Was JFK a Hippie?
Friday, March 17, 2000 by Dave Winer.
I wrote the last piece, Touch of grey, without having recently listened to this Grateful Dead gem. After writing the piece I got so much great email from Deadheads.
You'd be surprised who loves Jerry. Much of the really good stuff in servers, tools, browsers, user interface and animation is created by people with long hair, beards, loud laughs, who listen to Grateful Dead music.
"We will get by. We will survive."
In the 60s being a hippie meant being a kid, a draft resister, a drug user, having sex often and not necessarily getting married, but today being a hippie means being middle-aged, and more often than not, a voter, a software user, and quite possibly a software developer.
Hippies go to Esther's, W3C and IETF meetings, hippies even go to Davos. Hippies talk to Joel Klein, and hippies run some of the largest companies. Many of the big venture capitalists are closet Deadheads, and some, like Roger McNamee, aren't even in the closet.
"Every silver lining has a touch of gray."
Hippies said "Never trust anyone over 30." With good reason!
"Oh well a touch of grey kind of suits you anyway."
To me, being a hippie means having a mind and a heart, and remembering to dance when you get the chance.
If JFK had lived, would he have been a hippie?
"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."
Isn't that an interesting question!
If you're a citizen of the US, your country needs your help, whether or not you're a hippie.
The US Patent and Trademark Office is out of control. Check this out. Patent 6,025,810, issued on 2/15/00, defines an apparatus for making light travel faster than the speed of light.
This is ridiculous. We're giving the lawyers license to run the technology business, without regulation, and they're insane. Do you know what a patent is? It's a legal monopoly. We don't have much to worry about devices that make light travel faster than the speed of light. But much of the technology conversation is being determined by lawyers now. This is what you get when lawyers invent technology.
"I know the rent is in arrears. The dog has not been fed in years. It's even worse than it appears."
This message is to every exec, board member and venture capitalist who is filing patents to protect their businesses from competition. You can't survive without competition. There are so many reasons. For example, if your rollout is a dud, like so many are, a competitor's launch can revive your category.
Further, a competitor probes the users' minds, and figures out what they want, and if you're struggling to figure that out, you can use all the help you get. I've been competed with. Young entrepreneurs are afraid of it, but us older folk who are now wiser, know that the conversation between competitors can be most illuminating and valuable. It's what moves markets forward. Without that conversation, when it's a single lone vendor, the market dies. Just ask IBM how the PS/2 went. Do they still make them? (I don't think so.) What about the PCjr? Remember that product when you think about the value of competition. What if we *had* to use the PCjr because IBM had a legal monopoly on home computers??
At Esther's, a company I was familiar with, Firedrop, rolled out. I had signed a non-disclosure agreement, a rare thing for me, because at the time we were in discussion with Kleiner-Perkins on working with UserLand, and Firedrop had not yet announced. They wanted to know if their product was related to our business.
I honored the agreement, but once the product was announced and released I was free to look at their site along with my readers, and found an interesting product on a colorful website, in an area I was uncertain about, but interested in. Would Web users want it? I find HTML email interesting. We do it at UserLand. I wondered if we should compete. And I wondered how Firedrop, who advertises a suite of patent applications, would respond to competition.
So we took a careful look. I sent a few Firedrop messages to friends. I'm going to keep trying to come up with compelling Firedrop applications. It looks like an idea that was well-explored by the makers of QuickMail, CE Software, more than ten years ago. John Foster, the QuickMail product manager, says that users liked the demos, but stuck to plain old email, it was empowering enough, and most people don't have time to design complex forms and databases to gather results, and even worse, people who receive the form-mails don't know what to do with them. Is it a viral app, as Firedrop says it is? The QuickMail experience says it's not.
Now if I choose to compete, Firedrop would get a boost, for sure. With all possible humility, I'm a really good software designer. My apps get used. That's not an accident, because I go to a lot of trouble trying ideas out and only stick with ones that leverage people's time and tickle their minds, ones that can gain traction and grow.
We need competition because that's where the really good ideas come from. It often takes two or three launches to get it right, even if conventional wisdom in Internet investing says that you only get one shot. You can't fight reality in technology, you usually have to iterate, in other words, you can't actually make light travel faster than the speed of light.
I hope our venture capitalists are funding with more reality these days, companies that shut the lights on competition violate cardinal rule #1 of the technology business -- you need competition, without it your idea dies.
"I will survive."
The US is applying pressure to European governments to follow the lead and start issuing patents on software and business processes. There may be an opportunity for one or more European governments to create a safe haven for technologists, free of the patent madness of the US.
Since my art is at issue, I'd move over this. While I admire JFK for his call to US citizens, I am part of the Web now, I'm part of something bigger, I have less in common with my fellow Americans. I choose to make software. Amazingly, to do that, I may soon need a safe haven outside the US.
A sad idea! What I want is simply to work with other people. I've said it so many times. That's what the Web is about to me, working together. The new patent issue destroys the that, at least in the US. It's a deal-stopper. Let's hope other countries don't follow suit, and let's try to fix the problem in the US.
PS: In the rush to get the last piece out I forgot to thank Kevin Werbach, the managing editor of the PC Forum conference. The panel I led was his design, he chose the products and presenters, I merely moderated the session. Kevin doesn't get enough credit for getting good ideas out to Esther's audience. Web applications belonged at PC Forum. Thanks Kevin, it was a pleasure working with you, and I hope we can do it again soon.
PPS: Over the weekend we opened our Weblogs.Com server for free Manila site hosting. If you want to start a weblog, now's a really good time to do it. Most of the good weblogs.com addresses are still open.