Three Years of DaveNet
Tuesday, October 7, 1997 by Dave Winer.
Today is the three-year anniversary of DaveNet.
The divinity in my being acknowledges the divinity in yours.
With a Texas drawwwwwl.
Yeah, here we are starting the fourth year of DaveNet.
Could the web be that old?
Yes it could.
This is the 452nd piece.
A total of 2.2 megabytes of all-electronic text.
No trees died making DaveNet.
But we did lots of diggin!
DaveNet started as an exercise in volunteerism. My friend Marc Canter was launching a new product called Meet the Media Band. I was idle, having retired from the software business in December 1993. I had some scripts that could do mass emailing, I had lots of email addresses of important people I had met at various conferences over the years. So I did Marc a favor, three years ago today and unbeknownst to him, I sent a notice of his press conference to about 300 people.
I attended the event on 10/11/94 in San Francisco. It was fun! At the conference Marc handed out a folder that included an opinionated list of ten things that the multimedia press doesn't get about multimedia. A distillation of Marc's standard rap about media. He was frustrated and expressed it well. I was already thinking in terms of readers and what they might find interesting, so the morning after the press conference I sent Marc's 10 Things to the 300 people.
I imagined that people must have been puzzled, and maybe even upset with me, for sending them this stuff. But I went thru that and sent the email anyway. I still feel this trepidation, but it's lighter now. When I send out each DaveNet piece there's a negative voice inside me that's sure that finally everyone will be fed up with me and ask to be removed from the mailing list. A universal judgement! I worry about this, yes I do. But that's just who I am and what I worry about. No big deal.
Occasionally someone does resign from DaveNet, it's rare these days, and when it happens I get a little zing, a bit of negative energy. Then I breathe and go on. Whew! Close call.
One more thing, re-reading these pieces in October 1997, the editor in me winces, I want to fix the problems I see. I've become a fussier editor over the years. I've developed more of a style. But I respect the dude who wrote them, the younger version of Dave the writer. He had so much to learn, and he learned it! Onward.
The first two DaveNets were a bootstrap. I used Marc's ideas to show me something about myself. If I could publish Marc's ideas, why couldn't I publish my own?
I remember clearly where I was when this idea came to me. I was driving up 280 from the valley to San Francisco. I had a BMW 750IL then, the top of the line, I called this car my Corporate Jet. It drove like an airplane! A long long car with a 12-cylinder engine. I'm a German cop on the Autobahn! Whoooosh. There goes Dave, in his jet. Hey, the car is gone now, I drive a Nissan pickup, by choice. Interesting, now I lust after BMWs, BTW.
In the fast lane on 280, thinking about the emails I sent on Marc's behalf, I realized that I could put my ideas out there too. A solution to a problem -- I get lots of ideas. I want to get the ideas out of my body and hope that other good ideas come back. I know I can't implement most of the ideas I come up with. I've compromised with this over the years -- I share what I discover in all but a few areas where I'm active. It occurred to me, driving north on 280, that email could be a good channel for these ideas.
So the next day, Thursday, I sent out an email that I had written to Jim Cannavino, then the top strategy guy at IBM. And the day after that I sent out a survey of the PDA market, which was the big software industry hype issue of the moment in late 1994. I got a response from Randy Battat, Motorola's top PDA exec, and I ran that too. In the first few days, the most basic elements of DaveNet had been designed.
Things were moving very quickly!
One final thing needed to happen before the full DaveNet formula would be established. I needed to be free, and then I needed to remember what it's like to not be free. I wrote about the Internet, freedom; and the opposite, Apple; in two pieces that, to me, define what DaveNet is about.
Understand that these are symbols. There is no such thing as the Internet, nor is there an Apple. These are abstractions that we use to work out our personal issues. Me too!
On 10/18/94, eleven days into it, I wrote Bill Gates vs The Internet which was a rallying cry against the VCs and Bill Gates, and the cycle of fear that had developed around them. I saw the Internet as a way around that.
Then on 10/29/94 I wrote the other hell-raiser, Platform is Chinese household, explaining what being a developer meant to me. A lot of energy was released in this piece.
See the problem, we expect developers to stay quiet. Apple still, to this day, acts as if every piece is written for them. What I say and do are heavily judged. They try to punish me for talking. It's always been this way, for every developer. You learn to keep your mouth shut.
But get this, I'm an artist. When have you met an artist that can stay quiet? So the most creative developers have a problem. There are no rewards for staying silent. But if you speak, the platform vendor will kill you. Ooops.
There's the reason why the Mac platform was collapsing in late 1994. It was a dysfunctional family, pain being traded against the fear of letting go and moving foward.
And following the Chinese Household formula, life goes on even though husband is very sick and near death.
Lots of stuff happened on DaveNet between then and now.
In late 1994. I was lucky, I was free. I had my eyes open. I saw something gorgeous, the open standards of the web, in their last period of innocence, ruled by academics and engineers, not much FUD. A quiet and deep playground. A cause for optimism!
Simply put, DaveNet chronicles of the development of the web. Breathless excitement in 1994 and 1995. Fear in 1996. The loop closes in 1997, we're back in fear, just like 1993.
Now there are niches of creativity with little FUD, competitive markets, places for hope and excitement, even if the big headline-grabbers keep bumping into each other painfully.
Along the way, over the three years, I learned about respect, blue sky, digging holes and filling them, bodies, men and women, web energy, invasive email (flames), love and fear, the scientific method and space.
Netscape booms, Microsoft invades. A government threatens free speech. Java makes promises it can't keep. The software industry swirls in its cycle of control and defeat.
I was a software developer thru all three years. We invested in web content management software for the Mac. Just as we were delivering, Apple announced its Internet strategy, based on Quicktime and some now-defunct system software. Web content development wasn't part of the story. I decided to heed my own advice, and to not argue with the platform vendor.
That's when we decided that a Mac-only strategy couldn't be commercial, so we reinvested in our code base and ported to Windows. The first public release happened last week. Four people on the team, Doug Baron, Bob Bierman, Brent Simmons and myself. We're hiring more people. Diggin in, in shipping mode, having fun, doing it again, all that stuff. We're older too, more mature, we listen better, and ship more powerful stuff that's easier to use. Cooool.
A lesson is revealed -- to go forward you have to let go. We used to make boxes of software and put them on retailer's shelves. We used to compete with the platform vendor. Then the web became our platform. We gave our software away. Now we're getting ready to sell software once again, but a major portion of what we do will still be given away freely.
I thought the Internet was an end-run around the venture capitalists, but that didn't turn out to be true. Instead it became the playground of the VCs! Huge amounts of money flowed into the search engine companies and other schemes to capture web flow. IPOs happened. Some ideas worked, gained flow, and others didn't.
Are the websites that worked making money? The answer depends on what you mean by a website. I think of Netscape as a website. They generate money because they sell software thru the site. In other words, the combination of a high flow site and software that sells is a money-maker.
That's how I think it will shake out. The PE ratios of online companies will be determined by the value of their software, reflected in unique, valuable features, multiplied by the number of people using the software. The more a company influences the direction of the net, the more valuable the company will be.
Nowadays a website is about business. Get me to the new stuff quickly. Don't put a lot of gratuitous tricks in my way. If you keep it interesting, I'll reward you by returning.
The early idea of the web as a virtual world is disappearing. Gone are the spatial metaphors, websites with front doors and kitchens and living rooms. These ideas sound great in keynote speeches and newsletters, but don't translate well on cathode ray tubes. Even if interface designers knew how to recreate the physical world on a CRT (they don't), the reader's patience wears thin waiting for all the imagery to download.
The web browser makers, Netscape and Microsoft have mistakenly been promoting the flash. Instead they should be focusing on making text look really great, make it easy for us to design dialogs with the user, and look for ways to work around bandwidth limitations. The technology isn't rocket science, we've been down this road before, two or three or four times, depending what you count.
Where do we go from here? We'll find the answer in the cacaphony of the design world, the writing world, and the surfer world.
I'd like to close another loop. John Gage, Sun's chief scientist, gave a speech at Seybold last week where he said something that I've been saying all along. Even so, I think very few people believed me. Maybe you'll believe Gage.
He said that Java isn't the only programming environment that makes sense in the world of the Internet, that scripting will play an important role too.
I obviously agree. When I first saw Java, I saw it aimed at generating graphic apps, not glue that connects servers and content workstations. In other words, Java is not a scripting environment.
I felt then, and I still do, that when people really look at scripting, they'll see much deeper and appropriate solutions for content development.
I don't know why we get so obsessed with prognosticators and their visions, I wish we didn't. Look at what's been delivered. We could have skipped a lot of hysteria over Java. What it could be and what it is were two very different things.
Thanks to John Gage for having the guts to focus part of the attention away from Java. It'll be easier to do some interesting stuff now.
A brief interlude. If this is going to be a classic DaveNet piece, we have to have a song. Hey, it's Sheryl Crow! A change. A change. A change would do you good!
You might think that after three years of writing these pieces. I'd know what's going on, but I'm still learning. The rate of learning is accelerating because I'd like to turn the story into a printed book. This has brought me closer to the why and what of it. Why do I do it, and what is it?
First, I have a contribution to make, and until I started doing DaveNet I was frustrated. I was able to make money, and was also able to add to the state of the art of software, but I wasn't able to get credit for it, or have people be willing to bet on my track record. After three years of building a reputation as a writer and thinker, that's changed. I no longer have the same issues with the industry.
After writing a recent piece, a correspondent asked a deep question -- how does my role in the industry compare to the role I played in my family? Of course it's exactly the same role! I see a solution to a puzzle, people should just work together, but in the end my efforts are futile.
I'm very comfortable with this loop, but lately the loop has been breaking, not due to anything I'm doing, as far as I can tell. Several people who I respect in the industry have asked me to help them with projects because they think people care about what I say. These people are changing, not viewing me the same way or viewing themselves the same way. And I'm growing too, I'm getting what I've always said I wanted. I get to find out what it's like on the other side. Thanks!
Bigger picture, writing DaveNet helps me heal. The most recent example is the I Do piece, which is a response to my unloved inner child. It was the result of a phone conversation with a close friend who had two alchoholic parents.
"You deserved better than you got," I said. I kept talking, and the piece formed. After that it was a few days before the story went out to the readers. It took a while for me to muster the courage!
When I'm ready, I share my lessons, and what comes back makes it even better. It's amazing how beautiful emails can be when you reach inside people and find the loving inner kids. It's an incredible reward.
Finally, I'd like my legacy to be that I helped people be kinder to each other, to find more fun in other people, not to be so threatened by the differences between people.
I saw a television biography of Will Rodgers, a famous American personality from the early 20th century. I learned something that offended me -- his entire life was on the record, everything he did was a publicity event. It resonated with me, because I fear that my life will be this way.
Last Tuesday my friend Sylvia asked why I was so interested in privacy software when all aspects of my life are discussed in DaveNet. My response is that it's not true. I have friendships that influence what I write that are not disclosed or written about.
I do this for a very practical reason, I want to have friends! If every handshake or kiss or caress or confidence were a press conference, I'd be sharing no love, having no fun, and there would be nothing in life worth living!
So there's a line I don't cross. I don't tell everything.
I just tell what I want you to know.
PS: Thanks to the thousands of people who read DaveNet!