A New Groove
Thursday, January 23, 1997 by Dave Winer.
OK baby, here we go -- another DaveNet piece!
And another software release... Frontier 4.2/Mac.
Yeah we're back to normal, still in MacLand, still learning, and (naturally) still diggin!
Our community is what's important. Even if Apple were to stop making Macs, in the interim, we still want more and more people to manage websites with our software. It's the people that count, not machines. Lots of important people use Macs.
When I saw what Apple was doing with Rhapsody I wanted to move into the space they were vacating. Now we're there. In this release we finished some important Mac business, and we're keeping the cross-platform stuff moving. The Windows port is going well. We're looking at other platforms.
That's the philosophy. The Mac software business is hitting bottom. If you take a positive view, which I like to do -- there's nowhere but up from here. We get to put it back together in a more sensible way.
If not, onward!
Willie Sutton says he robs banks because that's where the money is.
We're pumping up the System 7 Finder because that's where the users are.
Think of the Finder's menu bar as the command-line of the Macintosh. Remember how powerful those Unix and DOS command-lines are. Why? Because they're open. You can add your own commands to those operating systems because they have command-lines, and many people do.
Along came graphic operating systems, and all of a sudden the users are presumed to be dumb. The Finder's menu bar is tiny. It's not open. Lots of room.
Exactly. So that's what we did. We added over thirty new commands to the Finder's menu bar, important stuff like single-keystroke folder mirroring, backups and site management. Finder-level connections to web browsers. You can change the type and creator codes for files or batches of files. Edit the text of any file with a single keystroke. Lots more stuff.
We brought back all the power you gave up (and forgot about) when you switched to a graphic system. Or if you're young enough, you may not have known that computers used to work this way! So the Finder's menu bar is now open to power users. Since I can add commands, so can you. It's a platform.
With this release Frontier becomes an end-user thing. Hundreds of thousands of people can benefit from this software, would want it and install it if they knew it existed. Please help, if you can, to spread the word.
There's a one-page interview in this month's Wired with Steve Capps, one of the original developers of the Finder and the lead developer of the Newton PDA.
Steve works at Microsoft now. He says there are no user interface standards for websites. He's right! Every site is a new learning experience. Designers and reviewers are too focused on glitz -- single-visit prettiness that doesn't serve the frequent user well.
User interface standards were good for software, and the same idea applies well to websites. I've written about this, see Web User Interfaces, 4/5/96.
I wanted to say that Steve has it right. Amen!
Switch gears now, from interactive commands selected from the Finder's menu bar and web user interface issues, to scripts that run in the dark of night, silently compiling statistics from a web server's log file.
At 2AM every night a script runs on my server, producing a report listing the fifty most-read pages on www.scripting.com. It also tells me what the previous day's ranking was, so I can track changes.
Watching this report for the last couple of weeks has helped me understand how my website works. No surprise that my News page is consistently the number one page. People must be happy with the page because they keep coming back.
I also learned that my home page, http://www.scripting.com/, is a high flow page. Viewing it from a user's perspective, this is no surprise. But as the author of the site, I've always stayed away from that page. I wasn't sure what to put on it.
Having access to the hit information has helped me focus on this page, and now I know how I want to use the space.
If you want to do keep your own Top-50 list, and you run WebSTAR 2.0 or greater, it's built into Frontier 4.2, which you can download from my website.
Here's a great high-flow site to check out:
It's run by Ric Ford, an editor at MacWEEK, one of the smartest and most respected journalists in the Macintosh business. If you want to know what's compatible with what, look to Ric. He knows, and he tells! What a service. Every platform should have a Ric Ford.
Ric's site is simple and clean and easy to parse. The home page is a News page. It's the spine of the site. There are related pages and sub-sites. They all link into this page, without cluttering it up. Come back here, every day, Ric says, and I'll show you some new interesting stuff. It works! I come back, every damned day.
Look at http://www.hotwired.com/frontdoor/.
When I was an editor at HotWired I used to complain when I got a scoop and there was no way to get the news out to people who visited our site! I was frustrated.
About two weeks after I left (it always works this way) they fixed the problem and made the home page a news page. Now the HotWired site has grown, they have Wired News and Webmonkey. Great columns. Simpson & McChesney. I find it all even if I don't remember to look. Only one page to bookmark. I trust the editors to show me the hot stuff.
The HotWired site is dynamic and it works. I go back to there every day, sometimes several times a day. There's a lesson here. The home page of a website is like the front page of a newspaper. Some sites like the New York Times, take it too literally and use an image map to emulate the front page of a newspaper. I like it better when they use low bandwidth HTML. Both Macintouch and HotWired do it right.
Lesson learned. Static sites suck. Dynamic sites are worth visiting.
A pattern is emerging...
Like HotWired and Macintouch, I build my site around a news page too, but it's deep in the hierarchy -- pointed to from everywhere, to direct the flow to most dynamic page on the site.
As you might imagine I have tools that make it relatively easy for me to add an item to the News page. I also have a command that allows me to flow email from Eudora to a website, or to choose a file from a dialog to have it uploaded to my server.
When I demo this stuff people say "I want this!". That was a clue. ;->
As a software designer, I look for patterns and try to insert my software into the flow. To raise the level, hide details, empower people, simplify things. I hope that by correctly reading the patterns my software becomes more relevent and therefore more valuble.
I like to play with other web developers, link my site to theirs, to learn from them, to use their commands and scripts. If a lot of people manage sites with our software we can develop compatible tools, grow the software in 50,000 different directions, all upgrade at the same time.
I decided to go for it, package the idea, to commercialize the suite, make it easy to do. If I can do it, you should be able to do it too.
News Page is a new suite, a menu of commands and dialogs, linked into our Suites menu. News Page is built into Frontier 4.2, so anyone who can use a Mac can manage a well designed dynamic website. I hope people take a serious look at it.
We're doing something new in the HTML pages we generate in Frontier 4.2. It's a feature that developers can turn off. We hope they leave it on.
If you look at the source for any of the pages on www.scripting.com, you'll see a comment at the beginning of the page that begins with #htmlHint.
Contained within the comment is a list of attributes for the page. We started with things like the IP address of the server, the address of the source text for the page, the creation, modification dates, and the date the page was last built.
It's an open architecture. Pages can contain embedded information, even binary attributes, that can be read by software running on the client machine. With a new Apple Event implemented by Netscape and/or Microsoft we could bake some coool things into the pages. There's an interesting future here!
For more info, view source, check out the #docs attribute on any of the pages.
Another release! It keeps getting better. And Frontier remains free.
People want to know how we pay the bills at UserLand. Right now I pay the bills. I'm a longtime software speculator. I like it! We used to be quiet while we were investing. That was the old way. The new way is to do the development openly, to invite other people to invest too, in the belief that more fun will result that way.
There's lots of good clean energy in the Frontier community! It's growing quickly. Optimism and a realistic approach to software. Some frustration for sure. A conviction that we're smart, and a committment to working together.
So please see the Credits page on the Frontier site for a list of the people who have contributed to Frontier's success or inspired us in an important way.
And a special thanks to the members of the Frontier-talk list.
We're still diggin!