Amateurs and Prose
Tuesday, April 24, 2001 by Dave Winer.
Good morning amateur journalism fans.
I was interviewed by a BigPub yesterday. The subject was Microsoft. Have they changed or not? My point of view is the world has changed, Microsoft is not the agent of change, and in some ways they're embracing the change (good) and in other ways are resisting it (not good). Networking was immature and confusing before the Web happened. Now that the Web is mainstream and well-understood, the natural next step is to distribute and decentralize the technology. To some extent Microsoft understands the sea-change and in some ways does not acknowledge the change, imho.
But will Microsoft really be open with SOAP? The journalist I was talking with is a smart guy so I let him in on a subtle but poignant bit I had been saving for just such an occasion. Yes, Microsoft will be truly open with SOAP, for good reason, because it will help developers migrate out of Java and into Microsoft's new tools and runtime. They're playing catch-up here, as with the browser in the mid-90s, Java is a juggernaut, it's huge. Microsoft wants some of the Java developers to switch to Dot-Net. Hey, truth be told Microsoft probably wants all the Java developers to switch.
Now, of course, I don't want to see that ever happen. Ever. Emphasize that. My vision for SOAP, as with XML-RPC, is that it turns the Internet into a World Wide Scripting Environment, much as the Web turned the Internet into a World Wide Writing Environment. This means lots of choice, and never any lock-in.
The time to ask the question about Microsoft truly being open isn't now, when they have everything to gain from open-ness, but when they achieve dominance in the market. At that point, without government intervention, or self-imposed restraint, you can be sure it's going to close up.
So let's make sure Microsoft does not achieve market dominance, and let's do it in a positive way, by celebrating the diversity that the Internet creates.
BTW, as of today there are 50 SOAP 1.1 implementations, and 33 XML-RPC implementations. We've started new interop work for XML-RPC. SOAP is moving along well, and the BigCo's are helping. Our focus is in three directions: interop, applications and business development.
A reader points out that I've been doing first-hand personal accounts longer than anyone else. It may be true, but never, until the Times piece, to balance press coverage, and generally as a solo act. Imagine if Bill Gates had written an essay to go along with one I wrote about SOAP. That would have been interesting. Two sides of the same story from different points of view, without intermediaries.
For some reason I'm still figuring out, that I write first-hand accounts means UserLand rarely gets press coverage for new stuff we're doing. Talking with a reporter last week I asked why. He said reporters don't like to do stories that have already been written. At some point that I'm not aware of they accepted me as One Of Them, so if it appeared on Scripting News or in DaveNet, the story had already been done, and they didn't want to do it. Huh? Wrong!
Dan Gillmor, columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, and pioneering weblogger, is tuning into the amateur writing thread. Yesterday he linked to an excellent Bill Moyer speech on journalism and democracy.
Moyers says: "Before Mutual of America I had lost at least three corporate underwriters, who were happy as long as we didn't make anyone else unhappy. Losing your underwriting will keep the yellow light of caution flickering in a journalist's unconscious."
There is a big difference between what I do and what the BigPubs do. I'm an amateur. I make software. I write because I love to write, and because I want to make sure that my side gets out without interference. That's why, once the editorial weenies swooped in at Wired and started inverting my ideas, I was out of there like a puff of smoke in a Roadrunner cartoon.
But I loved writing at Wired. For a brief period I was a pro. The respect was intoxicating. One company took my words of praise and pasted them all over their tradeshow booth. "Dave Winer, HotWired" it said in 80K point. It felt great.
I also encountered the corporate sponsorship thing. At a party, editor-publisher Louis Rosetto introduced me to one of Wired's biggest advertisers, an American vice-president of a Japanese company, Fujitsu, Toshiba, or something like that. I listened to his pitch for a minute, and interrupted with a question. "Don't you make a clone?" I asked. He gulped. I saw a light go on. He looked at Louis, and Louis at me. They walked away. I felt owned.
To Dan, who is concerned about the business models for the BigPubs, they could ace us any day they want to change. Get rid of the nudges and winks, and really set us free. Perform an editorial function, add resources and distribution, even branding, but let the voices come through clearly. I'd say we're 25 percent of the way through a route-around. Embrace the change asap, find the integrity in business and work with it. The Internet makes it possible, even necessary, to compete with integrity. That's the sea change. Adapt, as we all must.
BTW, an aside to Salon, this is the void you avoided. Salon is floundering, imho, because they failed to embrace the amateur journalism that their medium, the Web, enables. They could still switch gears and tap into the growth of the Web, it's probably not too late, but soon, I fear, it will be.