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What is Integrity?

Monday, January 8, 2001 by Dave Winer.

SOAP meets RSS Permalink to SOAP meets RSS

As one of the designers of both SOAP and RSS it's been my fondest hope that these two pioneering technologies would get married and have kids someday.

Here's the invitation:


Please pass it around far and wide.


Doc's question Permalink to Doc's question

In the last piece, and on Doc Searls' weblog, integrity has become the hot topic that I thought it would. Even while the dotcom culture was raging, I felt there was some unfinished business -- we haven't defined in any concise way what integrity means as we slosh between roles, writing one day, being a technologist another day, and writing again.

In the last piece I ask technologists to write, because that's the most direct path to the truth, but what do they have to tell us about themselves before we trust them?

I'll go first. SOAP and RSS are two important open technologies, one for distributed computing and the other for syndication. DaveNet is a less technical venue so I don't probe the depths of the marriage here, I created a separate website for that purpose. But all, SOAP, RSS and DaveNet, imho, have integrity because they are what they appear to be, and I strive to keep them focused on what they are.

I say these things have integrity, and my friend Doc asks What is integrity? I use the term as if everyone knows what it means, but what does it mean?

What is integrity? Permalink to What is integrity?

First, let's step outside and look in. Start with an inanimate object. A boat for example. A boat that leaks lacks integrity. If the leaking gets bad enough it stops being a boat and becomes a sunken boat. If someone is living on the boat, it becomes a houseboat. If its nature changes, so does the name.

Like a boat, a human being has integrity if he or she is what he or she appears to be. That's why integrity commands us to disclose conflicts, so that what we say, and who we appear to be, are in synch. Change the appearance if necessary.

In my humble opinion, everything starts with integrity, boats, rocks, houses, people. When I get a bad feeling and really probe it, go deep into it and ask it to explain itself, the concern almost always relates to integrity. If I lied about something, or did something dirty it makes me feel bad. From that I conclude that my brain has an integrity mechanism that has something to do with survival, because the bad feeling is primal and feels related to survival.

This is why our planet works, to the extent that it does. You don't have to lock every door all the time. There are times when it's OK to be vulnerable. The Web, believe it or not, is quite vulnerable. Yet it works.

This makes sense because evolution created humans as a social species, the judgment by and acceptance of our contemporaries is very important to our survival. When the integrity of communication is compromised, the survival question is triggered, it's as if Who I Am is bleeding, and if I don't stop it, I will turn into something other than a human. (In other words dead.)

Hey it's easy to write about integrity in boats, but it's harder to write about it in humans. Perhaps another species could explain our nature more easily. Let's put it this way. Without integrity, I think we lose our humanity and become something else, something less.

Dave Winer

© Copyright 1994-2004 Dave Winer. Last update: 2/5/07; 10:50:05 AM Pacific. "There's no time like now."