A Custom Cookie-Cutter
Tuesday, December 17, 1996 by Dave Winer.
Happy holidays. Hope you're having fun. Grrreetings from California where it's cold, not cooool. There's ice everywhere. But no more rain. Go away! I like the sunshine. It's nice. OK.
I've been working on better web development tools and business issues related to UserLand Software, the other part of my professional life.
I've also been watching carefully as the web content tools market develops. I've been drawing conclusions, and wanted to share them with DaveNet readers.
I've identified four markets in web content tools so far, I believe each area will be populated with different kinds of software. It's a marketing thing. Different approaches for different kinds of users and websites.
The four markets are small-sites, designers, writers and geeks.
Software in this category is for small business owners, solo entrepreneurs, families with websites, individuals who are writing all the copy on the website, or are able to edit all the copy.
I expect that Claris and Microsoft will be leaders in this market; especially Claris, since small business is their special expertise, and they already have a strong position with FileMaker.
Akimbo Systems has a nice product named Globetrotter that's doing well in this market too.
I think designers will like NetObjects Fusion. It's a beautiful rendering of a page editor. It's the first product I've seen that takes the designers interests to heart. They position themselves as the Quark XPress of the web, and they're right to do that. But the HTML it generates is wild! With some help from the browser makers, they should be able to make simpler HTML do the same stuff.
So far no one has offered a writer's tool designed for web writing. Most page editors don't even have a spell-checker. There's room for lots of innovation here. Text is more structured on the web. The major new thing web writers have to worry about -- hyperlinks.
So far the focus in webwriting tools has been on making HTML manageable, but these products are actually more useful to geeks. They're not really writing tools, just early releases in the small-site segment. In the future, HTML will not be an issue for writers. They won't write in HTML, they'll write in English, Spanish, French or Chinese.
If you don't want a cookie-cutter website, you need an empowered geek to make text flow thru templates and scripts out to the site. But the geek isn't going to design your templates, or write the copy. So if your website isn't a single-practitioner thing, webflow is already the big issue. What was fun in 1996 will be a lot of work in 1997. Effective websites will be managed systems.
Tools for designers, writers and geeks must work together, systematically. Just as there's a position for design tools like Quark Xpress, there's also a need for powerful webflow system software.
I'll never grok Photoshop or Quark, so I doubt if Fusion will be my primary HTML generating tool. Designers and writers will never work in a Microsoft or Symantec development environment, nor should they use my software to manage their websites. Most writers don't want to manage websites, but they want control of the copy on the pages they're responsible for.
Think webflow and you'll understand how content tools will evolve over the next few years. It's going to be a segmented market. I don't think any one company or product can dominate all four segments, because different groups view software differently and have different, conflicting, needs. The key is making the tools work together so the users can work together.
Good news! Everybody already works together because there's a strong standard file format out there, HTML. My software can organize files written in any of the page editors, you can even mix them, because they all produce output that's viewable in a web browser.
I can read files produced by Fusion, Home Page, any of them -- and I didn't have to work with the developers at any of the companies. No waiting. I like this way of working together. It's fast. Oh I've said this many times, HTML is a crock -- but what a great crock it is!
I'm interested in the breakdown of the content tools market so I can better understand how to position my product and company. Having established a framework, it's easier to say what my software does.
I've come to think of Frontier as a web operating system. It builds on top of a desktop OS, whether it be Windows or Macintosh, or Be OS or Unix. Desktop systems deal with a lower level of problems -- applications, files, folders, network connections, shared resources.
We manage resources at a higher level: object-oriented structures of text, outlines, scripts, data, and access to content produced by other applications. We render text into web pages; structures of web pages into web sites. It's all subject to modification and customization thru macros and templates. Links are stored in hierarchic symbol tables. Relative links are generated with no extra work. You never have to put a hard-coded URL into a web page.
We go for maximum power for the geek, so they can create an easy-to-use platform for writers and designers. It's the lathe on which developers design the custom cookie-cutter that defines a powerful easy-to-use website.
How many beautiful sites do you visit that never change? How many often-changing sites look beautiful? When you visit a large site can you find what you're looking for?
These are the problems that we're tackling and solving.
PS: Akimbo is at http://www.akimbo.com/.
PPS: NetObjects is at http://www.netobjects.com/.