Wednesday, March 10, 1999 by Dave Winer.
An old Grateful Dead tune.. "Standing on a tower, world at my command. You just keep a turning while I'm playing in the band." This could be the theme song of the web, at its best. I point to you, you point to me. We relinquish control and bet that the reader will remember who made the introduction. I give you flow because you're excellent, and you give it back when I am excellent.
That's how the web will surround and eat the print press's lunch. Long lead times? Go for it. Being pals with the Washington politicians? Better hope the economy stays good. Be a tool? Not me, I'm just playing in the band.
We've been having some very useful band-like talks on discuss.userland.com, and I had a revelation a few days ago, coming from being a Unix guy who turned to CP/M, then the Apple II, IBM PC, Macintosh and then Windows. The last few years have been about getting the standards of the Internet deployed on the popular desktop systems. Now I think we're there.
You can browse the web, read and write email, maintain a website, as easily and powerfully on a Mac or Windows desktop as you can on a powerful Unix honker. Those strange-looking things, URLs, are commonplace. What many people don't realize is that those URLs are Unix file names! So Unix has shown up on our desktops whether we know it or not.
But has Unix returned the compliment? In other words, have they adopted the best that desktop systems have evolved to be in the last twenty years? I think not. If they were, instead of complaining about our we-aren't-on-Unix-yet story, they'd look deeper and find a way to leverage what we do to the advantage of the net, not just their favorite operating system. In fact, we'd already be on Unix if there wasn't all this confusion about which desktop is going to be *the* Unix desktop.
Unix needs a desktop, not two or five. It needs one, one that has the polish and finish of Windows or Macintosh, and has the support of tool and runtime software developers. To gain that support, one of the desktop metaphors for Unix has to jump out in front of all of the others, to become the "consensus platform" and then, and only then, can Unix *start* to challenge Windows and Macintosh on the desktop.
Put another way, the desktop software developers, people like me, have fully embraced the web, and in doing so have brought Unix culture onto the desktop. We already work with Unix! Now it's time, after years of saying this, for Unix to return the favor.
Unix needs to do two things. First get its desktop act together, so it will mean something to put Frontier on Unix. And second, it needs to embrace the popular desktops, Windows and Mac and stop complaining that so many people use them. It's a fact, just a fact, not a threat, not a problem. The more we work together the less of a problem it is.
We'll have some concrete proposals in the second area, soon, and we have no choice but to wait patiently while the desktop situation sorts itself out on Unix, or fails to be sorted out. Stay tuned, as I am.
Onward.. We're getting ready to ship Frontier 6, and in doing so, we're going to be running not only on the content management server and content developer's workstation, we'll also be putting software onto the desktops of writers, editors and contributing editors, building around the tools they use. Can you imagine editing a news-oriented home page in an outliner or spreadsheet? I think it would be very neat, and quite do-able in the Frontier 6 cross-platform environment.
Most of our time in the last year has been spent in getting the server component of our software solid and 24-by-7. If you're reading this on the web you're using it right now. But we've also invested in a new writing environment, and that will roll out over the next year in various forms, customized to the needs of editorial teams.
We're developing an editorial portal, which we will sell to customers. The goal is to deploy a flotilla of compatible editorial systems and see what happens. That's what the next level of Playing in the Band is all about. I think we can challenge highly centralized editorial systems with this approach. In my dreams, we do to the New York Times what Amazon did to Barnes and Noble. The assumption has been that the web can't get its act together to take power from the East Coast press establishment. I wouldn't count us out yet. In some ways we're just getting started. We'll do it by being distributed and uncentralized, the zig to their zag. Playing in the Band!
As we start to open up our writer's portal, we're deepening and modernizing our developer's portal, userland.com.
This weekend we rolled out a new twist on the old standby, Who Is? It's a game many of us play, let's find a new domain name, brainstorm to see what's taken and what's not. Like other web developers, I've spent much time at rs.internic.net, playing the Who Is game. It's fun. It's also amazing what's not taken! For example a few weeks ago I noticed that both featureRequest.com and featureRequests.com were not taken. We grabbed them quickly. Then a friend suggested a portal for doing seances. I checked it out. contactthedead.com isn't taken. We grabbed it. For this project we'll partner with a new kind of technologist. It'll be lots of fun! But I digress..
I love Who Is, but it could be a lot better. It could remember what I had looked up, keeping a notepad for me, a history of the lookups I had done. Otherwise I have to switch between a browser and text editor and paste in the names that I found while brainstorming that were available, or interesting for other reasons. So that's what we built, and today we're opening it up for public access.
So next time you have a Who Is problem, bring it to whois.userland.com, get the cookie, and get to work..
Tell your friends!
PS: For some reason our Who Is is much faster than Internic's. This is puzzling to me, because we're just calling their server. It must be a load and content management issue?