Diggin The Times
Monday, August 19, 1996 by Dave Winer.
I like to read the New York Times. It's a great paper. They cover the world. Now they're running a contest. Remember their print slogan? All The News That's Fit To Print. It's a beautiful reminder, there's judgement in there. But now a days that's an anachronism because the news isn't printed all the time. They want a new slogan. All The News That Fits on their Website. Nahhh. Dig we must!
The Times is great for following the stories of our day. I read about the Unabomber on a daily basis a few months back. A new article appeared on page 1 every day as more was learned of the lifestyle and philosophy of the bomber. I made a point of reading every article from top to bottom. I decided to be informed, and the Times made it possible.
I found that there was a lot to admire in the philosophy of the bomber. I was flying into Salt Lake City, reading one of the pieces. Looking out the plane window I could see the impact of man everywhere. Large dayglo colored swatches of water-covered land, in neat modules with roads separating them. A city on the edge of a mountain range. A mountain with a big chunk missing. Kaczynski's message was that this style of humanity wasn't right. I could see his point.
Of course it's not cool to kill other people as way to call attention to your argument. So the Unabomber story may have made good reading, but his tactics were not supportable. That made the story even more interesting. Life and death. I like drama, and the Times captured it. Great writing around a great story that unfolded on a daily basis. That's what being a great newspaper is all about.
Lately, I've been doing the same with the TWA flight 800 tragedy. After the plane went down I got my Times and read. Every day. It's still on page one. A painstaking process. The investigators haven't got a theory yet, but they've eliminated many possible theories. They're investigating the destroyed plane, the destroyed bodies and the destroyed lives. There's humanity all over the story. The news is a process. Tomorrow there will be another story. All the news that's fit to print. That's what they do. A perfect example.
So, as the Times moves into the electronic era, of 10-minute leadtimes, and cumulative pages -- today's Times is a dynamic website behind a password. A bit of holding onto the past. They'll look back 100 years from now and laugh at that little password buggy whip, it's so against the philosophy of the web. Information needs to be connected, to be presented in context. My writing is important even if it isn't part of the Times. They link out of their site, but it is impossible to link into theirs. This goes against the grain of the web. They're holding onto an idea that's obsolete.
You can't make a profit off the print press now that we don't need it anymore. The 50 cents they get for the print edition is still a cash cow. But ten years from now it may not be. Certainly not 100 years from now. How many generations will have passed? Will we still be reading the news on processed dead trees? No, I don't think we will.
The Times is great because it can afford a 100-year perspective. If the world still exists 100 years from now, it's a pretty safe bet the Times will exist too. But whatever slogan they come up with now is sure to be meaningless in a few years. The web is going to change our expectations. It may feel like it's getting mature, but we're just at a resting point. All our cards will get tossed in the air again. The price of progress.
New kinds of elitism, power flows differently in this medium, we expect more from our news sources, and they'll deliver. It'll be a process of revolution and refinement, over and over, possibly for the rest of our lives. Hopefully! The medium is the message. Who said that? Hmmm.
So my vote, as of 8/19/96, is "Still Diggin!" Keep the contest open for a few years. That would be the best testimony to the true nature of the web.
FileMaker, from Claris Corp, is a very popular and inexpensive piece of software. I bought a copy at a local computer store for $99. It's incredible what you get for so little money. It's a fast programmable relational database, it's easy and friendly, has a great user interface builder, and is popular and well-tested. It's safe, it's cross-platform, with excellent versions available for Macintosh and Windows 95.
People have been building on FileMaker. Check out the searching function at http://www.scripting.com/search.html. What's running behind that page? A set of scripts, written by a company called BlueWorld, that manages an index in a FileMaker database. Every night at 2AM an agent runs, checking all the new or newly modified files and indexing or re-indexing them.
I can put more stuff on my website, and expect that people will be able to find it when they need the info. Recently I put Frontier's sample scripts on the web at http://www.scripting.com/samples/. It makes for good browsing, but the real reason I put them there is so that the search function would find them. Now, when a script writer looks up a verb, like file.putFileDialog, for example, they not only get a page describing the verb, they also get a sample script that uses the verb.
Coupled with the Find command in your web browser, you can quickly locate all the information you need to solve a problem. As my website grows towards 3000 pages, this is becoming more and more necessary. The search engines, Alta Vista, Lycos, Web Crawler et al, don't visit my site often enough. And they aren't selective enough. Each site needs its own index. And FileMaker makes an excellent choice for indexing Mac websites. With some new technology, the same thing could work on Windows too.
I wonder if the people at Claris are aware of how important their product has become? I wonder because the interface connecting FileMaker to the outside world is old and complicated and unnecessarily slow. With a new visit, in the context of the web and net-based script writers, a new interface could quickly be put together that improves performance and usability by an order of magnitude.
This is even more important, as we look to exporting app-level scripting technology to other platforms, because FileMaker is a cross-platform product. We recently used its cross-platform feature in a project we're doing for a leading venture capital firm. The people at the office use Windows machines, but the server is running on a Mac. Not a problem. The office people do data entry on their PCs, shoot the database over to the Mac server, and the new information is deployed on the web.
This is the kind of synergy we're always looking for! The client is happy, and we get to do CGIs as scripts instead of having to write our own database software, and we can use the database that users like to use. Everyone is happy. Thank you FileMaker, for existing, and being scriptable. It's coool.
Lots of Filemaker data is being served on the web. It could be faster. With the proper focus, care, and community-building efforts it could easily be as important as Netscape and Microsoft's server products. Seems like that would be worth the investment.
With all my respect, I encourage the people at Claris to join up with the Macintosh Internet Developer Association (MIDAS) at http://www.biap.com/midas/ and let's get busy making FileMaker the technology leader that it was meant to be.
An important story in this week's MacWEEK, on the web at http://www.macweek.com/mw_1032/news_microsoft.html. Microsoft is releasing a shared library of Internet services that will be accessible from C and Java code and from scripts running in Frontier. This is the beginning of something important. We'll be able to do much more from scripts real soon now.
Lots of smart people are thinking about new mail software. I'm ready for it, with hundreds of messages coming in every day, and dozens going out. My conventional emailer is out of gas. No fault. It was never designed to handle the kind of load I'm pushing thru it.
I want multiple indexes, cleverly sorted so that I can see all messages pertaining to a specific subject, or from a particular person, or any combination of attributes. An efficient storage system so that messages are only stored once, and not using the inefficient blocking strategy that the Mac file system uses (a one-sentence email message takes up 16K on my disk). The Mac file system was never designed for this kind of load either.
I also want to be able to search my back-email as I would search the web using a search engine like Alta Vista. The new mail for each day is indexed at 2AM while I'm sleeping. This fits my workstyle. Yesterday's messages are indexed in the database, today's messages are presented in a structure of filtered outlines. The ones I need indexing for are the ones I wrote two months ago. I remember who I sent it to, or can think of a keyword, but can't easily navigate to it thru the outline structure.
One more big feature -- I want the option of flowing any number of outlines to a website so other people can access them. The rendering for these pages should be done at 2AM too.
The key is to reorganize the power of today's machines so they are more effective at serving the needs of intense email users like me, and maybe you too. I'm still digging on this one. Hope to have a release soon.
PS: Another reason for Claris to work with MIDAS -- the open protocols that allow archival and organization of email text are supported by Eudora, but not by Claris Emailer. It's important to get these protocols supported by all popular email clients. It's easy technology with a strong marketing angle. There's a standard. It needs to be supported. Nuf said. (Hopefully!)
PPS: Bonnie says "Take Care of Each Other." Yeah!