What if technologists had integrity?
Sunday, January 7, 2001 by Dave Winer.
We all hopefully presume that our doctors have integrity. We hope that when they prescribe a medicine they're doing it because it will help us, not because it will help them. Imagine a world where doctors got kickbacks for choosing one medicine over another. I think we'd all be a lot sicker.
Same with cops, even lawyers have rules of ethics, and politicians, but.. not technologists. Perhaps because our profession is so new, there are few groundrules, so those of us who try to coax the truth out of ones and zeros have some ad hoc rules that seem to work most of the time.
Most of the technologists I know have very high integrity, as much as most doctors, lawyers and cops. However because we have no rules, we're vulnerable to cheap shots and pretenders. That's the other side, the presumption of lack of integrity, and the tech press takes advantage of this.
Imagine if your doctor said "Hmmm, well you have a bad disease, the prognosis is not good, but there's a new experimental drug that holds great promise for curing it."
Now the tech industry is that sick, and it needs a cure. The venture capitalists, who have lead us for the last dozen years, made mostly short-term investments. Even worse, they backed a socialization of software development, so that virtually all the money is out of it. With due respect to my sensitive friends in the open source development community, this is not about you, it's about the VC's belief that they can wish money into existence out of thin air. This premise worked fine while the stock market went along with the dream, and the users were happy, it's like a dream come true for them, everything's free! It had to end sometime. It did. Ooops.
Now let's rebuild.
Technologists like money, up to a point, like everyone else, but like doctors and cops (maybe not lawyers) we don't *do* it for the money. We do it for the joy of exploring something that we're good at, and for the joy of making users happy. At least this is what I mean when I use the word.
But the tech press, they travel in packs and herds, rewriting each others' stories. I've watched them climb on the back of technology so many times proclaiming that X Kills Y, quoting analysts who are on the payroll of X or Y, pretending that there's some integrity to this. It's gotten so bad that even experimental technologies that hold great promise are dis'd before they get a chance. (What if they reported on medicine this way?)
I can hear Newsweek's Deborah Branscum cringing, she thinks of tech people the same way, but it's our marketing shills and carpetbaggers she's complaining about. Stop listening to them and they'll go away. (Please!)
And probe the backgrounds of the people who present themselves as technologists. Define some reasonable, sober rules. I believe you'll find that many of the biggest names don't measure up.
I've seen all kinds of speculative articles about SOAP, but Mary Jo Foley's article on News.Com last month was the pinnacle so far.
She says delivery is uncertain. Of course she's talking about delivery from big companies with conservative customers and misses the revolutionary applications of the technology that have already happened.
Is this any way to run an industry with underlying integrity? Can the users and investors be forgiven for thinking we're all charlatans if that's all they ever hear from?
To technologists, being heard and understood has never been more important.
Distributed applications built on the standards of the Internet are coming online strong, for good reasons, despite what the reporters say. Their interest is to sell newspapers (or page-reads) or to develop their careers (most analysts start as reporters, quoting the analysts) not in finding and explaining new trends in technology, which is *our* job. In other words if you're waiting for the press to do your job, you'll wait forever.
All the admonitions (see above) will not coax integrity from the process. Instead, we have to, as technologists, re-form journalism, Cluetrain-style, so our voices can be heard without interpretation, without a corrupt analyst to say we're too small, to be crushed by the giants, or (the honest truth) we don't pay him enough (because we want integrity in their profession). Let your ideas find a marketplace among people with minds and non-trivial attention-spans.
Back in the 80s when the problem was much smaller, I always wished I could read, alongside an InfoWorld or PC Magazine software review, in the developer's own words -- what's the purpose of the product? Cut through the middlemen. What problem were you trying to solve? What's coming next? Go ahead and share your wildest dreams.
So much gets lost in the translation, they're not even trying to get closer to what's really going on. As the women's movement taught us, and as Annie Lenox sang, it's time to do it for ourselves.