They all aks'd about you
Tuesday, December 12, 2000 by Dave Winer.
Welcome back. I had a great trip to New Orleans for the EDevCon show. Met a bunch of new people, ate some great food and took a streetcar ride, an old New Orleans tradition, and passed my alma mater, Tulane University; and across the street, the world famous Audubon Zoo, which inspired a fine song by The Meters.
It start like dis.. I went on down to the Audubon Zoo and they all aks'd for you. They all aks'd for you (for who?) well they even inquired about you. I went on down to the Audubon Zoo and they all aks'd for you. The monkeys aks'd, the tigers aks'd and the elephants aks'd me too.
An old New Orleans lullabye. One of the best songs ever. Eh labas. Red beans and rice. Creole gumbo. Hint: It's on Napster. Go get it. You dance. Grits and fish drippins.
You know what? They ain't enough humor in our world!
While the networks cover the minutiae of the building political crisis in the US, we're asleep on international politics. All kinds of shit is possibly breaking loose all over the world. What's Saddam up to? The Arabs and Palestinians are frustrated that we support Israel as we obsess over ourselves. The damage being done may be irreparable. We're so immersed in our partisanship that we miss the obvious truth, but the LA Times did something different. They dug in, and looked at our electoral process and found the truth, the big story.
Our system is broken. In a close election all the flaws show up. Count every vote? What a joke. When it's this close you'd get an equally accurate count with a coin flip.
So while we're waiting for the US Supreme Court to make its decision, get this -- no matter what they decide, we never will know who got more votes on November 7. Can't do it. Ask a mathematician. Can we have a better system? Probably. Using computers, assuming everyone was honest, we could have a system that returned perfectly accurate results in real-time. But the temptation for mischief by hackers would be enormous.
Some say that we used to be able to do this, but I don't believe it. There has always been mischief and fraud and inaccuracies in the counting process. And as our population grows, the problem gets harder. Technology can help, but..
I wonder about our banking and stock trading systems, which are totally run by computers now. We trust computers with our money, so it seems inevitable that we will trust them with our votes too.
Here's an interesting way to find the lies.
Listen to the difference between what the lawyers say on TV and what they say in court.
They lie to us, but they're more careful with the judges.
Pay attention to what they say in court, ignore what they say in public.
When I fly I get to read the NY Times cover to cover. I like the Times, because even though they're partisan, they seem to treat me like I have a mind, unlike CNN, or MSNBC or Fox News.
I wish the Times had a TV network. Target audience: people with minds who want to learn. Instead of repeating the same lies over and over, which were boring the first time, give us new material, new facts and perspective. Sure it would be a niche audience, I understand that most people want to have their body chemistry raised by TV (or put to sleep) but some of us have minds and want to use them. I'd pay for this of course, or maybe there would be a new kind of advertising that would want to talk to our minds. Just a thought.
BTW, I also like The Economist for the same reasons, with the added benefit of a European point of view.
Content management was a big topic in New Orleans. A subject near and dear to my heart. Lots of discussion, out of which came some advice for people deploying new websites for their organizations.
Get the basic stuff working first. Don't wait. So many startups in stealth mode never get their sites on their air before spending all their investors' money. Start by starting. If you want to learn, jump in and swim. So much talk about icing the cake, people talk about the benefits of a managed website, but before you can get the benefits you have to get a website on the air. As many have found it's not as easy as it looks.
Start with a simple editing system where writers can write simple email-style messages that flow through templates. Then add a home page with links to a few static pages, and a center stage that changes every day with links to new stories. Add a searchable archive. Then a hierarchic directory. Get this all working, and then and only then should you consider adding a store or personalization features.
Bootstrapping is not just for developers, it's for users too.
One more bit of advice. Ask all your vendors to explain how they're locking you in to their software. Know up front what your choices are in the future. The more lock-in the less powerful you will be.
Going to conferences is good for me. I get lots of ideas and meet new people and their points of view make my point of view broader.
Sunday on 60 Minutes, the opening segment was on the dotcoms. Their thesis -- there may be no way to make money on the Internet. Very Zenlike. Everyone goes nuts about how much money everyone will make on the Internet. Some do make money, not on the Internet itself, but on the hype. When the hype dies, what's left? Just us squirrels. Is there any way to make money to pay for the writers, designers, graphics people and programmers? Hmmm.
Now, what do we want the Internet to be? I'm thinking (again) that it's time for a new conference. As the "business models" fade away, let's return to technology. There's still a lot of work to do. The Web browser got lost inside Microsoft, tied to their mission (don't threaten Word). I read in Joel Spolsky's new book that Excel wasn't used for spreadsheets, it was used for lists. That's why Improv didn't have the impact everyone thought it would. (Remember Improv?) So let's make great list tools. (I have a few ideas about that.) I hear that Groove's killer app is file sharing. It really works, no sysadmins to screw it up. That makes sense. (Remember mainframes?) If I were going to run a conference (still thinking about it) the common thread would be What Really Works? and then How Can It Work Better?
Look at our track record as an industry. Take the prosaic explanation for every revolution that happened, and take note of every supposed revolution that never did happen. The Web was a revolution. But was it really that different? It marked the maturation of networking, the commercialization of networking. Anyone with a mind in the 60s, 70s and 80s could see it coming, and many did. (In fact the innovations of previous decades were necessary to make it work.)
Another common track -- no one wants to challenge Microsoft in desktop apps, even where Microsoft has no software. This is wrong. You don't have to beat Microsoft to have a successful product. Even a niche in one of the Microsoft-dominated categories could be an excellent market. I suggested to Dan Greening of Macromedia a long-time pet idea of mine. I want a Flash word processor. The editor renders in Flash. It's wizzy. It saves in Flash. Since the Flash runtime is so widely deployed there should be no problem rendering the text for the reader. Flash text looks so much better than Microsoft text. This is a no-brainer. Let's do it.
In James Tauber (Bowstreet CTO)'s keynote on Web Services on Saturday, the question of Why SOAP? (and not CORBA) came up. Simple answer. SOAP is inclusive and CORBA is Unix. SOAP came from the best practices of Mac and Windows, adapted to the standards of the Internet. Therefore it includes users of all popular platforms, including Unix. CORBA did not embrace the popular platforms. Other than simplicity -- a SOAP implementation takes a fraction of the time of a CORBA implementation -- that's the real difference between the two. If you have a killer idea, it won't go anywhere unless you factor in the inevitable route-around, at the beginning. That goes for Unix too. Lock-in is death, it's not a viable business model. See the bit about making money on the Internet.
BTW, it's a little bit of a trick. I think (hope) that there are still ways to make money, but the Internet part of what we do is not the way.
I'd also like to talk about Users Taking Responsibility. If you use computers the state of the technology industry must be disturbing, if you're thinking. If your vendors are delivering what you want, I imagine you're in a small minority. What would it take to get a new industry in place that wasn't selling airbags, but was focused on giving you and your users what you want.
So there's my conference outline. When you hit bottom it's time to start planning for the future. All bets are off. Time to make some new ones, and in doing so, perhaps learn from the lessons of loops gone by.
Have fun and Happy Holidays!