Dave's Automated Webster
Monday, November 7, 1994 by Dave Winer.
I got invovled in the online-ization of San Francisco's newspapers. What a trip!
Yesterday at this time I knew that HTML is a markup language that is the basic standard that Mosaic/Web pages are built on. Today I have a script that builds a hierarchy of formatted Web pages from a folder structure on a Macintosh hard disk containing plain ASCII text files with no markups.
There's a nice story to tell, but I've gotten so busy I only have about an hour to write it up. Things are happening quickly now.
On Saturday, I sent email to Chris Gulker (email@example.com). Chris is the MIS guy at the Examiner, and a customer of ours at UserLand Software. He's one of the most imaginative and persistent script writers out there. But Chris's story is one of frustration. For the last few years, he's been developing fantastic new ways to open up the content of the Examiner for online users. But the owners of the paper never let him go on the air. Apparently, they were scared to let the content get out that way (what about advertisers?). Chris kept trying and trying. Until the strike came along, the technology was always getting postponed. Now that the strike is here, everything has turned around.
Chris is on the management side of the strike. He said in his email: "The entire Electric Examiner is HTML-ized by Frontier. A script takes all the text from our mainframe, makes HTML, makes all the home pages and puts everything in a 'send me' folder. A FTP utility called Fetch then uploads it all to the server. One person can do the whole paper in less than an hour. Still some bugs. I wrote the script the Wednesday morning after strike."
Chris has an automated Web-builder. I wanted my own!
In the meantime, I had received a reply from the strikers. They were breathless too! Love at first sight.
So I got on the phone, called my friend Brian Zisk (firstname.lastname@example.org). He's a young, former Grateful Dead merchandiser, who moved to San Francisco last year with an intuition that the next big thing is the online business, and that San Francisco is the place to tap into this. Brian has been working on canter.com, Marc Canter's online version of the Media Band. I met Brian thru my friend David Jacobs (email@example.com), who among his other adventures, writes a column for Wired magazine.
"Let's get a newspaper on the Web," I said to Brian. He called his friend Cynsa Bonorris (firstname.lastname@example.org). The three of us met at Brian's house in the Haight early Sunday afternoon.
In about six hours of the best collaborative programming I've ever done, we created a script that combined all I know about scripting the Mac OS with all Cynsa knows about creating hierarchies of Web pages.
Cynsa reallllly knows what she's doing. Two worlds that always should have been connected now work together. Editorial people can be editorial people, writing text, not HTML programs. The pages look beautiful. And consistent. They can do instant updates, reacting to late-breaking news. Especially important on the day before an election.
We weren't the first to do it. Chris Gulker got there first. I bet our scripts are better. They will get even better. I'm totally itchy to get my own web server up and on the air. It'll be an incredible test-bed for tweaking up these scripts.
And two newspapers are now online in the most wired city in America. Last week there were none.
PS: Here are pointers to the home pages. For the Free Press, the strike paper, the one we wrote the scripts for: http://www.ccnet.com/SF_Free_Press/
For the management paper, the one that Chris Gulker wrote the scripts for: http://sfgate.com/
PSS: As always, if you aren't interested in this kind of stuff, send me email and I'll happily delete your name from the list. And it's OK to forward it or repost it anywhere you like. The list is expanding -- I'm always happy to add new names.