Digerati - Chapter 32

Digerati - Chapter 32

Dave Winer [10.1.96]

Chapter 32


Dave Winer

THE STATESMAN (Steve Case): He's come out of nowhere to emerge as one of the poets of cyberspace. DaveNet is always quite engaging, and his ability, his willingness to open himself up to say whatever's on his mind is quite impressive.

Dave Winer is a software developer and the publisher of DaveNet.

Part of the DaveNet Web site, January 17, 1996:

Big Fear in MacLand

Almost 80 percent of the people coming thru hotwired.com are using Windows, and that percentage has been going up steadily. The relative advantage that Macintosh used to enjoy is dissipating. The opportunity to grow significantly by being the best net client has faded.

We need a strategy for this thing! Is it finally clear that it isn't going to come from Cupertino. I've been saying this for over a year now. We're going to turn the platform in a whole new direction. Get it more in line with what's happening in the world around it.

We're getting into Windows. We have to. There's no Java for the Macintosh. Big fear in MacLand‹Mac Netscape 2.0 may go golden without Java support. Big fear and big anger. How did this happen? Who's screwing who?

So if you're a net content developer, like I am, there's a Windows machine sitting next to your Mac now. The need for this just happened in the last two weeks, in my life at least. I'm always late for these platform things.

Every couple of days, a printout of an email like the one above from January 17, 1996, lands on my desk. A new issue of DaveNet has arrived.

Dave Winer, software developer, is also webmaster, author, CEO, and janitor of DaveNet, a publishing phenomenon that is an example of what's possible on the Internet within the constraints of current technology and within the constraints of revenue models for doing business on the Web.

DaveNet is an ongoing rant‹at Apple, at Microsoft, at the Web community at large. The subject, usually topical, depends on his mood. A typical DaveNet may start out with Dave commenting on a rock song he's listening to at 5 a.m. Then he may start "singing," even "crooning," the lyrics‹his brave attempt at creating virtual karaoke in ASCII text.

Having warmed up, Dave begins to roll. He tells Gil Amelio, the new CEO of Apple, how to reorganize the company. He opens a debate between Microsoft and Netscape software engineers on open standards. He tells the online services not to read his email. He lectures the industry and the government on the First Amendment. He falls in love and ends friendships. He stirs the pot and gets people going at each other. All this is suffused with his signature message: love.

Did you report a $700 million loss last quarter? Did you write the strategic plan for the coming year for your company and leave out something called the Internet? Dave understands. He loves you. Dave shares your pain. He has a dream: you are a child sleeping in the safety and comfort of his loving arms; he carries you to a lush green cliff high above the sea and gently awakens you to a sparkling new day radiating positive energy. He wants to share this with you and with a thousand other close friends including your employees and competitors. You can have his scripting language. It's free. Everything beautiful is free. We are all free. Did you come home early from an Apple developer's conference and find your wife in bed with a guy from Seattle? Dave knows. He counsels you on how to love the passion they feel for each other.

All this comes in an eminently readable voice, which makes it hard to put down. Unless you are the kind of person who considers Dave's occasional violence to the English language a cause for alarm:

The www.suck.com parody stung a little. They mocked me. PS I love you! they said. Get it? A Beatles song. Cute! Very nice. I do love you, yes, but I've never said it before. I felt it was too early in the relationship. Everyone I knew said how cool it is (notice, only two o's) to be mocked by www.suck.com. I became a bit more self-conscious about my writing. Maybe I should stop using so many o's?

Maybe they're right ‹ that too many o's is not a gooooood thing?

What about it?

No way!


And to all the people who say I use too many o's‹get a life! There's hunger in the world. They're censoring the net. AIDS is ripping up our culture. Why do you have time to care how many o's I use? Hmmm. Not likely. I don't usually give advice but this time I'll make an exception‹give it up.

The geeks are buzzed.

I loooooove DaveNet. And since it comes to me as email, I don't have to waste time logging on to my Internet service provider and finding Dave's site, which inevitably takes ten minutes. Dave sends it to his personal list of about one thousand industry insiders. It is also available (and archived) on his Web site (www.scripting.com), where it is read by another thirty-five thousand people. If you are among Dave's privileged one thousand, you know you are in good company, but you never get a look at his complete mailing list. Every DaveNetcarries your name in the address list along with a dozen other addressees. The other names and email addresses are always different. This week you are on a list with Jean-Louis Gassée and John Doerr. Last week you were in the company of Bill Gates, Howard Rheingold, and Marc Andreessen. Next week, it may be Mike Markkula and Ted Leonsis.

Dave knows about communities. In fact, I sense from what he tells me that one reason he lives on the edge of the continent, in San Francisco, is to get as far away as possible from the community he came from. He takes from that world, and brings to DaveNet, the agitation and the tumult that occur in a real community where people interact with each other in real time and physical space.

DaveNet shows that content is community. Many people pay lip service to this concept, but Dave executes. DaveNet is a real community. First, everybody who receives DaveNet knows everybody else, either personally or by reputation within the industry. Second, a response to a DaveNet issue will be read by the people who count in the industry. Third, Dave encourages response, emotion, and passion. People go at each other over issues that matter to themselves, to each other, and to the wider world. Such a discourse within this community can have real consequences.

Today's conventional wisdom is that the name of the game is market share. Piss on a hydrant in cyberspace and in three years a few survivors will emerge from the wreckage to dominate the biggest market in history. Watch how the media conglomerates hemorrhage cash, how the start-ups plan to lose millions, how the online services continue to cover the reported losses by floating more stock.

"What's nice about DaveNet," Dave says, "is that I don't need any money to do what I do. I don't require an editorial staff, and I don't need a printing press. Therefore I don't have anybody telling me what I can write. I also have a lead time that is the envy of every journalist in every other medium. If a news story comes out and I get it first, I can be out on the street in ten minutes. There's never been a medium like this, with that kind of immediacy. It changes the way news happens. It also changes the way opinion happens."

Dave's dream in his software life is to have a great collaboration between people who don't necessarily work at the same company. "Software is not a corporate thing, by nature," he says. "It's an individual thing, and the corporate interests, the guys in the suits, get in the way."

Dave Winer is "The Lover."

THE LOVER (Dave Winer): I wake up at about four o'clock on the mornings I'm going to write, and I put on some music. I tend to listen to albums, or one song over and over again. I warm up by writing an intro that's about the music. I usually leave that in because I think it helps the reader warm up, too. I also want at some point to write more about music, and have music be part of the stuff, so I like leaving that in. Of course, at HotWired, that stuff is always edited out. I don't particularly like being edited.

I actually have two Web sites. There is my own Web site, which is complete. It has everything unedited. There is a section of the HotWired Web site called DaveNet. It has one piece per week, appearing every Thursday. That goes through an edit cycle. I've probably got three hundred pieces I've written so far, and if you printed them all out, they would probably add up to a two-thousand-page book.

I try not to mix up too much of my business as a software developer and what I'm interested in as a writer. On the other hand, I don't make any pretense of being free of conflicts. I'm a software developer, and that's the perspective I write from. If you're disinterested, you're not interesting, right?

DaveNet was started by accident. I had no idea that it was going to turn into anything at all. I had taken an eight-month vacation from the software business because what I was doing wasn't working, and I was tired. I had a relationship break up, right around the same time, so I wasn't in the mood to work at all. I spent eight months playing and traveling and doing things to feel good. I was getting involved in people's lives, in a nice way. A friend of mine, Marc Canter, was starting up a new company and rolling out a product, and he was going to have a press conference. I had a great Rolodex of electronic mail addresses that I had accumulated over the years, and I had a great set of scripts for distributing email messages. So I sent a notice out to all those people, using these scripts, encouraging them to come and see Marc. Then, at the press conference, he had a list in his press kit: the ten things that he wanted the media to know about multimedia.

Marc, in my book, is the leader in multimedia. He was the developer of Macromedia Director. It's the standard. More importantly, Marc has, and I hate to use the word, vision. When Marc says something, I tend to listen. I took his list, typed out the ten things, and sent it out to my list of people. Then I realized I had created a publishing platform that I could use for my own writing. Floating around the industry at the time was the notion that Apple and IBM might get together. I wrote a business plan for them and sent it via email to the executives at IBM and Apple. They did not respond, so I thought, Why don't I send it to the same list I sent Marc's stuff to? So I did, and I got responses from a lot of people.

I wrote a couple of other reports. I'd explored PDAs, drawn some conclusions about what were smart bets, so I wrote a report. Again, it was very opinionated. I published it and got a reply from Randy Battat, an executive at Motorola in charge of PDAs. He wrote a very thoughtful piece, and I published it. I got the idea that I could write something and then, almost like a teacher, call on somebody to respond. This was publishing on the Internet. I was starting to play around with the World Wide Web. I'd gotten an ISP account and was using Eudora. Then I had a flash, a real flash of insight. That flash was coupled with something Bill Gates had said at a conference‹that he was betting his company on The Microsoft Network. He denies having said it; he denied having said it at the time, too. His current argument is How could it be a bet-the-company move for a company that has $18 billion in cash in its pocket? I only meant that it's about the company in the very broadest sense, that Microsoft's position in our industry is vastly diminished today from what it was when I wrote the piece, in late 1994.

My premise was that what had happened was irrevocable, that basically the standards of the software industry were irrelevant at that point. Very quietly, unnoticed by the software industry, the standards of the Internet came along, were effective, were supported by all the vendors, and would be supported by all the platforms in the future. The amazing thing was that none of those standards came from Apple or IBM or Novell.

API stands for application programming interface, a very important concept in software. Software is made out of layers, and the things that connect layers to each other are called APIs. Every important thing in software, if it's going to be built on, has to have an API. The Internet itself really is nothing, yet it's everything. It's all the APIs, all the software written for these standards, but in the end, all it is is a bunch of agreements between people about the way we're going to have our software work together. These open platforms are not done Microsoft style, where it tells everyone what to do after becoming part of these agreements.

Maybe Bill is right, in which case we go back to where we were in 1994, when we were all waiting for Bill to implement new software tools before the rest of us could do anything. As a software developer, I find this extremely boring. I don't want to wait. I'd rather go sailing, or make pottery, or raise a family. I like this world where Bill Gates is one of us. He's a very big one of us, he's a very powerful one of us. I have an enormous respect for Bill, because of the way Microsoft has risen to the challenge of the Internet. I don't want to see him win, but on the other hand I know that if he wins this one and gets his way again, it means a change of direction, a reversal on Microsoft's part: if it makes it through this transition as an important leader, the company will have completely changed, and, I don't think he had any desire to completely change his way of doing business.

So far he's trying to compromise by taking "embrace and extend" to a new level‹to an embrace of the style of the Net. But few people ask the question, "If Netscape's power is diminished will Gates revert back to the system that was in place in the early '90s, when Microsoft controlled the evolution of all PC standards?"

In that sense, he decided that Microsoft was going to become an Internet company, and damn it, he didn't know. He was behind the curve. That was the starting point for DaveNet, because what I received back then was a very strong response from Gates. Everybody was blown away that you could get this kind of interaction. All I did was use the power that everybody else has on the Internet. I didn't need to be anything or do anything more, other than have an opinion, and state it in a way that it evoked a reply from somebody, and it was interesting. All it has to be is interesting.

I'm delighted that DaveNet turned out that way. It gives me a real sense of power, and a way to influence the future. I often have these mini-epiphanies. I'm just frustrated, and I can't stand that the world is a certain way. I have to remind myself that I can do something about it, that I don't have to feel powerless or silent about these things, I can actually make something happen. I want to be the Barbara Walters of the Internet.

Other people are impressed by the size of a company and that guides their choices, but I would prefer to work with great people, and to me it doesn't matter whether they're independent, inside a small company, or inside a huge company.

I would work with Microsoft any day of the week. In January 1996 DaveNet was a sparring platform for Bill Gates and Marc Andreessen. My mailbox was filled with stuff from people who were shooting each other. Fascinating. When appropriate I would run the pieces, because this was when things were really moving.

It's very lucky for Apple that Netscape decided to do a Macintosh version. It's also very lucky for Netscape, because if it didn't have the second platform, the company would be controlled by Microsoft now. The fact that Netscape did a creditable if not perfect job supporting the Mac platform means that Microsoft has to do it too. Microsoft's Explorer on the Mac is a very nice piece of software. I wouldn't say that if it weren't true. Leadership is important, and so now that we've got Microsoft investing in the Macintosh platform, which is exciting, leadership makes a difference.

While DaveNet comes by email right now, at some point it's going to come via Java. I want a higher fidelity. The nice thing about the Web over email is that I have more control over how things look. That's one aspect of it. The really important one, though, is that I get to link. Linking is an art form that you haven't seen in any other medium, and it's one that we're just starting to explore. You're able to do that in electronic mail, if you have the right kind of an email client.

I have to wear a lot of different hats. In some contexts, I have my opinion and that's what counts. When I wrote about Rick Smolan's project, 24 Hours in Cyberspace, I gave you exactly what I believed: that this was a friend of mine, that I thought I understood where he was coming from, that he had an opportunity to make history, doing what he does, and that I was very disappointed. Then, putting on another hat, here I am promoting free speech on the Internet. All I was asking Smolan to do was to not let Al Gore write about the environment on the same day the administration was clamping down on free speech on the Net, by signing the CDA.

The Clinton administration knows exactly what it's doing. It is maintaining the power structure as it exists without any change. The administration does not want the Internet to change anything. It wants to make it through this whole Internet thing completely unscathed, with no change in the flow of money. You read The New York Times, and they talk about the new media industry in New York, and how wonderful it is we've got this new media industry, and they're so damn arrogant about it. Not The New York Times particularly, but that whole group of people from the advertising industry, believe that this is a one-way medium, just like television is.

What I like so much about it is what they absolutely don't like, the fact that I have no filters on me at all. If I wanted to get on TV, on broadcast or cable TV, I would have to go through a whole bunch of filters that would edit me, and take a lot of the controversy out of it, take the immediacy out of it. Lead times would get introduced, all this stuff would tend to flatten it out. That's really what they want to give us. They want to give us that, and the nature of this medium is that it really isn't controllable. Even if they can put you in jail, they really can't control the broad discussion that goes on this medium.

Next time you talk to Markoff, ask him why the fuck The New York Times waited months before they ran an editorial about free speech on the Internet. Ask him what the hell he's doing there‹he's supposed to be one of the digerati. Ask Denise Caruso the same question.

Corporate Web sites are going to sterilize everything they can possibly get their hands on. The Web sites will come out looking like Chef Boyardee when they get done with them. Chef Boyardee is tasty, but it's not the only food I want to eat. It's not fun. There's got to be a little element of fear that the Web is going to be fun. It's got to provoke a sense of excitement. The kind of things that the corporate people are putting out there on the Web are anachronisms. They're the result of a business plan that says, we're going to do this much business over the Web. What we really need is more experimentation, trial and error, having fun, playing a little bit, losing a few times, that's how technology moves forward.

CNN has a really nice Web site. I go there all the time. Of all of the East Coast media companies, they get it. They understand what their role is in this medium. The New York Times totally misses it. That's disappointing to me, having grown up reading The New York Times and admiring and respecting it, and thinking, it was going to be wonderful when the Times finally showed up in this medium. Suck is interesting, but it may have run its course at this point. You can only take so much negativism and sarcasm and adolescent humor. They're very negative people. They're writing about negative things. There never will be a shortage of that on the Web, but I find it's getting boring. I like what the software industry has done in online publications. IDG's Infoworld Online is excellent. I keep going back to it. I get what I'm supposed to get out of that, which is more than daily coverage. If something happens, I want to be able to find out about it quickly.

The next killer Web site is going to be one where you can be pretty much sure that if something has just happened, they will have a pointer to what it is that just happened. This is going to be the highest-flow place on the Web. The Web itself holds a lot of news. And the search engines lack the currency, they don't index events immediately. It might take a month before a search engine can get you a comprehensive list of all the places you can go to find information about the Unabomber, who became kind of a Web phenomenon in his own right. Yet you had to go find the information for yourself, and it was not well organized. But if an event such as the Unabomber's arrest is happening, I should be able to find a place where I can go, the Unabomber page, where some group of people is working on getting that story, and the minute something comes on line you get a pointer, so this acts like a focal point, a place to come through.

THE MARKETER (Ted Leonsis): Dave Winer is a curmudgeon. He sends me a daily rant. I would say that every day is a Dave rant day on DaveNet. I would encourage everyone to get on his mail list because he writes funny stuff.

THE PRAGMATIST (Stewart Alsop): "The Lover?" Big change from his early positioning as "The Nerd."

THE GADFLY (John C. Dvorak): Go to DaveNet on the Web. It says it all.

THE CATALYST (Linda Stone): He wears his heart (size XL) on his sleeve. He's passionate about what he perceives to be right or wrong, passionate about his beliefs.

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Excerpted from Digerati: Encounters with the Cyber Elite by John Brockman (HardWired Books, 1996) . Copyright © 1996 by John Brockman. All rights reserved.