Monday, June 29, 1998 by Dave Winer.
Good morning and happy Monday!
We have an all-day meeting today so I don't have much time to write, and it's been a week since I've done a DaveNet piece, and I want to get some ideas out there, things continue to move fast, and I'm still learning a lot, and happy with the transition of Frontier to being a commercial product.
Before going on, I want to address a pair of concerns. On one side, a single DaveNet reader who I won't name has said that the last piece was too close to being a commercial for his comfort. Even one person saying this requires a public response as far as I'm concerned.
DaveNet is my personal journal. I don't run anything in this column unless I think it's interesting. That's the sole criteria. I use this column to promote ideas, evangelize directions I think are important, and to talk about where we're taking our products.
Even when Frontier wasn't commercial, the moment it was my intention to take it commercial, I made a public statement in DaveNet. So my response is that there hasn't been a change, and since DaveNet is free, if it isn't something you're comfortable with, then you can unsubscribe and the problem is solved. This may sound harsh, but the lines have to be clear in order for me to be comfortable that everyone knows where I'm coming from. Thanks!
On the other side, a lot of Frontier users read DaveNet. Some of them, more than one, have expressed discomfort that I approach human issues in a colorful way in this column. I understand that it's unusual for a company president to write a column, but it's not unprecedented.
Bill Gates writes a column that's syndicated by the New York Times, and Jim Barksdale and Marc Andreessen write columns on Netscape's website. Stewart Alsop and Bill Gurley, both venture capitalists, write columns for Fortune magazine. It's becoming more common for companies to expose the thinking of their executives in a public way.
To the Frontier customers who are uncomfortable with DaveNet, you absolutely do not have to share my values in order to use our products. Let's value diversity, in software and in human beings. The only values I bring to and expect from a customer relationship are mutual respect and professionalism. Everything else is subject to discussion and differing opinions.
I also think it's a positive thing to put a human face on the management of a software company. Companies are totally about people, yet so many deny that, pretending that they make their decisions without bias or passion. But... what's the point of having technology if it isn't to serve people?
So this tiny little window into the soul of a president of a company, while unusual, isn't really revealing anything. The top guy at this company is human. I make mistakes, I take chances, I say what I think and I change my mind. I think that actually helps the software move faster, because I learn from every piece I write, both from doing the writing, and from what comes back; and what I learn goes into the software.
So, think of DaveNet as joined with Frontier, but separate from it. If you want to understand our strategy, it's a good idea to read this stuff. I've been pretty open about my thinking, and I want to stay that way, even if our company grows to be the size of Oracle or Netscape.
Further, I think the values of DaveNet, you know, still diggin, let's have fun and namaste y'all, make a lot of sense in the context of a company that's making money. So let's do it, let's have fun, and tell the truth whenever possible, and go from there, and see where it takes us.
A little over a week ago, we announced the new pricing and support structure for Frontier 5.1, the commercial release that we had been planning for so long.
Since then, I've been communicating on a regular basis with the members of the Script Meridian community list, an independent group of Frontier developers.
At first it was intense, and then we got down to work. Before saying anything else, a hearty thank you to all the people on the Script Meridian list who are working with us patiently on the new pricing and support system.
I've thought about posting my emails on Scripting News and DaveNet, but have wanted to keep the conversation limited to the group of people on the list. But on Sunday morning I wrote an essay to the list that I want to share with DaveNet readers.
The email was in response to a message from Scott Lawton of Prefab Software, encouraging us to run a survey asking users to commit to purchasing Frontier at a lower price than the ones we have listed. It rambles thru lots of issues, the changes in the Mac market, the scripting business (or lack of business), Steve Jobs, and the press. I thought it was interesting enough to share with DaveNet readers.
Scott, first, thanks for putting the effort in here. I think I have to clarify what our goals are for UserLand. We want to build revenue so we can grow and be a successful and powerful company. High-end cross-platform web content systems is our business.
Emphatically, we don't want to compete with Dreamweaver, NetObjects Fusion or GoLive Cyberstudio. Those are great tools for designers. We make a back-end system for managing content. We want to interface with those products, not enter their market.
In our view, the market is divided four ways. Writers, designers, graphics people and systems people. Dreamweaver, Fusion and Cyberstudio are the best tools for designers. Frontier is for systems people. It's the glue that can connect all their work together. We have more to do in this area, and we will do it. But only if we can focus on this area.
Some of the records in our registration database are from people who chose Frontier over other products because it was free. That was OK up to a point, but that line is crossed. The people who were just dipping their toe into Frontier now have to take a look at what's available elsewhere, decide if it fits their needs, and if the other stuff works for them, and is less expensive, I think they'll be happier, and I think we will too.
It's not that we don't like them, it's just that we can't serve them directly as customers. We *can* serve them as a back-end rendering and distribution system, if they want to manage content as part of a group, but not as their primary interface for content development. When they look at our product and our price and they see it isn't a fit, they can and should look elsewhere to see if they can get a better deal. And that's correct and feels right to me.
We think we can build a successful business working with people who really need the power and depth of a content management system. In other words, I'd much rather work with people who want to store 20,000 pages in their object database and leave the smaller site-management tasks to tools that are better suited to it.
Please let go of the idea of Frontier as a free or inexpensive scripting environment for the Mac OS. I had to do it, you do it too. It's gone, it's over, finished.
Just like Steve Jobs cancelling OpenDoc, Newton, the clones, or making his deal with Microsoft. Was Jobs right in doing these things? I think he was! Apple was unfocused. The only way for a company to grow and make sense to its customers is if they know what they are and what they aren't.
I didn't really start letting go until 1996. Even then, as some have pointed out, I still wanted to show people how cool Frontier/Finder is. Read the DaveNets thru late 1997. I was still struggling to get Apple to help us build a market. It's a hard one to let go of. Even in the last round of technological innovation in Frontier, the XML-RPC stuff, I tried to get Apple in the loop, privately and awkwardly, and it didn't work.
And to show how stubborn I am, I still have hopes that when Jobs sees the role Frontier will play in the industry, he will want to tap into our flow, that the best way to bridge Apple Events over the Internet will be with Frontier as a hub. But that's still a few months away, and I hope we'll be well established in our role as a content management system by then.
If you go back and read my first paragraph, you'll understand what's going on here. We are structuring our company so that it's an attractive investment. It very much matters who is buying our product and for what purpose and at what pricepoint.
Frontier as a Mac-only system-scripting environment was heavily financially subsidized. It lost a lot of money. You don't know that a lower price would actually work, and honestly, I don't believe it would. You can't convince me it's a goldmine. It could be that you're right, but in business, you have to make a decision, and I've made mine.
That said, I'm puzzling out some way to get a deal for the people who make up the community. For people who have released scripts and samples and tutorials that other people use, or who have participated in our mail lists in a positive helpful way for newbies, and are willing to do so in the future.
I'm having trouble coming up with criteria for this. I can't cannibalize our high-end sales. I'm working all the time on this idea, and am not comfortable with that, because we have fires to put out elsewhere.
Next week is going to be a major formative week for the new UserLand, and I have to be focused on those issues, and at some time I'd like to get back to writing software and working with tools developers on realizing the potential of XML-RPC.
One idea I've been toying with is an official status for a handful of people, something like "Support Associate". These people, perhaps up to 20, check the support mail list on a daily basis, research questions that people ask, provide sample code, submit articles and bug reports to the support database, in general implement support for the product, as part of the team. I'm looking for a creative solution that keeps the community people in the loop, even if they can't afford to buy in on the commercial or even the personal license.
Major disclaimer: this is not a commitment to do this. I want to explore the idea, and seek input from the people on this list.
My goal is to preserve and then grow the energy and intelligence of this community, not dissipate it. I want people to have a mission, a purpose, to see their work recognized and appreciated, and (here's the new thing) give all of us a shot at making a good living doing this stuff.
Another observation. MacWEEK was ready to support our change. For the first time, they've accepted that we cast Frontier as a web content system, and they're telling the story as we tell it. This is a major milestone.
MacAddict also posted a piece, again, consistent with our positioning and explaining the feature set as we present it.
Why can it happen now and it couldn't have happened earlier? I think there are two reasons. First, we needed some time to make the transition. And second, Apple has forced the editors to rethink several times, with all the changes they've made. Now they're more flexible, if they can move with Apple, they can move with developers too. Apple set an important precedent, we finally got a little air cover, and it came in an unexpected way.
But who really cares why it can happen now? This is a good thing because with this flexibility we can move faster and products can position relative to our product, because we have definition. We're not everything to everybody. This is what we wanted! And this creates room for other people to play in the adjacent spaces. It helps us fit in. What a relief!
So we may have a framework for communication, as we move Frontier forward, at least two publications will probably move with us. This is great! When we ship a refinement to Frontier, like a new groupware application (we have a couple of new ones almost ready to go), or if others ship a refinement, they're more likely to run the story, now that they have gone on the record supporting our new role.
And that's what markets are about.
Defined products that relate to others.
In software, relationships can be implemented with new connections. That's why interapplication communication, expressed first in the form of Apple Events, then as COM and CORBA, and now as XML-RPC, is such important technology.
As it has always been, the challenge is to create new connections between software products and platforms; to smoothe out the experience for users and give them new power. We want designers using Dreamweaver to work with graphics people using PhotoShop and writers using Eudora and everyone using a web browser like Navigator or Internet Explorer. You get the idea. Let's focus on people and making them more powerful. It's a big world out there. We can make it bigger by working together.
Hey vive la difference! I'm thankful that Frontier is not like Dreamweaver. That means we don't have to do what they do, and we don't have to do it all.
It also means we can work together to build markets. It's more credible that way.
That's always been my dream for the software industry, and it still is.
More diggin to do!