Archive for the ‘Paranoia’ Category

I got a feeling

A feeling deep inside.

Oh yeah.

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A rambler on flaming in the blogosphere

Talking with Scoble today we agreed that the blogosphere has gained many of the negative traits of mail lists or Usenet. There are certain topics that, if approached, will result in a flameout. So you don’t go there.

Imho there’s no point blogging if you accept those constraints. There aren’t many people who do the flaming, but they do control discourse, because they control things like who gets to speak at conferences. Since I don’t get to speak at the conferences anyway, perhaps I should start to go through these barriers, accept the flaming, and go ahead and say what I think.

I even get flamed from the podium at conferences where I’m not allowed to speak. It’s practically institutional by now, everyone knows its done, it’s even openly discussed at the conferences that it works this way. I hear about it, in email from people who are there, and don’t like it. That’s new and positive. It shows that perhaps our community is overcoming this limit.

Since coming back to the Bay Area, I’ve been seeking out local speaking opportunities and smaller events, or new places like Mike Arrington’s BBQ (where I gave the keynote, proving that Mike’s sense of humor is intact). There’s a new generation of software entrepreneurs who have only heard the nasty stuff about me, which sets expectations low, and that’s actually pretty good. They seem surprised that I can carry on a conversation like a relatively normal person, and I don’t spit when I talk. Last night I explained it this way. I’m a celebrity. And what matters to people is what they think of me, not who I really am. But, by going out and talking to people, that negates the negative buzz, and I hope raises some questions when people say the nasty stuff. It’s hard to overcome the tar-and-feathering that has been done to my reputation, but I’m trying. I think my contribution is solid, and not in question, and after that it’s just a matter of taste.

Yesterday I wrote, in my BDG to RSS 2.0:

“Some people will say I’m stupid, or corrupt, or incorrigible, even toxic, or any number of negative personal things. What they’re really saying is they don’t like me. That’s okay, no one is liked by everyone. It doesn’t hurt my feelings, and you shouldn’t worry about it, because I don’t.”

There’s more to say about that. When someone says that kind of personal stuff, you can turn it back and ask them why they are making it so personal, and how do they know so much about Dave. My bet they don’t know me at all and they have a reason to want you not to listen to me. I won’t show you that kind of disrespect, I want you to get all the opinions you feel you need, and then make the right choice, for you. You should never base your opinion of some idea on what someone else thinks of the person who is advocating the idea. That is a perfect example of disrespect, of you.

How the NY Times came to support RSS

The history of RSS is usually told only in one dimension, it’s the story of geeks fighting with geeks, so they say, but in my humble opinion, that’s really not the story.

Most of the vocal people on the mail lists, blogs and wikis are more fans than creators. It’s as if we confused baseball players with people who sit in the stands watching a baseball game. Sure, both wear caps and want their team to win, but one actually does something about it, while the others expresses an opinion. There are a lot of fans, but relatively few people who actually do anything.

Mike Lopez, posting on this blog yesterday recalls a story he heard on NPR about basketball great Wilt Chamberlain and his relationship with fans. Chamberlain’s philosophy: it’s easier to humor them than to argue with them.

Analogously, in the age of Wikipedia, fans can give themselves credit not just for being there when Wilt had his amazing 100 point game, but they can actually claim to have had the 100 point game themselves. Welcome to the Internet. Community participation is both its strongest and weakest point. And those who say I’m a consistent supporter of the medium miss that I am as frequently its victim. Sadly. 😦

Anyway, the NY Times is not a sideline player in the history of RSS, as I’ve written before, they played a central role, first denying us permission to use their content, then allowing it, and in doing so, providing an example for the rest of the publishing industry, which followed their lead without undermining them, without reinventing the technology, to their credit.

It was on this day in 2001 that I received a call from a “Rights and Contracts manager” at the New York Times, she asked us to stop reading their XML newsfeeds. I complied with the request. A colleague who will remain nameless had snuck me a link to an unprotected directory where the feeds, in a proprietary XML-based format, resided. I then repurposed the information and published it on a UserLand server. Truth be told, I expected to be shut down, but in doing so, I also expected to get the attention of higher-ups at the Times (who I knew read my blog) and it surely did.

Then early in 2002, I had a dinner with Martin Nisenholtz and Times board member Dave Liddle and two San Francisco-based Times reporters, where I pitched them on two things: 1. Publish in RSS, and 2. Give blogs to every Times reporter. They took me up on #1 and in April we published the Times content, but not in RSS (although we were permitted to by our contract), instead using the Times’s proprietary format. Why did we do that? Well I figured that if we pubished in RSS 0.92, which was then our most advanced format, it would drag the Times into a format war and they might think it’s not worth the trouble and ask us to stop publishing their content. So I decided to ease them into the community, first publishing invisibly to the people on the mail lists, and then, once their presence was cemented, we switched over to RSS 2.0.

So the loud and obnoxious fans on the mail lists shaped the story, a little. Instead of confronting their loudness, we side-stepped it. Now the Times may or may not be seen as the “tipping point” more widely, but I see it that way. Without the Times, we would have remained in disagreement, stuck in mail list hell, never achieving the promise of the technology. We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude, and should learn the lesson well, don’t look for leadership in standards to the netizens or to Silicon Valley, look to users who have a stake in making the technology work. Imho, that’s the key to getting things to move forward.

It’s just business

Maybe there’s more to the Google-China story than first meets the eye.

I first learned that Google is a business run by business people when, a few weeks after buying Blogger in 2003, they added a Blog This button to their toolbar. They could have used the open API we had labored to achieve in the blogging world, and then users could have configured the toolbar to work with any blogging tool. No one would have begrudged Google the right to make Blogger the default, but to hard-code it so that it only worked with Blogger, when there was a perfectly good API they could have used instead? That clued me in. These guys are here to make money, and given a choice between doing something clearly good for the Internet (using an open API), they chose not to do it, because it might have meant less of a table-tilt for their own blogging tool. And all this happened just weeks after they promised not to do anything to tilt the table in favor of Blogger. So much for promises.

I’ve been around Silicon Valley long enough to know what this meant. It’s just business. And when China said Google had to censor or be shut out of the Chinese market, they did the sensible business thing, they said okay. This of course is not a problem for Americans, because these rules don’t apply to us, but wait a minute, think it over, maybe they do.

What if

Fast-forward a few years. The Chinese economy is strong, and thanks to all the debt we’ve piled up, and our inefficient work force here in the US, we’re unemployed and they’re working. The Chinese now hold the cards, and they’re concerned that their populace will want the freedoms Americans have. So they agree to keep funding our debt, but with a condition — the US government must enact a law making the Chinese censorship rules apply in the US. If you do it, we don’t call in the loans. If you don’t, start paying the interest and get ready to pay the principle.

Think it can’t happen? Get your head out of the box and read the news. It’s already starting. Now the question is, is it just Google that’s Just a Business, or the whole world? Did our government take a pledge not to be evil (yes, that’s basically what the Constitution says) and assuming they did, did they mean it? (Not this government.)

We always say we’re exporting our way of life to the Chinese, but to me that seems as naive as the expected peace dividend people were talking about at the end of the Cold War.