It's HTML, Dummy!
Thursday, December 5, 1996 by Dave Winer.
Did you watch Sanford and Son? I did. I liked the show.
A cantankerous old man named Fred Sanford, always scheming and plotting, and always at the expense of his loving son, Lamont, also known as The Dummy.
Fred drops his voice and raises it at the same time. "Hey Dummy!" Get over here. "It's the Big One," he rasps. "I'm coming to join you Elizabeth!"
Remember Aunt Esther and her religious Bible-thumping. She didn't put up with Fred's antics, even if Lamont did.
It seems that Fred must have been involved in the Clinton campaign of 1992. Now his spirit is guiding me as I get interviewed for end-of-year looking-forward stories that other people are writing. The question goes like this -- what's going to be the hot new technology of 1997? My answer...
HTML -- everyone does it and everyone hates it. It sucks, but it's what we got. Will its ills be cured? No, it can't happen. It's a standard. It's HTML, dummy, love it or leave it. It's The Big One.
1996 was a crazy year! How many websites went on the air this year? How many messes got created? 1997 will be the year we start to deal with the messes. Every organization that went on the web in a big way in 1996 will have to decide in 1997 whether they're serious or not. Some will give it up, and in their angst there will be a tempation to say that the web is over. But it will not be over.
1997 will be the year we get serious about the web. Any organization that produces dynamic content for the web is a newspaper or a magazine, and will have to operate more like a publication and less like a software company, car company, whatever other kind of company they used to be.
In 1996 everyone in every organization wanted to get in the act. In 1997 the webmasters will take charge again, institute systems, get the HTML crap out of the way of marketing people and executives, and the web will become the dynamic all-inclusive medium it's destined to be.
Web Energy is still very much alive! Oh the bright eyes and the optimism. Librarians and secretaries make it happen. I joke with a librarian turned webmaster: "Librarians are going to run the world, right?" A smile. "We already do," she says. Very nicely done!
A quote: "Eventually, the online world will be managed by women. The role of men, as usual, will be to make it safe for women to create and run our civilization. We'll bring them technology. The information superhighway won't be a cave. It'll be a home."
Male energy makes the tools and fights the wars (starts them too!). Female energy makes it a home. In 1997 we become homebodies. Our cave is long overdue for curtains. And the librarians and secretaries, women for the most part, will make it happen.
Great news! Thank you.
Wizzy tools are here, but they are the wrong approach.
Ask Walt Mossberg, the software columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who says the software industry can't produce truly easy-to-use site development tools. He's right, but it isn't the industry's fault. I swear, there's no way to do a wizzy tool for this thing. The web is not a wizzy medium. Not. Not. Not.
Style on the web moves too fast for wizzy tools like FrontPage, HomePage, PageMill, Fusion, etc. to keep up with. Look at how tools evolved in 1996 for a clue. Frames were a fad, every tool vendor took them seriously and invested. At the end of the year they all produce frame-based sites, but no one wants to produce them anymore! Ooops.
No problem, because as a reading medium, writers actually need the same basic tools they've always needed. Text with very little style. No font changes if you want it to be readable. We can make more powerful tools for web designers and webmasters. For artists and geeks we can go deeper. We can give writers better writing tools, that's all that's needed, and all that's possible.
The net-net, as much as I love outliners, the structure of a website is not a hierarchy, and therefore outliners are inadequate editors for the structure of websites.
Tools for producing web graphics, on the other hand, have a promising future. Right now, it's way too hard, and tool developers *can* do something about this.
Most of the pretty graphics on the web are words rendered beautifully with special effects. To produce such graphics you need years of experience using PhotoShop or Fractal, or something like that. A text enhancer with special effects that was truly easy to use could be the killer app of 1997. I'd be the first in line to buy one.
I got a lot of response for my request for web "client-side includes" in All I Want for Christmas. People suggested I check out various forms of CGI scripting and smart server software.
I was talking about client-side includes, not CGIs. A browser feature that would allow the web client to assemble a page from standard elements located on different servers, without special server software. Like frames without the awkward user interface. It would give web designers more power, and I think that's a good thing.
If I get the time, I'll post a spec for how this could work, but the developers at the major web browser companies know what I'm talking about, so the need isn't really there.
Companies that are log-jammed in legal debates over liability for personal websites will lose the race. Give it up. Put a disclaimer on personal sites if you have to. "This page does not speak for the company. We disclaim it. The opinions here are personal."
Legalese on websites -- a clue! Every external link on http://www.microsoft.com/ has a disclaimer. Fear! Makes me want to use Netscape's site instead, where they point without disclaiming. What do Microsoft's lawyers know that Netscape's lawyers don't?
HTML is a very strong standard. It has evolution problems. Lots of people still use Netscape 2.0, and have no plans on switching to a 3.0 or a 4.0 from Netscape or Microsoft.
Tables, blockquote, color, difficult font control, animated GIFs, that's the environment we're designing pages for. Will there be a "killer app" for ActiveX? No, I don't think so. Will Microsoft displace Netscape? No, I don't think so.
One of the first DaveNet pieces, How to invest in PDAs 10/14/94 proved to be exactly right. PDAs have become peripheral devices for PCs. Motorola just cancelled their Newton and MagicCap products, neither of which worked well with desktop computers.
The new rage is the US Robotics Pilot PDA, which works great and connects to desktops very well. People who love PDAs love this product. Proof that it's a winner: Microsoft is trying to displace it! Yeah-yeah. But working together is the best defense against monolithicism. The Pilot guys are here to stay.
And a final goodbye to General Magic, the most arrogant self-centered monolithic company that Silicon Valley ever produced.
Thank you for letting me indulge in a little release of anger. Onward!
I've written repeatedly about MacWEEK and its editorial focus which, in the past, seemed to be against the interests of Macintosh users by focusing the full attention of their audience on Apple, when it seemed clear that Apple alone was incapable of satisfying their needs.
I'm happy to say that these days I often agree with MacWEEK's editorials, or at least see their point of view as being constructive and useful. It's important to acknowledge when such transformations occur.
Thanks to MacWEEK. I now see our interests as aligned in making Macintosh users more powerful people. We're listening to each other. That's always cool.
I've been writing about companies working together, limiting their size and scope, and committing themselves to the empowering other companies. When Netscape's light really goes on, they'll realize that web developers, for the most part, are their natural allies. To exploit this, they have to commit to being small and focused. They can beat Microsoft by not taking them on. Flipped around, you can't beat a monolithic entity by being monolithic.
On my travels thru the web, I learned that a leading venture capital company, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers sees it this way too. On their website, they write about a Japanese concept called keiretsu; it permeates their whole mission. Netscape is a Kleiner-funded company and a member of the Kleiner keiretsu. There's the secret sauce to their success.
Which leads me to http://www.animatrix.com/, the design company that did the Kleiner website, and also the delightful http://www.101.com/. If you haven't checked that site out, do it now. What a lovely place, especially if you like puppies, which I do.
I've been friends with Marney Morris, email@example.com, the founder of Animatrix, for many years. They were among the first developers to build on MacroMedia's Director platform (it was called VideoWorks then).
It's no surprise that they made the switch to the web. Check out http://infobahn.com/lar/, another Animatrix site. It's a perfect example of how economical animation in the web, without plug-ins, can be used for great artistic effect.
Their sites speak to me and move me. Great examples of web energy, and a bright bright future. Got get em Marney and Co!
The Classified Ads Server is really happening!
Want to be a webmaster at PC Magazine or Salon or Freeloader? Please check out http://www.scripting.com/ads/ on a regular basis.
There's a tremendous shortage of skilled web professionals. We're getting new listings from hot companies, startups and major companies, and hope to turn this server into one of the focal points of the web development community.
Let's Have Fun!
PS: I'm really diggin http://www.webmonkey.com/.
PPS: Check out http://www.archive.org/.