Give Democracy a Chance
Friday, February 18, 2000 by Dave Winer.
And happy Friday.
So many cool things are happening in the world of Web applications. The energy is incredible. We have new competition, and as usual, this is the best motivation for our team and community.
We're now hosting over 2700 new sites, all started in the last three months, doing content management in web browsers. It's tempting to see the people using our software as beneath us, that somehow my small company captures all that they're doing. I have to remind myself that this is not so.
Our community. We're not a mail list so we're not in each others' faces. It takes five to a dozen visits to get it. Is this site worth adding to my rotation? These days, every few days, a new one comes along that's worth getting to know.
Two sites recently have energized my own web work by showing me things and points of view that I hadn't considered, or ones that I had forgotten. The best message, the web is quick, throw up some plaster, add some color, let it dry and move on. It's quick. Too much editing sucks the life out of it.
One site that covers Montana teaches us about the secret love life of CBS editorialist Charles Kuralt, a man who must have loved Montana. His ex-mistress says all women were in love with him. Isn't that weird! "I never thought of Kuralt as a lady killer," the Montana News man writes.
(Kuralt is dead now, unfortunately. He was our kind of guy. Maybe men loved him too?)
It was a record week for new stuff shipping. We released the first WAP/WML support in a web content management system. WAP is the subset of HTTP that's supported by wireless cellphones that double as web browsers, and WML is the subset of XML that those cellphones display. It was easy for us, with a deep foundation of XML object database technology and content management, and a user base that's into experimentation.
We also released a new product called Manila Express that further streamlines the editorial process for busy webwriters. And we rolled out a search engine this afternoon, one that's open in ways no search engine has ever been. With 2700 sites of managed content to index, we're not going to have to play chicken and egg this time around. It's almost guaranteed to gain momentum. Just hours after rolling out, fifty sites are being indexed. And it's an open system, open to any compatible CMS, no crawlers needed; the CMS pushes the changes to the server in real-time and indexing happens once a day.
You can catch the technological news in the usual place, www.scripting.com. If you go there, I'm sure you won't be disappointed. But that's not why I'm writing this evening.
Tomorrow is the Republican primary in South Carolina. After a stunning victory in New Hampshire two weeks ago, John McCain could, if he wins tomorrow, turn the Republican presidential nomination process into a referendum for choice. Some may think that's naive, that it's impossible for us to actually have a choice in a national election, but I remain an optimist. We really do have choices to make, whether they show up on our ballot or not is different question.
So if you live in South Carolina, please vote for McCain. And then let's make free speech on the Net an issue, as it wasn't an issue in 1996. We're part of a global economy, and what we do in the United States matters, especially to countries where free speech hasn't happened yet.
Iran held national elections today. Hour-long lines of people waiting to vote. A clear choice. As often is the case, countries with a new tradition of democracy hold it more precious than the US does, the country with the longest history of democracy.
We could spoil the Net in our rush to riches. How much is all the money worth if the Net is just another bedtime story medium? Don't be complacent about free speech. None of the candidates, McCain, Bradley, Gore or Bush are champions of free speech. Most have tarnished records in this area. If there's still a contest on Sunday, we could get somewhere. Seeing the Republican debate on Wednesday on CNN gave me some hope.
Last week, an Internet PR blitz from Clinton, some scheduled some spontaneous (the PR response to the denial of service attacks). More lies and grandstanding, and even a not-refuted rumor that Clinton will become an Internet entrepreneur after he leaves office. Oy. It's politics as a TV show. Business as usual. The groggy Clinton who talked straight to the Davos crowd treats the US electorate as if it doesn't have a mind.
Which of the candidates will speak up for the Internet? Well, they all pay lip service to it. But even McCain and Bradley voted for the Communications Decency Act. Which will have the courage to stand up and say that they want the Internet to be a democratic medium with traditions of free speech guaranteed to other media by the US Constitution? Perhaps a challenged George Bush or Al Gore will? Instead of resorting to gimickry, Bradley could raise the issue, but it may be too late for his campaign. He didn't win in New Hampshire as McCain did.
If there's an effective voter insurgency in either party, there's a chance that the US can overcome the multi-generation legacy of meaningless elections. If Gore and Bush coast into their conventions, there's no chance, in my humble opinion, of there being choice. So vote for McCain, and after he wins, let's ask him about free speech on the Internet.
BTW, I asked this question of the Russian leaders at Davos. They told jokes and laughed about free speech. I never seem to get the chance to ask US political leaders that question.
From Indonesia to Singapore, India, even the Middle East, economies are transforming around the Web. If US leadership in freedom is lacking, perhaps the ball will be picked up by other countries? You can't have an Internet economy without lots of things, peace, clean air, a good education system, and yes, I think free speech and funcitonal, participatory democracy will be a competitive advantage.
My inner-skeptic speaks up. Hey Dave, don't y'all have free speech? Yes, perhaps. But are we any good at it? In the US we've gotten soft, so mushy with communication, we're no good at listening, we've given up, so maybe the opportunity to grow thru the Web will be elsewhere in the world? Or in the world at large? Maybe no single country will own the Web? Hey we're the ones with the screwed up Patent Office.
Free speech is meaningless if you don't know how to exercise it.
Talking on the phone this evening with my friend Alex Cohen who's contemplating a CTO job at a big Hollywood Web startup, we talked about Davos and globalization, and I said it was just the Web. He groaned, remembering that Hollywood's last contribution to globalization, TV sitcoms, game shows and Oscar winners, was not appreciated in the rest of the world (maybe even not everywhere in the US!).
I said this time globalization of US-generated concepts could be different, we could export free speech, and be loved (and despised) by the right people. We jumped up and down. Let's do that, make free self-expression the cornerstone of the new economy!
I think it's the killer app of the Internet.
And there I leave you this evening.
Have a happy President's Day holiday.
And think about George and Abe, fathers of our country.
I think they might have had great websites if they had a chance.