August 26, 2006

River of News

Of course, talking about Winer gets links from Dave and more discussion in the comments than most postings. But I don't just do it for the flow. There's something really interesting going on here.

But thanks for all comments, here're my responses (including further development of ideas) :

gardenstate :

of course the money comes from selling But Winer has no reason to try to mislead people and pretend he has other types of income. He's trying to expand your way of thinking about the economic model of blogs to *include* things like that deal.

danny :

Don't we all take ideas from elsewhere and mix and match them together? I've seen Winer sometimes more, and sometimes less, meticulous about setting the record straight about his influences. He credits them often enough that I think he's not deliberately trying to mislead, although, agreed, I've seen him lazily allow an interviewer call him things like the "inventor of RSS" without correcting that too. (My take is that Dave didn't invent RSS the way Ray Kroc didn't start McDonalds.)

Seems to me, one of the issues is that Dave's been around since the 70s and is copying ideas that were already current then. Today people say "why doesn't Winer credit TBL for the idea of a readable / writable web?" But Dave claims to have been working on outliner-shaped public discussions on buletin-boards in the 80s. If anything he should probably be crediting Plato. Or maybe Engelbart.

In terms of platform building, Winer's modus operandi has always been *incremental*. River of News for NYT and BBC is infinitessimal as a technological invention; it just makes the lives of one group of people (Blackberry users) a tiny bit easier.

But behind the scenes, lots of interesting things are going on : people are getting used to Dave's server becoming an intermediary to their news-reading lives. Pretty soon (I'm betting) there'll be OPML in there. For editing subscriptions, or filters or something else.

So Winer's made strategic links, wiring up various components and actors : big media, himself, mobile devices, an existing user base, OPML Editor, OPML, RSS.

Compare this to Apple's strategy for music. That worked because Apple had all the pieces : iPod as the mobile player, iTunes as the software for buying and recommending, their DRM format, *plus* big music companies willing to go with them. All the parts were there. A music player or service disconnected from this network may have been technically "better" in many ways, but the overall ecosystem from Apple was compelling.

Winer has nothing like the resources of Apple, but look, he's created the same shape of platform : he's got the content, he's got the nice reader, he's got the flow going through his middleware. And now he can start innovating on top of that. Like I say, I'm betting it will start with "edit your subscriptions in an OPML Editor" although Winer's hinting that it might also be "Edit your blog on the Blackberry" too.

Danny has lots of frustrations with Dave, but I think the real issue is that Dave's strategy of minimal incremental improvements plus link-making work with the grain of the web. Whereas the better, comprehensive standards that Danny works with, continuously fail because they are actually against this grain.

What is the shape of the web? Individualistic, opportunistic, one-way links. Anyone on the web can choose, by themselves, to make a link to anyone else. The only required standard is the URL. You don't need two-way co-ordination to make something happen. Yet links are hugely valuable (as Google discovered)

So, what is with the grain of this web? Individualistic link making; the quicker and dirtier the better. Or rather, the more links, the better. And quality is secondary.

Danny wants to make good quality links. He wants a group of smart people to come together to thrash out the right model for a type of data, one which eliminates ugly, funky problems, and is as flexible and generic as possible. Once the model is defined then it should be published and adhered to. How do I find out how to represent my data? I go and find the description of the model, try to read, digest and understand it, and then adhere to it.

Dave is continuously undermining Danny's way of doing things. He won't adhere to the codes for good link quality. Instead he makes valuable links as quickly as possible. (Where valuable means one that has a genuine application or usefulness to someone) Obviously this looks like sabotage from Danny's perspective. It invalidates the hard-work of the people who design the good links, and their attempts to get consensus. And, yes, leads to poorer quality links. (Although not so poor that the culture can't adapt to and live with their deficiencies.)

Winer doesn't do this to be evil. It is a matter of intuition. To me he looks like someone genuinely at home on the web. He lives there. He "washes" there. Of course what he does is with the grain.

dave : I think you're too ad hominem about Danny. I'd like to talk about ideas here.

others : yes (gotta rush)

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