Scripting News archive for March 2013

Why don't programmers speak for programming? permalink

I've been watching for this for a few weeks. When public discourse turns to programming, the people who speak are people who don't program for a living. Sure some of them took computer science classes in college, or at one time were professional coders. But not people who today do it as their primary thing. In one particularly egregious case, they were quoting NBA players on why you should learn to code! That is so weird.

So why is this? I think I finally figured it out, and it was the NBA connection that did it for me. Programmers don't generally speak in politically correct terms. And we don't have many, if any, spokes models who will talk in vague enough terms to be sure that they will never actually say anything meaningful. This disqualifies us from participating in public discussions. We simply can't be trusted to never say anything we mean.

Maybe that's not it? But I don't like it. I'd like to see some developers be heard. I'd like to just once nod my head and say yeah that person knows what they're talking about when it comes to technology.

Posted: 3/31/13; 5:01:42 PM.

The creepiest April 1 web page? permalink

A picture named amare.gifThe worst tradition of the net is the April Fools news article.

I have something to announce. I'm quitting. No I'm not. Fooled you!

My competitor is a jerk. Haha. You're a fool.

None of it is funny, and while sometimes you are surprised, the surprise almost never feels good, or right.

It's bad enough that the people who indulge in this idiocy hurt their own reps, but it also makes it hard to do any communication on April 1. North Korea is threatening nuclear war. Haha. April Fools. Cyprus is having a run on the banks. No they're not. But what if they are? What if there really is astounding news on April 1? Are you prepared to believe it?

It would be good if we were all more circumspect about what we read.

But journalists joking about inaccuracy in their reporting is like a surgeon leaving his or her lunch in your chest. Or a programmer deliberately putting a virus on your hard disk. Lies are the stuff we're supposed to be fighting against, not actively inviting in.

If I come across something totally awful, I'll put a pointer here. Feel free to do the same in a comment.

1. TechCrunch wins the award for the first inane April Idiocy post.

2. Scott Radcliffe says he can't wait for Google's announcement tomorrow. So I ask him what they're going to announce and he says he was saying he hates 4/1 in a roundabout way. Oh. Ouch.

3. Seth Godin's is noteworthy because he's the last person I'd expect to partake in the idiocy. Peer pressure? The idea of a $0 Kindle is interesting. Since when does Godin have leaks of product announcements, esp for one of his biggest customers (if not his biggest). It was misleading for a fraction of a second, and then made me want to throw up.

Yours truly,

Dave Winer, 3/31/13

Posted: 3/31/13; 9:37:40 AM.

The soul of the new developer permalink

A picture named knicksUniform.gifJust read this story in today's NY Times about the Stuyvesant High School teacher who wanted to make an elite school to teach computer science to young gifted New Yorkers.

It was a Fred Wilson thing. Fred Wilson is to developers what Spike Lee is to the Knicks. The guy who shows up at every game and roots the team on, through thick and thin, no matter if they start a Brooklyn team (Lee is also a cultural icon of Brooklyn). He loves the orange and blue uniforms of the Knicks and Madison Square Garden. Only in this sport, the fan is confused for the great player by the opinion leaders and gatekeepers. As if all there were to being a champion is having a lot of money (you might argue the opposite is true, the most interesting players are the ones who don't have any money, but hunger for recognition).

The Board of Ed liked the idea so much they stole it and usurped it, and now instead of creating great young talent to flow into Fred's NY startups, they'll create Certified Cisco maintenence guys. Or people who can keep Windows networks running as long as Microsoft is making them. Or Oracle databases.

The fight is a familiar one. Should we create hackers for Wall Street or for the nascent high tech startup industry that's trying to get a foothold in NYC. Fred of course wants the flow for Foursquare and Stack Exchange and Etsy etc. And Bloomberg wants them for Chase, Citibank and the Department of Sanitation.

There is a third possibility. Tell the captains of finance to back off, and let's create some developers who are capable of taking us in new directions. Not into Wilson's companies or Bloomberg's.

Not much chance of that of course. ;-)

So we'll still have Spike Lee coaching the team. Let's keep everything on a steady predictable course. As long as it makes me richer. (Paraphrasing.)

New York has always been run for the benefit of the already-rich at the expense of the gifted artist. Maybe it's not true in every art, but it totally so in the art of creating great world-changing software. In a few years when these kids are ready to work there will be a new league, and no one is prepared today to teach them the skills they will need for that. So it doesn't matter much who controls the curriculum. The really smart ones will figure it out. And they will surprise us and teach us a lot. (And if there's any sanity we will get to teach them a thing or two as well.)

PS: I went to Bronx Science, which is an elite public school, like Stuyvesant. Neither they nor I discovered, while I was a student there, that I had a talent for tech, and my media hacking was seen as a social behavior problem. So I don't have a lot of faith in the idea of elite NYC high schools. However, the students taught each other a lot, and we created our own fun. Which is kind of what I'm getting at in this piece.

PPS: In addition to teaching kids how to be great commercial developers, I'd teach them how to create open systems without lock-in. That's the equivalent of the scientific method for software design. Schools have an obligation to teach the idealism of art, not only the craft.

Posted: 3/31/13; 8:35:54 AM.

I'm on the web team permalink

A picture named cable.gifAny company that takes content off the web and puts it in a private silo is playing on its own team. There are lots of companies doing this, so there are lots of teams. I'm on the team that puts all the content on the web. That means that every bit can have an address. That means it can all be plugged into other applications. So our work multiplies. The value of ideas deposited on the web is much greater than ideas that are trapped in a silo. There are lots of people, companies, universities, libraries, open source projects and governments in "web team" space. It may seem naive for any single company to throw its lot in with us, but when you see the full picture, you see it's actually the other way around. What we create together can be much much bigger than anything a single company can do.

PS: Little Outliner is on the web team too. ;-)

Posted: 3/30/13; 4:40:57 PM.

Ten-year Berkman Thursday reunion meetup on April 25 permalink

It's been 10 years since the Berkman-Thursday group started, and with it, blogging at Harvard. It all happened at the same time Facebook was booting up on campus.

It was an informal group that met at Berkman Center every Thursday evening. Our goal was to boot up a blogging community at the university and in the surrounding community. It was the first university at the time to offer blogging. We needed a way to create a pulse, a weekly event that was open to anyone where you could learn about blogging, and we could learn from each other.

It evolved in a number of directions. New software came out of the group. We planned and succesfully ran the first blogging conferences in the US. We taught a lot of people how to blog. And the sessions themselves were a lot like blog posts. Someone comes in with an idea, talks about it, we ask questions and discuss it. We discussed the things we were writing on our blogs.

The group continued running as a weekly seminar series until a couple of years ago.

Now we're approaching the 10th anniversary and some of the members have expressed an interest in a reunion. I've asked for space at Berkman, and they got pretty excited about the idea, so we're having a Old Timers Day meetup on April 25 at Berkman Center at 7PM, 23 Everett Street.

We'll talk about what we've been doing, what we learned, how life evolved in the last ten years, what we got right and what we got wrong, and what role the Thursday evening meetings played for us. I will also show off the software I've been developing, Little Outliner and other goodies. Some of them will already be shipping by the end of April. ;-)

There should be room for 25-30 people. I've set up an Eventbrite page.


Hope to see you in Cambridge on April 25.

PS: Here's the archive of Scripting News for March 2003. You'll see a lot of the developments at Berkman recorded there.

Posted: 3/30/13; 1:29:23 PM.

I'm not making blogging tools :-) permalink

First, I really appreciate Mathew Ingram's writeup in Gigaom about what we're doing at Small Picture. If you haven't read it, and you're a regular here, go read it now. Lots of good stuff. ;-)

However.. (you knew that was coming)

We are not making blogging tools.

We are making software for creative people -- writers, designers and programmers. Inevitably that means it will connect to blogging systems, because blogs are fixtures in the world of 2013 and beyond. And it's certainly possible that one can create a blogging system using our backend (not released yet). But our business is not what his headline says it is.

Mathew is totally entitled to his interpretation.

And of course I'm entitled to comment on his interpretation. :-)

Why this is important?

1. Our product should not be evalutated based on its capability as a blogging tool.

2. We see blogging products as complementary to ours, not competitive.

3. I even made a proposition to vendors of blogging tools, and the offer is still open (and I will make it again, in new contexts as the software develops).

I want to make great editing tools, for writers, designers and programmers.

That's our mantra, at least one of them. ;-)

And finally thanks to Mathew for such a thoughtful and otherwise accurate piece.

PS: I can totally see why it's confusing, esp based on some of the things I've said. I will try to be more careful about that! :-)

Posted: 3/29/13; 9:03:21 AM.

Make a Twitter out of RSS permalink

As developers rush to fill the Google Reader hole, it seems everyone is trying to reproduce Google Reader, almost verbatim. It's understandable. There are a huge number of fans of Google Reader who will be without Google Reader as of July 1. So when they tell you what they want, it's no surprise that what they come up with is basically, Google Reader.

I think/hope they will be well-served.

But there's an opportunity to do something different that might be equally interesting. Without asking users what they want, create a product based on a different hypothesis.

A famous platform vendor once asked me if the users were asking for ThinkTank, my first product, before I created it. He had a point. There were no users before there was a product. So they couldn't ask. Because they didn't exist.

The hypothesis: What if Twitter were, in every way, open.

A picture named rssTShirt.gifWhat would that look like?

1. First, it would look like Twitter. There would be a box at the top of the page that asks What's Happening, and below that a sequence of new items from people you follow, in reverse-chronologic order.

2. It would be easy to follow someone. When you're looking at their profile page, there would be a big easy to see button that says Follow. It would not say Follow in Product X or Follow in Product Y, etc. It would not open up a huge dialog with a list of products you could follow it in. It would say Follow. And when you click it you Follow that person. No questions asked.

3. It's a web app. No synchronization among different clients. Supply an API if you like. But like Twitter it's always reverse-chronologic, and it doesn't remember what you haven't read. Yes, some users won't like that. They will use the other kind of RSS app, the ones that synch between clients. (See the first paragraph of this piece.)

4. No lock-in. That's where it gets tricky. But it's a different kind of tricky than the people cloning Google Reader will encounter. Over there, you have to synchronize news items among lots of possible clients. Here you have to let the user tell you where she stores her subscriptions (and that will determine who gets the message when the user clicks on the Follow button). Beyond that, every developer could experiment with different scanning possibilities, and different presentations, and different whatevers.

This is my dream system. I would happily make components for it. I'm just one user, for sure, and you might have to think a bit more to do this one vs the straight Google Reader clone. But there's also more opportunity to innovate. And it won't just be a repeat of the last 8 years.

Posted: 3/28/13; 8:44:52 AM.

Me, in 1996 permalink

A picture Tim Holmes dug up, taken at Apple in 1996, the night Steve Jobs returned from exile.

A picture named dave1996.jpg

I heard about the event by word of mouth and decided to drive down there to witness it. Walked right in, no security -- I even brought a date with me. ;-)

No gray in my beard. ;-)

Posted: 3/27/13; 5:43:18 PM.

An open note to tech press/bloggers permalink

We just did a great rollout, the product is fantastic. This is going to move tech in a new direction. It'll create new standards. I'm absolutely sure of it.

Yet, even with my track record as one who leads change in technology, the release of this software has gotten almost no note from leading tech bloggers and reporters.

That's okay, because it'll happen without them. Last time I pushed something through, it didn't get support from the press either. And the time before that. We can make it happen without their help.

I think they're comfortable with big software ideas coming from big companies. But I can't make change happen within the context of a big corporation. Too much second-guessing, too many strategy taxes, too many phony business models. So I choose to do it as an independent.

A picture named bike.gifI think software is like other creative arts -- music, architecture, cooking, even design of everyday things like bikes and clothes. It takes a relentless focus on the act of using, and what kind of effect you want to create. Learning from others, and stealing from the best. Only. ;-)

We can do it on our own but it would be easier if we got help from influencers and gatekeepers. So if you like anything that I helped bring about, blogging, RSS and podcasting and a few other things, please have a look at Little Outliner. It's a little product, yes -- but one with very big ambitions. ;-)

These are early days, the product is very simple, and well-documented. We went to great lengths to make it easy to understand.

Helping users understand new relevant technology is what you do, after all.

PS: I did not include comments on this post because this is the kind of thing that attracts a lot of trolls.

PPS: To users, this is why you haven't heard much about Little Outliner in the tech press. There's nothing wrong with the product.

Posted: 3/27/13; 11:13:24 AM.

Thinking like an outliner permalink

A picture named tales.gifI'm sure Bob Stepno won't mind if I use his question/suggestion as an example of how outliners are different from most other programs.

On our Q&A page, he asked how do you select-all in an outline. He was disappointed that when you press Cmd-A it only selects the siblings at the same level as the bar cursor headline. He felt it should select all the text in the outline.

My answer was that like almost every operation in an outliner, select-all is scoped. When you select a headline, you are implicitly selecting all the headlines that are subordinate to it. So if you want to select everything in an outline, move the cursor to one of the summits, and do the select-all there.

This is fundamentally different from the way a word processor or spreadsheet works, but it's exactly the way the Finder or Windows Explorer works, which are also scoped. When you select-all in a folder, it doesn't select all the files on your computer -- it just selects the files in the folder you're working in.

Why does it work this way? Well, an outline can logically contain many documents, not just one. For example, I'm writing this blog post in an outline that contains all my posts dating back to March of last year. If I did a select-all here, I'd want it to select all the text in this post, not all the text in all posts. However if I wanted to select everything, I could do that, by putting the cursor on the top level headline, as illustrated in this screen shot.

Posted: 3/27/13; 9:25:42 AM.

HTML 5 local storage FAQ permalink

A picture named html5.gifAfter a few thousand people looked at Little Outliner yesterday, it's clear that some users are uncomfortable with the idea of local storage. For many, apparently this is the first time they have encoutered this HTML 5 feature.

I looked for a user-oriented FAQ on local storage but all I found were descriptions of the feature for developers. And for developers, there really isn't that much to know. I've put the details under this headline, you can expand it if you care.

There's a new browser object called localStorage. It behaves like any other JavaScript object except it persists. That means the next time the user comes back to your site, the storage will still be there, exactly as it was last time they visited.

In most browsers the object is attached to a single domain, so joe.userland.com and mary.userland.com will have different localStorage objects. Apparently Firefox is different, in that joe and mary share a localStorage object. There are reasons to do it either way. It would be nice if they all did it the same way. ;-)

So here are some answers to frequently asked question.

1. Where is local storage stored? It varies from browser to browser. Some users have explored in the system settings folders on various operating systems and found the files. They look like they're SQL databases.

2. How much space does it use? The per-domain limit is 5MB.

3. When you clear the cache does local storage get cleared too? I don't know.

4. Isn't local storage like cookies? Yes, it's very much like cookies, except cookies are limited to 4K, and local storage can go up to 5MB. The difference in size reflects the difference in times. When cookies were invented, in the mid-90s, computers had a lot less memory. Today it's not uncommon for a new computer to have a terabyte of disk space. 5MB today is like what 4K was back then. It seems silly to live in a world limited by the machines of the past. But cookies couldn't change without risking breakage, of the web itself. So local storage was a good answer. Also local storage is simpler to program than cookies, but not so much simpler as to make a huge difference.

5. Isn't this a potentially dangerous feature? We are very responsible about our software, we just want people to make outlines and be happy and want to use the new stuff we come out with. This is a business for us. So we would never use it in a harmful way. Not only would it be against our interest, but it would be professionally unthinkable. That said, localStorage is a potentially dangerous feature, in the hands of a malicious website. This is something the browser vendors will probably have to address sooner or later. Probably sooner. ;-)

6. How can I get rid of what you stored on my computer? I can only answer for our product. If you delete all the text in your outline, that will get rid of most of what we store. There will still be an empty outline in local storage, and a count of the number of times you saved. That takes up about 140 characters, or coincidentally, the size of a tweet. If even this is too much to bear, we can add a way for you to delete that too. (I imagine someone will say that it is, so I'm already preparing to write the code.)

If you have other questions, ask them below and we'll try to answer them, the best we can.

Posted: 3/26/13; 8:57:18 AM.

The magic of HTML 5 and S3 permalink

We just shipped a new product, promoted the hell out of it (with great results, thanks!), the site is getting huge traffic, but our server is as quiet as it was yesterday.

Because this web app uses no server resources. ;-)

That's the magic of HTML 5 local storage, and static pages on S3.

Thanks to the W3C and to Werner Vogels (for persisting in getting the ability to access the root of a domain from an S3 bucket). As a result, we get unlimited scaling with zero investment. Consider this an endorsement for both innovations.

Now, that said, in future incarnations, we will have a server component, and scaling will be an issue. But for right now we can bask in the glory. ;-)

Posted: 3/25/13; 1:22:10 PM.

My new company, our first product permalink

Good morning!

A quick note with some news.

1. In December I started a new company, Small Picture, with Kyle Shank, a 28-year-old JavaScript developer.

2. We've created a new product, Little Outliner. It runs in-browser. It's a continuation of the thread started by my desktop outliner products. It is in every way as easy, smooth and powerful as the earlier Mac and PC outliners. JavaScript plus HTML 5 is an amazing platform.

3. Little Outliner is a new beginning. Our easy on-ramp. We want to re-introduce idea processing, and using outliners to create presentations, but this time the difference is networking. I think you'll be amazed at what we come up with in the coming months. I haven't been this excited about a product since we shipped MORE at Living Videotext in 1986. Not kidding.

4. Working with a smart young dude like Kyle, who knows so much about the modern technologies, has been a real awakening for me. I've learned how to apply my craft in what is a very strange world. JavaScript is not like any language I've ever used. This product is very much the result of a creative partnership. As we grow we'll add other excellent developers. Like all my companies, Small Picture will create user-focused products, that offer choice, value, performance and interop with others. No lock-in here, other than what comes from happy users.

Thanks for reading this far. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. We'll try our best to answer them quickly.

Dave Winer
Small Picture, Inc.

Posted: 3/25/13; 12:48:34 PM.

It's an outliner! permalink

On Monday of this week, somewhat quietly, we released the docs for the outliner we've been developing at Small Picture, Inc.


The docs are interesting, if you like outliners -- but also interesting because they illustrate something important about the outliner. It's very easy to include in a web page.

There's a practice outliner right there on the docs page. Kind of subtle. ;-)

It's written in JavaScript. Yet it's indistinguishable from the outliners we've been using, for many years, running native on Windows and Mac. This outliner runs in any HTML-5 compatible browser, on any OS.

You install the software by reloading the page.

Next Monday we'll show the next bit in our queue. And the Monday after that, the next one, etc.

Our cup runneth over! (Finally.)

Posted: 3/22/13; 11:25:16 AM.

Ignore the Bigco's permalink

A picture named glue.gifWe have a problem to solve.

How to create stable systems out of the Internet we have now.

What we've created is far too fragile.

It's nice that the Bigco's have their business models. But that's not the point.

I want to connect my writing with yours, and have it be readable by people no matter what device they use, where ever they are, no matter what kind of net connection they have, today and 20 years from today.

Ignore the ups and downs of the giants. They come and go.

Very dramatic, but also very predictable, and mostly off-topic.

The question is this: How do we work together to create lasting value?

Posted: 3/21/13; 10:51:43 PM.

Google is no good at being evil permalink

Google's motto is "Don't be evil."

Paraphrasing HL Mencken's motto -- "When somebody says 'don't be evil'-- they're being evil."

The literal quote: "When somebody says it's not about the money, it's about the money."

Now, the thing to know about evil is there's good evil and bad evil.

Unlike cholesterol, both are bad for you, but good evil is hard to pin on the purveyor. He makes it seem like someone else is the problem. Bad evil is the kind that comes with a bull's eye on your back that says "Hit me -- please." Google does the latter kind.

A picture named mrBurns.gifIt would have been so easy to ease the pain of Reader withdrawal by putting some effort into creating a scapegoat. Someone to blame for the trouble users are having. "At least Google did xxx," their supporters might say. But their withdrawal has all the care and sensitivity of DuPont refusing to clean up a chemical disaster site. Sure it happens all the time, quietly -- but the death of Google Reader is not and could not be quiet. All the reporters and bloggers use it! And there's no one to blame but Larry and Sergey. Who end up looking like Mr Burns on The Simpsons.

The fact that they're so bad at evil is encouraging. Maybe deep down inside they aren't. Maybe they truly don't see that the 1 or 2 million people, or how ever many use GR, are actual people, like members of their family, who liked Google, but now will have a hard time doing that when they associate the name with the pain of withdrawal they feel, from the void of news flow.

Posted: 3/21/13; 8:54:00 AM.

Twitterquette permalink

A picture named mirror.gifI've heard it said that it's impolite to talk about someone on Twitter without addressing your comment to them by using their handle, prefaced by an @. I disagree. If you're going to call someone an asshole, it's impolite to address it to them. If you're objectifying them, saying something you wouldn't say to their face -- then don't say it to their face dammit. :-)

I know because I'm sometimes on the receiving end of this.

Oh that @davewiner, he's such an idiot.

I would much prefer if they left the @ off it. Otherwise I have to look at that idiotic thing over and over until it scrolls off. If you think it's going to get a reply, no way. And if you think I give a shit, I don't. It's just annoying to see a bit of stupidity staying there, like a turd in a toilet that someone refuses to flush. So I usually just block em. :-)

Sometimes it makes sense to say something about someone you wouldn't want them to see.

For example. The other day at lunch I was saying that Carmelo Anthony, the star of the Knicks, is never going to lead the team to a championship. I wouldn't want Anthony, a fine player, and a nice guy, to see that. I doubt if it would motivate him. And sheez it's not his fault he's in the same division as Lebron James (or for that matter occupying the same NBA as Lebron James). Even Kevin Durant, who is a great leader and player, and totally capable of being a champion, probably can't overcome the audacity and tenacity of the Miami Heat. At least not for the next few years.

So I vote for leaving off the at-sign if you're saying trash about a celeb.

Posted: 3/20/13; 10:47:00 AM.

A toast to the Chihuahuas! permalink

A picture named tacoBellDog.gifWhen I was a fellow at NYU, I moderated a panel on the topic of Sources Go Direct. My panelists didn't buy it. So we wandered in an unsatisfying way (to me at least) around various ideas of what media is about.

One of the speakers was Nick Denton, founder, publisher and ego of Gawker. Nick says that media is about gate-keeping. Your power and value is in what you let through and what you don't. He said that at the beginning of the blogging era, I had that power (me, as in Dave). He recounted a visit he and his partner made to Palo Alto, probably around 2001 or 2002 or so. They were running a startup called Moreover, and according to Nick, they wanted me to write about it on Scripting News. I didn't know.

And I sure didn't want to be a gatekeeper! To me it's a silly idea, and antithetical to what blogging is about. I want you to say what you have to say and if I'm interested or when I'm interested, I'll read it -- and not because I have to or because there's nothing else to read. We were going from the time of scarcity to overload, and that's what I wanted. Not gatekeeping. Because look who's doing the gatekeeping, some miserable person who will be dead in at most 70 years and probably a lot sooner.

I once wrote about how we're all barking, farting Chihuahuas pretending our will means anything. I was thinking about the wonderful character in the Taco Bell commercials. I guess he didn't sell burritos and tacos and challupas or whatever, but I loved the dog, and now that I think of him, I miss him too. I wish they'd bring him back. I'd trade the dog for a million bankruptcy attorney ambulance-chasing mesothelioma profiteers.

"The universe is so damned big. Billions and billions of galaxies. Every one of them filled with chihuahuas and captains of industry. None of them get out of it alive. What's it all about? Who knows? No one."

I was thinking of Bill Gates.

Nick is now a gatekeeper, I suppose -- and I guess he must have a soft spot for me, because anytime I want publicity from Gawker I seem to be able to get it. I wonder who he's turning down and why.

And then I think of people I know who really are gatekeepers. And then I think of the great scene in The Godfather where all the bosses get together to tell Don Corleone to share his politicians with them. He says if you let my son come back to America you can have the politicians and judges. Now that I can get behind. An old man, in his final years, wants the comfort of his son, to drink wine with, and to tell stories to. What could be better than that! :-)

Posted: 3/19/13; 9:57:59 AM.

Time for a Hulu-for-News? permalink

A picture named houseOfCards.gifOn February 5, I wrote a piece called House of News, in which I suggested that the news industry might do a recalc along the lines of the one Netflix did, in deciding to give its users all the episodes of House of Cards, at once -- instead of emulating the old TV serial distribution system, the one that existed before the net.

They did something remarkable, Netflix did -- that most companies can't seem to do. They viewed the world through the eyes of their users. And decided simply to give them exactly what they wanted.

I wrote that piece before we knew that Google Reader would be shutting down in July.

What we don't know is why Google shut it down. But one possible reason is that they are trying to give the news industry what it wants, and in doing so, not only not giving the users what they want, but willfully throwing out the work of the users, in building their own distribution system for news.

As hobbled as Google Reader was, it was largely a creation of its users. They did the programming for themselves. They chose what channels of news they wanted to listen to, assembling a highly customized news flow and sharing their discoveries.

If I could say one thing to the the execs of the news industry, it would be this. Stop viewing today through the lens of the past. View it from the point of view of the future. Look back to today and imagine how you could get to the future we all know is coming. And when you do that, I think you'll see that it's time for something new and Netflix-like. A news system where the users have even more power to shape the news that they will receive from you.

It's long-past time to trust the users and just do what they want you to do. You will probably be surprised at how profitable that turns out to be. Imho of course.

Posted: 3/19/13; 8:38:10 AM.

Dear Mr Pierce permalink

Over the weekend Charles Pierce took a swipe at my earlier piece about sources going direct.

He has summarized my thoughts: "Journalism is no longer an actual profession because everyone can do it because BLOGS!, that's why. Well, fine, that's an argument. But it's not a good one."

Nor does it in any way resemble what I said.

Or anything I have ever said or thought or even dreamed.

And btw, how insulting to be called that superficial and that stupid.

This is what I mean about reporters not listening to people outside their own profession.

To Klein, he was condescending, but respectful, at least superficially. He didn't read Klein's piece either, or if he did, none of the meaning was reflected in his critique.

My piece? Clearly he didn't even read it. And he didn't care how stupid it made him look, to be so dismissive and condescending without even bothering to find out what it was he was dismissing.

Regardless, he's an entertaining and often insightful writer. But I'll always remember when reading him that I've seen some pretty sloppy thinking on his part, and it'll make me question the other stuff he says.

To Mr Pierce: I love reading your stuff, and if your getting paid is what it takes for you to continue, I hope you continue to get paid for a long time to come. I hope that puts to rest any thought that I begrudge you your salary. :-)

Posted: 3/18/13; 11:31:32 AM.

Even more on Medium permalink

A picture named cokeMachine.gifA friend sent an email last week when I wrote yet another piece about Medium that I seem obsessed with it. Not really. I watch it. Not sure why.

Why do I watch the Knicks? Certainly not because I hope they'll win. I'm just interested. Maybe I feel the same way about Medium. I'm invested in the Evan Williams story, having watched from almost the beginning, way before most other people in tech thought he was interesting.

I remember once watching him talk on stage at a conference in Copenhagen. I had this instant visceral thought that he might be the Rupert Murdoch of this medium we were creating. I knew I wasn't that. I'm more of a creative guy, I eschew empire building. (But I do like an interesting word or phrase!)

Anyway, I was just reading this piece in the New Yorker. It's short and to the point, and asks an interesting question. Why doesn't Mitt Romney finally let his hair down a little. It's of course well-written, it's in the New Yorker after all. I thought to myself -- "I bet this is the kind of writing they're looking for at Medium."

I'm more casual a writer. I think of blogging as a written form of fresco. Made of plaster with a little coloring. It hardens fast, and you move on to something else. I used to say "we're just folks here." That's the kind of writing I aspire to.

Posted: 3/16/13; 2:16:36 PM.

Email with Max Levchin permalink

A picture named salute.gifA discussion began on Twitter about Google Reader between myself and Max Levchin, and at my request moved over to email. This is the discussion so far.

Max wrote:

RSS has a decentralized pub/sub model; the format has been open and stable for a long time; the addressing scheme has no reliance on a specific client. How does the death of one, particularly good even, client, carry with it a threat to the whole ecosystem?

I responded:

They weren't just "one client" -- they dominated, in the way that MSIE dominated the browser space. And they did what MSIE did, once they gained dominance they froze development (that might have happened through competition) and stopped moving. Everything that was broken in GR became a feature of RSS. And all the things that should have happened, to mature the market, couldn't happen.

Now maybe that's about to change for the better. I hope so. But I'm not encouraged. This is a market where, in order for it to flourish, there HAS to be cooperation among vendors. That's what Twitter proved. Because they control the whole user experience they were able to solve problems that the RSS market couldn't. First, because the vendors wouldn't cooperate, and then because Google took the whole market. So we are now locked into a single vendor -- Twitter.

So the way it looks to me is that there are three possible outcomes:

1. GR's demise is also the end of RSS (which seems to me is Google's desired outcome, based on other things they did).

2. A market develops, but we're unable to get the new features into it that simplify the subscription process, so it has a chance re Twitter.

3. A new dominant reader comes about, and if they're good then maybe something good happens.

I don't think there's the slightest possibility of #3. People in tech are just too insular, they don't study prior art, or even study their competition enough to know where the problems are, much less what the potential solutions are.

I think more likely is a mix between #1 and #2. A continued decline for RSS as an activity and more and more reliance on big companies that don't give a fuck.

Posted: 3/16/13; 11:44:02 AM.

Getting .mobi files into Kindle/iPad permalink

I tweeted that you couldn't do this, and got replies from a dozen or more people with ways to do it. And I'm happy to report at least one of them works.

1. Use the email address that Amazon provides for your Kindle. It's on the Amazon site, poke around, you'll find it.

2. The Kindle app shows up under Apps in iTunes. You can drag .mobi files into its Documents directory and they show up in the Kindle app.

3. You can use Dropbox. It will report it can't open the files but if you look in the upper right corner of the screen there's a way to send them to a bunch of apps, for .mobi files this includes the Kindle app.

There may be other methods, if you know of them, please add a comment below.

Posted: 3/15/13; 5:02:07 PM.

One great thing about the demise of Google Reader permalink

A picture named wickedWitch.gifFor a long time I wouldn't create a feed that couldn't be read by Google Reader. That was after an awkward period, when Google Reader started up, that it couldn't do a good job of reading Scripting News's feed.

Think about that for a minute. Scripting News was the first feed. The specs were all written in such a way that Scripting News worked. It would be impossible, unthinkable that somehow the first feed could not be read by a reader from Google. But that's the way it worked. From day one, Google came in with the attitude of The Boss Man. We run this show. I always thought well fuck that shit. What's the point of creating something new if a big asshole company can come along and break you. On day one. Not even a Hello World from a Humble Newbie. Nahh. We're Google. You're nothin.

Eventually I caved, and got rid of the features that Google couldn't handle.

So here's the good thing -- I can put things into my feeds that Google Reader doesn't like.

Not that I haven't already been doing that for a couple of years. ;-)

Posted: 3/15/13; 4:05:51 PM.

Waking up to the world around you permalink

It's always controversial to say that big tech companies make money by controlling the flows to and from users and charging others for access. But that is at least one of the businesses Silicon Valley is in. And it's definitely the business Google is in, so if you want to understand why they might do something to restrict or try to control the flow of RSS, that's probably part of the story, at least. (I'm bending over backwards to be conservative here.)

The thing to fear is that Google intends to control the news people can subscribe to, the same way Apple controls what apps you can buy for the iPad. And the way Twitter decides what clients can have access to our tweets.

They've got a pretty nice interface for it, btw -- the magical Google Now. It knows what information you're likely to want to see, and shows it to you. It's really good.

An example of how good/creepy it is. My friend Jen was coming to visit from SLC. Google Now told me her plane was 24 minutes from arriving at the gate at JFK. I had never told them what flight she was on. I didn't know what flight she was on. But they did. Probably because she uses Gmail or their calendar, and somehow connected me to that trip (or did they just guess!) and thought I might be impressed if they told me about her flight. I was!

But it's creepy, in two ways. One way most people see (it's snooping on what you do to figure out what you want to see). The second way: it's also deciding what you don't see.

Centralizing this decision-making, for now, is the only way that works. But we're giving something up here.

I love that the content of my river is not determined by any tech company. Do I think it will stay that way? It's possible that it might not. Even though I'm not running any Google software to manage it. (I run the aggregator on a Rackspace server, and the content is served from an Amazon S3 bucket.)

We broke free for a bit there with unrestricted flow from blogs and news orgs via RSS. There are people who would like to put the genie back in the bottle. They're not going to run press releases saying that. This is one of those cases where the reporters have to investigate to get the news.

News people -- if your plan for the future includes free flow of news from journalists to readers, now's the time to take a look.

Posted: 3/15/13; 10:22:00 AM.

If you're doing a new RSS reader... permalink

A picture named computerLib.gifSince I'm working on other kinds of software right now, and the RSS world is more fluid than it's been in a long time, it seems it might be a good time to share some things I learned in the first go-around.

The main thing we learned is that subscription needs to be centralized to make the process as simple as possible for the user. That's one of the main reasons Twitter was such an effective competitor. The central server keeps an OPML file for each user. Each site with a feed links to that site with the URL of its feed as a parameter. When the user clicks a Subscribe link, a dialog appears confirming that you want to subscribe. If you say OK that's it, nothing more to do. The user never sees a URL. No browser has to cooperate (not that they would).

OPML should be a file type you can subscribe to. That makes it possible for the user to connect their account on the central subscription server to your aggregator. Also, this feature opens the possibility of a sort of super-curator, someone who manages a collections of feeds that people can subscribe to in a unit.

Also in the argument betw mailbox and river type readers, why not do both? The same data can be viewed either way. Some times you may just have a few minutes to quickly skim the news, and other times you may be able to read feeds individually at a slower pace. I did something like this in the LBBS software in the early 80s. There was a river, and a hierarchic view. You could switch instantly between the two views, and stay on the same item. The same approach would work well for RSS (though I've never seen it done, if I were doing a new reader, I'd definitely give it a try).

A picture named rss.gifAlso a feed should have a way to tell readers "I'm done" -- no more updates, stop reading me. That would make it possible to do more things with RSS. I don't want to subscribe to a special feed about a specific event, knowing I'll have to remember to unsub. Better to let the feed tell the reader. This feature is documented in my microblog namespace and it's supported in my Radio2 linkblogging tool.

There are lots of other ideas like this. I'll write them up as I remember them.

Posted: 3/14/13; 9:38:08 PM.

Do you love outliners? permalink

A picture named lisa.gifI first started using an outliner in the late 1970s, on Unix. It was character-based, on a scrolling display. You'd type commands like 1,$p to show all the lines at the current level. You could view the subs of any headline, by typing the number next to it, and pressing Return. The basic operations were "dive" and "surface." Moving things around was a little more difficult, but it was the best you could do with the computers of the day.

The tools advanced through the years. Influenced by Visicalc, then Lotus 1-2-3. That's when the outliner got a "bar cursor" which points to a structure, much like Visicalc's cursor points to a spreadsheet cell. You moved the cursor around with the arrow keys, and expanded by pressing < and collapsed by pressing >. These keys were chosen as mnemonics, they looked symbolically like the operations they were performing.

Pretty soon after that we got the mouse, so you could double-click to expand and collapse and also drag things from one place to another. This made stuff flow better. That's a key idea -- outlines are about flow, they make text fluid (i.e. able to flow).

Then came graphics, and with that bullet charts and tree charts. All of a sudden there was a production application for outliners, they could be made to do things more efficiently on a computer than could be done with ink, paper and scissors. The business exploded.

All along, I have been writing code and prose with the outliner. These days I use it to narrate my work and to coordinate with the people I work with. It's an amazingly flexible swiss-army-knife-like super-adaptable tool.

I've been doing a lot more with outliners in the last few months, in a project I've been working on with a new programming partner, Kyle Shank, at a new company we founded late last year, Small Picture. It has both a server side and a client side. Next week we will show the first bits of the client software. I think it will surprise people what it can do and how it does it. But this wouldn't be a good tease if I told you more about what it is. :-)

In the meantime, if you have stories to tell about how you love outlining, please consider posting them. I love outliners, but I love outliner users even more. They're such bright people and so incredibly powerful and creative. Software that enables powerful people.

So much more to say and I hope to say it all.

Posted: 3/14/13; 1:00:49 PM.

Google Reader's demise, part 2 permalink

A picture named hope.gifLast night we said goodbye to Google Reader, and that got a lot of traffic and a fair amount of hate, from people who love Google Reader and probably don't like to hear from someone who uses RSS who won't miss it (i.e. me).

I wanted to say that it's possible to use RSS without being dependent on Google Reader. And since GR is going away, that should probably be seen as good news, not bad.

But it's not my problem. I'm not in the RSS Reader business any longer, and have no interest in returning to it.

I don't doubt that people will be well-served by a newly revitalized market for RSS products, now that the dominant product, the 800-pound gorilla, is withdrawing.

Posted: 3/14/13; 11:00:11 AM.

Goodbye Google Reader permalink

I won't miss it. Never used the damn thing. Didn't trust the idea of a big company like Google's interests being so aligned with mine that I could trust them to get all my news.

And besides, I didn't think the mailbox approach to news was right. Who cares how many unread items there are. I like the river of news approach and I have a very fine set of rivers that keep me well supplied with news and podcasts. Have a look.


July 1 isn't that far away, but there's time to get it together. Next time, please pay a fair price for the services you depend on. Those have a better chance of surviving the bubbles.

PS: This message attracted comments some pretty sick comments, so I deleted the whole thread.

Posted: 3/13/13; 7:36:35 PM.

Charles Pierce is wrong about Ezra Klein being wrong permalink

A picture named hope.gifI'm a big fan of both Pierce and Klein. I love Pierce's irreverent writing style, and his political opinions match up pretty well with mine. I learn stuff by reading his columns in Esquire. Same with Klein. He's intelligent, and asks good questions, and backs up his thinking with information. It's sad that his way of working is so rare among political analysts these days.

But guys like Pierce (who criticizes Klein in his recent piece, more about that in a minute) only read other news people. The chances of either of them reading what I write are pretty close to nil, so the chances of them passing along a good idea that I might have are therefore also nil. This is embarassing, because the epiphany of Klein's that Pierce mocks happens to be one that I have been writing about for almost 20 years, over and over. Think of all the time everyone could have saved if they deigned to pay attention to people who don't do what they do. It's tragic that it took a smart guy like Klein so long to understand such a basic structural truth about how news, his own profession, has been working for the last 15 years. Gives you some idea about the power of the blinders this community puts on.

Upton Sinclair: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."

Now, in the past, any idea that didn't penetrate the haze of guys like Klein and Pierce would have very little chance of being heard by people like myself who might be interested. However, because we live in the times of the Internet and what Klein calls The Revenge of the Sources, I can go ahead and be heard without them listening. I call this Sources Go Direct, which means the same thing, but in a more positive less journalist-centered view. It's not revenge, it's more pragmatic. The old system didn't work. So we use the new one instead.

If you look at the mechanics of how a news story is created and flows, there are sources, a reporter, an editor or two, a production and design group, a printing press or web site, a delivery system and finally readers. In the past I have been a source, and I still am, because reporters can and sometimes do quote my blog. I wish they would do it more. I am also an avid reader. I am not, and never have been, and don't want to be, a reporter or an editor or any of the other things. I do write publishing systems, and have created some of the software that these guys probably use.

Pierce incorrectly thinks that every act of journalism is done by reporters. Look at the list of people in the paragraph above. There are lots of other roles. The sources aren't covering a fatal crash on Sunday night on Route 128 (his example). Instead they're writing, on their blogs, about the things they know about. Perhaps they were involved in the crash. Perhaps they witnessed it.

In software, lots of stuff gets created that isn't on the radar of people like Pierce or Klein. They have very limited focus. They look to big rich companies with lots of employees for technology innovation. Makes sense, because they're employees of big rich companies. Of course that's what they understand. But if you look at the history of software (and very few people do) you'll notice that the big ideas almost never come from those places. If you understand the process of software, you'd understand why that's so.

So while I admire both Klein and Pierce for their work as news people, boy would it be great if they looked outside their close-knit little community. Klein is a pioneer in his field for noticing Sources Go Direct first among his peers. But the idea was available to him long ago. And Pierce, a very flexible thinker when it comes to politics, has no flexibility in thinking about media, no ability to see things from other peoples' point of view, as demonstrated by his piece about Klein. And that's so important, and has been important for a very long time.

I've met Pierce's attitude many times, from all kinds of ink-stained pros, some very accomplished. The arrogance is impressive, but they're still wrong. I don't care how many Pulitzers you have. The news process has been reorganizing for quite some time. You may not choose to see it, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening.

PS: Do I think either of them will read this piece? Nah. :-)

Posted: 3/12/13; 12:16:21 PM.

What comes after Facebook? permalink

It's pretty obvious what comes next, via extrapolation -- from past turns of the wheel in software.

What comes next is an easy way for the generation of people who grew up on Facebook to create their own social networks, accessible only by the people they want to share it with.

A somewhat easier to use version of what AWS is today will be the platform.

And Harvard dropouts of the day will create AMIs their friends will configure cleverly.

The art in this new way of doing things will be clever twists on "share."

Posted: 3/9/13; 6:11:25 PM.

A business model for movie theaters permalink

A picture named hcw.gifI'd like to have a film festival for my friends.

So I'll give you a list of 20 movies, Mr Movie Theater Owner, and one night every other week, you'll play one of them, and I'll guarantee a certain number of tickets sold. Above that, we'll split the revenue.

That way we get to watch old movies in a theater setting, with popcorn and restrooms, and then we can all go out to dinner after and talk about the movies and why we like them so much. Maybe we could even get one of the actors or the director to join us.

Movie theaters should be hubs for social activity. Watching a movie at home or on a laptop or a tablet isn't the same as watching it in a theater. And most of the great movies aren't showing in theaters now.

Posted: 3/9/13; 5:50:36 PM.

Medium shows more permalink

I watched the Evan Williams interview with Jason Calacanis at the Launchfest conference in SF, and that gave me a better idea of what he's thinking about with his new company, Medium. The next day we learned that Evan Hansen is now working for Medium. Evan was the longtime editor of wired.com. Highly respected guy.

What is Medium doing? My guess -- if you were to draw a line and at one end put blogging tools and at the other put BuzzFeed, SB Nation and Huffington, that Medium is on that line, and closer to the right than the left.

A picture named diagram.gif

Medium's strength appears to be the elegance and HTML 5-ness of its editorial tools. It feels nice using their editor. Like the content networks, being able to create content there is invite-only. But I'm assuming at some point it will be open to everyone, the way Tumblr or WordPress are.

An advantage Medium is likely to have is a connection to Twitter, which doesn't have a blogging system, and has recently had success with Vine. Twitter giving Medium a boost is good business, for the owners of both companies. ;-)

I'm very interested in where all this is going, keeping an ear out and listening.

Posted: 3/8/13; 9:01:13 PM.

What I learned from jury duty permalink

A picture named trex.gifI got called for jury duty this week, Wednesday and Thursday. In NYC, you go for two days, and sit and wait for a trial. Then they herd 75 citizens of New York County into a courtroom and winnow us until there are 14 left -- 12 jurors and two alternates, and the rest go back into the pool. If you make it through two days without being selected, you go home and resume your life. Otherwise you're a juror. But the education process begins the minute you sit down in the waiting room.

This time I made it as far as a courtroom, but I wasn't chosen as one of the initial group of 24 to be interviewed, but I was required to stay, to wait for the selection to be final. I got to relax while watching my fellow citizens go through the process, where each of the sides, prosecution first, then defense, asks questions to see if you'd be a good juror.

It was an eye-opener. The judge had explained a few of important points: 1. The defendent, accused of burglary, is innocent until proven guilty. 2. The standard of proof is high. You had to be certain the person had done what he was accused of, beyond a reasonable doubt. Otherwise -- innocent. 3. The burden of proof is on the state. The defendent can remain silent, and you can't use that fact in coming up with a decision.

Some jurors didn't seem to understand any of this. They would agree with all ideas when the judge explained it, but when asked a question: "If you think there's a decent chance the person committed the crime, what would your verdict be?" Many of them said something like this: "Well, it would depend on the evidence." You could see the frustration with the lawyers in the room. It's as if you were teaching someone how to enter a command on a computer. "First you type some characters then you press the Return key." They would say they understand, but still not be able to enter a command.

What would you think if the accused did not speak in his own defense, would that make you think he's guilty? Yes, some said.

In the end they had to go with jurors who were pretty hazy on the decision-making process, what the rights of the accused are, and how jurors are supposed to think about the crime and the evidence and testimony. I was reminded that it was like this on the jury I served on. Some people just didn't get that there were rules to innocence and guilt. That it isn't like a family, where you live in a fog of who-did-what-to-whom-when, that in the end we will make a decision, and based on that, this person will go free, or go to jail.

Jury duty is all about teaching us what it means to be a juror. There's a lot to learn, and the education system or television or our parents, or whatever, didn't do a very good job.

Posted: 3/8/13; 10:17:50 AM.

HTML 5 localStorage demo permalink

One of the neatest features in HTML 5 is localStorage.

It lets an app store as much as 5MB of data on the local machine.

I wanted to understand how it works so I wrote a demo.


View source if you want to see how it works.

Hope you find it useful. :-)

Posted: 3/7/13; 7:50:19 PM.

My first github repo permalink

I've been working almost exclusively in JavaScript for the last few months.

It's been a very uplifting and interesting experience. HTML 5 running in the browser with JS is an incredible platform, with lots of unexplored potential, and very few limits. I haven't been this excited about a platform in a long time. And have been having a blast programming it.

A lot of new stuff will be showing up in the coming months. Along the way you're probably going to think I'm teasing, and you'll be right, but there's no way to release as much stuff as we are going to, without doing it in stages, learning as we go, and letting that influence the next steps.

Anyway, here's a beginning.


It's a small number of date and string functions in JS patterned after Frontier verbs.

Posted: 3/6/13; 6:38:53 PM.

Have you met your users? permalink

Last summer I went back to Madison, and part of the trip was a tour of the Computer Science building, where I had been a graduate student many years ago. The building had changed in many ways, and in others, not at all.

1. The outside was exactly the same.

2. The mainframes were gone, replaced by labs of personal computers.

3. The basement was divided up in a totally different way than it was before. The two rooms I spent most of my time in were gone.

4. And most important, the most exciting idea -- there's now a computer store in the front of the building.

I was excited because I assumed that this meant that computer science students were actually meeting users, and learning how they think. But no, they staff the store with employees, just like any other store. My guide looked at me with what I imagined was puzzlement. Why would they want their students to work with users.

Me, I'm always thinking about users, what I can and can't get them to do. What I can get away with, and how can I make them tell other people about my software, and even better, get them to get others to use it. ;-)

There are frustrations, both ways. But if you see software development as a performing art, as I do, inevitably you're going to be judged by them. They will determine your success or failure.

And over the years, I've found this is the hardest point to make to the developers I work with.

Posted: 3/5/13; 2:33:13 PM.

Why Windows lost to Mac permalink

First, understand that this is a blog post, a highly prejudiced thing, completely determined by one self-important person's experiences.

I'm a hypocrite too. :-)

Anyway, I lived through this.

A picture named smallLaptop.gifI was a Windows user in 2005, when I had to get a Mac because I was supporting people who used my OPML Editor app on the Mac, as well as Windows. It didn't seem right that I couldn't see what the updates looked like on the Mac, even if it was open source software, and not generating any money for me. So I bought a $1000 white plastic laptop in the Apple store in Toronto. It was the first time I had been in an Apple store.

It's a long story why I was so uninterested in using Apple products at the time. I had been an early Mac developer, shipping a product in 1984, and continuing to develop through the mid-90s. But when my product, Frontier, became available on Windows in 1998, I switched to Windows. Windows machines performed much better than the Macs of the day, and Apple had a new strategy every four months. I was very happy to get onto the safe ground that Windows offered.

Back to 2005, the first thing I noticed about the white Mac laptop, that aside from being a really nice computer, there was no malware. In 2005, Windows was a horror. Once a virus got on your machine, that was pretty much it. And Microsoft wasn't doing much to stop the infestation. For a long time they didn't even see it as their problem. In retrospect, it was the computer equivalent of Three Mile Island or Chernobyl.

Anyway, that's why when I read Gruber's and Arrington's discussion about why the Mac won, I was once again amazed about what a fog we all live in, and how little grasp there is of other people's experiences. I don't doubt that for these guys malware didn't make a big difference. Maybe I was the outlier, maybe not many other people thought it would be nice to take a vacation from fighting the viruses. And then the vaction became permanent. (As it did for me. I dabbled in PCs after getting the white laptop. But I bought basically every bit of hardware Apple has offered since then. And I made most of my friends do so too.)

We don't do well at sharing experiences on the net about these subjects. The flamers pretty much control discourse, or have in the past. I think that's one reason our grasp of history is so hazy. A lot like the great movie, Fog of War. See it if you want to understand more about the tech industry.

Posted: 3/4/13; 1:30:40 PM.


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