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. :-)
Please, this is just a blog post, not an ad. I've already got email from people telling me they think it'll be tough. I'm just writing aspirationally. Thinking out loud. You're welcome to listen, but do not feel compelled to act. That would be wrong. However if you're sure you know of a school that could do this, or even another kind of organization, please don't be shy.
You ever wake up in the middle of the night with a realization that you had been wasting huge amounts of time on something that was never going to work? For me this happened late on Saturday night, early Sunday morning. I realized that while I love news, I really do -- always have -- the news does not love me back.
I've had some stunning successes with tools for reading and producing news, only to have the results ignored by the people who publish news. An example, I had a great news reading app for the Blackberry, quite a bit before the iPhone. I had friends at the NY Times. I thought they would love it. It worked so damn well and it was so incredibly simple. I would have given them the product for nothing. They never expressed an interest. I found out years later that they used it as an example of a great news app. Oy. Why didn't we take out ads in the paper telling the readers how to find it. How much different things would be now. And that's just one example. This has been happening over and over. For many years. It's time to give up.
At the same time I realized that I love librarians as much as I love news. As a kid I used to spend endless hours in the library. Just looking through books and the card catalog, trying to figure stuff out. Being frustrated with how slow the process was, but finding the librarians always supportive and helpful. Honestly it was a good place to hang out when things were crazy at home. Maybe that's another reason I have good feelings about libraries.
Later, when the web was booting up and I was falling in love I found out that at many companies the people who started the websites were librarians. The technical skills were no barriers for them. The wonder of it was too enticing. I came to believe at that time that librarians and programmers were flip sides of the same coin. Two ways of looking at the same thing.
But I think I've over-idealized that too. As much as I hoped that I would be able to get news people to use my stuff, it might be very hard to get stuff into libraries. I got a taste of that at a meeting I went to last year at the Library of Congress in Washington. What I saw there was an organization with politics, that was defensive to new ideas, and was making weird deals with companies when they should have been supporting open development. Librarians, I thought, were idealists. But not so much when you get to powerful and bureaucratic librarians. That's the way human structures are. It's not a bad thing, it's just the way things are.
I thought I might find a home in academia, for a while, and maybe some way at some point I might. What I would like to do is create a new kind of development project, one that goes on for years and years. Maybe decades and decades. Obviously I'm only going to be alive for a couple of those (seriously, I'm 57 years old, my father died at 80, and my health isn't that great). But I've been doing a development project myself now since 1988. At times with a development team, a lot of time on my own. Sometimes with a community of developers and users, at times very large communities. And there were times when I was the only person using the software as well as developing it. Not a bad thing, btw. You can go as fast or as slow as you want when you're doing it solo. When I was young the thought of going slow never occurred to me. But I learned that sometimes you have to slow down to go really fast. Seems paradoxical. But you can't make good design decisions until you're thoroughly familiar with a tool. And when you go too fast you have to live with the bad decisions for a very long time.
I love to teach this stuff. And I'd love to get a project going where students come and go as they shuttle through the university. Maybe they continue to contribute after they leave. And since all the software would be open source, it could be part of the infrastructure in their work. As they come through the project they learn a lot of things other than coding. They learn how to test, how to listen to users. How to write worknotes and howtos. How to design software for ease of learning. Tradeoffs. How to work with people in other disciplines. Because like librarians, developers are in a position where they can and should be able to help people no matter what they're doing.
And yes, I did say help. There's so much more to doing software well than becoming rich. It's so sad that today's talent is so directed toward wealth. Sure it's very nice to be financially independent. But that's where the niceness stops. You can get too rich, I believe. It takes a lot of time being rich. TIme you should be spending being a person, and helping other people. At a human scale. I think in education we have a responsibility not only to help develop productivity, but also to help others.
When my father was sick, I spent a lot of time in the hospital with him. I got to know the hospital staff. One thing surprised me, but it really shouldn't have. They have very satisfying work, because they can see clearly how what they do helps people. Programming can be like that. I think we should teach that. Not just that it's possible, but to show our young people how to do it. To teach them how to do it.
I believe I've been lucky to have been born with the genes I have, and at the time I was born. I became an adult at a time of great opportunity. And I was pretty much in the middle of where it was happening. I have a few years left, and I want to use that time to make more of what I learned than just a codebase. I want to teach others how to do what I learned to do. And in doing so achieve a sense of fullfillment that I crave.
I figure there must be a school somewhere, run by people with great vision, who can see that the normal computing curriculum is good (it is!), but we can do some new stuff based on what we've learned in the last few decades. That teaching people to develop tools for computer users is something that should be possible to achieve great strides in. I believe I know how to do it.
A university-hosted open source project staffed by students creating software for and with other students and teachers and the world. A university is a perfect lab for this work. Now I just have to find one that wants to do this with me.
A quick note.
This morning at 10AM we all stood by waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on ObamaCare, which didn't come. Other rulings were announced, and the non-tech press is doing their jobs, reading every word in every opinion, trying to figure out what it means.
On the other hand, a huge amount of information, containing who-knows-what was released on the 13th by ICANN, about Google, Amazon, Apple and a bunch of other companies, some known and some unknown, that directly impacts the future of the Internet.
Also execs are leaving ICANN, including the CEO. Where are they going? Are they going to profit from the mess they're leaving behind?
ICANN is supposed to protect the integrity of the Internet, instead it looks like they may be selling it out, and there's at least a possibility that employees of ICANN are profiting from it.
You can't really say that this is tech and therefore someone else's responsibility, because the structure of the Internet is relevant to everything.
Thomas O'Toole, a trademark lawyer, wrote that getting a gTLD is the closest thing to getting a global trademark. And they are sold without anyone really watching. The tragedy is that you don't have to wait for a leak to get the info, it's all public, available to anyone.
Wouldn't it be great if there were a public effort to read every word in every application and share what's learned, much as every word in the Supreme Court rulings are being analyzed and studied by people who understand what's at stake?
Clay Johnson asks for a "way to allow people I specify to add articles to my Readability list."
Excellent. That's a linkblog in Readability, something I've been asking for myself, but I haven't gotten it yet.
And there's a bigger disconnect in the developer world about allowing your data flows to connect with other people's software. Too many developers are trying to recreate the RSS-o-Sphere inside little bottles, and miss that the value comes from being able to connect anything up to anything.
A couple of case studies.
1. I've been asking the Readability guys to allow me to shoot a link to a readable page to a feed, that I can then subscribe to in my river. This is the way I like to read. I don't need a Read-it-Later app. I already have that problem solved. In fact a special app is no solution for me, because it's another place I have to remember to go to, and I won't, and I know that, so I'll never use it. But a command that says "Shoot this to my feed" -- that I would use because it plugs into my flow, my world. Where I subscribe to all my other feeds.
I think Readability is potentially a very important product, but only if they allow their output to hook up to anyone's aggregator, and so far, they have not been willing to do that.
My river works, btw, because there's a standard way to surface a series of links over time. It's called RSS. This is a bus every developer whose products creates a flow of links should hook onto.
2. Over the weekend I came across a site called Fuego at Nieman Lab. It's an aggregation of links to stories about the future of journalism. How they create the site I don't know (but I'd like to). It has a very distinctive layout, something I imagine they're quite proud of. Usually sites like this make you come there to get the benefit of their linkflow, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that they also provide an RSS 2.0 feed. Now that's the right way to go. It involves some amount of ego-suppression. They have a very beautiful presentation. But realisitcally, it's just one flow among many, and the kind of people who need what they're doing already have places to get all their news. So they allowed me to hook it up to my river, and that I did. They made the right choice, an adult choice. They could have stood their ground, and their interface would have stayed there, beautiful -- and unused. Or their linkflow could be useful and their beautiful display routed-around, for some, maybe most. The choice is to be influential, or not relevant.
To Readability I say this. Go ahead and build all your own structures and UIs for flows, but also provide the "Shoot this to my feed" functionality. That way if you can't roll over a decade or more of investment in aggregation tools by others, at least you can benefit from them. Your strength is making sense of crazy cluttered web pages. I want that in my world. I need it. But I can't wait a decade for you to catch up with the work we've done in rivers, why should I. I can muddle through with the ugly web pages, but I need all the other sources of news that come to me through my river.
We all have to recognize that we don't do everything. Even the huge companies, Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook eventually learn to specialize. But the individual developers, have no choice but to work with each other. It also means you have to work with chaos -- throw your feeds out there not knowing who will pick them up. That's the magic of the web. Trust it, and it'll work for you.
If Apple wanted to make this iPad user happy, my #1 feature request is this.
Give me a way to set the user-agent string on Safari, so I can not tell every site I'm coming in on an iPad.
So they won't be able to put a page between me and the thing I came to read that tells me that they have an iPad app that I'm not going to get.
I lied. One more #1 feature request. A battery that charges faster.
Quick comments on the deal that was announce around midnight Monday.
This is a good move because the NYT mobile app is slow and buggy, and not much fun to use. If it were elegant and fun, it might give people a reason to become a subscriber.
However, the Times seems to be thinking about their installed base, not expanding the base, because the prices remain unchanged. What the Times charges, which is not clear to a non-user (I've thought of becoming a subscriber) probably won't go over very well with the non-subscribing iPhone or iPad user.
I'm glad they did it because Flipboard is not Twitter. I'm afraid of Twitter running away with the news-system-of-the-future before a competitive market has a chance to form. So things are moving faster, I guess we'll hear something from Twitter before too long. Could they have done a deal with the Times too?
Remember when Mike McCue, Flipboard founder and lead guy left Twitter's board? (Actually this was just a rumor. My mistake.)
Wonder if Apple gets part of the revenue?
One more thing. Flipboard owes its existence to RSS. Would be appreciated if they put some back, or at least told people that. It would help create more opportunities, and hey it's just fair. Business doesn't always have to scoop up every scrap of credit for their accomplishments.