The Web is a Writing Environment
Tuesday, April 17, 2001 by Dave Winer.
In 1995 I said that billions of websites would exist, that a barrier to entry was being eased, that soon everyone who could write would be publishing. Six years later the story is becoming mainstream. Ever more courageous articles appear about weblogs. This week Brill's Content suggests that in the vacuum created by the vanishing dotcoms, the Web is getting even more interesting, thanks to amateur writers, the people who do weblogs. It's true, but it was happening all through the dotcom craze, and it goes back even further.
Writers flow their ideas and opinion to people who only know the writer by name, not by brand. Doc Searls says markets are conversations. The Web is a conversation too. Some people say, still, that the Web will coalesce to a few big brands. Hah. The Web is at the intersection of publishing and the telephone. How many brands of phone conversation are there? Can you call Sandy to talk with Allison?
Writers, pause and think what your purpose is. Sure, you have to earn a living, but does it disgust you to write over-simplified articles that tell a partial truth, or even worse, lie, because your editor and publisher won't buy anything with more depth. Does it frustrate you that readers know you're lying, and seek new ideas from their peers. Ask yourself if you've ever compromised the truth because of the economics or inefficiencies of the process you're part of.
What if you're a freelancer, you sold a piece on wireless computing, and that's it, but what are you supposed to do with the knowledge you've accumulated as the market you wrote about is developing? Or flipped around, what if you're an engineer and the press is covering your category without any depth, do you just sit by and watch the opportunity dissipate? What if you're a human resources manager in a large corporation, and want to publish a column for your constituents, but the internal development people are always too busy to work on your project?
In all these cases you can take the power into your own hands, start writing for the the Web, and see what comes back to you. These days a column on the Web can get more readership than one in print. Once you've had a taste for this style of writing, if writing is what you do, you'll never want to go back.
The Web is a fantastic writing environment. For sure, it's other things too. It's a shopping mall, a place to get music, someday we'll all be watching movies and TV through Internet-connected devices. To predict otherwise would be to ignore the lessons of history. Our interest in technology is in hiatus while we digest the last flurry of activity, but it will boom again, I'm sure of it.
In the meantime, the one revolution that the Internet has totally delivered is a fundamental change in the way written information and ideas flow. As people get more comfortable with networking technology, and as engineers learn how to do easier user interfaces, there will be more people writing on the Web.
Just as typewriters fell by the wayside as word processors and inexpensive printers came online, the big brand names of journalism are relatively slow and dilutive, and don't deliver enough flow. Amazingly the print publishers are pulling back from the Web, as if to say "Whew glad that's over." Fundamental mistake. When their point of view is no longer on the Web, there will be no more barrier to entry. What follows? Explosive deconstruction of the brand names of journalism.
What's said outside the barriers is already more interesting. Eventually we will shed our need for approval from the brand names of journalism. Today they look for teddy bears and warm-fuzzies, the cute stories that mask the real one -- writers who work for others have less integrity to offer than those who do it for love.