The Sixth Sense
Sunday, June 11, 2000 by Dave Winer.
I was the last person on my block to discover the Macarena, and no doubt I'm the last person to see The Sixth Sense.
Bruce Willis? Could he make a great movie? Yes he could.
And thankfully no one told me the ending.
The ultimate gotta-see-it-twice movie. Great stuff.
Switching gears, but not really..
What does open source have in common with Java?
Both are former panaceas. Like object oriented programming in the late 80s, if adopted, they would supposedly lead to magic synergies known only to the promoters, and breathlessly replayed by reporters looking for an easy story to repeat over and over and over.
Java was (and is) Pascal reincarnated. A virtual machine that ran on real machines. Good idea. Been done before. Open source is a tradition that dates back at least thirty years, if not longer. If you learned how to program in the 70s your teacher was quite possibly the source code for Unix (that's how I learned).
Fodder for the hype machine, these "trends" make some people rich, and take the focus off what's really happening, which is still the Web. Then they fade out, to be replaced by the next vaccuous trend, and in the meantime, most developers work hard, outside the spotlight, to make their users happy. (That includes open source developers, btw.)
The thing that's truly offensive about these panaceas is that they are so exclusive and disrespectful of other developers. Until Sun embraced SOAP, the only Sun-endorsed way to communicate with Java apps was to convert your whole program to Java. The Java evangelists would cheerfully and seriously tell you to do this. Same with open source. Unless you shipped all your source on their terms the wall was insurmountable. These are outages of the first order.
When will we learn the lesson, that predates even the Internet, that all outages in software are eventually routed around. Try to control and you lose your place. The time-of-control is shortening all the time. IBM had a 20 year run. DEC was the leader for 10 years. Microsoft, for four, at most. Java had an even more brief run and it was over before Java could actually do anything that anyone wanted to do. If you're a student of technology history, the long-shot bet of being dominant looks worse and worse. Even if you manage to attain dominance, briefly, who wants to be the trend of last year?
Thankfully the open source rage is on its last legs. If you're honest and made a bet on open source, and want to get help from the press and investors, here's some open source (free) advice. Play it down. "Oh that's an open source play" they will say, shaking their heads as they look for something else to hype. Like B2C and B2B, it's last year's trend. Avoid those trends like the plague.
Even so, some trends are real, and almost all trends have some value in them, but it's not always where it seems to be.
The Web is real. Its revolution is that it enabled power users to become developers, and writers to become publishers. A network programming language with a very easy ramp. We had been looking for this, and hats off to Tim Berners-Lee for finding the magic formula.
Another trend that's real -- GUIs. How many people use command-line interfaces these days? A very small minority. At one time almost everyone who used a computer typed commands on a virtual line printer, or "glass teletype." GUIs, in the form of Mac and Windows, had staying power, obviously. They changed the way we work with computers.
Even Java and open source have real value. Java has become a popular server-side programming language now that it's no longer a religious movement, and open source has focused attention on the basic generosity of programmers, but it isn't as exclusive a club as the promoters would have you believe.
Another thing that's real is Napster. For a moment, ignore the legal controversy. What's truly wonderful about Napster is that it's bringing the power of the server to the desktop, in a mass market way. The technology of Napster is super interesting. It's the politics that gets the headlines though.
You won't hear me criticize the press for reporting on Napster. I believe in it. We plan to put a product in this space, without the legal implications. An authoring tool that has a built-in Web server, and is easier to use than anything that's come before, in my humble opinion.
Reading the story of how The Sixth Sense came together, I realize I may have made the wrong career choice. Perhaps I should have been a screen writer, because in the movie industry, the best people work with other best people, on a regular basis. Sure, it's a screwed up industry, but at least no one can take out a patent on a story idea. (Or can they?)
Whatever. Let's rush to build the Two-Way Web, asap, before the opportunists patent all the good ideas. And if you support developers who don't patent, one of the best things you can do is give them credit for their inventions, and do this carefully and completely. Almost all creative people want recognition for the risks they take. When they are generous with their ideas and don't patent them, extra recognition is a good idea. This is something positive everyone can do to encourage generosity from developers.
I may have found a formula that allows me to write for the Web and email. I've let the last two pieces rest on the Web for 24 hours before publishing them via email. I've written a new script that makes it easier for me to send the emails. The only problem I haven't solved is nasty email in response. Some problems are out of my power to solve, and this is probably one of them. Onward!
SOAP, which is the descendent of XML-RPC that we worked on with Developmentor and Microsoft, and then IBM, has a new supporter, Sun Microsystems. This one blew me away. Has hell frozen over too? Seriously, welcome Sun and thanks for the support!
Manila users now have Themes so even if you're not a great designer you can still have a site that was designed by one. And Frontier 6.2, which is totally ISP-ready, is inches from shipping.
I'm still doing a lot of traveling, three trips remain in June, Seattle twice and New York once.
As always the daily news is on www.scripting.com. Your participation is welcome.