Style and Technology
Wednesday, June 11, 1997 by Dave Winer.
I was lucky in the summer of 1994, almost three years ago -- I was just about finished with an eight-month sabbatical, forced on me by two broken relationships. I had a lot of healing to do, and I did it by stopping everything I was doing. That's how it always works, if you're lucky you get another chance after things break. I got my body and spirit into shape. Did some traveling and reading, and exploring of myself.
I was ready for a new challenge when the big buzz started about Mosaic and the web and the standards of the Internet. I started sharing my ideas with friends via email, that's how DaveNet began, and I left a trail behind me on a website, at a variety of places, and eventually started my own server at www.scripting.com, where DaveNet now resides.
I was lucky. I had the free time and energy to explore the new medium when it was young, before the power grabbers of the software industry started fighting over it. You can see the loop start, thru DaveNet, check out Stalin Go Home! written in early 1996, when it was clear that the web was going to become a battleground.
I felt protective of Netscape, the darling poster child of the web generation, but felt even more protective of the freedom that the web represented. I didn't want the government invading, or Microsoft -- but there was no way to stop it.
Given the turn of events I can't blame Microsoft for having defended the web as if it were their own. Re-reading the pieces I wrote about Java in April of this year, it's clear that even if Microsoft hadn't invaded, Sun probably would have, on its own, linked the value of its stock to the growth of the net using Java as the vehicle, and used it as a weapon to undermine and defeat Microsoft.
I already feel like I'm practicing an old art, much like a scribe or a vaudevillian, pretending the world still needs me, even after the advent of the printing press or moving pictures. In the power deals of the media industry, DaveNet is overlooked. Being right, or controversial, or stylish, counts for nothing. It's who you know, what masthead you appear under, that matters to the titans of the new media business.
That said, this month I appear under a powerful masthead -- on the cover of Wired, with a piece that exposes the hypocrisy of Java and its owners.
I know that the web is a writing and reading medium. I know it in my soul. It may be a lot of other things, it may be a desktop, or a Java platform, or a chance for Ziff-Davis to beat up IDG, for Sun to defeat SGI or Microsoft. These are young-male goals, creativity expressed thru physical prowess. Hey, McNealy is a hockey player. It's OK. It's a great sport... but I think there's something else. Thanks!
When I see C|Net pulling the GIFs off their home page so people with 28.8K modems can get to the stories more quickly, I see things shaking out as I feel they should. Rational voices are being heard above the din of gratuitous graphics. Design is the art of making things more usable, not in overwhelming you with prowess.
I went to Netscape's press conference yesterday, and heard a lot of chest beating, corporate agendas, fear and power-grabs. The web being turned into a client-server platform. The s-word (standards) being used all over the place, to mask their probable concern that what they're doing may *not* become the standard. I asked why no style? Oh that's for content people. OK.
But the world doesn't split so nicely into Content People and Other People. Content is such an awful word! What do I do? Hmmm. Is it content? That's like saying a great sunset is "light". Sure, oh yes, that's what it is. But it misses the point. It misses the movement, the inspiration, the soul-gathering and unification that comes from knowing that 80 million people are watching the same sunset, each in their own way all at the same moment in time, each from their own point of view.
I do electronic art. The web was a perfect transition for me since it showcases geekish art and written art, using a narrow pipe to transmit humor and ideas. The broader the pipe, the better, I guess. But let's go slowly I say. You can make great goosebumps with just a 14.4K line. And in doing so, the restraints are what make the expression interesting. How did he do that? How did he make me feel that way? Words are so damned powerful. They make you pay attention. That's coool.
So here's a vote for art. Great tunes, written and sung. A nice melody that everyone can hear. Who cares about corporate databases? They're so boring! I wish I never got another bill or had to write another check. If you can make that easier, more power to you.
Netscape has gone from being the darling of the web generation to being the servant of the client-server world. We've been there and done that, there's only so much innovation possible there and little in the way of inspiration.
The real cultural upheaval will come from new ideas, and despite the noise, I'm confident that it will shake out, it's still coming, the big wheel will keep on turning, and when we're ready to move on, new ideas will win out over been there done that.
PS: Heh'h Hahe Huh -- Hoh!