UserLand Got Lucky
Sunday, November 13, 1994 by Dave Winer.
I must be shifting gears! I spent most of last week in learning mode: learning new software, learning about real journalism, browsing the worldwide web (a new kind of journalism), and getting ready to take a short break before heading off in a new direction.
There's a lot of work to do...
First, some people, Mark Stahlman in particular, want to know if a new newsletter is going to be my new business. No. I'm just writing to learn, to be connected to the world, to express myself. Stewart, Esther, David, Denise, Jerry, John, Fred, Amy, Jeff, Dick, Tim, et al, have nothing to fear from me.
I am still a software developer, an opinionated one, and I like to write. When I have a new product to show I'll go on the usual press tour and hope that the pundits approve of what I'm doing. And I carry the conflicts of interest of a developer. [The only software company or online company that I own stock in is UserLand Software. If that changes I'll let you know.]
Before I started writing essays in early October, I spent three months pulling together an "online-aware" software product. After writing 20 essays, receiving hundreds of email replies, and learning a lot more about the Internet, the world looks so different! This new perspective will be incorporated into the new product.
Will I continue to do Macintosh software? Of course! It's funny -- when you view the world thru an Internet lens, the Mac doesn't seem defeated. Quite the opposite! The tools are so good. And the Mac OS is easy to set up for Internet access. Macintosh users seem more powerful and visible on the net. Or maybe I just haven't found the Windows users yet? Not sure about this. But I don't hear any of the "I'm using an obsolete computer" whining you hear in the business world.
I've also seen that there's a ton of undeveloped potential in Macintosh Internet tools because they're open; it's easy to build on what they do. I learned about Eudora, the popular mailer program, and got a glimpse of the potential in AnArchie and Netscape too. It's easy to create new software that build on these programs, in scripts or in C, because they are so open.
An example -- before last week I was using AppleLink to distribute essays because its client is scriptable. That meant I could send essays to groups of eight people, without long "To:" lists. And I could keep my list private, while still giving people an idea of who else was receiving the essays.
In other words, I was able to tweak the email system to exactly suit my needs. That's what scripting is all about.
But AppleLink is a dead-end. Fortunately, while I was taking a break from the software business in the first half of 1994, Qualicomm released Eudora 2.0 and did everything that AppleLink does. And Eudora is anything but a dead-end! It's a standard, and appears to be growing. It seems like a safe place to do some development.
So I converted my "BlastMail" scripts to drive Eudora instead of AppleLink. Publishing new essays is now totally turnkey. Write the essay in Eudora, select a command from the menu bar, and whoosh, it goes out to all the people on the list in neat groups of eight. New menu commands in Eudora can add a new subscriber, delete a subscriber, back things up, send out past issues. And there's a command that parses Eudora's inbox, looking for messages with subjects containing the name of one of the services. It adds the sender to the list of people subscribing to the service. This is Dave's agent, the script that co-signed some of my releases last week. I even was able to add a command that removes hard carriage returns from the paragraph I have selected in Eudora. It may seem like a little thing, but I hate stripping hard returns out by hand.
Thanks to Steve Dorner, the author of Eudora, who did a great job! [With thanks to Leonard Rosenthol for taking care of Eudora's connection with Frontier, and talking them into supporting menu sharing, this is a very big deal.]
But there's more than email. I plan to put my essays, and your replies, up on a Web server. I can't possibly resist that temptation. Like everyone else doing home pages, I want to show off and make my pages look better than anyone else's. Showing off for me will be expressed in terms of the best writing and the best scripts. My pages will be beautifully structured and organized because my scripts make it *easy* to be beautifully structured and organized.
Coming at the Internet from these two angles, email automation and web-publishing, has led me to a new business for UserLand Software -- development tools for the Internet. Perfecting the two suites, the Automated Webster and BlastMail, is a very high priority. [I'm also excited about using Frontier to write Internet servers, with Frontier Runtime installed as the client. More on this later...]
All the scripts will be made available freely. UserLand's incentive: drive the positioning of Frontier as an essential developer tool for Internet publishing.
So there's the first angle for Dave's New Business. It's built on the original business -- Frontier. UserLand got lucky. The Internet needs development tools. Frontier can make the Macintosh a much more productive environment for Internet content developers.
Let's have some fun!
PS: It'll be quiet on this net for at least the next week or so. I'm going to air out, do some walking and breathing. Read some books.
PPS: I got a thoughtful reply from Dave Nagel at Apple re my Chinese Household piece. I'm waiting to hear back from Apple about distributing his message.
PPPS: Does anyone have Will Hearst's email address?
PPPPS: 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.