Top ten technology innovators: Dave Winer
By Jon Udell
February 27, 2002 1:01 pm PT
DAVE WINER'S COMPANY, UserLand Software, released Radio UserLand 8.0 in the middle of January. By the end of the month, it had turned in its best sales performance ever.
Widely acclaimed, the new version of Radio, a desktop Weblog tool, represents the latest step in a long journey. Points along the way include 1980s-era outline processors (ThinkTank and More), Macintosh scripting (Frontier), Weblogging and content management (Manila), content syndication (RSS, or Rich Site Summary), and Web services infrastructure (XML-RPC, or XML-Remote Procedure Call, and SOAP, or Simple Object Access Protocol).
For Winer, the point of Web services is to enable people to communicate in more powerful ways. As editor of Scripting News and one of the founders and leading practitioners of the Weblogging movement, he eats his own dog food every day. Why is enabling people to write for the Web so important? From WordPerfect and Volkswriter to e-mail and Weblogging, people have always used software for writing more than for anything else.
The Web was meant to be a medium for sharing written communication, but things didn't turn out that way at first. In Manila and now in Radio, Winer has been steadily reducing the complexity of Web publishing.
"In 1999 we got the number of steps required to publish Web content down from 18 to three," Winer recalls. "Now we're at zero steps. Just save a file and you're done."
The new product blends a number of technologies UserLand has been evolving for years, including peer-to-peer, XML content syndication, and Web services. The key innovations in Radio? "Decentralization and simplicity," Winer says. The decentralization takes the form of a desktop Web server. Formerly, UserLand provided centralized services.
"The dot-com fantasy was that you got a lot of users on your central server, and somehow monetized that," Winer says.
It didn't work out. So Radio had to decentralize, migrating parts of the content management system to the desktop and making the centralized piece as thin as possible. This particularly helps with CPU-intensive chores, such as RSS aggregation.
Simplicity arises from a replication feature called upstreaming, which automatically publishes locally managed content.
Winer aims to bring that same simplicity to the creation and use of Web services. He co-wrote the SOAP specification, but he worries about SOAP's complexity. Users who try to glue together Radio and .Net, for example, run into problems. He shares the general view that SOAP interoperability is improving, but he thinks the Web services movement needs to be more user-driven. What will motivate users to produce and consume Web services? One example: Megapublications woven from many online sources will require and reward such use of the technology.
"Look at BoingBoing -- a team of authors, and now they have a guest blog as well. They're really on to it." Web services to facilitate these kinds of collaborations will soon appear, Winer thinks.
In other ways, too, services and tools will form around the activities in which people routinely engage.
"The Internet has always been developed by paving over the cow paths," Winer says. He thinks as-yet-unwritten software can improve the kinds of communication that e-mail and Weblogging enable.
"But since we're clueless about what that software should be," Winer says, "we'll watch as the users make new cow paths."
Return to our 2002 Innovators package.
Dave Winer, UserLand Software
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