal of approval.
In 2012 there should be a healthy set of minimal web-based email clients. I don't think there's a single one.
What other categories could be successfully minimized today?
Anything that's been around 20 years or more, it seems, could be.
Think of it this way. A minimal app would be to apps like the VW Beetle was to cars. A volksmailer.
Actually there was an early word processor called Volkswriter. It was a response to feature bloat in early WP apps.
It's always fun to put a stake in the ground before a product is announced and then see how close you came.
Here are the interesting questions about Google Drive.
With Denton -- here's what I hope he did.
Draw a Venn Diagram with two circles on it. On one circle write "articles" and on the other write "comments". The size of each and how much they overlap tells you everything you need to know about an online publication. If one were to manage to make them completely overlap, so that there's no difference between the publication and the comments, then imho you've reached nirvana.
If I had a billion dollars (or some virtually infinite amount) I'd buy one of the big names of the news publishing world and transform it into a publication written by everyone. The staff decides what's on the home page. But even that doesn't stand up very long. Every user has the ability to create their own home page, and they compete against the "official" one.
In a true dotcom fashion, we'll figure out how to make money later. Maybe it doesn't even cost very much to run.
Anyway, Nick doesn't need a billion dollars to buy a big publishing brand, even though he has that kind of money, or access to it, because he already has a number of big brands that he can transform.
The question is can he get great stuff to flow through is world without paying for it? Maybe. He's always been a smart guy when it comes to software, and is willing to try idea out. So I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with, this week.
Suppose a company said we'd give you an apartment for free, no rent, with the condition that we can monitor and record everything you do in the apartment.
Fred Wilson asks if web and mobile apps are like TV shows.
When I saw the headline I thought it was about something else. There was a time when VCs thought websites would be like TV networks. From which they extrapolated there wouldn't be very many. They applied all the rules of TV to the web to come up with their investment strategies. Of course it didn't work, and eventually the web became its own thing. But it still suffers from people trying to force it into typecasts of the past. It's natural, and understandable. And I do it too!
I find that software is a creative, iterative art like popular music.
Very much about individual creations. When the individuals who created the band leave, or die, usually the band goes with it. There are exceptions. The Rolling Stones had their founder, Brian Jones, die, and the band is still recording and touring 43 years later.
But the Stones are an exception.
When Jerry died, so did the Grateful Dead. The Beatles broke up after a few years because only one or two members of the band liked the band. They come and go. The music continues though. The influence continues too.
I spent the first years of my life as a programmer figuring out what my schtick was. Did I play guitar, piano, drums or bass? Was I into folk rock (James Taylor, Carole King), acid rock (Hendrix, Cream), or poetic rock (like Patti Smith or the Talking Heads). Maybe a novelty act like Alice Cooper. (Obviously my choice of bands dates me.)
Then over the years I repeated a loop. Getting better and better at what I did. Like Harry Nilsson or John Lennon, I tried out other genres, but at the core I'm still a publishing guy. I write tools for writers to publish stuff. I've dabbled in other stuff, but my core is in writing and publishing.
Now why would I ever want to be a CEO?
I don't. And never have, even though I had to become one in order to get my software into the world.
And I can't imagine that many of the people Fred funds are really CEOs either. Dennis Crowley and David Karp are gifted product dudes, but my guess is they don't know much or care about the stuff that Fred writes about in his MBA Monday columns. You can learn that stuff works, I did -- I had to. But I was miscast as a CEO. I'm a wacky creative idea and implementation guy. I make products. I learned how to manage. In a way I'm an anti-CEO. Just ask the CEO's who have employed me. I make good and big products, but I don't fit in well in corporate hierarchies. I tend to say what I think, I have to because in my world you can't lie your way to a successful product. Our work is very demanding, you have to have a high tolerance for ideas that shatter your comfort. Because programs crash and lose data, and that's not something to joke about or talk about in a political way. You have to be brutallly truthful or it doesn't even boot up.
So, I think Fred is onto something. Maybe we shouldn't structure development around the corporate model. Maybe we should find a structure that insulates creative people from corporate reality, and find other people who love to hack corporations. Like the guy who runs Evernote who says he wants to build a 100-year company. I never would come up with that idea. The idea of a 100-year corporation is so devoid of life to me, it sucks out all my energy just thinking about it. But I wouldn't necessarily mind working with that guy if he could find users for my products.
We tried to do something like this at two companies I was part of: 1. Visicorp and 2. Symantec. Both failed at creating a safe environment for creative people. In the end both were run by administrators and VCs, and not for the products. Though both said they were doing the opposite. They were both good tries. And the incubators of today are in the right ballpark. But if they were really doing the right job they'd be looking to draw people like me in, and believe me, none of them are. I think they're still looking for docile no-problem programmers. And that will get you variants on the hits of yesteryear, the equivalent of Muzak for software. If you want to start a new genre, expect it to be jarring, upsetting, and more than a little exciting. And expect not to understand it at first. The understanding creeps up on you.
Or it may be that these days you don't need a CEO at all. Look at Instagram with its six team members. Even a relatively small band tours with more people!
We're in a bubble now, and like all bubbles unless you're thinking about it the "right" way, you don't see it. That's how bubbles are. It wouldn't be a bubble if it were easy to see.
To find it, you have to look at your assumptions and challenge them.
And you have to look at the things you've chosen to overlook. The things, which if you think about them, make you feel funny, so you don't think about them.
It also helps to look at past bubbles if you want to see this one.
Bubble N+1 is usually bigger than bubble N. So don't look for one of the same magnitude as the previous one. Look for one that's bigger. Where the boldness of the assumption is bigger.
Also look for the Ponzi scheme. Business propositions that run out of gas when you run out of suckers.
In the last big bubble you would have found it if you looked for financial instruments that bundled low-quality stuff to create high-quality stuff. Bundles of junk mortgages that become AAA-rated securities.
Okay so now I'm going to skp from all that to the nature of the bubble we're in now. I don't want to argue about it, because it can't really be argued. It's up to each of us to come to our own conclusions and bet accordingly. If you're right you might do better than if you bet wrong. Eventually we're going to pop the bubble that's based on the belief that the human species has a future. At that point, unless your bet put you on another planet you're just as fucked as everyone else, no matter how much gold you have, or guns, whether Mitt Romney is President or Barack Obama.
1. The bubble is that you can build value by understanding people's buying habits. Which not pushed to the extreme, is absolutely true -- you can build value that way. But we're past extreme into euphoria. We're believing there's value because we want to believe.
2. We're bundling young people into things called startups, and selling them to investors for ever-increasing amounts of money.
3. In an effort to bring more suckers in, they just passed a law that makes it legal to pimp these startups to people who don't know anything. You will be able to take their investment by swiping a credit card. Probably using a $4 billion valuation Square dongle for an iPhone.
4. They have started incubators in every major city on the planet. Unfortunately it hasn't been stylish to learn how to program for a number of years, so there aren't that many programmers available to hire. And it takes years to get really good at this stuff.
5. Even if they could find enough programmers, there aren't that many businesses to start to satisfy the demand for investment vehicles. A lot like the situation with mortgages in the last bubble. So the VCs and angels and no doubt some very shady folks are putting together deals with people who can't program with no actual idea for the business. Don't look to Y-Combinator, they're the quality act here. But there are incubators in every city from Santiago to Beirut.
6. They're turning universities into incubators. It's happening at NYU and Harvard, two schools I have some familiarity with. Probably everywhere else too, to some extent. But I'd guess these two schools are pretty leading edge. Stanford has been there for a few generations.
7. It just doesn't matter if the businesses are any good, not to satisfy the bubble. As long as more suckers are coming in.
8. No one can stop it. It won't stop until it collapses. This is what was so depressing about Jay Rosen's podcast with Chris Lydon. That's what he said will happen, and he's obviously right. We don't have a mechanism to, as a society, say let's not go all the way with this bubble.
What can we do? See my recent piece about rebooting the Internet dev process. It's a good way to hedge the bubble. So there might be something left when it pops.
Companies aren't stockpiling patents as a defense against patent trolls. They don't work because the trolls don't make anything that could infringe on a patent, unless your patent is about patent lawsuits (don't laugh, I heard there are some).
So when a company says their patents are only defensive, that's probably not the full story.
When Newsweek went under and was bought by the Daily Beast for nothing, I thought the better of the two big news weeklies had just gone away. It was one of those moments like the fall of the Soviet Union that you saw coming, but now that it had happened it didn't seem real. A death in the family, but not someone close. More a marking of the passing of time than anything. So you wonder why, with the door closing on the lifestyle that used to give pubs like Time and Newsweek a reason to exist, that Time sustains the old lie that who they think is influential is meaningful.
I read Jay Rosen's question, why don't people trust the press. So I decided, to help me answer the question, I would turn on the TV and see what they were talking about at the moment. Andrea Mitchell was interviewing Roger Simon about Mitt Romney's dog. He says the story just won't go away. I don't know if that explains why people shouldn't trust the news, but it sure explains why there's no point watching the news.
The other day I wrote about the CNN reporter with the view from somewhere. She probably wouldn't have asked this question. In fact, I challenge the legitimacy of the question. Ask me why I don't trust the news, and I can give you half an answer. To give a real answer you'd have to explain which news are you wanting to know why I don't trust. (And there is some news that I do trust, reporters who I think wouldn't deliberately steer me in the wrong direction, which is what I think it means to trust a reporter.)
Anyway, back to Time's most influential list. What do they mean by that? I look at their list, and many of the people who I know who are on the list don't say very much. How can someone be influential if they don't say anything. Maybe they don't talk publicly but they talk privately to Time editors. And what difference does that influence make? They help them write what goes into Time which I never read?
Do any of these people influence me, independent of what they say to the people who write for Time?
I don't even have to look at the list to know they don't.
I was struck by a comment by Evan Williams on a discussion board a few weeks ago. He said he doesn't really care what people think. You know, I'm right there with him. I like stories, information I can use. If you can sing what you think and it has a nice melody or beat (or both), I care about that too. If you say what you think in the form of a joke that makes me laugh, I care about that. But people just saying what they think. I don't care. I really don't. Just fact. Not meant to hurt your feelings. I don't think you care either. If you're reading this it probably has more to do with the writing style, or your hope that I'll say something I'll regret. People listen when they see an opportunity schadenfreud. Or sex. But you're much more likely to find schadenfreud here than sex.
That's why we like stories about people in cars being trailed by helicopters. A disaster in the making. Or the sports coach who got Alzheimer's at 60 and is so courageous about it.
The news didn't warn us about the death of the real estate market that was coming in 2008. And they weren't suspicious about the war in Iraq. They can report on sports, but that doesn't matter. More real people believe in climate change than network anchors. The news doesn't echo our skepticism or pessimism about the future. They don't help us do anything. And they can't even sing or hold a beat. What good are they!
Trust doesn't even begin to enter into it. Ask if they matter.
BTW, it would be interesting to see Time's list from ten years ago. How much influence did they have, with the benefit of hindsight. And who were really, based on actual influence, the most influential people of 2002? Whose ideas are we still talking about, whose products are we using, etc etc.
I was lucky in the beginning of my life as a computer scientist to be at a school, the University of Wisconsin, that was building on the beginnings of the Internet. We had PDP-11 and VAX computers running Unix. We had the source code to the operating system, and access to the people creating the software. It was where I learned about interacting with people through computers, a concept that has given me a lifetime of great stuff to work on.
But more important, it taught me the power of the open development process. One where ideas and source code are shared, and where you hoped and expected to get back more than you put into it.
Those were the days!
I left the university to become a commercial developer, even though at the time such a thing did not exist. In 1979, I left Madison to come to Silicon Valley, where I networked through Apple, where I met Steve Jobs and was told my idea was shit, to Personal Software, where believe it or not there were a handful of people who, like I, believed that you could make software that was used by ordinary people.
We left the Internet development process behind, but it always formed my ideal for working on technology, even though most of my peers didn't understand. Their careers weren't launched the way mine was, with a clear idea of what could be accomplished by working together.
When I went to Harvard in 2003, I hoped to reboot the Internet development process, though I wouldn't have put it in those terms at the time. We had a lot of success. Harvard was the first American university to have a blogging server, and it was used, fairly widely, if not deeply by faculty and students, and members of the community. Anyone with a harvard.edu mail address could have a blog, though we stretched the rules, liberally, with the approval of management, for people who had an interesting idea of how to use it. This was before free blog hosting was stable, so it made a big difference.
We also had a series of blogging conferences, and we booted up podcasting.
These were efforts among users of technology, which is very very important. Without users we are nothing. There's no point creating great technology if people don't use it.
Now I want to do it in a different way. My goal is to create new life for the process that yielded the great stuff we think of as the Internet. Only not the same stuff, new stuff. New uses for computers, and not the obvious ones. I want to do that in universities across the world. Unlike some in tech, I don't feel that universities have outlived their usefulness. Quite the opposite. When the current bubble bursts and we've left our young people without hope, as that is sure to happen, imho, I think we'll be glad to be able to go back to the beginning and reconceive our approach to technology. And at that point, we'll be glad to have a structure to organize around. That's what I want to work on, while everyone is busy with the euphoria of the bubble.
PS: I wrote this story in response to a request from my alma mater that I explain the value that Madison has for me. It's pretty simple. It turned my life in a great, productive and happy direction. That's a lot to ask of a school. But it delivered. I'm sure they didn't know they were doing it, but that's fine. It's not their job to know, just to create an environment where these kinds of things can happen.
Maybe Ms Baldwin isn't always like this, but yesterday, she was all about telling you where she is from, and what a great place that is. She is delightful. Really sweet, smart, and a great interviewer.
She asked one of her subjects "What do you think about that?" in exactly those words. Stunned. Most interviewers put a lot of indirection in there, asking what does the average American think about that. The answer is always what the person thinks, so why not ask it that way.
When the interviewer does View From Somewhere well, the interviewee's view comes out clearly too. (BTW, look at how the word "interview" has the word "view" in it.)
I admit to being smitten. She's an exceptional TV news anchor, especially on a network that's otherwise mostly devoid of life. Do their anchors have a pulse? I imagine they wouldn't be willing to answer that question, either.
PS: I've also recently become a fan of Alex Wagner on MSNBC.
A great gesture on the part of Google to strengthen the open web.
1. Donate one of your patents to the public domain.
Break new ground here. Establish a protocol for disarmament.
I'm getting all kinds of ideas just considering the possibility that Google could be a friend to the open web.
Here's a problem Google played a part in creating and could therefore play a part in solving.
Before the Internet, businesses had customers. And consumers had vendors. Same relationship. Goods and services flow in one direction, and money flows in the other. This practice had been going on for centuries, so all kinds of laws had developed establishing conventions and penalties. We all had a fairlly good idea of what we were entitled to, and what our obligations were.
Now we have a new kind of relationship, and we're totally in uncharted waters. That's a problem for free speech, imho. And whatever we can do to add strength and better definition to the legal relationship between users and companies would imho do a lot to support freedom on the net.
Quick ideas. 1. Create a for-pay email service that doesn't suck. 2. Become a registrar, and help people create new presences on the Internet. Again for-pay. No free rides. When a user calls someone answers. And if you don't pay your bill no service. 3. That registrar service could be used by Tumblr or Soundcloud to make their services better.
Obviously there's a lot to say about this. But it should be something we're thinking about, and every bit of progress in getting back to sensible relationships should be seen as a good sign. I think the more we do of that, the stronger we will all be in the future.
When I ask why Google isn't leading, this is the kind of stuff I'm thinking about.
He says that Google was built out of the open web. And this part he doesn't say, but is also true. If Google is going to continue to thrive, so must the open web.
However, Google is moving away from the open web. Most of its investments are going to create a competitor to Facebook, although they deny it's just a competitor. From the point of view of the open web their system is just as opaque as Facebook is. Just as problematic.
I'm not suggesting that Google shouldn't compete directly with Facebook. They can do what they want. But they're big enough and rich enough that they could make investments in the open web at the same time as they invest in their fortress. If they really put their hearts in it, and their checkbook, and make a commitment to support open formats and protocols that gain traction, no matter where they come from, I have no doubt that the open web will flourish, and perhaps that will mean their silo will founder. I suspect that this is why, as an organization, they don't want to make these investments. But Brin is independent, powerful, an imaginative and a skilled techologist, and frankly rich enough, to do what he wants no matter what his organization dictates.
Maybe he'll read this.
If so, since he is a computer scientist, as I am, let me put my advice in technical terms. If I need an API to access my data it's not good. If I hold my data in my own space, where I can do with it as I please, and at the same time it can be part of the structures Google builds, whether it is a search engine or a discussion board, then it works. Then we can try out a million ideas, and they can build off each others' momentum, and they all have a chance to be the next collaborative phenomenon. If APIs control access to the data, if my program logic has to flow through someone else's pipes, then there will be monoculture, and that never thrives. There are countless examples in the history of computers that illustrate this principle. If you want to know why it doesn't work, just observe how decisions are made inside Google.
Brin is one of the few people who really could make a difference in the battle for online freedom. I hope he takes the next step and in addition to noticing there's a problem, does something to solve it.
Time-Warner has a desktop app that lets me watch certain channels on my desktop computer using a web browser.
My Mac, a powerhouse, becomes my DVR.
Here's a screen shot of the image.
The game I'm watching is being broadcast on ABC in HD. I don't think there's any question that the content is available to be streamed to the desktop.
Next year this time we should be able to do that, with superior quality to what we get now.
Pragmatic reason to have this -- I would be able to live-blog more stuff. And develop better editorial tools for liveblogging.
If I really want a great picture, I have to go into the living room and watch the image generated by the settop box.
Wouldn't it be cool if the STB connected up with my router, they're right next to each other, to deliver a huge pipe from their headerquarters to my LAN.
Could be pretty interesting. There obviously are some programmers working at Time-Warner. They're not very popular, but if they managed to produce something leading-edge with HD broadcast video, they might become a bit more popular.
What you're not seeing is how choppy it is. Even with the low resolution, it's pretty much impossible to watch a fast game like this with all the freezing it does. You miss the good parts of the good plays.
It's the best time to ride. Though it can be hard to get my butt out of bed, and the beginning of the ride is always a little rough when it's still chilly. When it's hotter it won't be so hard. But the best reason to do it is how you feel after you're warmed up. There's no better high.
Today I rode downtown to the Battery and back.
Map: 12.81 miles. 1 hour 8 minutes.
A lesson learned the hard way with real users many times over many years.
If you're going to turn a corner and force an upgrade, you want to make sure there's something in it for the user. Otherwise they're going to hate you, and they're right to.
For example, I just got a forced upgrade to GMail. A new look. It's awful and jarring. Over the years the performance of GMail has gotten steadily worse. I have all this hardware in front of me. Gigabytes of memory. Terabytes of hard drive. High bandwidth. Huge everything. And the damned computer runs slower than my Apple II did, 30 years ago.
Doing more or less the same thing.
So now Google thinks my email should be more closely tethered to their business model. They switch me over, after months of warning. Which felt like a low-grade fever. A toothache I keep putting off doing something about. A dead-end I have no way of avoiding. And when the day comes, when reality sinks in, I realize there was nothing in it for me. What I think matters not one iota. I know it's a free service. I wish there were a for-pay service I could switch to which would be easy and fast and nothing would break.
I think the free email has killed off all the good for-pay email.
I don't like where we're going.
Jay Rosen was among the people Chris Lydon interviewed in his initial series of podcasts in 2003 when the art of podcasting was booting up. They did another one this week, which I listened to yesterday on my daily walk through Central Park. It was a depressing but good conversation.
Jay tells the story of the President's speech at the AP last week, which I watched. I walked away from the TV in disgust at the first question, which (paraphrased) asked if the Repubs and Dems would ever just get along because people are tired of all the fighting in Washington. I didn't want to hear the answer, because this is the loop the press is in. It's dysfunctional. It's not something they ever really look at. In a way it's like a recital. Let's begin this discussion by singing our anthem, and asserting up front that no matter what you say, we're going to believe what we were told to believe. No, we don't expect you to solve this "problem" -- we don't even want you to. And if you did solve it, it wouldn't matter because we'd act as if you didn't.
I always thought Jay could have been a mathematician, he even looks like one. He goes a little further in the theory than most J-school profs are likely to. He says the myth contains instructions for perpetuating the myth. It's a remarkable if totally depressing observation.
I've observed what Jay has observed in another way. I have tried to point out that discourse in the blogosphere is no better than it is in the press. If I said something political, it wouldn't be quoted or even read by Josh Marshall, Andrew Sullivan, Ezra Klein, Simon Johnson, Glen Greenwald, Taegan Goddard, David Frum, Joan Walsh, Felix Salmon, to name just a few people who I read on political or economic matters. Likewise if one of them wrote about tech, it doesn't seem likely that I would read what they wrote. Though I would like to put that to a test.
The problem is two-fold, of course. On one hand, if I'm smart, why couldn't I figure things out about politics that maybe no one else has before. Why don't I even have a chance to. But that's the weaker of the two arguments in favor of breaking down the Chinese Wall in the blogosphere.
The other half of it is that it's inescapable that the political issues involve more and more what I am an expert in. There are aspects to the policy that these guys write about that, to understand them for real, you have to know things that they probably don't know. Not to say they're not smart, they are, or I wouldn't read them. But we can't all focus on everything to the same depth.
So we're all weaker for this divide, imho. Some people are allowed to write about some things, and others about others, and never the two shall meet. I think typecasting is killing us, as much as the lack of will of the press and politicians to try to escape the loops they've built to not deal with problems, as Jay so eloquently explained in the podcast with Chris.
BTW, it struck me while listening to the podcast that it would be interesting if Chris went back to all the people he interviewed in 2003 and 2004 and reflected with them on how things turned out. Those were heady days. We've had some major failures since then, and readjustments in thinking. It would be edifying and clarifying to hear a retrospective from each of them.
If you've been reading Scripting News for a while you know that I was searching for a DNS API for a few years. That problem has, as far as I'm concerned, been solved.
Amazon's Route 53 works. Like all their API's you have to learn all that it can do before you can do anything. But once you climb on top of it you can put a nice port or two on it so it's simple to do what you need to do, and then forget the complexity.
I used it for about six months without thinking about the cost, and then I looked at the breakdown a few days ago and was surprised to see that it's much more expensive than I thought it would be.
They charge a lot per domain and per name, when I thought they would be free. I don't understand why a CNAME is more than a record in a database. How much could it cost to store the fact that 12.mediahackers.org is a CNAME for pensacola.scripting.com. That's a single row in a two-column table.
But I'm going ahead assuming that either they will fix their pricing, or someone will compete, and make it easy to migrate.
I think I should be paying for lookup traffic, and perhaps paying to update the values of names. Why should I pay any money in for a name I defined a year ago that got zero hits in a month?
Abraham Vegh asks if I've written a blog post that explains the benefits of my blork.ly URL-shortener and the DNS-based approach I took. I haven't but it's time to do that because I have enough experience to be able to tell the story.
Identity is the holy enabler, the door we're trying to unlock so we can build more interesting systems. It's one of those areas where it looks like the problem hasn't been solved, but it has. Big corporations have no problem identifying us. They can do it using a variety of inputs, like where we're tweeting from, what sites we visit, what our IP address is, what times of day we go to what kinds of places. They're really good at this, there's even a marketing name for it, Big Data.
More hamsters spinng wheels we can't see and don't deliver any benefit to us, as hamsters. They don't make us healthier, give us nice movies to watch or food to eat, they don't get us laid, or take us to fun places. They don't do anything for hamsters that a hamster would want to do.
But we haven't solved the identity problem for ourselves, in an open way.
Or have we?
It's one of the great stories of all philosophies and religions. It comes in many forms and flavors. You can't see what's in front of your eyes.
Hiding in plain sight.
Ask a fish to describe water and he looks at you puzzled. Water? There is no such thing. What are you talking about.
You might be able to describe the weather, but how do you explain air? For most of the existence of our species we weren't even aware that there was such a thing.
We do have an open identity system, it's called DNS. Of course.
But it's hard and expensive. A name costs a lot, and creating one is complicated. Nothing that "our mother" could do. But does it have to be that way? The same things were said about web publishing. Now if you said a neophyte couldn't write a blog -- well look at all the people who use the Twitters. There really aren't many limits there. Same simplification process could be applied to DNS.
So that's one reason I love blork.ly. It's helping me learn about DNS. It's helping me make it easier.
Another reason I like it is that it's mine. So if I want to do something with all the URLs I'm collecting, I don't have to ask for an API. The data is sitting in a Frontier object database. Ready for me to do anything I can imagine with it. That's how I like my data. Where it's easy for me to get at it.
And why not use DNS to distribute the pointers. There's got to be some decentralization advantage lurking in there.
It makes up funny names and they sneak up on me, and make me laugh. Just the other day it created a link named my.blork.ly. Or om.blork.ly (wish I had thought to use it to point to an Om Malik piece). Just after that -- oy.blork.ly! That was fun. Somewhere along the line it must have generated a ly.blork.ly. And soon there will be a yl.blork.ly.
I noticed that blork.ly is a lot like Berkeley, a palce I used to live. How did that happen?
My URLs are shorter than what would come out of bit.ly, even though blork is longer than bit. And that ultimately is what we love about URL-shorteners, they make URLs shorter.
Finally, it got people to think about the word Blork.
I've been emailing with a number of people who are working on apps that use RSS. Every time this happens, I think we should have a public mail list for this, but then I think of all the crazyness that happened in the past on RSS mail lists, and I move on to something else. This morning, I decided it was time. There's too much of a backlog of new stuff to talk about and evangelize. If there's an outbreak of mean people I'll turn moderation on, and if necessary just shut the list off. Hopefully that will be enough to keep the discussion focused on solving problems and helping people.
I posted a note about this to my linkblog, so there are already a few members.
Two recent articles about President Obama.
One by Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi explains that "Obama's JOBS act couldn't suck worse." It's a good piece, but it could and does suck worse. Taibbi, who wrote an excellent postmortem of the mortgage securities meltdown of 2008 hasn't yet pieced together the full dimension of the rush to entrepreneurialism. But it's good that he isn't snookered into believing, as so many are, that there's a difference between tech financiers and the ones who caused the meltdown.
Where the previous meltdown caught financiers using our homes as chips in a Ponzi scheme, Taibbi hasn't yet figured out (apparently) that this time around they're gambling with the future of a generation of our best and brightest. When the bubble bursts it's going to leave a lot of young people with wrecked lives. It'll make a great book, but it would be even better if we could put the brakes on some of the euphoria before the bubble grows too big. Yeah lots of luck with that, I guess.
So Obama is a bad man, a political product, like Nike or Apple. He wants to get re-elected, so he does what the big money people ask him to. But as a product, he makes an interesting case study.
The other article says he's going to use the Buffet Rule as a campaign issue. Good for him. We need to even out the taxes. Rich people don't pay their fair share.
To which the Republicans have an answer: Class Warfare! Class Warfare!
And if the President is smart, he'll smile and tell a Harry Truman story.
A man in a crowd at an election rally in 1948 yelled: Give em hell Harry!
Then the President said something that has forever endeared him to the great myth of American individualism.
"I don't give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it's Hell."
The President could tell that story and use that line.
It would make people happy.
PS: This letter-writer to the NYT had the same idea.
PPS: Yesterday's acquisition of Instagram by Facebook for $1 billion adds a lot of dimension to the bubble.
Earlier today I wrote about the Repub roadmap for change for the United States which the Dems have aptly described as Social Darwinism. Little did I know as I wrote this piece that Mark Zuckerberg was writing a check for $1 billion in the cause of Tech Darwinism. The survival of the fittest. The cool little startup, Instagram, becomes a footnote in the food chain, with a very nice reward attached. Good for them! $1 billion buys a lot of In-and-Out burgers.
But this further clarifies the role of users in the Darwinian ecosystem. We are at the bottom of the food chain. We are, as has been described here so many times, mere hamsters spinning the wheels. The more hamsters and the more spinning means more dollars for the beings higher-up the food chain. Unless.
Unless -- we choose not to participate.
We're going to do more in the coming weeks and months to define what we mean by "choose not to participate." But just to begin, for vendors it means charging users a fair price for a service provided. And in return, a promise not to aggregate the users into a fine pink slime that can be reconstituted into billions of Facebook dollars. And for users, it means deciding that we're creating more than just little dots of pink slime on Zuck's social graph.
More to come!
Krugman worries that low-information independent voters won't know who Darwin was, or what it means to call Repub policy Social Darwinism. It doesn't matter. They don't know who Saul Alinsky is either, or what it means when Repubs say the President is a socialist. Or what "shariah law" is. It sounds technical. Honestly, I think the take-away for many will be, if the President repeats it (which he should, many times) is that the Repubs are socialists too. After all, the first word is "social" and it ends with "ism." Whatever it means, it must be pretty close to socialism, and we know that's bad, yes?
The other thing that's great about Social Darwinism is that it does accurately describe the Repub roadmap. It's what they do. But who cares. It's not as if big lies have stopped the Repubs. They love big lies. Because they work. This big lie just happens to be true.
My major complaint about the President, and I suspect for many others who voted for him in 2008, aside from the continuing war in Afghanistan, and the insults against the Constitution, is that he lets the Repubs walk all over him. I don't think he realized they don't buy into his post-partisan dream until August of last year. He should have known it before he took office, and should have planned accordingly. His campaign in 2010 should have reflected the abuse the Repubs would (and have) heaped on the United States if they controlled even one house of Congress.
Recently someone said that the Repubs want the economy to be bad all the way through the election. It's totally obvious. Who cares if you can't prove it. Say it. Keep saying it. Let them deny it. Make them prove it. Let's do some stimulating of the economy before the election. The We Can't Wait line is good. Call the Republican bluff.
Axelrod wonders why we're ambivalent about Obama's candidacy. Here's why.
Our choice is between the Repubs who will rape and pillage the USA as they did during the Bush Years, although Romney might not be quite as bad. It's conceivable that Romney will tell the Ayn Rand wing of his party to stuff it, after he's elected. Unless we're sure that Obama can stand up to them, what hope do we have against the Repubs? Should we re-hire a dreamer who they screw, hard, while they're screwing the rest of us? I don't think so.
I can't imagine voting for Romney, but right now, unless the President runs a really aggressive gloves-off campaign, I can't see myself being very enthusiastic about his candidacy. The Repubs are no good. We know it. They know it. Run on that.
Jon Mitchell at RWW says websites have to get better in response to Instapaper and Readability. I agree totally!
Here's what we can do to make progress on that front. Generate a community of template designers who create readable templates that we can use in content management systems.
Use whatever you like as placeholders for macros for the CMS's to fill in.
Open source templates.
Make it easy for people to make readable sites. And beautiful and have advertising. Help solve the problem.
PS: I wrote a piece about Readability that didn't get a whole lot of play. People who are angry about Readability don't understand how we got here.
Doc is one of the most pious of the Popes of the Free Internet. That's why this story is so funny, not in a ha-ha way, but in a Gee life sure is strange way.
3. Before I could buy it, I had to read an ad for something unrelated.
Now that's a bad advertising strategy. You got the customer hooked, reaching into his pocket for the credit card, and you show him an ad for something else. Hello.
Wish I was over there where the grass is greener.
When I lived in Berkeley I dreamed of living in NY, if only for the walking. Every day I could walk some place different. There are so many places. Imagining the grid of streets and all the variety it offered. In Berkeley, there weren't so many long walks one could take without thinking about it or ending up on a very steep hill. So I pretty much stuck to one or two trails. It's so much easier than inventing a new place to walk to every day.
So now I've lived in NYC for over two years, and have lived in three different neighborhoods, and while yes -- there is a lot of variety, the city comes with its own set of peeves that one won't find, for example, in Berkeley. Here's the biggest one of all.
Every where you go there are huge numbers of them. And most of them aren't paying attention. So they walk into you. Literally. I'm not kidding. Every day someone walks into me. Even though I'm working my ass off to avoid them, sooner or later someone finds a way around my defenses, and wham -- football size hit.
I'm worried because I'm such a large human, that one of these people will be hurt and blame me for it.
That's the story that goes through my head at least.
All of which takes me out of my zone, and I rarely get the good thinking I used to get done on my California walks.
I'm old enough and wise enough to know that moving won't fix this. The movement has to take place inside me. Ahhh yes. I know. But that's not how it feels.
I had lunch yesterday with David Galbraith, a British friend who lives outside Geneva in France. He's a programmer, like me, so we talked about technical stuff, but we also talked politics, as we walked through the upper west side of Manhattan. He talked about American individualism and how much better that was than the European way. I thought he had put his finger on the bug. If you want to understand America, or any country, don't focus on the individual. We don't live long enough, as individuals, to matter. Think of the populace as a series of waves. No individual locust matters, but the wave does. It can devastate the terrain. And that's what humanity, the wave, is doing.
I've just finished watching the BBC series Frozen Planet. The first six episodes showed you how the polar regions of the planet work in all seasons. These are huge areas of Earth that I admit not knowing a whole lot about except that there's lots of water trapped up and down there in the form of ice. I knew where they were going with this, and in the seventh and final episode they showed vividly, how quickly the polar regions are changing, and what effect that change might have on the rest of the planet.
If all the polar ice were to melt, and that's a tall proposition given how much ice there is in the south, it would raise the sea level by 180 meters. That's a stunningly huge amount of water. The Empire State Building, currently the tallest building in NYC, is 381 meters. That's the end of every city on the planet. Good news is scientists aren't sure the southern ice cap is going to melt any time soon. But they aren't sure that it isn't, either. And that's not such good news.
As individuals we have no power over this, so none of us change anything we do, in any material way. But we can change if we can have any influence over the wave of humanity. And this is where American politics is leading us in exactly the wrong direction, by attending to the individuality of Americans. We need to care about the wave.
The super-rich are able to influence how the wave moves. That's the power of being one of them. I am not one of them, so all I can do is write about this, and hopefully influence what they do. So far the money has been invested against the interest of the planet. The lie they tell all of us, and probably themselves, is that they're going to live forever. Even people like the Koch brothers and Shelly Adelson, who are in their 70s and 80s. These guys, no matter how rich they are, have a life expectancy measured in single digits. They aren't thinking about the future, really. They don't personally have a stake in it. They have an opportunity at this point in their lives to actually try to do some good. But they're acting like the Individual that Galbraith mentioned, and the myth that so many believe in.
A friend tells the story of her father's death. He died in a hospital. She wasn't there when it happened. She was the only one of his children to show up after he passed. All that remained of this man was a brown shopping bag with clothes, a wallet, false teeth, keys. That's it. That's what's left when you die. There's no individual in sight. Just a bag with some junk in it. That's what we, as individuals, are worth. To the extent that we understand our role as part of a wave of humanity, do our lives have significance.
I saw Microsoft making the mistake that Apple is making now. This isn't one of those mistakes where there's any "maybe" to it. It's an absolute 100 percent thing they're doing that they will regret. It will force their users to look for alternatives to the Mac unless they nip this one now.
When there is an outbreak of a virus on the Mac, and they have a fix, that fix must go out immediately. If there is no fix, then resources must be devoted to finding it. As soon as there's a fix, the press must be notified. A press release must be issued, that clearly gives users a way of determinining without installing any new software, whether their machine is infected. The communication must come from Apple, so there's no confusion among users and press. It would be smart to have a press event around security the same way they have press events to launch new products.
They appear to have broken most of these practices in the response to today's steamy infected mess.
There is now a fix, it's installed by the new system update that came out yesterday. But there has been no communication from Apple to users about this issue, or the press, and the only test for infection has come from independent analysts.
Microsoft made the mistake of seeing themselves as merely a supplier of software, not a guarantor of good user experience. When Windows was inundated with malware, in the early-mid 2000's, users were left to fend for themselves. Apple was the beneficiary of this, as smart Windows users bailed on MS and switched to the Mac. Where the vendor boasted that they didn't have malware, as if there were some technical reason they didn't. There is so such technical reason. Macs are just as susceptible to malware as any other kind of computer. They just hadn't been targeted yet. Why it's taken so long is anyone's guess, but the honeymoon is now over. It's time for Apple to take this seriously. The way they do this is every bit as important as they way they operate their stores, do user testing, or industrial design.
Recently a developer based here in NY announced that he had started a company to develop something like stuff that I'm openly working on. The first I heard about it was the announcement. I threw my hands up in the air, figuratively, in frustration. Why is this the first I'm hearing about it?
At that point I decided it was time to write a piece about this. There's a rule in here, and it's worth trying to formulate it.
A story. When I was working on my first outliner, in the late 70s, out of my living room in Madison, I had the idea that I was doing something that had never been done before. Then one day I got a call from a friend who said I had to read this book by Ted Nelson. In that book I found that the idea I was exploring had been tried. Of course I was disappointed, but I read the book, greedily, anyway. Here was a chance to see how others were thinking about structural writing. Writing where the organization is as malleable as the words.
So when it was time to introduce it to the world, I did it in a room at the Brooks Hall in San Francisco in a demo to the author of the book, Ted Nelson. I wanted him to be the first to see it, and wanted to know what he thought.
This is the principle. Give the originator of the idea a shot at it. Maybe you can work together instead of working at odds. That's the key point. Both of you have been thinking and doing in the same area. Maybe your work can benefit from all that thinking and doing?
Another story. I don't think any reasonable person would question that I played a similar role to RSS that Ted Nelson played to the web. I think I earned the courtesy of being shown a product that aimed to commercialize RSS. And maybe more than a courtesy, maybe I had ideas that the people hadn't thought of? Maybe there was a vision for the company that could have had them grow to be worth more than the $100 million they eventually sold out for. I actually had those kinds of ideas. And what would it cost to find out?
That's the principle. The first I heard about Feedburner was their press release. I had been talking on and off with all their investors about RSS. So it's not as if they didn't know me, they did. I don't know what causes people to not reach out. Shyness? Fear? Well, if you're shy you shouldn't start a company. Be a dentist or a programmer. Fear of what? You just raised all this money. You're going to be huge. The founder is just a person. What could he do to hurt you or slow you down? If you're driven by fear, again, you shouldn't be an entrepreneur. Try farming or running a drug store perhaps.
I don't yet have a concise formulation for this rule, so here's the long form. You should welcome opportunties to talk with people who you feel are competitors. There's always something to say to them. And you should have an offer for them, or be open to offers. You can't have the same conversation after your product is announced, so have one before. And dilution isn't a bad thing, if more value gets created from a combination. You should always be willing to do a deal that gets you 1000 percent more growth. The possibilities for leverage at the beginning of a venture are the greatest they'll ever be for your startup.
I had a very smart teacher at the beginning of my career. I was getting sales training at the company I worked for. I wasn't a sales person, but hat's off to my employer, who felt that every employee should know how to sell. It's a good investment, no matter who you're talking about.
My teacher told me to be a sponge for information. There shouldn't be one fact that's germane to your business that's public that you don't have. Read and talk and listen, he said. Always be listening. I assume he said this because people almost never listen. But if you want to be a CEO you have to be great at listening.
Somehow I ended up watching CNN last night. Usually I have such a backlog of stuff to read and watch that CNN only makes it onto my screen if there's a primary, and these days even that isn't enough. Who cares what the Repubs say. The clown parade isn't even entertaining anymore. But I was watching Erin Burnett. And I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
I guess when they fired Lou Dobbs they had a slot opened for the crazy dude with the wrong ideas who gets angry about it anyway. That's what the Burnett has turned into, or maybe that's what she always was. I don't find her interesting. In any way.
But here's the deal. She's so far from the truth that if the truth ever started to show up on her show she'd have to get them off the air right away because it would contradict the premise of everything she's reporting.
Last night her outrage was that China was sneaking in the back door and taking Canada's oil from us. Never mind that the price of oil, a commodity, has nothing to do with whose oil you're burning. And that the tar sands that Canada proposes to send to Texas aren't meant to be burned in US cars, rather it's destined for America's refineries. Where the refined oil goes after that is anyone's guess. A barrel of oil is a barrel of oil. Completely fungible. You wouldn't know the difference between Canadian gas or Saudi gas. It all gets the same MPG and destroys the habitat of polar bears just as fast.
It's not just that CNN tolerates lies. It's not just that CNN pays political liars to lie on air. The very premise of their shows are lies. This is no longer about informing people. Whatever it is about, Ted Turner surely would be rolling over in his grave if he weren't still alive. Wonder why he doesn't say something?
BTW, Fox is by far the best of the three networks for reporting news. They have actual reporters in the field with cameras, doing interviews. Like the old days. And if you skip the pundits, who are mostly just as off-the-wall crazy as the ones on CNN, their news doesn't seem to favor one party or another. If they were reporting the same story Burnett was reporting last night, I would expect them to say what she didn't say. That oil is oil is oil is oil. I've seen them do it. CNN? Never.
I say "mostly" because I saw Joe Trippi on Huckabee (on Fox) the other night and they talked slow enough to make sense. And Huckabee, who is known to be a conservative, let Trippi say what he had to say, and they were all very nice to each other. The CNN pundits? OMG. And MSNBC has a choir who would see good news for the Dems even when there's none. The same people who were always on Countdown are still the people you see there. Oy.
I wrote a piece about Instapaper vs Readability, but it's over on my threads site, so you can comment on it using Disqus. It's the kind of piece people should be able to comment on, imho.
My feeds situation is a mess. I have this feed, and one for my worknotes, and one for my linkblog, and one for the podcast I do with Adam, and over time I'm sure there will be others.
That's the curse of working at the leading edge (I hope). Things rarely fit into neat little compartments.
I read the piece written by the employee struggling with the decision about whether or not to sign on with Zynga after they acquired the company he wrote code for, OMGPOP. I absolutely understood his dilemma, and I could have predicted that Zynga would respond the way they did.
I spent enough years trying to be a person inside Silicon Valley companies, to see what happened there.
There's a lot of hands-off-ness, a lot of delegation. And humanity never entered into it. So when the guy at the bottom of the chain tried to raise a human issue to the guy one level closer to the top (probably a lawyer or a clerk), he got told there is no humanity here. Sign the papers. Period.
Wasn't much of an issue. The way the piece read, he understood who he was dealing with, and made the right call for himself. Case closed.
But then the CEO tweets something that previously would have been said at a board meeting, or maybe to a reporter. When I left Symantec, the boss of the company told Infoworld that all the programmers remained (I was a full-time programmer in addition to being CEO). They always kick your ass on the way out. But I left with a lot of money, so it didn't really hurt much.
But I've seen the way this process chews up ordinary trusting people. It's really awful and ugly, especially when the issues usually are nickels and dimes to the people who are deciding, and it's a life savings for people who need a little consideration. The problem is that the companies depend on these people to do the right thing without supervision when the company is struggling. But they can't get the time of day when the bet paid off and the company won.
It should be party time at OMGPOP. They just won the lottery. But the CEO is a stinker, kicks the little guy in the ass on the way out. Only these days there's Twitter, and this stuff leaks out to users. They're getting a little glimpse at what tech businesses are like. It's not fun.
I think the problem is that we force creativity to flow through corporatism. The two are fairly incompatible. The people who do the creative work look like total freaks to the operational people. And the operational people look like Stepford clones to the creative types. They really shouldn't have to work with each other, and depend on each other so much, because there's so little understanding between them. Whatever. Not my problem these days.
I'm flat-out seriously shocked (no April Fool) that there's this new trend of non-programmers wanting to learn to code. I have a feeling that when they find out what coding is like, it's going to turn out there's something else they're thinking of. I'd like to get a sense of what they're looking for? Are you trying to acquire a skill? Is there software you want to see made but can't get anyone to make it for you? Are you curious, do you want to know how computers work so you can have a better idea of where we're going? Are you seeing programmers get rich and you'd like to get some too? All of these are valid reasons to want to do anything, btw -- I'm not judging -- I just want to understand.
Something like this may have happened when blogging was catching on. I know a lot of people thought that when they started that they would be heard by lots of other people. And they had good reason to believe this, because people were telling them it was so.
As someone who has been programming for a long time, and who loves it -- I think this is an unusual thing. But if it turns out that programming is like driving a car, and everyone can do it, and lots of people actually do it -- I would be very pleased. Because people who are making software for themselves are hard to push around. And they will demand real computers, not the limited kind (i.e. iPads, iPhones) that are becoming popular (I use them myself, so this isn't judgment either).
However, I think people would be better off starting to get into it in a more gentle way. Start by running your own server. That could involve a little programming . And you'll be getting a solid basis in why you would want to program in the first place. Setting up systems that make your life easier. Automating things you do manually that a computer could do for you, perhaps better.
But this is a very interesting development no matter what.