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Esther Dyson on DaveNet

Thursday, December 1, 1994 by Dave Winer.

Good morning!

Esther Dyson is editor of Release 1.0, the premier software industry newsletter, founded by Ben Rosen in the late 70s. Esther hosts the very relevent PC Forum conference next scheduled for March 5-8 in Phoenix.

She's a famous friend of neat new technology, a friend of eastern Europe, and a friend of mine!

If you have comments, please send them to edyson@eff.org. Please cc me at dwiner@well.com.


Dear Dave:

Thanks for putting me on the list to receive your electronic newsletter. I appreciate hearing your news and your thoughts about computer industry events. And I especially enjoy reading the "letters to the editor" from other people on the mailing list, such as Bill Gates, Jean-Louis Gassee, Philippe Kahn, Roger McNamee and Dave Nagel. It's nice to know I'm in such good company.

Now it's my turn to volunteer a little feedback. But as a newsletter publisher myself, I'm responding on a different level -- not to your content, but to your entire business model. I'm sure some of us are sitting here happily receiving your newsletter, thinking, "How nice! Dave Winer is sharing his wisdom with some of his old friends." Since you're an industry pioneer, your old friends include a who's who of the industry (several hundred of them, I believe). And since you're smart and we know other smart people are reading it, we're interested in what you have to say.

But most of us are pretty cynical -- even the ones of us who didn't go on to become the heads of world-famous software companies. So many of us are probably thinking, "Ha! You can't fool me!" We're waiting for the catch -- the message that says: "Enjoy reading the newsletter? Well, from now on it's going to cost you $10 per month!" or something like that. A pretty reasonable approach.

But I have what I think is a better idea, and I'm curious if you're on to it too.

In fact, I'm writing you this letter as an illustration of that idea: I want your feedback and that of the group's -- and I want my idea circulated.

It's very simple. We all keep on getting the newsletter for free -- but it costs us, say, $10 to *write back*. Most of us are pretty short of time, but we're always ready to say something when other important people are listening. Sometimes, we're even humble enough to want to test our ideas against other smart (or at least knowledgeable) thinkers.

It's the way the world is heading, Dave. There's too much noise out there anyway. The new wave is not value-added; it's garbage-subtracted. The job of the future is pr guy, not journalist. I'm too busy reading, so why should I pay for more things to read? Anything anyone didn't pay to send to me... I'm not going to read.

Yes, in a world full of content and advertising and pr, I still want to know what your friends and mine are thinking, but I want only what they think is so good that they'll pay to have me read it -- because they honestly believe it will raise their stature in my eyes.

And Dave, watch out -- because if you let the quality of the group go down, not only will I not pay to read what they say, but I won't particularly want their attention for what I have to say -- or pay for *that*. So you can't let the list get too large and let every Tom, Dick and Harry in there; I need to know that my words will be among a carefully selected amount of mail that's not too much for even the busiest person to read.

So what's the purpose of *this* letter? Basically, I'm going to see if I can get some paper publication to use it -- along with whatever feedback it gets from your list (with those writers' permission -- which I'm sure they will grant). Ironically, such a publication will probably pay me a small amount, even though I or indeed almost any author would gladly let, say, the Journal or the Times print his article for free (should I get so lucky).

Again, I just want the idea to be noticed -- not paid for. I make my money other ways: These comments may draw attention to my newsletter (still charged for the old way, I blush) or my conference, or maybe they'll help me win a lucrative speaking engagement. Our old ideas about intellectual property are going to be revised in a world where content is abundant and rich people's attention is increasingly scarce... Maybe Steven King will post his books on the Internet -- and start charging for readings. University professors publish works basically for free, and make money by teaching and by giving their institutions respectability with their names. Already some software companies are distributing software for free and charging for support. Consultants publish free newsletters in order to win clients. And as John Perry Barlow loves to point out, the Grateful Dead let you tape their concerts, but they charge you to attend.

So, Dave, you can copy this freely. I'll even pay you the $10 if you tell me where to send the check (or how to do it over the Internet). But make sure you keep my name attached!


Esther Dyson


Thanks for the comments, Esther!

I usually don't comment on other people's pieces, but I'll make an exception in this case.

1. There's no charge for the essays, nor is there a charge to comment or circulate ideas, nor will there be in the future.

2. The only guarantee that an essay is interesting is that I thought it was interesting.

If I'm wrong on a regular basis, I expect to get mass resignations from the group. So far it hasn't happened. (Whew!)

I select essays that I think are interesting in their own right, or interesting because the person who's talking is basically an interesting person. Sometimes you get both! For example, Jean-Louis Gassee's comments on PDAs. He was quotable even if his comments weren't so informed and well-stated, because JLG is fundamentally an interesting person.

I'm totally happy about the way it's going. A steady stream of new subscriptions, and the people are increasingly diverse. It started out with a group selected from the attendee list of your conference and Stewart's, and my rolodex, but over time the group has broadened to include people from all walks of life, with the common denominator that at least part of their lives are lived on-line. At this point, it's still a very high-powered, highly concentrated group of influential people.

If the thing continues to grow, the distribution will grow beyond email, using other kinds of software. And that's where my interest lies. I'm a software developer (but you knew that!) and this little chatnet thing is a testbed for making sure that a new piece of software is relevent when it ships. When I did ThinkTank I needed to be organized -- so I was, kind of. (I'm not the world's most organized person.) When I did MORE, I had to learn about presentations, so I did a lot of them. For Frontier, I became a script writer.

I belong to the Necessity is the Mother of Invention school of software design. If a software baby (pre-alpha 1.0) is to become a successful adult, it has to grow up being used for what it was intended to be used for. It sounds obvious, but a lot of software comes from *clean room* design shops. Marketing guys write the spec. Programmers write the code. Untouched by human hands. Usability labs. (Yuck!) You can tell when you use this kind of software. I believe the truly great products are ones that had a purpose, and were fit to that purpose while they were being created, and were developed by people who practice the art the product was intended to support.

Anyway, for the next product I needed to be the moderator of an online talk show. Perhaps this time I've found my calling? I love this stuff, it's a great combination of technology and politics. I've found that I'm happiest when you turn up the volume on both of these things. So I'm happy.

[By the way, trying to be organized turned out to be a good thing, but I don't think I'll ever be a presenter, at least not in the boardroom sense, nor will I ever be truly organized. But I will always be a script writer, and I think I will always be a sysop.]

The business model: I get to own a hot new piece of software if all goes well, and the software industry gets a new voice, and hopefully a platform for new voices. I think it's a win-win. Maybe a win-win-win. Or client-client-server? (It's a floor polish too!)

Finally, if you like, please send $10 to a worthy charity. We could do it that way. Tis the season!

And one more time, thanks Esther! Your thought-provoking insights and commentary are always welcome here.

Dave Winer

PS: From a random joke sheet traveling around the net yesterday. Q: How many Pentium designers does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: 1.99904274017, but that's close enough for non-technical people. [Thanks to Scott McGregor of SCO for passing this along.]

PPS: Contact Daphne Kis, daphne@edventure.com, for information on Esther's newsletter and conference.

PPPS: I miss Christmas in New York! Esther: please give the $10 to one of those Salvation Army Santa Clauses. Or buy a piece of Junior's cheesecake for Daphne and Jerry.

PPPPS: Actually, Esther's in Warsaw right now. Of course. I miss Christmas in Warsaw too! Buy Daphne and Jerry a kielbasa. :-)

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."