Sunday, December 7, 1997 by Dave Winer.
It's a beautiful morning! I've been listening to bluegrass music lately. A steady thumping beat. Off-key drones with a banjo picking in the background. A religious theme that's charming in a strange sort of way. Ohhh. It's good to plod along in shipping mode with a bluegrass theme playing in the background.
Last night I celebrated the first shipment of Frontier 5/Win with an appropriate old friend, Ed Iacobucci, the chairman and founder of Citrix. I've known Ed since he was a lead developer on OS/2 at IBM in the mid-80s, when I was a Mac-and-PC developer.
He showed up on the very day when we shipped our first public alpha for Windows. Ed must be an angel, sent to welcome me back to my old family. It was a random event! Ed was in town, called me up, and he and his fiance Nancy and I did a demo and went to dinner. We talked about families, software, politics and of course Bill Gates.
Citrix is an example of a company that has thrived in (sometimes very competive) collaboration with Microsoft. I didn't know that Citrix has a market capitalization greater than Novell's (that didn't really surprise me) or greater than Netscape's (that did).
Ed and I agree on many things, but the biggest thing we agree on is that we both win if we empower each other. Our friendship blossomed when he was pioneering new roles for Windows NT and I was developing new uses for the Macintosh OS. Now we're both doing work on the same platform. I hope we can empower each other.
Empowerment is my big word for 1997 and maybe 1998.
In November, at a group meeting of my five-person development team, I realized that people weren't empowered to solve problems. We all saw lots of problems in the work we were doing, and in the ways we were working together, but no one was empowered to fix the problems.
Well, I'm the CEO of this company. I'm empowered, right? But it didn't feel that way. Two guys were working on our Windows software, but it was hands-off for me. No blame, just a fact. There was other disempowerment, actually it was everywhere you looked.
So what did I do? I took the power. In a friendly way! At one point Doug Baron, the lead developer of the Frontier kernel said "It couldn't ship until you took charge." But in a similar way it couldn't ship until Doug took charge. And Brent, and Bob, and Wesley. Each of us has to own what we own, and work with and promote to the people who use our stuff. It's a simple idea, but it wasn't happening.
There are still glitches, some disconnects; but everyone will get with the program. Empowerment is how respect is implemented within the framework of a software company. Without empowerment you have nothing. With it, you can go somewhere.
"I empower you to fix that bug!" I say to one of my team. We laugh. What does it mean? You are responsible for fixing the bug, I need the fix, but you can do it however you like, in your style. It's OK to have fun. Let's not do a death march. Let's be great.
That's what empowerment means to me.
A collection almost 200 people, known as the Frontier-work list, helped us test the first cross-platform versions of Frontier 5. We started this test group just as the empowerment idea was taking hold inside UserLand.
Almost immediately I saw that we had a problem, the requests for features were coming faster than we could process them. We didn't have enough people to understand and respond to the requests. It had been a long time since we had turned our attention in their direction, and once they had it, they weren't going to let us go without being heard.
I had enormous resistance to hearing what they were saying. Maybe what they were saying changed while we were going thru my resistance? I don't know. But I know it had a happy outcome, and not surprisingly the same concept that worked so well for the internal UserLand team worked on the mail list too -- empowerment.
We have so much at stake in empowering Phil Suh, Jim Roepcke, Preston Holmes, Philippe Martin, Richard Clark, and the other young red meat eaters who love Frontier as much as we do. We want to learn how to give them what they ask for. We commit to listening now and continuing to listen in the future and looking for opportunities for us to move forward together.
In return, we ask for their patience. In many ways they know more about our product than we do. It's going to take some time for us to catch up with them.
One result of this new empowerment is a hierarchic attribute for Frontier-managed websites called #pageHeader. It's a simple idea, implemented in about 10 lines of UserTalk code, but it opens up our sites to DHTML, CSS, XML, and lots of other coool Internet acronyms.
We learned that our users are persistent, courageous, seductive, polite and respectful, and they are right! Should we empower them? Of course! Why? Because their success is our success. It's simple.
Every year I write a Thanksgiving piece, and every year I get emails from Canadians saying that they own the holiday as much as people in the US.
I understand their point of view, but being a US citizen, as I am, I see it as our holiday, and the Canadian Thanksgiving as something different. But I wondered if we could do something to empower our cousins in the north? Then I came up with this idea -- Canada Appreciation Day!
Here's how it would work. Pick a day. On that day, we have huge rallies in US cities, with bright red Maple Leaf flags flying everywhere. We learn about and celebrate our Canadian friends.
On Canada Appreciation Day we look to the north, and thank the better half of North America for putting up with our self-centered approach for so long. We ask them how we could do better. And we listen! We try to imagine what life would be like without Canada, and be glad that we don't have to find out.
Today's New York Times has a great editorial about free speech on the Internet.
After a week of hearing from people gathered around Al Gore who think that the number one issue is protecting children from sexuality, it's refreshing to hear a vote for free speech.
After free speech on the net was ratified by the US Supreme Court last summer, there's no doubt that another attack is coming, and the rallying cry, as always, is that the Internet must be made safe for adults who don't want children to learn about human sexuality.
Children are interested in sex. That will always be true. So what? Should the net be turned into a sanitized Disney interpretation of the net? No way. I prefer my coffee caffeinated, and I like my net with free speech -- for good reason. I like real things, not simulated things.
Instead of hiding from the sexuality of children, we should celebrate it. Let's have puberty parties! Let's have sexuality websites designed just for kids! Hey, kids are great. Their sexuality is great too.
As a child, one adult I listened to was our family cleaning lady, Mary. I remember what she looked like and how she spoke. A thin, serious, nicely-dressed black woman, very dignified, and very respectful. And she told me something I'll never forget.
Mary had two children. She told me about them. "Be nice to your sister," she would say to her son, "she's going to be your friend for your whole life. I won't be here forever."
Today I realize that she loved her children in the true way a mother loves her children -- with an exit strategy. She set it up so her children would know that she wanted them to create their own lives, together, not to live a life she designed for them. Her kids were lucky!
Finally, a message from uncle Dave, to brothers and sisters everywhere.
It's traditional in some families to wait until parents die before becoming friends with our siblings. I've seen this happen in my own family and others. My hope is that you don't have to repeat this in your lives. I want you to know that you can be free no matter what your parents do or say. You can be friends!
Brothers and sisters, you probably know each other better than anyone else. Listen to yourselves and each other. If you're angry with your sister, tell her why. If your sister is angry with you, don't defend against it. That can be hard to do, but if you can, just listen and accept what she said, knowing that it's her point of view, not a condemnation of you as a person.
And this is the simplest, most pure empowerment possible. I empower you to be who you really are, not who I want you to be! To say what you see, not what you think I want you to see. That's what friendship is about. That's what power is about too.