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Dave Winer's Software, Users, and Fiftieth Birthday

Dave Winer's Software, Users, and Fiftieth Birthday

Years ago, some of us on the old Frontier mailing lists would complain that Dave Winer wrote his software to work for him, specifically. It did exactly what he wanted, how he wanted to do it. Frontier. The Website Framework (Frontier's original static web CMS). Manila. Radio. Some feature requests would make it into the software, but anything more than an inch to either side of Dave's focus had no chance. You had to write it yourself.

Support for using the existing features in ways he didn't anticipate usually got the same lack of interest, or confusion, or even, occasionally, hostility. ("Why would you want to use it that way!?")

That drove me nuts, at the time. It's like we were all being allowed to play with Dave's toys, but only so long as we played with them his way.

Some of you are nodding your heads, remembering those days. Some of you are probably also shaking your heads (at the same time?), thinking this is an attack on Dave. It's not. Keep reading, you'll see this is about users, and even my own education.

Over the years, I've come to see things in a slightly different way. Dave loves the users -- I truly believe that -- just not necessarily *his* users. When Dave has an idea, a vision, he pushes his software in that direction with single-minded ferocity and the force of a hurricane. His users -- meaning, those using his software -- either go with him or blow away. (Consider the transition from Frontier as a Mac scripting system to Frontier as a web development platform.)

His software is just that: his. It's how he expresses his ideas. Dave is -- or at the very least, he thinks of himself as -- the software industry's Uncle Dave. His users aren't those people using his software. His users are those people using his ideas. XML-RPC. Weblogs for everybody. RSS everywhere.

He isn't always right, his ideas aren't always the best, and his implementations almost never are. They are often inspiring, though. Programmers look at what he's done and are inspired to write something better, faster, more scalable, more thorough. But they don't get it. *I didn't get it.* Dave's output isn't his software. His software is just an example, the implementation of whatever idea he was focused on.

The Atom folks think that with Google behind them, they'll beat Dave because his format (RSS) isn't as good. The spec isn't as well written, the format isn't as flexible, and there is no tightly-coupled API (atom is both a format and a publication API). They're probably right about the facts.

But! If, ten years from now, there are one hundred million or a billion Atom feeds and RSS has gone the way of HTML 3.2 (not likely), who has "won?" Would there be an Atom if Dave hadn't worked with Netscape on RSS, or pushed back so hard against the insanity that was RSS 1.0?

Certainly not.

Nor would there be a Conversant without Frontier's original Mainresponder-based discussion groups. "They suck," said I, and Macrobyte (at the time, Brian Andresen, Art Peña and myself) believed we could do better. Conversant has been evolving ever since. (That's a terrible over-simplification, but this isn't a history of Conversant.)

Seen that way, we look like nothing more than a swirly little storm that spun off the side of Hurricane Dave. (As does the current Userland, actually, and a few other companies and applications.) There would be no Conversant without Dave and his annoying, unscalable, made-to-run-his-way software. The expression of Dave's needs, Dave's ideas.

Dave turns fifty on Monday. This is Dave the man, not Dave the hurricane. Dave the man that's missing his Uncle Vavavoom, and is surely thinking about his own mortality.

So, I just want to say, "Thank you, Dave!", and let you know that while others may appreciate you for your abrasive clarity, I prefer the hurricane of ideas and the constant focus on us, your idea-users.

Oh, and Happy Birthday, Dave.

Page last updated: 5/2/2005

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