19 min

Interesting reads from 10-plus years ago at theobvious.com


Open Question: What would you do with RSS

Stories and Tools

A MetaFilter Proposal

September 11, 2001

The Next Usenet

The way I see it, we already have about half of the solution implemented. First, there seems to be an almost endless supply of content creators. Webloggers, personal home page publishers, professional journalists, community participants are creating millions of words of new content. Second, we have the protocol: simple HTTP, and addressable URLs. Third, we have (at least the beginnings of) a common data format in RSS.

We're missing the other half, which consists of two elements -- a common semantic space (i.e. "categories of content"), and the client- and server-side tools to easily create and distribute content. The tools will come, and will come in multiple colors and flavors. Whether it's Blogger, or Radio Userland, or Microsoft Word, or EMACS, or a server-side tool provided by Geocities, there will be tools for reading, writing, commenting on, and publishing, RSS-based content (ed. note -- there you go again).

Imagine a series of webservers that exchange RSS feeds in a similar way. Since RSS 1.0 is extensible via XML namespaces, it would be easy to add one or more categorization elements to each and every item posted, in addition to a categorization for a whole channel. Additionally, RSS could be extended to describe types of publishers, so custom syndication servers could have their own rulesets to enable them to redistribute RSS feeds matching particular channels, created by particular publishers, or classes of publishers. Thus, theobvious could become a syndicator of RSS feeds of indie tech pundit types, while Google becomes the syndicator of record for everything it could get its hands on.

Hacking the City

The Beginning of Web Design

Pyra's Killer App

Contrary to popular opinion, Pyra's killer app isn't Blogger, it's Pyra. Of course, that's mostly semantics, since Blogger's an application built on top of the Pyra framework. Which means that Pyra could not only be your next project management app, but your next content publishing platform as well. An integrated content, template, task, issue, and discussion database? Sounds like a killer app to me. Now they just need to figure out the business model...

Just One Question for Dick Costolo

My Ass is a Weblog
A major miss-fire prediction from 1999 by Greg Knauss, but it's still an interesting read.

Say what you want about the Web, it's got its enthusiasms. Twice a year or so, like clock-work, a new technology or paradigm sweeps over the face of the Internet, promising to transform not only the medium, but the very fabric of our lives. "It's revolutionary!" proponents shout. "It's amazing! It's the next New Thing!"

Which makes the tumult that currently surrounds weblogs all that much more amusing. It's easy to be cynical, of course, but how can anyone not giggle into their sleeve when lists of links to the iBrator are described in terms that usually accompany the overthrow of a government?

Weblogs are a "revolution." They're "journalism." They're "art." They're, again and again, the next New Thing. To which the only possible response can be: come on, people.

This is not to say that weblogs aren't useful or fun. I read several every day, and have profited from the experience. I just love that Mahir guy.

But how can you not boggle at the level of self-delusion, of self-infatuation, it takes to declare that weblogs are going kill off traditional journalism? That the concept will be alive and well a decade from now? That weblog readership will increase a hundred-fold in that time? That they're an art form?

The only consolation a naysayer can find in all the current hubbub is that, inside of a year, the inevitable winnowing will be complete, and the weblog community will have matured into something efficient, useful and blessedly quiet. The remaining webloggers will go about their business, providing links and commentary, without all the noisy hoo-ha of revolution.

The Truly Personal Web

A Standard for Site Organization

An Open Letter to Old Media
Another humorous, major, miss-fire prediction

You were always better than that, Old Media. Don't let New Media convince you otherwise. That punk is headed for a fall, anyway. Look, somebody has to be the adult here and it's sure as hell isn't going to be the Web. Why not you? You've been pretty good at it so far. Please, Old Media -- come back. We miss you.

^ Holy hell. Talk about a whiff.

Review: Unleashing the Killer App

More Life Beyond the Browser

The Killer of Websites

Questions for Jeff Bezos

Information Overload

Collaboration: Working Alone Together

The wonderful thing about the Eames room is that it encouraged people to work together, as a team. Where is the equivalent on the net? Why does it seem that all for all the talk of this wonderful enabling technology, we still are sitting at our individual machines, tap tap tapping away by ourselves?

I'm involved in a multitude of group projects this semester. It's exciting, but will be a logistical nightmare. Different people populate different groups. Everyone is stretched for time. Coordinating face-to-face meetings is difficult, and there is plenty of group work to be done. The obvious question: why can't we be using the net as a tool?

I would love to have a cross-platform collaboration product that combines combines the ease-of-use of email with the publishing capabilities of the web. I work with folks who live lives both on- and off-line, on PCs and Macs. The only thing we have in common is a UNIX machine hosting our web sites and running our POP server. We're not interested in building online communities, we're just interested in getting some work done. Asynchronously, easily, and cheaply. Oh, and a dose of security would be nice. Regardless of what the admissions department tells you, business school is competitive.

Everyone and their mother, it seems, is pushing an Intranet based product to help solve these issues. But nothing has gone beyond the firewall. Lotus Notes? For the individual? Ha. Netscape's LiveWire? Do you think we're actually in control of the server we use? Microsoft's NT and IIS? See above. Meanwhile, can someone remind me why Netscape bought Collabra? Did I miss something, or were we not promised browser-based collaboration for the masses?

I, of course, want the impossible. I want a set of tools which turn my machine into the equivalent of the Eames conference room. But I won't get it, because it's an impossible dream. The beauty of the Eames room is that it's a room, a physical place, for physical (not virtual) collaboration. Working face to face is, of course, better -- a machine can't replace the inimitable buzz of a group working on a caffeine induced high.

But when we're apart, and have work to do, when schedules dictate that things have to be done alone, then why can't we work alone together?

Global v. Local

The Road to Xanadu

As Gary Wolf wrote in his Wired history of the project, "Xanadu was meant to be a universal library, a worldwide hypertext publishing tool, a system to resolve copyright disputes, and a meritocratic forum for discussion and debate.... And, on the very hackerish assumption that global catastrophes are caused by ignorance, stupidity, and communication failures, Xanadu was supposed to save the world."

Simplify My Life

Furthermore, will somone please explain to me why we need Java chat rooms and Java navigation bars and Java news tickers? Aren't IRC, image maps and plain old ASCII good enough?

Dave Winer, who knows a thing or two about content heavy web-sites, recently advised DaveNet readers that "the next time someone says they have the fastest justin-time Java byte-code garbage collector, be sure to ask them what you should use Java for. I haven't heard a good answer to this question, and I've been asking." Of course, this piece came before Dave went off the deep end (as he usually does) and started screaming about how Java will connect the world and bring universal peace through Remote Procedure Calls.

The obvious advice to the browser-builders: make things easier, not harder. Simpler, not more complex. Remember that the vast majority of users are connecting at trickle speeds, and appreciate simplicity. A browser should be lean, mean and fast. It should load text before images. Static images before animated GIFs. And anything before a Java applet. It should not include an email client (takes up room), nor a news client (takes up room, and is there anyone left that actually reads Usenet?). And don't even think about a net.telephone, collaboration tools or a QuickTime plugin. That's what real phones, white boards and VCRs are for.

Netscape and Sun need to wake up to the fact that the market for web products is not going to be driven by the power user connected to the corporate T1. It's going to be driven by the masses. The masses who will buy a Sony PC or a Sega "net cartridge," connect at 28.8k if they're lucky, and drive the advertising dollars which will fund the websites which will keep this medium viable into the next decade. Pay attention to the masses, and they'll pay attention to you.

1996. The Year Ahead

1995. The obligatory list.

Dave Winer. Sure, he whines. But his DaveNet pieces have opened my mind to the possibilities of fully scripted web publishing and (more importantly) connecting with people.

Look Junior! A "Network Computer!"

Next year's holiday landscape could be completely different, if Larry Ellison or Lou Gerstner have their way. The big guns from Oracle and IBM are hoping that their "Network Computer" ideas will take the world by storm, and that we'll all find $500 diskless terminals under our trees next year.

If all goes according to plan, we'll unwrap the gifts, recycle the box and the wrapping paper, plug 'em in, hook 'em up to the phone line, and BOOM! Look junior -- we're surfing the Web, just like on TV! We're sending email to your Aunt June! We're playing tic-tac-toe against the computer!! It'll all be great, until....

"Hey, Aunt Jill. Is there anything else on the Web besides shopping and recycled magazine articles?"
"Ah, not really."

A network computer would make sense, if the content that would feed it were more compelling. I'm not sure if reading Pathfinder on the TV screen or playing games written in Java are enough to make a $500 investment in what is essentially a dumb terminal. Not to mention the fact that the bandwidth needed to make these things really hum (like ISDN or cable modems) are a long way away for the majority of American households.

But beyond these mundane issues, which I'm sure Larry and Lou have answers for, I have a fundamental problem with the NC. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the "Three C's of Computing" -- Creating, Consuming and Connecting. The problem with the NC is that it will be very good at only one of those C's. Without any real processing or storage, our kids aren't going to be creating much. And with a TV display, we're sure not going to be connecting with anyone (since long bouts of email or usenet will make everyone cross-eyed). Which only leaves one thing -- consuming.

The NC will be just another television, dressed up in the web's clothing. The NC will help us consume, just like TV. But instead of consuming episodes of Seinfeld (like we do with TV), we'll consume web sites with pictures of the cast of Seinfeld. Recycled magazine articles about the producers of Seinfeld. And we'll be able to shop (on-line!) for Seinfeld sweatshirts.

The Network Computer won't bring us any closer to the utopian hive-mind society described by Howard Rheingold or Kevin Kelly. In that world, we'd all have equal power to create, connect AND consume. Everyone would have the bandwidth, storage and processing power to create and host our own personal Pathfinder. Instead, we'll all be sitting on our asses, consuming whatever Time Warner throws our way.

The first iPad was released in April 2010. The tablet and the smartphones are Internet-ready computers. The modern day equivalent to the Network Computer idea of the mid-1990s. And today's mobile devices combined with a myriad of Web services and native apps allow for Creating, Consuming, and Connecting. It took a decade longer, but the NC idea got realized.

If you build it, will they come?

If you read Wired's recently published history of Java, you know its origins. Some folks at Sun wanted to build a language for consumer electronic applicances (a.k.a. Personal Digital Assistants), that would enable content providers to distribute applications (and the data that drives them) over wireless networks. They wanted it to be a "simple, object-oriented, distributed, interpreted, robust, secure, architecture neutral, portable, high-performance, multithreaded, and dynamic language." Dizzy yet?

Well, to make a long story short, Sun saw the bottom fall out of the PDA market. And basically had nowhere to go with Java, and no clue about the WWW, even though most of it was running on Sun workstations. Until (BANG!!!) all of a sudden Sun woke up, got the net.religion in a big way, and Java was pronounced our savior.

People "in the know" say Java will be everywhere, and soon. Netscape has licensed Java technology to include in version 2.0 of their Navigator. And since Netscape has the browser market locked up (so the argument goes), users will start screaming for Java apps to run on it. Right?

OK, reality check. I downloaded Hot Java (and Netscape 2.0). And I played with some Java apps. And it usually works. And it's usually pretty cool. You get animation (cool). And you get "ticker tape" (cool). And you get neat text effects (cool). And you get calculators and rudimentary spreadsheets and 3d molecular models you can drag around on your screen (cool, cool, cool).

But Sun is going to need to have a LOT of patience if they want to really see the PC get hallowed out (and Bill Gates topple in the process). Because Java (at least right now) ain't nearly as addictive as the stuff it gets its name from.

Now, I'd like to see some decent competition to Microsoft's hegemony as much as the next guy. But I have a hard time believing it's going to come from Java -- at least not in the next few years. Yes, there will be specific applications of Java (probably in academia, maybe in the financial world). And yes, sites like c|net will hype their "Java enabled" sites.

But until there are tools that are easy to use, a platform that is truly independent, and a whole HOST of killer applications, Sun ain't going to make a bundle of money on this thing. They are going to need a good deal of faith in (and undying support for) their vision, and the money to back it up. Because the stakes are high. And because this is just the opening volley in what will be a long battle, and an even longer war.

The Road to Nowhere

Where's the MS Word of web authoring? It ain't from Microsoft. Where's the Visual Basic equivalent of script and application building? It ain't from Microsoft either. And how about distributed applications over the net? That surely ain't from Microsoft. Geez, what about a web server that runs on NT? Nope. Not from Microsoft.

But it's coming, they say. We're committed to the web, they say. Well, as witnessed by Internet Explorer, it looks like whatever Microsoft brings to market will be too little, too late.

The Three "C's" of Computing

In the beginning, there was BASIC. Then came 1-2-3. Then WP, DBase, Word, Excel, etc. And then the Suite. Most of the PC's history has been as a CREATION tool. The primary users of PC's have been the people who write documents, create budgets, give presentations, build and use databases. The logical extension of the PC as creation tool is the application "development environments" I wrote about last week.

This is the next major shift, and it's happening very, very quickly. As companies like Microsoft move into the home market, they're discovering that the primary use of the PC in the home will not be creation, but rather consumption. Consumption of all sorts of information: encyclopedias, stock quotes, bank balances, games, shopping, etc., etc., etc. Why do you think they're investing so heavily in MSN?

The third C is perhaps the most important of them all. Connecting. Email is just a start. Discussion groups (usenet, etc.) go a bit further. Groupware a bit further yet. But I think we're just seeing the beginning. There's a reason that email and discussion groups are the most popular applications on the Internet, AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, etc. The content makers may make money from consumption of information, but the users out there care about connecting.

The collective dream of internet types, of course, is the medium's ability to combine all three C's into one, glorious future: creating, consuming and connecting all at once. The Web is just the beginning: with Netscape Navigator Gold, we'll be able to create, consume and connect, all from one piece of software. It's apps like this that make the dream of 500-channels of cable TV seem so stale...

It Ain't an App. It's a "Development Environment."

Dave Winer (...I know, him again...) maintains that value in today's stock market is not reflective of a company's products, past performance or even expectations of future performance. Rather, a high tech company's value in the market is reflective of its ability to set the standards by which everyone else plays.

Gates gets it, because Gates is a developer. Developers build things. Developers tweak things. Developers build and tweak things so that other developers can build and tweak their own things. Andreesen gets it too. Which is gonna make all this web stuff sooooo much fun.

ASCII Nostalgia

I've been playing on this network for about three years now. Which doesn't seem like very long, but in "Internet-years" (where time is very wide) it's a long, long time. Three years ago, there was no web. Netscape didn't exist, Mosaic was just a glint in Andreesen's eye. There were no background images, no ad banners, no jpegs. Just ASCII. Lots and lots of ASCII.

When I first logged on, I dove into The Well at 2400 baud. Email, gopher, usenet, the beast that is picospan (the Well's conferencing system), MUDs, etc. All in glorious ASCII text. Black on white. When I upgraded my modem to 9600 baud I thought it couldn't get any better! When all you're looking at is text, there's not much need for anything faster.

I've been riding a nostalgia wave lately. Yes, I surf, yes at 28.8 or sometimes T1 speeds at work. And yes, I'm devoted fan of c|net, suck, Hotwired, Urban Desires, etc., etc., etc. And yes, I'm excited about Java. But lately I'm getting the most out of the 'net by reading mail and usenet news via the palmtop at 2400 baud. When it comes right down to it, the web's background images, Java animations and floating jpegs are all just eye candy. All I'm looking for is the ASCII.

It's Getting Deeper

It's a Circus Out There

I could make the obvious connection between the circus and the Windows 95 launch (it's August 24th as I write this), but I won't. I'll leave that to you.

A big deal in the computing industry: the release of Windows 95.

Apple's Salvation

You're on it right now. You're experiencing the potential for Apple Computer's salvation. The Internet. Picture this. There are millions of households. Millions of households without computers (yes, they exist), who read the same newspapers as you and I, and are getting the same Internet hype shoved down their throat every day. And Apple is what they need.

In the July issue of Wired, Media Lab guru Nicholas Negroponte suggested in his Wired column that someone could make a killing providing a low-cost computer that would provide basic connectivity to the Internet, online services, etc. He suggested someone like AOL, but this could be the saving grace for Apple -- who is already hawking a combination television/computer. The convergence continues.

Dave Winer, in his latest "DaveNet," likens Apple's opportunity in the Internet market to a peaceful, deep blue lake at the end of a treacherous river. He's right on. Apple has to drop the dreams of invading corporate America (yes, cede it to BillCo.) and make it happen on the consumer front. And quickly.

That idea of "low-cost computer that would provide basic connectivity," wasn't that the reason for Sun/Oracle creating the Network Computer idea in 1995/1996?

This idea: "make it happen on the consumer front" was eventually and successfully achieved by Apple.

#history - #web - #programming - #rss - #forums - #design - #blog_jr

By JR - 3537 words
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