What is Power?
Wednesday, November 13, 1996 by Dave Winer.
I got *flooded* with email in response to The Arrogance of the Mac. It's not surprising. I touched a nerve right at the center of the PC-using world. Few religious arguments are as hard-fought as the My Platform is Better argument that's been going on since the second computer was invented.
I deliberately put myself into the middle of the argument by disagreeing publicly with people who are perceived by others to be my brothers and sisters.
I wanted to make it clear that the Mac-is-superior people don't speak for all Mac users and developers. They don't speak for me.
From David Biedny, email@example.com, "As someone who's opinionated (like yourself), I deal with other people's ire every day. I recently taught a class, Designing for the Web, at Stanford University, and one of the students told me that I had too many opinions. I asked the student what he'd prefer to opinions, and he stared at me with a blank look on his face. Go figga!"
OK, I have a lot of opinions. That's mah job! I hate arrogance. You see it everywhere in the Mac world; in the signatures of email messages they dis Windows and Microsoft and Bill Gates. They call them Windoze, Microsloth and they question Gates's integrity. It's not uplifting. It doesn't make me respect the writer. I know they're full of it. I've always known it.
For the most part, I say leave them alone. They're miserable people. Not fun-lovers. However, when it interferes with my ability to have fun, I want to do something about it. That's why I ran the last piece. The arrogance asks for exposure. The people who indulge themselves in this silly arrogance don't want to be exposed. That's clear from some of the personally insulting email I've received in the last couple of days.
Watch a major sporting event like the World Series or the Super Bowl, and check out the locker room interview with the coach of the losing team. Does he say that the winner was an unprincipled inferior team? No way.
We were beaten by the best! When you say that, you can still be great. They were greater. Maybe just a little bit greater? And maybe just for that one day.
As the Mets say, Wait Till Next Year! Yeah. That could be the motto of the Mac community. :-)
In the PC business, like the auto business, there don't have to be many losers. But if we act like losers, people are going to think there's a deeper reason than just that the other guys were a little better last year.
So the best thing the leaders of the Mac community could say is Microsoft is great! We love Windows! Bill Gates is very smart. Microsoft is a cooool company.
I've questioned Microsoft at times, and yes, sometimes I don't like what they do. But I've been in the software business for almost as long as Microsoft, and in all the years, I've never seen a company that's more inquisitive and for the most part, respectful. In any company of 20,000 people, there have to be exceptions. But the general attitude at Microsoft is to get involved with things they don't understand, rather than wish that they'd go away. Go back to the dictionary and look up respect. This is what respect is.
About the only thing I don't like about Microsoft is that sometimes some people at Microsoft indulge in the belief that the Mac platform is not worthwhile. At the top, I'm sure they know that this can come back to bite them in the future. Elsewhere in Microsoft they prefer not to look at ideas that appear to come from the Macintosh world.
I'd like to make a small contribution to elevating discussions on the net away from the moral goodness of either platform.
Since I am perceived as coming from the Macintosh (I actually come from New York!) I have to start from this place. In fact, I came to the Macintosh via the PC, and before that the Apple II, and before that Unix and before that IBM mainframes. In many ways, I share the same pragmatic view of computers as many leaders of the PC and Unix communities.
To those who claim there's a major difference between a Mac and a PC, here's what I have to say. Macs are powerful computers, not toys. And PCs are graphic computers with mice and great software.
Now maybe we're in a position to define a word that's thrown around very casually sometimes. The word is power. From the dictionary, it's the "ability to do, act or produce". But there's more to it.
Power comes from delivering your message precisely. It doesn't matter if the Mac is a deep platform if the perception is that it's not.
It may be inaccurate to think that all Mac users are panic-driven jerks who flail aimlessly. It doesn't matter if it's inaccurate, if it's perceived to be the truth.
The people who want to make computers for Moms say that they had the best intentions, that they didn't mean to trivialize middle-aged women. It doesn't matter what they meant if people hear trivialization.
Precision in message-delivery, the way your ideas are heard, is what matters. If you don't care about power, you don't need to worry about this. But if you're frustrated when the world ignores your ideas, you have to understand this equation, and respond accordingly. Messages need to be developed and tweaked, just like the interfaces of easy-to-use software.
There's no winning strategy in painting other powerful forces as evil or inadequate. All it proves is that you've found no powerful response to them; and in declaring the winner to be inadequate, you are saying that you have no idea how to cope with their existence. There's no power here. So people call the show over. The Mac is encircled. No way forward.
Among people who develop websites using Macs, I see elegance, depth, maturity and power. To the people who are attracted to the losers, there's nothing I can do, so goodbye. When you want to have fun, say so, and you'll find that there are plenty of people who want to have fun along with you.
I've written about humor in advertising before. See Ain't It The Truth! 3/29/95. IBM software commercials are funny. Czech nuns talking about surfing the net. You're surprised so you laugh. It's funny because it's true. It reaches inside you in an elegant way to find one of your beliefs, deeply hidden. You feel joy in the connection with another person. You find a new reason to respect them.
Humor has a great place in advertising, but it's very very hard to pull off. You have to start from a place of understanding. IBM can be funny because IBM has a deep long-term reputation for being stuffy. When they let their hair down, they can do it with irony. It's shocking to see IBM having fun. But it's cool.
Rodney Dangerfield is funny because he pokes fun at himself. If you want to create humor by putting someone down, make sure the person you're making fun of is you. If you ridicule someone else, many people won't think it's funny.
The best technique for humor is to first get the support of your audience. Do something meaningful and respectable. Do it again and again. Now, poke fun at yourself. They'll laugh. You'll win them over.
The Intercon people say that their ad was meant to be a joke. But who is Intercon? How do I know that they're not arrogant Mac zealots? I don't. There are no cues, no smileys on their page. Have I ever seen an Intercon ad before? I don't know. Their reputation is murky. They are not IBM, not even close.
A more appropriate ad would have said something like this -- "Hello. We're Intercon. This is what we do. This is what we stand for." They need an introduction, many of them. Instead of asking for my support or sympathy, they said "We're Intercon. Look at how nasty we can be!" We're supposed to see the humor in this. I totally missed it.
I tried humor in an ad for Living Videotext, in 1987. A fish-eye lens picture of an angry boss. He's very upset. The tagline said "He's got three questions, you've got two answers. You need MORE."
Did it work? Maybe yes, maybe no. I liked the ad! So did all the people who knew us. LVT employees really dug it. So did our most loyal customers. But what about people who didn't know us? I bet their reactions ranged from "Who are they?" to "What is MORE?" to "I don't get it."
The best bet, for small unknown software companies, is to stick to facts and beliefs in their advertising, and leave the humor to entities with large reputations. If you have a joke to tell your inner circle, use mousetype (Apple used to do this very well), or use your website. Use advertising to introduce yourself to new users, and to arm your installed base with facts that help them sell your product to others. A little style, nice use of color, a powerful logo, these are all appropriate things.
I believe it's never wrong to be serious in your ads. It's respectful. It earns you trust. It says you are serious. There's no more powerful message you can deliver.
The Intercon ad, if it truly was meant to be funny, missed the mark, widely. I can tell you this much with certainty, I didn't think it was funny.
But you already knew that! :-)
This has been bothering me for a long time. Now I get to ask the question publicly. Here's the question. What does :-) mean?
As you know, I like to look words up in the dictionary. But :-) isn't in the dictionary. So what does it mean?
Your thoughts are welcome.
I always welcome friendly and respectful comments on my pieces. I try to reply when I have something to say.
I post interesting email messages to the DaveNet Mail website at:
Another option that isn't getting as much use as I'd like is the bulletin-board system at scripting.com. The URL for the site is:
After logging on, reply to message 1 or one of its sub-messages.
And thanks for all the mail.
I'll keep digging!
PS: Intercon has a website at http://www.intercon.com/.
PPS: I hear that Apple is shopping for new board members. How about Bill Walsh, the former head coach of the 49ers? Does he use a Mac? Even if he doesn't, I bet he'd have some useful advice for the rebuilding years that are ahead. He would make a great spokesperson for Apple.