What a Month!
Monday, February 22, 1999 by Dave Winer.
I can't believe it's almost over but it feels like it just started. But we've moved so far, software-wise, in the last month, I have not wanted to stop and write, because the next turn of the next corner in the software trip has just been too intriguing and rewarding.
We're working on a new breed of content management software, putting the editorial tools right where the writers want them, in the web browser. When they're looking at a bit of text it's just a matter of clicking on a button to edit it. As a writer, this is what I've always wanted when working on the web. Remembering two locations, one for the browser and one on my local desktop, is too taxing for my mind. The flow stops, I have to use my brain to find the stuff to edit, and you'd be amazed how many times that extra work makes me forget why I was going there in the first place.
So the next motion is in the direction of making the content *come to me* and then go back to the server, and I never have to type or paste a URL or see a File-Open dialog. When we fully crack this we'll have a great GeoCities-like strategy, the web will open up in ways I can only see a glimpse of now. Of course people will still push forward with just as much energy, but much less of the energy will be wasted doing things that computers do much better than people. (Compute and remember.)
So here's a screen shot of the current work-in-progress:
Things to note. The page links to the members of my workgroup. When they move to a new project they send a signal to all other members of their workgroup. When I click on the link I go to the detailed todo-list page, which they edit using an outliner.
I can also edit the link panel. And since I'm a word guy, I included a dictionary on the page. It's real. It connects to a dictionary server running at Princeton University called WordNet. It's a great feature, I can't believe I've spent all these years writing without having a dictionary always on-screen.
And that's the key concept. You want to cram it all into one page and link it into the browser's Home button. When you want to further complicate the page, you should just have to click on one button. The more HTML you know the fancier it can be, but if you know no HTML, it still looks really nice. And from there you get to every other page you authored, and every workgroup you're a member of.
The browser becomes a portal not just to the Internet but also to the apps on your desktop. The browser is a bridge. You make quick edits without leaving the browser, and it links to your favorite writing tools for more focused writing (like writing a DaveNet essay, which I'm doing in our outliner).
We can do this kind of software because we have something no one else has -- a powerful scriptable object database and outlining software that runs on the most popular writing platforms, Mac and Windows. And we can do it because we invested in a concept called Fractional Horsepower HTTP Servers starting three years ago, and now the vision has been realized and it's as cool as I thought it would be.
Where will this software be used? Workgroups. For example, a division of a company, a small number of designers and programmers to support up to several hundred writers, organized into groups and sub-groups, producing content, a web presence, some for internal use and some for the public.
To support this activity we need all the basic features of a portal, specialized for content management. Searching, time, and hierarchy are the primary ways to locate stuff. Server-based preferences, and scalable content thru XML.
I think the lines between portals and desktop applications will blur over the next few years. I also think it's a key strategy for the desktop software makers, Microsoft, Adobe, Macromedia, Symantec, to link their stuff up to the web browser, that's the cleanest path to the server, because the browser, of course, is fully empowered to talk to the server, and most important, the users already understand this.
One more thing.. This is how the Network Computing idea promoted by Larry Ellison is going to be realized. It will happen, it was the right model, but it will involve skills and habits that desktop computer users already have.
Another wishlist item, it may sound trivial, but it's not -- I'd like the screen-shot functions in Mac and Windows to put a GIF on the clipboard, not a PICT (Mac) or a BMP (Windows). That would help teams of people who are documenting software. Imagine if a user could take a snapshot and shoot it right to the server without even opening a Paint program. Again, the idea is to optimize task-switches.
As you can see I'm in software mode. God bless our President, hope the Y2K thing works out. I'm playing with my ant farm and having a grrreat old time.
PS: As this piece was being edited (it's visible on the web while I'm doing that), Jacob Levy wrote: "Who is George Matesky? Hey I'm not sure he's gonna be happy that you're broadcasting to the world that you're thinking of hiring him." I laughed out loud! George Matesky was a terrorist who blew up phone booths in NYC in the 1940s. We use him in our sample data because it's a funny story. (With apologies to the memories of the people he blew up.) Other fictional characters we use are Lawyer Boyer and Bull Mancuso. And lately, Pope John Paul has been appearing in our demos. ;->