On AOL's entry into weblogs
Sunday, July 6, 2003 by Dave Winer.
Good morning America, and happy birthday. I spent the fourth at Tanglewood with friends, listening to 50s and 60s soul music. Very nice. Very hot. Now I'm back in Boston, where it's totally hot and sticky, to report on some important news in the weblog world, and to offer a little perspective on it.
Yesterday there was an announcement on BuzzMachine, the weblog of Jeff Jarvis, of a demo of AOL's new weblog software for a few people from the NYC area.
We've known that AOL was working on this software for quite some time. We pitched them on acquiring UserLand's blogging tools, but they opted for in-house development.
Now their strategy is coming out, and there are some surprises. Today I'm going to discuss, briefly, just one, the Instant Messaging connection with weblog tools, and how it leads into the quagmire that the weblog world is caught up in (and a plea to swallow our respective prides and compromise now).
Posting to weblogs via Instant Messaging (IM) sounds appealing at first, but when you try it, as we did at UserLand, you realize it's great only if you never make a spelling or grammatic error, or spot a way to say something better in a few minutes.
When it's time to make a change you have to use a command-line-interface for writing, which takes you back to the 1970s. It requires memorization of commands, and post numbers and stuff that users don't like to do.
Now of course it's conceivable that AOL has solved this problem, if so I bet it leverages their ownership of two big IM systems. Do they use the popular blogging APIs to connect the two? Heh. There's the rub. This is what I have been warning about. AOL is a bigger company than even Google is (said with a hint of irony), and may not care to protect them, or the rest of the weblog tools vendors.
The irony is that last month Google came out with a new version of their toolbar -- it has a "Blog This" button which would be totally cool except that it only works with their blogging tool, even though there is a fantastic API supported by all the blogging tools, including Blogger, invented by Blogger that would have allowed users to use the toolbar with any blogging software they like, not just Google's. If they really believe their Don't Be Evil philosophy, if it's not just marketing hype, this must be changed.
So now the next question: Will AOL's equivalent of the "Blog This" button in their IM user interface work with Radio, Movable Type, Manila or Blogger? Or, more likely, will it just work with their blogging software? For all we know AOL took the high road, that would be unique and very cool, and would set the bar high. But I'd bet against it. No one at their level of the industry is open unless the market forces them to be. (As far as I know AOL doesn't have a Don't Be Evil ethos.)
BTW, of course all this provides Microsoft with justification for building their own gated weblog community. I wonder if Google's search engine will be able to get in there? (Of course not.)
Weblogs were started by a very small group of people who, for the most part, are still active in the community. Are we even in agreement among ourselves that we should have compatibility between the products? Perhaps at some level, but when it's so close as it is now, are we moving towards each other or flying apart? It's sad to report we're flying apart.
Once again, sounding like a broken wheel, there's no time to waste. We must circle the wagons. Google, swallow your pride and let's get the MetaWeblog API adopted as the standard cross-blogging-tool API. We'll make last-minute changes to accomodate you. In other words, the pride-swallowing is two-way. Tell us what you want and we'll do it. This is what never happened with Netscape. Let's build this time, instead of what we did last time, commiserate over the missed opportunity.
We're a house-divided for users but united on destruction. Ten years from now we will get here again, as we were ten years ago, at a place where if we acknowledged each other we'd get another layer and lots of growth.
A very small number of people right now make the difference. It'll never be so easy again to get a layer of compatibility and choice for users. If you aren't sure your software will sweep-clean the field, getting together on the API now is in your interest, imho.
PS: Yes, I know that Google's toolbar is beta, so I hope they fix the bug. Otherwise, should I have waited to comment until it was released? Also, I bet a few million people use the beta, so the argument that they didn't really "mean" to do something evil is kind of ummm, unbelievable.