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. :-)
I watched the Republican convention last night. I've watched many of them, dating back to Nixon. I've voted Republican, always holding my nose, because I found the Democratic alternative so abhorrent. But last night was over the top. Here's a guy who presents himself as a honest and honorable man who helps people, but the lies he tells, oh man. I just don't know. His campaign is like a wish list. I wish the current President had gone on an "apology tour" so I'll just say he did. I'll say we lost jobs under his watch, when actually under any reasonable view of things he created jobs, a lot of them. He failed to lead, he says, without saying that the Republicans were willing to be led. They weren't. Openly.
Our credit rating suffered a downgrade under this President because, unfortunately, the Republicans, who control one chamber of Congress openly toyed with the possibility of the United States not paying creditors. We had the money. Of course our credit rating went down. They must have had a meeting where they came up with the line they would use now, in the campaign, to make it sound like this was President Obama's idea! These are seriously depraved non-America-loving people, who choose their words very carefully and know that most people aren't listening carefully enough to understand what they're saying, if there's any truth to it, which lately there hasn't. Why bother, these are just stories. Why not say Obama started World War III with our closest allies, Poland, Israel and England. Threw them under the bus! Great line Mitt.
It is so disgusting. To think the purpose of Republican obstructionism of the last three years was only to give this guy a better chance of winning. It's such a bad punchline. How much suffering there was for this end. It tells us that net-net the United States can't find its ass with both hands. All the grand talk about how great we are is belied by the evidence, starting us in the face, in the being of Mitt Romney. Is this the best we can do? Is this it? A venture capitalist is to be our new leader? I've worked at companies that were run by people like Mitt Romney. I've seen many more of them flushed down the toilet, dying a premature death, because the people at the top were tone-deaf to the actual people who made up the businesses they somehow accidentally ended up running. Usually into the ground. Fast.
On Twitter last night I said some things that, if I were a Republican, would sound horrible, and probably would cause me to unfollow. So be it. I should say them here too. I hate Romney. I want to see that stupid grin wiped off his face. I think he's a condescending superior sumbitch, to steal a line from the Republican presidential candidate played by James Brolin in The West Wing television show. And, as on the West Wing, I seriously hope our current President mops up his ass in the debates. An America run by Mitt Romney is a disaster. And we just can't afford any more disasters.
To Republicans who follow me, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't use my communication channel to say what I think about an election in my country. Some years I have totally pissed off Democrats. If you have to go, I'm sorry to see that. But I'm not going to sacrifice my principles and become an equivocating floppy noodle like Mitt Romney. That doesn't mean the technology I create is only useful to one political persuasion. It is agnostic. I wish there were a way to create tech that Karl Rove or the Koch brothers couldn't profit from, but I haven't figured out how to do that and be open at the same time. If you figure that one out let me know.
I watched the Republican speeches last night. There were lots of repeating themes, but one that caught my ear that I haven't heard anyone else comment on is that President Obama should not blame President Bush for his problems. He should accept responsibility for the economy as it is.
It's a trick. And maybe it might work against the Democrats, but there's no reason that voters shouldn't be realistic about how we got into the deep hole that we're in. I don't take orders from the Republican Party, or the Democrats. I know how it happened, and can't forget just because the Repubs want us to.
It would be stupid for voters to elect Republicans, esp when they're in denial about how the mess got created. They're going to keep doing the same things they were doing before the collapse of 2008. And they think the result would be any different? It won't.
What we need to do is as it was before.
1. Reform the banking system, break up the huge banks so that they aren't too big to fail. Don't accept the current situation where they privatize the profits and socialize the losses.
2. Invest in stimulating economic activity, taking advantage of the low interest rates, to repair infrastructure, invest in education, and start building an economy around much lower energy consumption.
3. Encourage people to have fewer children, not just in the United States but around the world. The biggest problem we have is overpopulation. It's unfortunately not a long-term problem, the problem is immediate. We have too many people. Catholics may not like it, but this isn't a Catholic country, or even a Christian country. We were founded on a strong separation of church and state, for good reasons. Freedom to worship includes a freedom not to worship, and a freedom to think and be smart rather than blindly accept the orders of someone else's church.
4. Double-down on health reform. The Affordable Care Act was a decent start. But we're still paying too much for health care. There's much to learn from the way other economies do it. Let's be smart and steal the best ideas from them.
5. We need to amend the Constitution to undo the Citizens United mess created by the Supreme Court.
6. The next war won't be fought with traditional armies, guns, or even nukes. Our infrastructure is heavily computerized and networked. We don't need to spend so much money on bullets, guns, tanks and battleships. They're this generation's Maginot Line. Beyond that I don't know what to do about this, and I'm a computer expert.
Those are just some beginning ideas. Neither party is going to talk about any of it. But it's still what we need to do, to have a fighting chance to be prosperous in the future.
Sometimes it helps to draw a picture to summarize where these big companies are going. Because you can't evaluate them as static things. They're in motion.
Note that of course a lot of other companies are going there too. But I don't have a good feeling for how they get there. Twitter and Apple, that's kind of obvious. Apple has their hooks in distribution of entertainment. And Twitter has interactivity. But you shouldn't forget that the TV networks are already, in a sense, there. They are the incumbents. They could respond like Nokia and Blackberry, and by the time they realize their products have no future, they could already be losing huge business to the upstarts. Or they could prepare by starting to build their own interactive networks to hook into their television programming.
For more, see my previous post.
Checkbox news is an obvious idea, so don't try to patent it.
Hypercamp is on the path too.
Some thoughts about Twitter in late summer 2012, re the news industry.
Twitter is starting to get aggressive and territorial with news organizations the same way it's been with developers. We're all in the same boat re Twitter. They just started earlier with developers and they're further along. I think this is because they understood development better, and other media companies have more to give them than developers did. They've done some big partnering with TV networks. And you see their logos on every bus in New York, and on every TV screen on every cable system in America, and probably by now all over the world.
And they have a big partnership with Apple that gets Twitter a lot of user interface presence on Apple's mobile devices and on the Mac.
I think Twitter and Apple are headed to the same place -- halfway between TV networks and the Internet. More video, more programming, users pressing Like buttons, making wheels spin, watching celebrities and of course commercials.
Twitter has to make what's flowing over their network more appealing, and somehow figure out some more interesting interactivity than they have now. The innovation has been with the users, but Twitter hasn't given users any new tools in a long time. That's where, imho, the competition is going to be. This is still very undeveloped. And Twitter has a problem here because the talent on their network doesn't work for them. But they have so much cash, they can change that.
They'll likely keep partnering with TV networks, as long as none of them have a realtime distribution system that can compete with theirs. Once that happens, it'll be like Iran getting nuclear weapons. If CNN had their own Twitter, and had some good media hackers working for them, they might get a leg up on Twitter. It would be pretty easy to go to another website. I do it, with my tabbed river, and a bunch of other people are using it too. I'm looking for more ways to take this idea on the road. I'd like to fill the channel with these things. I don't care if I do them all. This is the kind of crazy cacaphony that will make Twitter look like old news, give them a reason to start adding new features. That's going to happen pretty soon. If not here, elsewhere. Because Twitter is making themselves smaller and less interesting. Deliberately. I wonder if that's the right move. They're playing as if they have a pretty good hand. Might be bluffing.
The thing is rivers don't take a lot of CPU. They work really well on Amazon S3, and the content software can maintain a bunch of rivers with lots of feeds on a micro instance on Amazon EC2. That makes rivers realllly cheap relative to the systems Twitter is running. And the feeds are everywhere. Think about that. There's no adoption curve to climb here. Love it.
Anyway it's a fluid time because now Twitter is coming out and asserting their rights to content that flows through their servers. I don't think they have a leg to stand on. But that's waking up the news people. I'm sure Twitter knows it will do that.
There's more to what I wanted from blogging when it was starting up in the 90s.
I envisioned user communities that would figure out where products needed to go by pooling their experiences. I got this idea from my own experience as a product developer, and one event that I'll never forget.
Guy Kawasaki came to a Living Videotext party at the St Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Probably in 1987. He gave me a slip of paper with a list of feature requests from an Apple exec, his new boss, Jean-Louis Gassee.
I read over the list, handed it back to him, and said I wanted to meet Mr. Gassee. Why? I recognized the items. They were the top feature requests from users of the product. From that list I could tell that Gassee was using it, and was using it well and often.
Moral of the story: You only learn where a product needs improvement through serious long-term use. Users gain that kind of experience, but reviewers and pundits generally do not. Their observations tend to be superficial. That's why reviews written after a few days using a product often miss the mark. The real greatness or lack of greatness in a product doesn't show up for a few weeks or months. Sometimes even longer.
This was a secret of mine, because most of my competitors not only didn't listen to their users, but they didn't even use their own products. If you want to make great products, never mind the degree in finance or marketing, though those skills are certainly important to running a business. Be both a user and a developer. That way you understand users, and you can make their dreams come true, because they are your dreams too. The reward for that is success.
Once when I was giving this schpiel a very wise and smart man, Yochai Benkler, asked if a doctor had to have the disease to be able to treat a patient. He got me. Sort of. Comparing the use of a wonderful software product to a terrible disease misses the point. Of course the doctor doesn't have to have the disease. On the other hand, why should you make a product that you don't love? Find something you really care about. Can you imagine loving a movie from a director who didn't love it first? (Yes, I just watched a documentary about the career of Woody Allen. He hated Manhattan, one of the greatest movies of all time. But he didn't stop making movies, and if you asked him if he loved movies, if he said he didn't, well, I think he'd be lying. Regardless, we love his movies, even if he doesn't.)
So my hope for blogging was this. That users would write up their experiences with products, and good developers would study what they wrote. And if they didn't some users would learn how to develop, and they would take over the markets, because user-driven products generally win out over ones that are not user-driven.
It's why Twitter, for example, is in trouble -- imho. Their execs are not serious users of the product. And they don't do a great job of listening to users. That's why they are drifting. Facebook, on the other hand, has a strength that Twitter doesn't. Zuckerberg, whether you like him or not, does use his own product.
Also, I never liked the term "eating your own dogfood." Yuck. What does that say about the users! So many of the ways businesses talk about their users are degrading and condescending. This goes back to Respect, which I wrote about yesterday. Respect comes from listening. A developer who does not listen to their users doesn't have much of a future. And if you're a user yourself, you're the most powerful kind of developer there is.
The Romney "joke" about his birth certificate was no accident.
It got birtherism back into the conversation about the election. It had dropped out, and had been replaced with the abortion discussion around Congressman Akin. No doubt Romney felt it was unfair to tag him with that (arguable, he did pick Ryan as his VP). So he hit back with birtherism.
Democrats treat it as a moral issue. An appeal to Republican reasonableness, which does not exist. The best response is to not take the bait. Accept it as a joke. No more discussion. Change the subject.
I wonder if they recorded the talk I gave in Madison because I think it might make a good podcast.
A question came up -- what did I hope to accomplish with blogging. I gave an answer that I would like to amend.
I said Democracy. That by giving people their own platforms to speak on that there would be more listening and better government. By implication, I was saying that it had failed. But that's not all I hoped to accompish.
I wanted to disintermediate journalists. I had learned that the journalism system we had required intermediaries who I felt were not trustworthy. They created the stories based on their own filters, instead of finding out what was actually happening.
Of course this is an illusion. Because my view of what was actually happening was just as wrong as theirs.
What I really wanted, and knew it, was to arm creative people with tools to communicate with people who wanted to know what they think. I wanted to hear from the software developer what he wanted to accomplish with his software. I knew this was needed because I was having trouble communicating about my own software. I was reduced to the ideas that I could convince reporters to pass on. I learned lots of tricks, and as a result my products were successful. But I wanted to eliminate the trickery and talk directly to users.
And where I was a user, someone who read a book, or watched a movie, bought a car, went for a trip, needed medical care, I wanted to hear directly from people who knew what was going on.
However, I did not want to forgo what the journalists add. I want to emphasize that point. I just wanted to give them more sources and honestly, some competition from people who know what they're talking about, to encourage them to be better at learning and really listening.
Anyway, that's what I would like to have said when answering that question.
I started this thread called Scripting News back in the mid-90s with the theme of Respect. It wasn't the only topic, but it was at the core of everything. I had just been through a collapse of an industry because it didn't do enough listening. I wanted to share what I had learned in the hope that we wouldn't have to repeat the lessons again. Back then I tried to say what respect means to me. And I wanted to learn to practice it.
To me, respect means listening to what someone is really saying. It's hard to do. It requires you to quiet your mind, and accept that the world looks different from every point of view. You can do exercises in listening. Sit across from someone, they talk, you don't lean in, or tune out. No hugs, nods or head-shakes. No interruptions. Hear them out. Completely.
I find that when I get stuck it's because I don't listen.
There are lots of corollaries that fall out from this view. People don't listen to people who work at BigCo's any more than they listen to independent developers. People who have the guts to make their own software and put their name on it. This is a mistake a lot of entrepreneurs make. I've seen them do it over and over. A random guy at a big company has no more sway than you do. But you do what they tell you to do in the hope that their company will help you be successful. It does happen sometimes, but not very often. Only in special times.
Another one is that you can do much better at listening to others if you learn to listen to yourself. At all levels. First the gripes, then underneath that, what are you really trying to accomplish. What do you want to do with your time. Who do you want to co-create with, and on what terms?
That's why long trips by yourself are good for respect.
In software what I respect more than anything is this.
I respect people who ship software that's open to competition, and then write specs to show people how to compete with them.
It's just like the web. People come back to places that send them away.
The last decade has been one of people not pointing outward with their code. Or even worse, pointing out and then when people build on it, pulling the rug out from under them. From this must come a better appreciation for trust. Don't be blind with it. Don't give your trust without thinking it through, without really listening.
We're back in the mid-90s again. Will we do any better this time? I hope!
I spoke at a conference in Madison last week about venture capital, among other topics. The panel that was up before I spoke were talking about how to get VCs to love you and respect you and treat you well (by giving you money to begin with of course).
I thought most of it was bullshit, and said so (in a nicer way of course). People treat you well when you have power. Otherwise, don't count on it. It's a hard lesson to learn, but it's mostly true. When you have power, you can decide to change the rules. But my guess is that people won't like you or respect you for doing it. That's why the people who show people how to compete with them are so incredibly gutsy and special. It probably won't profit them immediately or directly. It might lead to their downfall. But it will make the world greater. And if that's what you're into, then I want to work with you, because I'm into it too.
These are not easy ideas to understand. I know that.
Three people have asked me to "weigh in" on a new protocol called tent.io. I looked over the site, and I don't understand what I'm supposed to weigh in on. Anyone can write a spec. What matters is what software is supporting the protocol, what content is available through it and how compelling is the content.
RSS won not because of its great design, but because there was a significant amount of valuable content flowing through it. Formats and protocols by themselves are meaningless. That's what I say about specs. Show me content I can get at through the protocol, and I'll say something.
Sometimes a protocol can be so bad that it kills any chance of it catching on, but that's usually because the proponents are too scared to let people at the content behind the protocol. That's probably what happened with SOAP.
Think of a protocol like a road. You could have a wonderful road. Well paved. Wide lanes. Great rest areas. But if it goes from nowhere to nowhere, it's not going to be very popular, no matter how nice it is.
If you're in Madison tomorrow with a little time to kill, come hang out on the patio at the Memorial Union at 3PM. I'll be there with Andrew Shell, drinking beer and telling wild stories. Hope you can make it!
Here's a picture I took this evening of sunset on the lake from the patio.
So here's a short message to NakedJen in the form of a podcast.
It's about her starting a movie review feed so we can have a year-round NJFF, and also a tab on the Tabbed River for film reviews.
I posted something on a new service, medium.com, that doesn't have feeds, and I have no ability to add that post to the Scripting News feed.
Yet it is something that imho every reader of this blog should read.
So here's a link. Hope you like!
BTW, the people behind Medium are Evan Williams and Biz Stone. Evan is the founder of Blogger, and Biz and Evan together were the founders of Twitter. They're very smart guys, obviously -- and Ev and I have co-created some open protocols, working at arm's length, but who cares. It worked. The Metaweblog API was a mashup, and has since become a standard. So when I make a proposal to make history together, it's not entirely like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
Some days the web feels like a version of Letterman's Stupid Pet Tricks, except with corporations. Today is one of those days.
Seth Godin has a takedown of Progressive Insurance, which keeps rates low by not actually selling insurance. We had all heard the story about the woman who was killed in an auto accident, covered by Progressive for, among other things, accidents caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver. Progressive, trying to avoid paying her family, actually defended the other guy, against their own customer! That part of the story is not new. But Godin dug up the company's excuses, which are terrible admissions of corporate malpractice hidden among confusing legalese. Makes me wish there were a corporate death penalty so we could impose it on Progressive.
Speaking of Mitt Romney, do you believe his chutzpah! He says he's never paid less than 13 percent. Wow. I wonder if they tested that with focus groups. Here's a clue to Mitt. That's a lot less than middle class people pay. My grandfather, whose life was saved by the United States, taught his grandchildren that it was a privilege to pay taxes. He wasn't a softie, but he was glad to be alive, and I don't think he ever forgot the role this country played in that. Romney appears to feel a sense of entitlement, no gratitude to the country, and no kinship with other Americans.
Someone should ask Romney if he believes in the great Kennedy exhortation -- Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. If so, please tell us Mr. Romney, what have you done for your country lately?
Finally in the Stupid Corporate Tricks department today there's Twitter.
I'm not surprised by what they did yesterday. I saw it coming, and I told you all to be prepared. What I didn't anticipate is how crudely it would be done, and how much confusion would ensue among users who are paying attention.
Bottom-line: Twitter is selling their channel to advertisers. They need to prove to them that they have control of how their messages will be seen. I don't think any of what they're doing is stupid or evil or misguided. However, it might not work. It might not turn out to be the big value in what they've built at Twitter. But it certainly is one theory.
The good news is that as Twitter focuses, and pulls back, and makes their product smaller -- this will create space for new things to blossom and possibly flourish. So it's a good time to be thinking about and doing new things. I don't think a re-hash of Twitter is the next big thing. Twitter was new in 2006. It's time for new online services and tools that draw inspiration from things like Twitter and Facebook, but if the past is a guide they will not do what the earlier products did.
A few weeks ago I openly asked Fred Wilson a serious question that's been on my mind ever since I started writing on the net and encouraging others to.
What happens to all this stuff when the servers disappear?
It's a fair question to ask anyone involved in techonology for two reasons:
1. They might know the answer.
2. If they're aware of the problem we all might find an answer working together.
But if we never talk about it, one day I fear we'll wake up to find it's all gone. And we never do talk about it. Yet someday it will be the big topic. I'm sure of it, because I've lived it.
In 2003, after having heart surgery and leaving UserLand to try to rescue what was left of my life, I was caught in a tough spot, having to run a big dynamic blog hosting website on one of my servers. This was a "gift" from the people who were running the company. I don't know what led them to do this at the time, but there I was holding the bag, and when the flow hit my server it crashed. Every time I tried to bring it back up, it crashed again. Having been responsible for managing this site a year before, when the stress was one of the factors that put me on the operating table, I understood what I was looking at. I could buy more servers, and you know what -- the site would still crash. So I put up a static page that said I was going to do the best to get people their data, but that the server was gone.
The shitstorm that came from that was epic. I don't think that's too strong a term. I think I understood what it looked like from their point of view. One day they go to look at their blog and it's gone. The server doesn't respond. Connection refused. They come back an hour later and all they see is a message saying they might get their data at some point.
People feel very personal about this stuff. One person wrote that I had murdered their blogs. This idea caught on. Now I was a murderer. It was just me. Not a company. They either didn't know or forgot what I had gone through. I didn't forget. You can't forget something like that. But it didn't happen to them, so it didn't happen.
I don't think there's any moral conclusion to this, other than there are a lot of points of view of an event like this. From my own view, I knew that only a handful of the sites had been updated in the last year. So I believed that a lot of the rage was fake. We had also made their sites available for download almost from the start, and told the users about it, repeatedly -- but almost no one took advantage of it. So the people who were enraged were at least partly responsible for the problem. Also, as an engineer I never promise certainty. I know about Murphy's Law. So when I said we might be able to get them backup copies of their sites, I felt certain that I could get most of them, if not all. But the one person whose site could not be restored would want to hold me to the promise, so I hedged it. In the end everyone got their sites, if I remember correctly.
Back then all this was much smaller. There were far fewer bloggers. Maybe thousands. Today there are millions. None of them are thinking about what happens when Tumblr or Blogger or WordPress or Facebook disappear. But come on -- we almost know for certain that one of them will. Given enough time they will all disappear. Doesn't it make sense to think, in advance about what will happen then? Technically there are good practices that exist right now, that could ameliorate the problems. Don't we have a responsibility to implement them?
Which gets me to the beginning. Yesterday I wrote a piece where I said that the web is socialist. I strongly believe if you try to turn a community of bloggers into a property, someday you'll wake up to the realization that you bought a bag of air. There's nothing inside the walls that's worth anything, from a dollar standpoint. What happens then dear blogger? Do you think anyone is going to subsidize the hosting? You will be on your own that day. And you very likely won't have any recourse, any more than my users had in 2003. I promise you I was well-intentioned, but that didn't save the sites. Good intentions are no answer. Saying they're not your users won't help either. In 2003 they weren't mine because I was no longer employed by the company. No salary. No upside. Nothing. I quit for a very good reason. So why me? It was basically an accident that the hits were coming to my server. That didn't matter to the users. Were they right? Hard to say. But it didn't matter.
In a way I'm writing this to encourage everyone who's profiting from this stuff now to set aside some of the money to help the users in what is sure to come. But also to the users to wise up and also to stop being such children. If you feel there's value in your writing, then treat it like it has value. If you depend on strangers to pay your rent, you have to know that isn't going to work, long-term.
I've always been shy to call what I work on a movement, but others are doing it, so maybe it's time to ask people to make a small contribution.
I don't want money, not yet. I want something more valuable. Attention.
Here's what you can do.
1. Bookmark the Tabbed Rivers page. Which ever panel most appeals to you.
2. When you want news, go there. Scroll. Skim.
3. Click on links. <== Most important thing.
4. The authors of the articles, if they have good stats software, will see the river in their referrer log. Over time, if you can develop this as part of your news habit, they'll get curious. These are the people I want to be thinking about the rivers they might produce for their readers. So we can cover all kinds of communties and topics. By reading the news through the tabbed-river interface you'll be helping the bootstrap of a new way to flow news, without going through a central node like Twitter or Facebook. You'll be helping to bring back the "open" to the way we use the web.
If it works, that will get us more users, and more feedback and bug reports, and that's how the software gets: 1. Richer. 2. Easier. 3. More debugged. Right now it's a shortage of users that's keeping this stuff from taking off. And there's a lot more behind this waiting to come out and upgrade the way writing is produced and read on the web.
BTW: Today I added another tab to Tabbed River 2.0, the NY Times. The idea hit me yesterday at lunch with Jeremy Zilar, a friend who works at the Times. I was listening to him talk about what he's working on, which is fascinating, and it hit me that there should be a tab for the Times in the rivers. Even though the Times feed is in my personal river, it's mixed with a lot of other feeds, so it flows more quickly and you could miss a bunch of Times editorial content. With its own tab, you get approximately 12 hours of Times stories, a half-day of news, all accessible through a scrollbar.
In summary -- the way you can help -- the most important thing you can do -- is to use the stuff. Right now that means reading the rivers and clicking the links.
Lots of new stuff rolling out in techland now.
It's good to see movement. We just haven't seen the kind of movement yet that's truly meaningful.
Here's what we've seen come out in the last few days:
1. app.net's alpha.
2. Branch's public release.
3. Medium's public preview.
4. My own Tabbed River 2.0.
I haven't used app.net or Branch, because I'm holding firm on my promise to only use systems that let me flow stuff in and out while maintaining originals in my own space. It's what often seems like a futile attempt to inspire others to do the same. Let's try to create something of lasting value with all this Web 2.0 "conversation" we keep having. The plea seems to fall on deaf ears.
I've said that to and about both Branch and app.net, but I broke my own rule with Medium. I did it as an impulsive, intuitive thing. Here's the sequence of events, which took place last night.
1. I saw the announcement on Twitter via Joshua Benton at Nieman Lab.
2. I clicked the link, skimmed Evan William's introductory post. Was confused. Clicked on something that led to a Twitter OAuth page. Said What The Hell and clicked okay. They asked for my email address. I gave it to them.
3. I poked around on their system, still was confused, got an idea that something different was happening here, but I had no idea what. Said so on Twitter.
4. Got an email from Evan Williams saying he had whitelisted me, so I could now post. More confusion, but after a few emails I was able to post. I wrote something I was planning on putting on my own blog to get a feel for what it could do. Now I understood, I think, what it is. Started a thread to narrate the experience.
5. Thought some more, decided to try another experiment. What if I posted one of my most valued pieces on Medium, what would that look like. So I tried it. It was called a sensible evisceration by Ross Pruden. Love that term.
6. Then I started thinking -- why did I break my rule for this. And I realized it had been something I had been thinking about for a long time. And I had been putting down the dots, as in connecting-the-dots, and now I was ready to actually start connecting them.
I know this is turning into a long piece and almost no one is reading by this point. So be it.
It is long past time for something really new, and I know what it is, and I bet Evan who is a smart guy who has been working on blogging roughly as long as I have has already figured it out. I bet Biz Stone has too. If not, it's right at the edge of their consciousness, and maybe I can help bring it into full view.
1. Please let Medium be something more than another high-walled silo for capturing people's writing.
2. It can be a silo, for people who want that, but let it also be a lens for viewing content that's stored elsewhere. Let people viewing content through that lens see no difference in fidelity from the content that was authored on your system, and stored on your system.
3. Do the inverse as well. Provide a URL for every bit of content on your server that offers it up in "source code" -- unrendered -- so it can be viewed through lenses created by other developers.
I can understand why the Branch guys don't want to do this, although I think ultimately they will have to. But Biz and Evan, you guys have made more money than you can possibly use. Do this one project without regard for capturing content. Break out of the rut that Silicon Valley has been mired in for the last ten years. We don't need the training wheels any longer.
If they were to do this, not only could I use Medium, but I could encourage other people to do so too. If they don't do it, I have to come to my senses and say that they did nothing interesting here, producing yet another Web 2.0 content trapper.
I have hopes they will do it -- because they've done it before -- when they were poor schnooks. Now that they're rich, there's no reason not to do something generous and opportunistic. They would probably not make many friends in Silicon Valley, maybe they would lose some, but they would be doing a mitzvah for the rest of the world. And because of it there might actually be something remaining from the boom times we live in years from now when people wonder how the intellect of the world became globalized. (It was not, as the Library of Congress seems to think, all on Twitter.)
One of the dots that this connects, that I didn't even realize was on the map, was the World Is Socialist piece. Not only are snowstorms socialist, and sickness -- and love, and springtime -- but you know what -- the web is also socialist. That's the fundamental contradiction of the tech community, which has tried to make it capitalist. It's not. When you let it be itself, everything on the Internet belongs to everything else. The walls tech people try to raise, to convince investors that there's dollar value there, are fake. They don't hold anything behind them that has any lasting value. The only things that stand a chance are things that flow. And for that, the walls get in the way.
I asked Fred Wilson about this -- but he reacted as if I was attacking him. Maybe Ev and Biz see it. Build something real, but don't try to get the ocean to boil inside your teapot. It doesn't fit in there.
A couple of weeks ago I got inspired to combine two of my favorite technologies to create something new. The two technologies are: 1. River of News and 2. Bootstrap Toolkit. I had already had the two combined, I've basically added Bootstrap to everything I do. But I wanted to have multiple rivers accessible from the same page, and Boostrap had what I needed to do that -- tabs.
The first incarnation of the tabbed-river page had the Olympics and a bunch of other news flows. But I knew the Olympics would end, and it has, so I thought about what should replace it as the "featured" river. It didn't take much thought to come up with the answer. Apple.
Why Apple? Well, they have a very active and large news culture, very large, but also focused. I know three of the leading Apple bloggers, John Gruber, Brent Simmons and Marco Arment for their list of authoritative news source, and they very generously provided pointers, which I put together as an OPML reading list, and I started River2 churning up links in the form of a JSON river flow. Another reason to go with Apple is that there are some new products coming in September. When Apple has new stuff usually there is quite a build-up in rumors and news. Our river will be there to catch the flow.
There were two main things I wanted in this release.
1. Each tab should have its own URL. So I should be able to point to the Apple river, or the New Orleans river, or my own personal river, externally, without having to use words to tell you how to get there. Simplify the user experience by removing a step.
2. I also wanted to try something new -- putting a worldoutline rendering of a howto in a Boostrap dialog. Click on the About this App button in the upper left corner. You might not even notice that there's something new there, it's so natural. The outline is viewed inside a Bootstrap modal dialog. I edit that howto in the outliner, and store it in a public Dropbox folder. There is an amazing amount of cooool new stuff working there. And I'm absolutely confident that it will scale, because all the code runs in your browser, not on my servers. I love that part.
Since Scripting News has a deep technical focus, I wanted to point out that there is some deep tech that connects the pieces here. Aside from the About outline, there is no data in the tabbed-river page. All that comes from a series of JSON files that are maintained by my River2 server. That means that an inquisitive programmer could use these flows in lots of ways limited only by your imagination. It's a new application so I went with the format of the moment -- JSON (also because the jQuery code likes JSON, heh). I keep beating the drum on this format hoping that others will pick it up. I'm sure at some point that will happen. Here's the JSON for the Apple river. View-source here to get links to the others.
One more thing. What's next after Apple? Well, there is an election in the United States in November.
A great piece by Alex Hillman this morning about app.net, ostensibly, but it's really about everything.
He says, accurately, that everyone who put up $50 to fund app.net had their own idea of what it is. They can't all be right,because at least some of what they want is impossible and some is contradictory (both x and not x can't be true in the same universe). Something is coming into view, for all of them, and they can project it on app.net. $50 is a way to express their vision. They "get" it too. What it is, exactly, they still have to work out.
Hillman says it's an inkblot. I love it when people quote movies in blog posts. "The Rorschach on the wall isn't an image of a bat; it's nothing more than an ink blot, and that people see what they want to see."
Meanwhile Jay Rosen tweets, quoting Nate Silver that the "pick of Mr Ryan [by Romney] seems to have been more of a gut-feel decision than a data-driven one."
I agree. When Romney looked at Ryan he felt he was looking in the mirror at a young version of himself. Ryan is like that, very easy to project on. As Anthony Hopkins says in the Oliver Stone movie Nixon, "They look at you and see what they want to be. They look at me they see what they are." I don't know who came up with that line, but it's brilliant. Do you doubt that Nixon dreamt of being loved like Kennedy? And I imagine that Romney felt he could be Ryan, if he had a Ryan. Patricians and plutocrats think like that, I imagine.
Back to tech, when I look at the fascinating app.net inkblot, I see a lot of people who want something new and exciting. They know it's not Twitter, because the new stuff in Twitter is now six years old, and they're removing capabilities, not adding them. And the ones they're removing are the most exciting ones, the ones that got us interested in the first place.
What I'm looking for is a core of doable stuff, that, like previous tech explosions is simple and loosely-coupled. Geeky and fun with enormous potential. There have been lots of them. Things like C, PCs, memory-mapped video, Unix, email, the web. And there are so many interesting new things out there now. Bootstrap Toolkit is certainly one of them. Where there's something highly leveraged that people adopt easily, there's potential for technological combustion.
What seems very unlikely to me is that the new thing will fall neatly in place on one company's servers, or even with one company's servers at the center. It's never been that way. Going back to the previous examples, C and Unix shipped in source and were widely adopted. After a short period every system had a C implementation, with a lot of interop. There were huge numbers of PC clone makers that all ran each others' software. ANyone could start a web server. And yesterday Mark Otto, the guy who worked on Bootstrap at Twitter, said he was pleased to see it being used in app.net. That tells you, right there, that Bootstrap has the potential to be one of these platforms that raises the level of everything.
A final note. Twitter and Facebook have been trying to trap the power of news syndication on their servers. That's not their job. Basically I'm probably not going to be talked out of my belief that if you want an open Twitter or Facebook it pretty much has to be based on RSS or something exactly like it.
I haven't criticized app.net here because I want to give them a chance to get their act together, and see what they come up with. But I also haven't "joined" because I place a very high value on my independence. I hope that they will accept my invitation to use RSS as a means of importing and exporting messages. That way our systems can interoperate. That's the right level of involvement for me. It would mean I could follow people who use their service in my own river-based aggregator. And they could read what I publish in my linkblog feed.
But app.net is still based on a centralized model, and I happen to believe that a decentralized approach is the only one that works long-term. It's the only way to preserve freedom of speech, and to allocate costs fairly to the people who use the most resources. And to provide a variety of tools and environments to satisfy a wide variety of use-cases.
So I'd like to put an alternate idea out there.
A microblogging server that's a simple install on EC2 or Rackspace or any other easy cloud-based server.
Clubs and corporations can operate servers for their members. Computer communities used to have user groups, and they were a very good idea. I would operate a server for my family (I already kind of do that, I bet a lot of the people who read this blog do it too). The Hillside Club in Berkeley could operate one. The NYU Journalism Department. Stuyvesant High School. Berkman Center. You get the idea. It wouldn't be a huge groundswell at first, but a measured boot-up process.
From these seeds mighty mega-servers will boot up, like the ones that have sprouted around WordPress. Automattic could run a big server, for example.
If it starts a process of users gaining their independence from tech companies then app.net has done a good thing. That's why I think in these terms. Making it easy for people to set up their own servers, and hoping that they will do this for their friends, work colleagues and family members.
Amazon has an incredible proposition. They offer a free Linux or Windows server for one year. It's enough of a server to run a great linkblogging system. I know because I'm doing it, and also sharing my server with a few friends. We're not ready yet to support a lot of people doing this, but we're getting there. I'd love it if Rackspace made a similar offer, and Google and Microsoft, and lots of others.
And wouldn't it be wonderful if some major tech companies, instead of throwing boulders in our path, would actually put some energy behind this. It's been really awful the way some companies have behaved. Especially Google. Shameful. I often argued with Microsoft, in the 90s, that they would get 70 percent of all the growth that came from the web, so why don't they stop fighting it. Same message to Google. Your employees are making you act crazy. Take a long-term view of this stuff, and relax. This stuff isn't a threat. It's an opportunity to build something, the kind of thing users develop, not employees. Kick back and stop insisting on being the inventor of everything.
Yesterday I wrote a piece that said if I were doing a Twitter clone I'd emulate the Twitter API exactly. Consider that item #0 in my list, which follows.
1. I'd charge users for the service to align the interests of the users with the company producing the service.
2. I wouldn't take venture capital. There's a new law that will allow users to purchase stock in small companies. I'd sell stock to users. If VCs want to buy in at that time, no problem. Level playing field in all ways.
3. I would make a commitment not to sell the company. Obviously there's no way to guarantee you won't sell out. See the next item.
4. I'd open source the software so users would believe #3. No lock-in and no lost user investment if the company is sold, esp because the user's data, all of it, is available to every user, right from the start. See the next item.
5. I'd provide RSS 2.0 feeds for everything. I'd use the microblog namespace extensions, esp fully implementing the archive element. A feed for every user. A feed for every user's favorites. A feed for each hashtag.
6. Allow a user to be a feed. They'd have to pay for the service and no one would have to follow the feed. This allows users to create flows that can appear on more than one network. Super important for users who see their stream as a product.
8. Open-architecture attributes on messages. And links shouldn't be part of the basic message.
9. No 140-character limit. The software would display the first 140-characters of every message, by default, but this would be a user-configurable feature.
10. Users can follow a hashtag.
11. Block with timeout.
12. More ideas in this post from 2010.
First I want to disclaim this -- I am not making a Twitter clone. But I have watched a number of people try, so I've had a chance to think about what I would do if I were making one. I love intellectual exercises like this.
Yesterday I posted a question in a thread which was intended to expose the issues around the API. I asked if the Twitter API is an open standard. I didn't express an opinion one way or another. Realistically it's probably a matter of consensus among developers, Twitter's competitors, Twitter itself and if it should come down to it, the law.
But one thing's clear to me -- it's better for the ecosystem and the Internet if the API were a basis for interop between competitors. That way developers and users would have choice. The only argument against using it as a basis for interop is that it would be too limiting.
We've faced that before in a very parallel situation with the Blogger API. The resulting extension to their API provided for features our software had that Blogger's didn't. That goes back a long way, to 2003. Both APIs thrived and are still in use, and the principles are still valid.
So the answer for me is that if I were making a Twitter clone, I would start with an exact clone of the API. I would test interop. This would have the advantage of telegraphing intent clearly to developers. They wouldn't have to guess where our API was going.
However, I would not promise future compatibility if Twitter were to change the API. I wouldn't say we wouldn't go where they went, but I would not give them a blank check to invalidate our interop. The Twitter API has had years to burn in. It's widely supported. Even with the changes Twitter has made recently it's not hard to implement. I think it represents an excellent basis for interop. (And if it weren't the basis for interop, what would be?)
Further, I would implement it in such a way that the names of the endpoints and the parameters they take were configured from a design spec. I'd probably use OPML and publish it openly. If Twitter objected by filing a lawsuit, we could reconfigure our API to be non-infringing but would openly explain to developers why we were doing it.
Honestly, I don't think Twitter would choose to compete at this level. They haven't lately been building their ecosystem around developers. To cut off other channels for developers to grow would seem spiteful and selfish, esp for a company that's been so successful and is so rich. At least some of that came from the hard work of their developers.
BTW I love the header graphic my CMS chose for the head of this post. It's totally random. I took that picture in the red light district of Amsterdam in 2000. I call it Negotiating. It's probably the best photo I've ever taken. By a lot.
I make software for poets, and myself.
That means my stuff stretches the boundaries of what's possible, which makes it a mystery for many of the people I would like to have use it.
My goal has been to chip away at the mystery. One step at a time. That's why a few years ago I started working on EC2 for Poets, a tutorial that proposed to show non-geeks how to set up their own server in the cloud at Amazon. There have been three versions of the tutorial. And in the interim Amazon has dropped the price for the server that you set up to $0 for one year. So with it being so easy, and free for a year -- there shouldn't be any reason that anyone who knows about it isn't running a server.
The problem is that it isn't all so easy. Yet.
Last week I helped a friend Anton Zuiker, a really smart and stubbornly persistent person, get his EC2 for Poets server up and running. He had set it up, but when I went in to look, I found a half-dozen small problems that were keeping his server from running.
While I was doing the work, I got depressed. I realized that we had set Anton out on the open sea in a very small boat, with a leak, and no paddle and only a couple of gallons of gas in the engine. I realized that we had done him wrong.
Then I realized there was a missing tutorial.
You can only see these things, I find, when you look at your own work through the eyes of a user that's trying really hard, but not getting it.
So I opened up my outliner and started writing.
This is what came out: S3 for Poets.
I take S3 for granted, I think it's easy, and for programmers it is easy. But we forget sometimes that what seems simple to us might not be so simple to a literate person who isn't a programmer. For example, a poet. Like Anton.
Here's what the problem was. We got Anton's server up and running, but it wasn't connected properly to its storage.
A storage system is like an external drive from Seagate, for example. It hooks up to your server, on EC2 (or where ever). And it also hooks up to the Internet. That's what's really cool about S3. But the connection between the two things, as explained in the Why It Works section, is something not everyone gets. So I work up to the punchline. Slowly, methodically and carefully. If you stick with it, for maybe 1/2 hour, you will understand the Internet one thousand times more fully than you did before. This is the Aha that programmers got a long time ago. Now you can have it too, even if you're not a programmer.
Everyone wants to become a coder these days. My friendly and avuncular advice is to start here. First get an Amazon account, then connect it up to your GoDaddy account (I know I hate them too, but everyone uses them), then put a file up there, then view it in your web browser. Connecting these dots gives you a view into the crazy simplicity of the Internet. It's all mirrors pointed just the right way so it looks like the Internet. That is all the Internet is. When you fully appreciate this you'll laugh at how funny this stuff is. Really. I'm not kidding.
I'm thinking about Jay Rosen and Doc Searls, and the students that learn from them. Joi Ito, Ethan Zuckerman, Zach Tumin, Nicco Mele, Susan Crawford, David Weinberger, John Palfrey and his high school students, Tim O'Reilly, Larry Lessig, Esther Dyson, Clay Shirky, danah boyd, Markos Moulitsas, Cory Doctorow, Revi Sterling, Mark Bernstein, Andrew Grumet, Craig Newmark, Josh Marshall, Bill Gates, Charlie Nesson, Marc Canter, Chris Anderson, John Perry Barlow, Michael Arrington, Douglas Rushkoff, Emily Bell, Jeff Jarvis, Steve Wozniak, Matt Terenzio, Edd Dumbill, Matt Mullenweg, Philip Greenspun, Paul Ford, Arikia Millikan, Anil Dash, Zeldman, Kottke, Megnut, Evhead, David Jacobs (both of them), Rex Hammock, Fred Wilson, Bijan Sabet, Mitch Kapor, Mitchell Baker, Noah Robischon, Robert Scoble, Micah Sifry.
All these people can do this, and even better, they can show others how to, as well. I think that enabling people to put their own stuff in the cloud, especially young people just beginning their careers, can help give us all some ideas about freedom, and what we might do with it. Every one of the people I listed above is fully capable of doing this. How many actually have had the experience of putting something on the net that's entirely in their control? Created something new that didn't exist before?
I know it's possible to find flaws this setup. And I point them out in S3 for Poets. But we need to move forward on both fronts. Using the flawed tools we have today, and at the same time building tools without the flaws. S3 is pretty good. Not perfect. But it's something we can use today, for good.
Over the weekend I put together a new kind of river -- a tabbed river -- that gets closer to what a news publication will look like in the future.
Rivers are a reverse-chronologic view of news from multiple sources. Twitter is a river, although rivers predate Twitter. Rivers actually predate the Internet. A teletype is a river of news.
The tabbed river is more or less what it sounds like. An array of tabs across the top of the page, one for each river.
I've started my tabbed river out with five streams: The Olympics, TechMeme, my own personal river, New Orleans and Berkman. Each had previously been on its own page. I would have to remember to go to each. And when I pointed to one, no one got to find out that the others exist. So now my news-gathering routine is both broader and more efficient. I get to keep up with several streams as easily as it used to be to keep up with one.
Hope you like it!
I started podcasting in the summer of 2003. I had been listening to two early podcasters, although they weren't called that at the time -- much as early blogging wasn't called blogging. The name came later. My two inspirations were Doug Kaye and Steve Gillmor.
Doug did a series of interviews with tech people called IT Conversations, and Steve did what he called The Gillmor Gang, which was and still is a roundtable discussion about nothing, much the same way Seinfeld was a TV series about nothing.
It's almost ten years later, and while podcasting is huge, according to the BBC more people listen to podcasts than use Twitter, the press is still not sold on the accomplishments of the medium. The latest takedown is by Richard MacManus at ReadWriteWeb.
Yes, podcasting is huge, he says, but look at how it's dominated by NPR. That means radio won, he says, the promise of podcasting which was an overturning of the hierarchy, was a losing proposition.
I don't know where that idea came from, that podcasting meant the end of radio. That's not at all what I wanted from it. What I wanted was to be able to go around the gatekeepers at public radio, but I loved NPR and PRI then, and still do today. I remember clearly, listening to a pledge drive on WBUR in Boston saying that we, the listeners, owned the station. I tried to call the station management, as one of the owners, to ask when I could get some airtime for my ideas. They offered to send me a glossy brochure on why WBUR is so great. They didn't get the idea. I never got to speak to the CEO who had gushed so enthusiastically on the radio about how important the listeners were.
There was also a low-grade competition going on at Berkman Center, where I was a research fellow at the time. Berkman was a sponsor of the Public Radio Exchange, or PRX, whose idea was to distribute public radio programming from the big stations to the little ones. Distribution was the key idea of PRX. The big stations only had 24 hours a day to broadcast, just like the smaller-market stations. Podcasting overturned that idea. With the Internet there is no concept of a 24-hour broadcast day. You can upload as many hours of MP3s as you like, and if there are people who care, you will get listened to. Eventually that battle was settled and today PRX is a thriving venture, distributing podcasts of course.
The battle of podcasting was to get access to the distribution channel for anyone who wanted it, and that certainly has been accomplished. We wanted, very much, for public radio to use this channel. When Tony Kahn at WGBH showed up on our mail list, we gave him a huge embrace, and offered whatever help we could. Public radio was a huge force for the adoption of podcasting, and I would argue is totally in-line with their goals. I would have been happy to explain this to the CEO of WBUR had she been willing to come to the phone back in 2003.
The problem with gatekeepers is that they want to keep those gates up. New technology comes along from time to time and takes down the gates. Podcasting was one such technology. We're now living in the post-revolutionary world. When we fall in love with a great TV show, for example, we expect to hear a podcast with the director, writers and stars, and you can tell that they love doing it. That's how this media works. Podcasting gave us a huge number more hours so that weird ideas could be tried out. It's made my life richer, because when I take auto trips I don't have to listen to crap. I get to hear exactly what I want, when I want.
To me it doesn't matter what's popular as long as it doesn't limit access to the people I want to hear from. Podcasting, like blogging accomplished that. I often ask people if they want to do a podcast with me to explore an idea. I haven't been doing that so much in the last year, for me it comes and goes. But the freedom to do it, that's what matters most.
So podcasting is about freedom, just like blogging. And I'd say that both have been raging successes, have exceeded all the expectations we set back in the beginning, wildly.
A note to people who are running Twitter, Google-Plus and Facebook, and any one else who is thinking of launching something similar.
Not all your users are the same. Some see their output stream as a work product. Something they care about, learn from, put love into, and use it as a way to gather ideas from others. For some people this will be considered enough of a product that they want to be paid for it.
I know that may sound audacious, but it's actually pretty conservative. I think when all this shakes out these people will be like NBA players. They will be the ones people show up to hear from. They won't necessarily be the celebrities from the TV world, much as YouTube has created a generation of celebrities that now play on TV.
Twitter, especially, should be trying to identify these people and do deals with them, that pay them money, and possibly even give them equity. Golden handcuffs. And Google, looking to gain entry here, should be raiding Twitter's stable of talent, before Twitter is even aware that they have such a thing.
This is one that I am totally 100 percent sure of. As sure as I was in 1978 that there would be software products that people would use. That was considered pretty radical at a time when programmers all took jobs in research in big corporations or in the defense industry.
Another take-away is that there will be a market of tools created for these people. Don't think of hamster cages, where you provide the service for free and then mine the data. This data is worth too much for that approach. Think of it instead as a great gym for a world-class athelete.
Just had a phone talk with a smart guy, an entrepreneur with a well-funded new company. The conversation was like any conversation I'd have with a tech industry entrepreneur.
Here's what I wanted to say at the end of the conversation. "I was hoping you'd do something more courageous."
I had that talk with Nick Denton a few weeks ago, so it's not a geographic thing. His company is based in the heart of NYC.
Here's how I look at what Silicon Valley is doing, and admittedly it's from my perspective, ymmv, ianal, etc.
They started with a great idea. Let's give the users tools to create their own content. That was, depending on how you look at it, 15 years ago, 10 years ago, or 6. Since then they've been slicing the idea up into smaller bits, occupying ever-smaller niches, creating derivatives, mashing all that up, and creating more derivatives.
It's gotten terribly stale. The people are still brilliant, some of them, and there's tons of money available, more than ever, but they need some new ideas. This, unfortunately, is not something they know how to do.