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Soon it will be time to start over, again

Thursday, December 04, 2008 by Dave Winer.

A picture named monkeyhat.gifHere's how the tech industry cycle goes. Permalink to this paragraph

A new generation of young techies comes along, takes a look at the current stack, finds it too daunting (rightly so) and decides to start over from scratch. They find that they can make things happen that the previous generation couldn't cause they were so mired in the complexity of the systems they had built. The new systems become popular with "power users" -- people who yearn to overcome the limits of the previous generation. It's exhilirating! Permalink to this paragraph

Some of those power users are venture capitalists, they're hanging around looking for things to invest in, and they pick a few things that look like winners. When I was fresh and dewy, part of the new crop of techies, these people were Mike Markkula who funded Apple, and Ben Rosen who funded Compaq and Lotus. In later generations they were different people, of course. Permalink to this paragraph

So the new folks, freshly funded, hire lots of people, young'uns like themselves who are doing it The New Way. They ship some products, and while the users are happy and excited about all the cool new things they can do with the new generation, now that they're freed of the limits of the previous one, they still want all the features they had come to expect in the old days. No problem! The new companies hire more people and they add all the features of the old generation. Feature wars follow, and the users get bored, and a new generation of techies comes along, takes a look at the current stack, finds it too daunting (rightly so) and decides to start over from scratch. Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named monkey1.gifRound and round and round we go. Permalink to this paragraph

We're now reaching the end of a cycle, we're seeing feature wars. That's what's going on between Facebook and Google, both perfectly timing the rollouts of their developer proposition to coincide with the others' -- on the very same day! I don't even have to look at them and I am sure that they're too complicated. Because I've been around this loop so many times. The solution to the problem these guys are supposedly working on won't come in this generation, it can only come when people start over. They are too mired in the complexities of the past to solve this one. Both companies are getting ready to shrink. It's the last gasp of this generation of technology.  Permalink to this paragraph

But the next one can't be far away now. It will be exhilirating!! Permalink to this paragraph

Remember how great Google was when it first appeared? Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named monkey2.gifRemember how great Netscape was, and before that Apple, and I know you guys won't like this, but Microsoft offered us some great new places to play. I remember finding out that their OS address space in 1981 was 640K. That was a lot to guy who was spending huge amounts of time trying to cram a 256K app into 48K. Permalink to this paragraph

The trick in each cycle is to fight complexity, so the growth can keep going. But you can't keep it out, engineers like complexity, not just because it provides them job security, also because they really just like it. But once the stack gets too arcane, the next generation throws their hands up and says "We're not going to deal with that mess."  Permalink to this paragraph

We're almost there now. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

Update: For a clue to how deeply mired in crud we are right now, check out this discussion among users and developers about OpenID. No one has a clue what problem its supposed to solve.  Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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