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Dave Winer

Dave Winer (born May 2, 1955 in Brooklyn, New York City) is an American software developer, entrepreneur and writer in New York City. Winer is noted for his contributions to outliners, scripting, content management, and web services, as well as blogging and podcasting. He is the founder of the software companies Living Videotext and Userland Software, a former contributing editor for the Web magazine HotWired, the author of the Scripting News weblog, a former research fellow at Harvard Law School, and current visiting scholar at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.

As “one of the most prolific content generators in Web history,” Winer has enjoyed a long career as a writer and has come to be counted among Silicon Valley’s “most influential web voices.” Winer started DaveNet, “a stream-of-consciousness newsletter distributed by e-mail” in November 1994 and maintained Web archives of the “goofy and informative” 800-word essays since January 1995, which earned him a Cool Site of the Day award in March 1995. From the start, the “Internet newsletter” DaveNet was widely read among industry leaders and analysts, who experienced it as a “real community.” Dissatisfied with the quality of the coverage that the Mac and, especially, his own Frontier software received in the trade press, Winer saw DaveNet as an opportunity to “bypass” the conventional news channels of the software business. Satisfied with his success, he “reveled in the new direct email line he had established with his colleagues and peers, and in his ability to circumvent the media.” In the early years, Winer often used DaveNet to vent his grievances against Apple’s management, and as a consequence of his strident criticism came to be seen as “the most notorious of the disgruntled Apple developers.” Redacted DaveNet columns were published weekly by the web magazine HotWired between June 1995 and May 1996. DaveNet was discontinued in 2004.

Winer’s Scripting News, acclaimed as “one of the oldest blogs,” launched in February 1997 and earned him titles such as “protoblogger” and “forefather of blogging.” Scripting News started as “a home for links, offhand observations, and ephemera” and allowed Winer to mix “his roles as a widely read pundit and an ambitious entrepreneur.” Offering an “as-it-happened portrait of the work of writing software for the Web in the 1990s,” the site became an “established must-read for industry insiders.” Scripting News continues to be updated regularly.

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Martin Nisenholtz: We’re here with Dave Winer on the…what’s today’s date?

Paul Sagan: February 20th, 2013.

Martin: …with Paul Sagan, John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz. Why don’t I kick it off? Let’s go way back. Before Scripting News, what got you interested in web publishing? What was the catalyst there? You’re a computer scientist, right?

Dave Winer: If you go way back, yes, I am. I have a master’s degree in computer science. I’m a programmer. When I wake up in the morning, that’s what I do. When I was in high school, I started an underground newspaper. That was my impulse, was publishing. I didn’t discover computers until senior year in college.

It wasn’t at all a passion for me. In fact, it was the opposite. I detested computers and engineering culture, and all kind of stuff.

Martin: What year would that have been?

Winer: Which year is that? When I was in high school?

Martin: Senior year in college when you discovered computers.

Winer: ’75. 1975. It’s still pretty early for computers, but they were there. I was at Tulane University in New Orleans. They had IBM mainframes and really old stuff.

Paul Sagan: Punch cards and FORTRAN.

Winer: Yep, FORTRAN and punch cards. I can’t say I loved it, but I had an affinity for it and I was good at it. I was looking for something that I could earn a living doing. I was going to be a poli sci major. I took a lot of English classes. I’m more of a writer than I am, by inclination, that I’m a programmer.

I wanted to pursue it. I got a job in New York working in the computer time sharing business, worked in the Empire State Building on the thirty ninth floor.

I learned there, that I could really do it. I wanted to go back to school. I had applied to grad schools in computer science and got accepted, more or less everywhere.

I went to the University of Wisconsin. There, they had modern computer equipment, Unix. This was still very early in Unix. This was 1977. That’s when I really got…This is what I was meant to do. This is really what I do. This really clicked.

I’ll try to keep it really brief. I started a company in 1983, I guess it was. I had moved to Silicon Valley. I’d become an author for the leading software company in the valley at the time, Personal Software. They did VisiCalc.

Our product didn’t ever ship. I started a company to ship it. It was called ThinkTank. It was an outliner, the first one.

Martin: Was it written for the IBM PC?

Winer: First written for the Apple II. Then the IBM PC. We really hit it on the Mac. When the Mac came out, we were seeded with the Mac early. We got it half a year before it was announced and we shipped it. We were second or third product out, on the Mac. We loved the Mac and the Mac was a perfect fit for what we were doing. So when did I get interested in publishing? The continuum really is, the Mac evolved into publishing.

Martin: But now Outliner is a business creation tool, in a way. Or isn’t it? How did you think of it? Let me ask you the question instead of answering it.

Winer: That’s a long story. Because I use outliners today, as writing tools. That’s how I write. That’s how I compose. That’s how I design systems. That’s how I write software. I write software in an outliner. I think outliners are going to be the way we all work with computers. I think it’s been delayed. We had a tremendous of software in the eighties. But the technology industry destroys itself every 10 years or so. A lot of the art is lost. So we lost graphic user interfaces when we switched to the web. We lost outliners. It all comes back eventually. It’s a cyclic process. Who used outliners were… lawyers loved them. Academics. Accountants, teachers. It was an education tool.

Anybody who was aware of their intellectual process.

Martin: The nugget I’m trying to get to, Winer, is that the user is now creating, for the first time, on a digital device.

Winer: That was always the premise of the personal computer industry. We never saw the user as anything other than the originator of… We never created content. That wasn’t what we were doing. We created tools for… Fundamental difference. It’s where the clash of the technology industry and the publishing industry comes in. To this day I hear on NPR that we are the listeners. I go, “Well, you don’t get the point. You want our money. You want us to participate.” When they ask for the money we’re participants. But all other times we’re listeners. It’s a disconnect. Why should we not be participants all the time? That’s the fundamental premise of the personal computer, the technology industry, the whole thing is directed at the user as the creative force.

The technology industry is evolving more towards the publishing industry now. If you look at Twitter and Facebook, they really don’t see the user as a creator. They see the user as a consumer.

Martin: We’ll get there. Let’s continue with the history, because I think it’s important. So we get to the outliner. And then from there…

Paul: Which is the eighties.

Martin: Which is the eighties.

Winer: The big thing that happened in the eighties was desktop publishing. Desktop publishing dropped the cost of publishing. When I started personal software in 1980, they got venture capital money and they bought this enormous laser printer. It was very impressive capital investment. It was like half a million dollars. “We’re going to do our own type setting and layout. We’re going to save a lot of money with this.” It was a bargain. But by the time the eighties were over, that same laser printer now cost $1500. That was the process. The process of driving the cost of publishing down. Until the point where the web comes along in 92, 93, 94, somewhere in that time frame. The cost of publishing goes almost to zero. When did I figure that out? I figured it out when Page Maker came out and I saw what people were doing with it.

From then, it’s a very…

Martin: What’s interesting is we just had Jerry Levin in here. He talked about the network, in his case meaning the cable network mostly, being the fundamental driver for him. The PC industry was really a standalone industry for a long time. You could connect modems up and all that. But they were very slow and clunky. Microsoft I don’t think ever really even at Apple cared that much about networks.

Winer: I did. I called my company Living Video Text, for that reason. That’s what I thought we were doing.

Martin: Isn’t it interesting that you called it that?

Winer: Yeah. I said we were in the communications business and that we were producing both publishing and reading tools. That’s the way I always thought about what we were doing.

John Huey: We had Levin in here primarily to talk about videotext.

Martin: So why didn’t you invent AOL? I’m just curious.

Winer: I think in my own way, I did. I had a product called Living Bulletin Board System, LBBS, which was…I don’t think in centralizing terms. It isn’t my first impulse. My first impulse is to give the tools to the people to do it. So my thought was we’re going to put one of these servers inside of every work group, is going to have a server, and have the ability to publish. Eventually our product became we never marketed it. The thing is that Apple did and didn’t believe in it. They were having a fight about this at Apple. You’re right about Microsoft not getting it. They didn’t. Or they didn’t want it. They didn’t think in those terms. But Apple came this close to being the Internet, when they included Apple Talk networking with every machine in 1986.

It wasn’t just to connect laser printers. There was all this kind of stuff you could do. There was email. The problem was the APIs were just horrendous. Because there was a guy in there named (Richard) Gershon who was in charge of the networking software. He did not believe in developers. I don’t know what his thought was. But the APIs were completely impenetrable. Believe me, I hacked those over and over again.

I hired all kinds of people who said they could get through them. Nobody actually a couple of people did. I merged with Symantec in 88 and we bought a company, Think Technologies, who had gotten through it. There were like three of four companies who had figured out how to get through that stuff. Then Apple killed them all. [laughs] Apple would do that.

Paul: Talk a little bit more about…

Winer: Wait. Just let me close the point. Had they instead decided to let a thousand flowers bloom and make this a priority that developers would create applications that run on Macintoshes as nodes on a network, it would have been trivial in fact, it was done to bridge those networks across the public network. There would have been no need for the web. Absolutely none whatsoever. And we wouldn’t have taken the big step backwards that we did take. Because the web is not a graphic user interface. It’s only now beginning to have some of those trappings to.

Paul: Talk a little more about the view text influence in the eighties. And is there any linkage to the seventies in the original Teletext that the publishing industry did.

Winer: The only reason I got interested in it was because I was reading about it, videotext, in all the business publications and how it was the next thing, and it matched up with what my view of what the future was. I don’t know why videotext didn’t work, because I never actually joined the videotext industry. My thought was this would be a part of the personal computer industry.

Martin: Yeah, see, I joined the videotex industry.

Winer: Oh, you did?

Martin: Yeah, I did. I worked…I believed passionately. The reason I thought it might work was because the infrastructure was there. It was a kind of tortoise and hare thing, Winer. I mean you were the tortoise in the sense that the PC gradually took over the earth, but in the early ’80s there weren’t a lot of PCs.

Winer: No.

Martin: And I was kind of the hare thinking, well, everybody had a TV. Everybody had a phone line.

Winer: Right.

Martin: If we could just get a low cost coder into the home somehow, whether it was done by cable companies or newspaper, everybody would be able to enjoy this kind of distributed world. And I was wrong, and you were right [laughs] .

Winer: Well you weren’t wrong. No, you weren’t wrong. The thing was that what was missing was the bridge between the two worlds. That’s what we needed to have. That should be the lesson that comes out of these things is that…I mean I don’t know why the bridge was…I mean I went down and met with…I came to New York all the time. I was meeting with people at CBS. There was a guy at Dow Jones. I think his name was Steve Burgess. I don’t know if you know him. And I used to…you know, I’d come to New York all the time and meet with the…and they were fascinated by the personal computer industry. And I had the credentials. They would talk to me.

And I kept saying, “Well, when is there going to be something we can do together?” Somehow that never happened. Had that happened I don’t know what it would have taken to get some installed base of hardware that people could use the stuff at home, but there would have been a drive. There would have been demand created for it.

That’s the thing. I mean you have to make people want it. They have to feel some pull to get it, at least in the United States they do. In France I think they just finally shut it down, right?

Martin: Well, they did, finally, but they just took away all the yellow pages directories and created an instant application.

Winer: Right.

Martin: I mean you couldn’t search for anything [laughs] .

Winer: But that’s a good way, not a bad way to do it [laughs] .

Martin: Well, no, no, no. It worked.

Winer: I’m not going to say it’s a good way, but it’s not a bad way.

Martin: Yeah, that was called Mintel, and it worked.

Paul: Yeah.

John: So to back up just a second, you’re saying if AppleTalk had been developed to where it was a connectivity device then…

Winer: It was a connect point.

John: But if it had been more user friendly to developers.

Winer: Developer friendly.

John: Developer friendly. In a way that what they’ve done with mobile and apps has finally…no.

Winer: No, in a way that Internet…what the Web was. I mean my career was completely kaput when the Web came along, and when I saw what they did I mean that was the thickness of the docs for the…you know, if you want to understand HTTP that much and HTML, add that much. It was really simple and incredibly easy to understand. And Apple’s was impenetrable. It wasn’t that I could even give you a depth of their docs, because all the docs in the world you probably couldn’t figure out. You probably had to be friends with Sidhu, and he probably had to take you out to lunch and tell you. I mean that’s what all these guys had in common was that they were all kind of buddies with Sidhu.

So, no, what they had to do was trust the developers. It’s the same thing I was saying with videotext in the United States. If big company guys…and that’s what Martin did, and I don’t want to embarrass you or anything, but that’s what Martin did that was unique.

When, me, sort of the lowlife from whatever, comes to Martin and says, “How about letting us have your XML?” I don’t know how you decided to do it, but he said, “Why not?” and they signed an agreement and they gave us the XML. And they let us run with it. And as soon as that happens, what he…

John: And then what happened? Tell us that story, then, because Martin knows it so well.

Winer: It’s a great story.

John: Well, tell us that story.

Winer: I’d love to tell you that story, and I’m not sure you know the whole story. Maybe…probably you do, OK, so…

Paul: I don’t know. Go ahead.

Winer: So some guy sends me a link to a server on the New York Times website so it’s obviously deeply buried, no password or anything, but not the kind of thing you would trip over normally. And inside there there’s a folder for Associated Press for…I mean all of the different publications, a lot of different famous publications, OK? And you dive into them and you see, International, New York, Sports, Business, .XML, each of them. You click on the link and you see, oh my god. It’s not full text to the stories, but it’s got all the information. It’s got the headline, a synopsis, a link to the story on the website. They do an incredible job of categorization at the Times. I mean this is…I’m looking at the goldmine. Not a goldmine, this is it. This is the Holy Grail.

So what would I do [laughs] ? Well, I can’t not take this and re purpose this. I didn’t ask for permission. I just went ahead and wrote a script that pulled one of these folders every 15 minutes, sucked it out, converted it, moved the content over to my servers, and then I told everybody where my URLs were. And then I get a very nice call from [laughs] a licensing person at the New York Times who’s sweet, really nice person. I felt like I was, you know, called down to the dean’s office in high school, because that happened to me a lot.

John: Now where are you and what are you doing?

Winer: California. I had a company called UserLine Software, and we were doing…well we were doing blogging. We were starting, basically, building blogging tools when there was never…there was no blogging. We were sort of developing the idea of blogging.

John: And this is…

Winer: What year? Is that what you’re asking?

John: Mm hmm.

Winer: I’ll have to figure that out. It’s probably ’99.

John: OK, so in ’99…

Winer: 2000. No, no, no, it’s not ’99. It’s 2000.

John: OK, so it’s 2000. You’re in California building these blogging tools. You get this link.

Winer: Oh, we’re also building aggregation tools for news. RSS didn’t really exist yet. I mean it was sort of nascent, but it wasn’t really popular at all.

John: And what were you planning to do with it?

Winer: Oh, what I did with it was we had an aggregator that we just plugged in, and we had several news sources Wired, Red Herring, Motley Fool, lot of blogging tools. We had a lot of stuff coming through our system. What we didn’t have were the major news organizations.

John: So you get this call from the licensing department at the New York Times…

Winer: And she says, “You’re a very sweet boy, but you can’t do this.” And I go, “Oh, please.” You know, I felt like…I felt loved and admired but absolutely prohibited to do this [laughs] .

John: But caught.

Winer: Caught. And I said, “I understand. I won’t do it anymore.” And I didn’t. Once you tell me I can’t do it, you know…I can’t do it. What can I do? And then I get a call from Martin’s office, and, “Martin would like to meet you.” [laughs] “Fine. I’ll meet you.” So I went out to dinner with him and John Lodell, and John Markoff, and I think it was Matt Richtel? Was that possible? Yeah, Matt Ricktall. We went out and had a wonderful dinner in San Francisco, and I pitched Martin on two ideas. One was, “Let me have the XML,” and the second was, two things, really. Let’s give every New York Times reporter a blog.

Paul: That was a bridge too far.

Winer: I know. And the next…

Martin: I would have loved to have gotten that done, but it was a bridge too far.

Winer: And then I pushed it even further, and I said… [laughter]

Winer: …and I said, “Let’s give…” Well, I think it’s important to play Monday morning quarterback on these things, OK?

Paul: Yeah, I do, too. That’s why we’re doing this project.

Winer: I said, “Let’s also give blogs to every person who’s quoted in a New York Times story. Let’s have that be the algorithm. The theory on that was let’s let the reporters be the gatekeepers, because that’s what they want to be, right? They want to be the judges of who’s authoritative and who’s interesting. Had the Times done this in we needed it because we needed infrastructure. We were really…the venture capitalist did not believe in what we were doing. That would come much later, right?

John: What restaurant are we in? This sounds like a historic event.

Winer: I felt like it was. I knew that he couldn’t do it.

Martin: Not Greek. It was a high end, maybe a Turkish, or…I can’t remember. Markoff might remember.

Huey: OK, but we’re in this…we’re having this historic dinner.

Winer: [laughs] But the important thing…I mean what came out of it did matter a lot, that we got the permission then. It took us a few months to work out the agreement and we got a license to use the content. And then what I did with it was I did not immediately publish it as RSS because I didn’t want them to get embroiled in all of the flame wars that go on in the tech industry. In other words…because there were sort of like…there’s this group of people, and have you been hearing about Aaron Schwartz? Yeah.

I mean, OK so there’s this group of people that want RSS 1.0, the RDF based format, and they’re trying to stop us from moving forward with the non RDF version, which is the one that has the installed base. I mean it’s a question of where…the momentum’s going in this direction, and there’s this group that comes along and says we need to pull it over here.

What I didn’t want to do was throw the New York Times into the middle of it. I was sure you guys weren’t even aware of it, right? I mean why would you be, you know?

Martin: Right.

Winer: And so we published it in their format, actually, at first, and it was open. Anybody could use the New York Times format. I think it was actually called New York Times format. And then quietly six months later we switched it over to RSS 2.0, and we placed the emphasis on being really quiet about the actual format that was being used, because we didn’t want to emphasize that. That wasn’t the important thing. The important thing was we now have the ability to drive…well, we have the New York Times news flowing through the network. And I was happy. New York Times is a…let’s say it’s a nine, and everything else to me, at least, is at most a five, you know?

Martin: In terms of comprehensiveness, authority, depth, everything.

Winer: And personal allegiance. I grew up with the New York Times.

Martin: OK, so it was…

Winer: I grew up in New York. The New York Times was what we read every morning at the kitchen table. It’s what…

Paul: So it’s the Holy Grail and you had it.

Winer: And I had it. And that was it. And the industry felt that way, too. Not the tech industry. The publishing industry felt that way. The tech industry could give a shit. They don’t care about…

Paul: Content?

Winer: Yeah, they don’t care about what you read. They don’t care about the users. They don’t care about any of that shit. They care…I don’t know what they care about, but they don’t care about that. I really cared about it, OK? And so did the publishing industry, because what happened was is then all of the other publications followed suit. It happened in the space of…it got to the point of where it was like, “Oh, yeah? Oh, Reuters now has feeds? Oh, OK. That’s great. Oh, USA Today has the…”

Martin: Now, so…

Winer: You know? Wait, wait, there’s a key point here. There was no compatibility issue here. All they did was copy the New York Times, and that’s an important…that’s a dimension of leadership that the publishing industry doesn’t understand that it has, doesn’t get that when you move…when you get a leader to move…I mean you have to tell me if that is something you guys are even aware of.

Martin: Yeah, we were aware of it at the time, and I think…

Winer: That you would a leader in this…

Martin: And I think we were aware of it when we implemented the metered model that other publishing companies would follow if we succeeded at this. It’s a different kind of thing.

Winer: I thought you were…what’s the metered model?

Martin: It’s the idea that you have access to a certain amount of content on the Times website for free.

Winer: It’s what we have today, then.

Martin: It’s what we have today, yeah.

Winer: And I thought…I didn’t think you were a proponent of that.

Martin: I was not a proponent of a gate, but I was a proponent of some form of payment in the end, because I recognized that at the end of the day advertising was just not going to be able to cover the costs.

Winer: See, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this. I don’t think it ever will, that your metered approach will ever support what you want to do.

Martin: Well, we can get into that later.

Winer: Yeah, OK.

Martin: You know, let’s get into that later. It’s very, very important.

Winer: All right.

John: And it’s a big question.

Winer: Yeah, of course [laughs] . It is a…

Huey: It might be the biggest question.

Winer: It’s the most interesting one, too. Once you have the answer to that question, you have an idea what the shape of our world is like in the future.

Paul: You know, I…my…

Winer: Because, wait…because the way news works is direct determinant of how politics works. You can’t separate the two. If we want to have reform in our political system, we have to rationalize our news system. It has to work. It has to have a future. It’s very important, hugely important. Not just because I care. I don’t care about whether they make money doing it. It’s not…it’s all the same to me.

Martin: So, but, Winer, let’s…we went through a lot of history here. Let’s go back for a moment, because there’s this paradox here, which is that you have this great allegiance to, fondness for the New York Times, which is in a way the ultimate top down journalistic organization.


Martin: I was saying that you view the Times as this…you have this great allegiance to it, have…but at the same time you’re inventing this form. You’ve said all along that the purpose of technology, or at least its driving force, is to decentralize everything.

Winer: Yeah.

Martin: So you got two things going at the same time.

Winer: Yeah, I know. It’s dysfunctional. It’s very dysfunctional, because at the same time I don’t believe that the Times does a very good job. I honestly don’t. I get to see them cover things that I care about, and I know they don’t do a good job.

Martin: And so you think a better job can get done by this highly decentralized blogosphere.

Winer: Yeah. I can give you lots of examples of it. I think the…

John: Give us one.

Winer: Well, just give you…I will. I’m going to give you the theme is access journalism. That’s the problem. The problem is that in order to do the job as you’ve defined it these guys have to see the world through the eyes of the people that they cover. The bloggers don’t. The bloggers are people. They’re users. They’re…

John: But wouldn’t you argue that you need both, that they balance one another out?

Winer: I do, but the roles will be different. I absolutely do agree. I mean I don’t know, OK. I don’t know. I’m a scientist and I have to say we haven’t reached a stable equilibrium at this point so I don’t know the answer to that question.

John: Well, I don’t want to become a participant here, because this is too good, but let me just throw a model out for you that…think of the news business as sort of like functioning democracy or a republic, say, in the United States, and think of the New York Times as the Senate…

Winer: No.

John: …or the Supreme Court, or…

Winer: No.

John: …and the bloggers as the House of Representatives, and…

Winer: No.

John: No?

Winer: No. No, I think that in the end…

John: Where I was leading with it, I was going to say if you’re right that the New York Times does not do a very good job, I would submit that…and I’m much more skeptical about the New York Times than Martin, then I would submit that it’s a lot like democracy. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than anything else that’s out there.

Winer: Yeah, that’s nice, but I’ll tell you we’re in the midst of a change that where what we are living with in the future probably will not resemble very much like what we have been living with in the past so to say that we’ve reached a point where we’ve got the thing that’s better than everything else is not likely. It’s just not. How could it be? Because the whole system…

John: For now, I’m just saying.

Winer: Well, no.

John: But go ahead. OK, go ahead.

Winer: No, I think there are way too many limits. Well, for the…yeah, I mean if you look at…pick one area. If I want to find out if a piece of computer hardware, whether a phone is any good, I do not read Walt Mossberg. I do not read David Pogue. I do not even read the leading bloggers, because they’re all in the access game. They all have to say…

John: They get it first. They get early.

Winer: And I resent that. I really don’t like the fact that they get it first, but I don’t…

John: So where do you go?

Winer: What do you mean? Where do I go?

John: To find out?

Winer: First of all I go to the store, and I buy one, and I use it myself, and I write about it, because I want to be one of the people that influences them. That’s one of the ways I see my role. There are lots of places. I mean one place…have you…I go to Amazon product reviews, for example. I mean I went to go buy some stereo equipment, and I went to a store, and I felt crippled because I couldn’t read the reviews, you know?

John: OK, so your point of view…now I get it, and this fits in with where we’re going.

Winer: Well I barely stated my point of view, so… [laughter]

John: No, but it begins with access is an original corrupting sin, and users are purer, and…

Winer: Not purer, they just don’t have that problem.

John: It’s cleaner, or…

Winer: Yeah, users are no panacea. Users are people. They have the foils…they have all the problems that people have, you know? But you…

Huey: But there are a lot of them.

Winer: Yeah, that’s right. And you can learn whether you trust them or not, and you have to get to know them, and then you figure out who…

Martin: But, Winer, going back to the start of blogging, you play a huge role in the invention of this thing. Had you envisioned that bloggers could be significant information…?

Winer: Sure. Absolutely.

Martin: OK, so you didn’t do it for the money. You did it…no. So you did it because you thought this was a…

Winer: First of all, by the time I started blogging I already had plenty of money so money was not my motivator. I’m not one of these people who believes that money is sort of the way you keep score. I’m not interested. It’s not the way I I’m not built that way. I love playing with technology and making big things happen. That’s just what I love to do. And I stumbled across blogging. It’s like everything. I was thinking about it before coming in here, is like, well what is the theme? First of all, one of the things is I always do it with people. It’s never the lone individual. Everything I’ve ever done has been in collaboration with other people where their ideas and their point of view makes me see it from a different place, and then I can see something that I can do, and blogging was just like that.

What happened was, I started writing, sending emails to friends of mine with other people’s ideas, and then I started reacting to other people’s ideas, and then I realized I could put my own ideas out there. When I did that, it was explosive. It was just wonderful to see what kind of response came back. That was what was unique about it. I don’t think that ever happens. [laughs]

Martin: Let’s talk about blogging as a publishing, as a CMS, as a publishing platform. Because it just didn’t appear out of thin air. It was designed.

John: And give us a year again. Let’s always know when we are.

Martin: We’re 2000, right?

Winer: No. Oh no. Way before that. The seminal experience for me with blogging, the one where I had the moment of sort of, “This is incredible,” I remember where I was. It was late ’94, 1994. My archive still has all this stuff in it. If you want the pointers to the stories I can get them for you. What was the question?

John: It was 1994 and you remembered where you were and you were blogging.

Winer: Right. I started sending these ideas out there. One of them was that IBM and Apple should get together. They were technology industry driven. That’s what I was thinking and that’s who I was writing to.

John: Where were you?

Winer: {abbreviated} I was living in Woodside, California. I was pretty much retired. I had basically shut down my company because we ended up in competition with Apple, and Apple had killed us, really, basically. We didn’t have a way forward with the company. I had lots of free time. I was out investigating new stuff to play with because I had access. There’s that thing again, right? I could talk to anybody I wanted to, and they would more or less tell me what they were doing. I wasn’t writing publicly about it because it never occurred to me to do that. This was all emails. I sent emails to people. They would respond. I wrote one about where the PDA industry should go.

Then the guy who was in charge of Motorola at the time, who’s a friend of mine, Randy Battat, sent me back a thing saying, “No. You’re wrong.” I ran his thing. That sort of showed, OK…I didn’t edit his writing. He had a few spelling errors, and a few run on sentences, whatever. I cleaned it up and made it more presentable, but I didn’t change his words. I didn’t edit anything out.

He got to talk to all of my readers exactly the way he wanted. That was a major epiphany for me, that wow, you can have this kind of back and forth. Then I realized that everything that the tech industry had been doing about the Internet to try to…because by this time, they understood that it was there. They needed to do something about it. Everything that they had been doing up to that point was going to change because this Internet thing was happening. They didn’t want it. They really didn’t want it.

I wrote a thing called “Bill Gates vs. The Internet.” I compared what the tech industry was creating versus what the Internet was. I get a response from Bill Gates, and I run that. And that was it. That was the moment where basically…Bill Gates is a very unique character. His character completely came through. It’s in a way the character was the character that you don’t get when he gets up and gives a big speech. It’s the character you get when he rants at you in an email, which is the real Bill Gates.

I’ve had a number of meetings with Bill Gates over the years. He even tried to buy one of my companies at one point. I had a lot of dealings with him about that. This is the guy. [laughs] I had him sitting right there and sent it out. It just made waves in the tech industry. It was like all of a sudden they were cursing me.

Michael Spindler, this was another moment. Michael Spindler, who was the CEO of Apple Computer, said to a reporter at the San Jose Mercury, “Oh, you’ve been listening to Winer. Don’t listen to him.” They quoted him in the paper. [laughs] I said, “Oh, OK. It’s all working. This is wonderful.” It’s a great feeling when something like this clicks.

It probably only happens once in a life, if it happens at that, where what you’ve been dreaming about…this is the kind dream I had as a kid. I would have put it different terms when I was a kid. For me it was like maybe sports metaphors might have been more like it. Just to hit the home run so out of the park that basically it changes the way people look at things. This was that.

John: When you watched that moment, you had created that phenomenon, and it was this eureka moment, tell us about how it spreads out beyond the tech industry into journalism?

Winer: Well that took a lot longer. The tech industry was the core of blogging for many years. I don’t know how it spread out to other industries.

John: Well in your memory, when you became aware of it.

Winer: When I became aware?

Huey: When you realized it was going to become something really ubiquitous and transformative to other industries like journalism. What was the first journalism blog you became aware of?

Winer: Wow, that’s a good question. Much later. [crosstalk 37:50]

Winer: That would be ’99. It would be Dan Gilmore. Dan was using my software. Step back. I’m writing all this stuff, but I’m a software developer first and foremost. What am I thinking while I’m doing this? I’m thinking, “Well what’s the software?” And I’m writing software all the time. I’m writing software that manages my own flow with the idea that this will turn into software that other people will use as well. {abbreviated} …In ’97 I had a thing called the, I think it was called the News Page. I think it was called News Page. It had a series of tools, something called Auto Web, then Clay Basket, News Page, and then Manila, and then Radio. That’s the sequence of my blogging tools. Meanwhile, somewhere in there, you’ve got a bunch of other people who are doing blogging tools. But from ’97 to ’99 pretty much everybody was using my tools. In ’99 we get competition. Blogger comes along. They ship before we ship Manila. They shipped in the summer of ’99, and we shipped in December ’99. Dan Gilmore and my uncle were my two test cases for Manila. I went down and did a demo for Dan. You have to ask him. I think he liked it right off the bat. He had been following my career up to that point as a software developer on the Mac and everything, so we knew each other. He used it. Then he had a class he was teaching in Hong Kong, so he gave blogs to all of his students, at the same time frame for testing purposes to find out what they would do with it.

Then we shipped it. The thing about it is that it had impact in journalism before I was really aware of it. I hear from people now, like Om Malik for example, says his first blog was one of ours. I didn’t know him back then. We did a conference here at Harvard when I was a fellow here called BloggerCon in 2003, you wouldn’t believe all of the people that were there that I didn’t know that ended up becoming…the leading political bloggers were all there. I don’t know them before they become famous so I’d have a hard time telling you when I…

Martin: Can I ask you a quick question?

Winer: Yeah.

Martin: I want to go back to this question about blogging as a CMS. Because people could write in other CMSs. There’s something about blogging and the formal elements of it…

Winer: No. It’s ease of use. It’s because we hacked at lowering the barrier to entry. We really hacked at it. Before we did Manila, I made a list of all the steps I had to go through to update a piece of writing on my website, and it was like 20 some odd steps. They were all really frightfully complicated. I said, “We just need to get that list shorter,” so we hacked at it. It’s like playing a game, it’s like playing Scrabble or whatever. It’s like, How can I get these three steps down to one?” Finally we were at the point where we got it down to three steps. Basically, you have to put a button on every page that says, “Edit this page.” You click the button. A dialogue comes up. You make the change. You hit submit, and that’s it. It’s done. Until we got to that point, it wasn’t easy enough for most people to use. That was the key point.

Martin: The key point was ease of use.

Winer: Absolutely.

Martin: What about interactivity, the fact that people could comment on a post?

Winer: I never felt that was an essential element of blogging. There are always ways for people. I had the first discussion forum in the blogosphere,, was attached to Scripting News. Scripting News was pretty much the only blog at that time. If you go back and look at the archives at, all the initial people were in there. I kept saying to them, “Come on guys, start your own. Don’t just be hanging out in mine.” Because that I felt was the commit step. Later I learned that not everybody is a blogger by any stretch of the imagination. Most people are not bloggers. Most people will not blog.

John: Why do you think that is? Is it personality?

Winer: DNA. Yeah.

Martin: But is Twitter a blog?

Winer: Less and less. Yeah, it was initially, yeah, very, sort of, low commitment blog. [laughs] There’s not a whole lot of commitment going on there.

Martin: Right. I’m must saying…yeah.

Winer: Sure. I’m also very liberal about what I think is a blog. When I started here at Berkman (Center, Harvard), the first project was, “What’s a blog?” We came up with an unedited voice of a person. I don’t even care if it’s on a computer as long as it’s a person that’s writing as an individual, not as part of an organization. That’s why a lot of things the Times calls blogs I don’t think as blogs.

John: So just free association.

Martin: That’s a CMS issue. It’s a CMS but not a lot.

Winer: They’re using the blogging CMS.

Martin: That’s what I’m trying to get at Winer, in part.

Winer: Oh, I didn’t realize. No. The tool doesn’t define the activity. The activity is itself.

John: Your definition of a blog is that it’s non institutional and it’s the unedited voice of an individual.

Winer: No. The first part I wouldn’t include. Because it can be institutional. I was blogging as CEO of Userland software for many, many years. That was very much a blog. There’s a buck stops here thing going on. There’s nobody else that’s responsible for this. It’s just me.

John: You’re unedited and you’re unaccountable.

Winer: Yeah, I’m totally accountable.

John: To the?

Winer: To the readers. I’m more accountable than any of the writers at the Times are.

John: Unaccountable to an editor.

Winer: I see. That’s what you mean. Yeah. But I’m so accountable because I can’t spread it out. I wrote the whole thing, every word in here is my word.

John: Just free association, leaping way forward, we’ve done a lot of the history. Leaping the way forward, name some blogs that you think now in the current firmament are highly influential. Not tech blogs. Just throw some blogs out there that you consider state of the art.

Winer: I don’t like questions like that.

Huey: I’m going to rephrase it. In a day, how many blogs do you check in on, and what are some of them?

Winer: I’m systematic about that. You can go to and you can see what blogs I read. Because I have a river of news. This is a whole other topic we can talk about. But I have a river of news. I don’t check them. I have software that checks them. I only see the new items on all the blogs and I see them in reverse chronological order. I don’t just check blogs. I check all news sources, complete level playing fields. A lot of the links in there are from the New York Times, a lot of them are from Hacker News. Hacker News is a great source. It’s a group site that’s run by Y Combinator that people just submit links to. For some reason, they don’t get spammed. The quality is very high and a lot the great stuff I read comes from there.

I read a story about the origins of Pulp Fiction in Vanity Fair, and that led me to watch Pulp Fiction again. It’s only the second time I ever watched it. I saw an actress in there who I thought was fascinating, she just had three lines in the movie. I looked her up. Found she had blog, spot blog, and I spent an hour in the middle of the night last night reading her blog.

I thought it was so remarkable that I sent the pointer to it to a lot of my friends because I felt they should all read this. I don’t even remember the URL. I don’t even remember her name. But that’s the nature of it. I read articles in the New York Times all the time. Some of them are very remarkable.

Paul: It seems to be sort of about the river. The question about the river is…

Winer: This is what I think the news industry misses, is to get systematic about having more news flow across your attention and to share that flow with your readers. Stop thinking about being the source of all the information, rather be a source of judgment would be a really good place to start changing things.

John: I was going to saying listening to you, you sound like personal prototype of the news consumer of the future but the process has to get more retail, more user friendly, slightly less sophisticated. Somebody has to set up that system.

Winer: Yeah. Let’s work on that. Absolutely.

John: Somebody has to build that river of news.

Winer: Well yeah. That’s my process. That’s exactly my process. I like to discover new activities that are new. That means there’s no established process for doing it. Develop the process and do a lot of it manually, and do it receptively until a pattern emerges, at which point, I can see, “All right, this is what I need to optimize and simplify.” You got it. That’s exactly it. Optimize it and simplify it. Then productize it. Then announce it and hype the hell out of it, and hope the people use it.

John: That seems way different to me from Twitter.

Winer: Actually they and I are pretty much in the same school. Yeah. I really respect their process. I mean the inventors.

Paul: River of content that users create.

Winer: Oh no, it’s a river of news for sure. [laughs] Mine came first. But that doesn’t matter. I don’t care.

Paul: …to filter it and create your custom look.

Winer: But we can do a lot better than Twitter does.

Paul: No question.

Winer: Here’s another thing, another message for the news industry. They don’t love you. They’re not going to be nice to you in the future. Twitter does not love the news industry. The day Twitter buys one of your companies, the light is going to go off. I don’t know if it’s on or off. The light bulb is going to go on, and you’re going to go, “Oh fuck! Look what happened. Now one of our competitors owns our access to the readers.” It’s going to be the nightmare moment. It’s inevitably going to happen. It’s probably going to happen in the next two years.

Huey: Google or Twitter?

Winer: Twitter more likely than any of them.

Paul: Google doesn’t care.

Winer: I don’t know about Google caring our not. But Google isn’t in a position to do it, Twitter is. The news industry and the entertainment industry maybe beginning to get a little bit smart about this because they’re starting to promote hash tags instead of their Twitter names, which is much better. Because that’s portable. Wolf Blitzer gets on CNN and tells everybody, “Go to my Twitter account and see what I have to say.” I think that’s suicidal.

Martin: Great for Twitter.

Winer: Fuck yes. They merged with Time Warner.

Martin: They do it for page views I guess.

Winer: Why CNN does it?

Martin: Yeah. There’s got to be some reason they do it. I guess they do it for page views.

Winer: I don’t think they’re that smart.

John: I don’t think they know why they do it.

Winer: That’s right. That’s my guess.

Paul: If you can go all the way back, people promoted their AOL keywords, then they did their URLs.

Martin: Yes, but URLS were open. That’s the difference. [crosstalk]

Winer: They controlled the URLs.

Martin: Yeah, URLs are good. AOL keywords like Twitter.

Paul: But the stream of that was, “This is cool. This is how I appear cool.”

John: It’s the cool factor. That’s exactly what it is.

Winer: It’s probably more fear of being called not cool. Because by the time they’re doing it, it’s not cool anymore.

John: It’s fake cool.

Winer: It keeps people from criticizing us.

Paul: But it builds someone else’s brand.

Winer: I don’t think AOL was real serious. Yeah, they were wrong to promote their own AOL keywords, but AOL wasn’t the kind of threat Twitter is. We’re on the cusp of, we’re really there now, of reinventing the way television works. Twitter is much closer to the way television is going to work in the future than television is.

Paul: Say more.

Winer: Well let’s say you put video on Twitter. Then tell me, what’s the difference?

Martin: Vimeo.

Winer: What do you mean? Why does that have to be a limit?

Martin: No. Vimeo.

Winer: Oh, Vimeo. Vimeo is video. But that’s not the video that you’re getting on the TV set.

Martin: Right. Right.

Winer: I thought you said volume.

Martin: No no, Vineo. I just think that’s the first step.

Winer: Right. Absolutely. Well, they buy CNN. It’s the acquisition moment where they don’t have to develop it themselves. They just have to merge with one of these guys and then they can create something that’s superior to anything the other guys can create. This is the way the technology industry works. It’s the lockout. It’s, “I’ve got the thing that you need to be on.” It’s like Microsoft. You go back to Microsoft and Lotus. Lotus had to be on Windows, but Lotus knew that if they went to Windows they were allowing Microsoft to strangle them. But it was impossible, they couldn’t avoid being there.

John: You guys missed this but this is exactly what Jerry Levin said to me in the Happy Cow Cafe when we were talking about mergers and acquisitions, I said, “Who buys Time Warner?” And he said…

Winer: Twitter?

John: Twitter, Google, Facebook. He said…

Winer: Twitter. It’s really Twitter.

John: According to him, he doesn’t even read the news anymore. He’s figured out that it’s one of these…or it could be one of the super stacks, he said, like Amazon, Apple. But a competition ensues among all of them and then they all bow on it or more. And Twitter shows the way, and then they all do it.

Winer: It’s not a very bright future for news if that happens because they’re not friendly, warm people. They don’t believe in the open all the ideals of journalism, they’re very cynical about them. They don’t believe in them.

John: It could be said these…Twitter hates…They don’t like you. You were saying they don’t like you, you being the news industry.

Winer: I don’t think I said that. I think they don’t love you is what I said.

Huey: They don’t love you. What does that mean?

Winer: I was about to say what I mean by that, which is that the New York Times wrings its hands over journalistic independence and all the rules of journalism, which are mostly pretty good. What’s her name, the new public editor?


Paul: Margaret Sullivan.

Winer: I really like Margaret Sullivan. She’s the embodiment of what I’m talking about. She’s still a balance. She’s still going to weigh a little bit more heavily on the politically correct thing for the internal New York Times point of view. She’s not going to make incredibly terrible waves, but she’s willing to represent the public a lot more than the other public editors were. But when she says, “You can’t do this, this, this, and this and work at the New York Times,” that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what they don’t love. It’s all the rules that you guys have established, which have value.

Those rules have to change. They do. I know that’s a hard thing to contemplate, but it’s true. They do have to change because you have to let people in who have really strong interests. They have to have direct access to the readers without going through the reporters.

That has to happen. That has to be facilitated by the news industry. That’s kind of the thing the news industry is resisting. That’s what will be completely lost when it’s acquired by the tech industry.

The tech industry thinks that’s fine. The tech industry also doesn’t mind doing all kinds of things to promote Lady Gaga over whatever else. They want to make money and they’ll do whatever it takes to make money. That will very often subordinate the interests of democracy, of the government, of making the right decisions as a society.

All of the vital functions that we look to news for, that will all be subordinated to their business models which will involve finding out what Lady Gaga thinks about this stuff.

John: Then the only thing left standing between that and the truth will be bloggers.

Winer: But here’s the sad news. Bloggers are getting hurt by Twitter, too. Seriously getting hurt by Twitter. I used to have no, we are.

Paul: Say why?

Winer: I don’t really fully understand it. I don’t understand it, because I’m dealing with incomplete information. There are a lot of theories about why.

Paul: Readership is down?

Winer: I’ll give you an example. I publish something on my blog that’s controversial. I have a comments section. I’m publishing it because I want to find out what other people know and what they think. I’m trying to pull that in. I have the ability for people to comment on my blog and they don’t do it there. They respond to me on Twitter. There they’re limited by the 140 characters and nobody else sees it but me. That wasn’t my idea. My idea was to get them all to read each other and to have more than 140 characters to respond. And that I would have more than 140 characters to respond to them if I had a response or a follow up question.

Paul: Is that a solvable problem?

Winer: I don’t think so. I don’t see how. It’s not a problem I can solve. But there is a paranoid thought here, too. Which is that, I noticed that the read counts on my links are going down over time, precipitously. As I get more followers, the number of clickthroughs is going down. A lot. To the point where now it’s about 10% of what it was a year ago. Not down by 10%. But 10% of what I had. I don’t know the reason. My worst fear is that they’re not passing along the links. That all the people that follow me aren’t seeing everything that I post.

Martin: There’s also a dynamic inside of Twitter where you just get more and more irrelevant followers, who want you to follow them. It’s a kind of spam, in a way.

Winer: There’s that. I’ve heard that. I think that’s at work there and also, more competition for people pushing more links. Therefore I’m only one of many people that people follow. People follow more people now.

Paul: I’m curious, Winer. A lot of folks, not the Times, but the Journal, the Washington Post, The Guardian, a few others, built social readers on top of Facebook and they seem to have all failed. Maybe the Post is the last man standing there. I’m not even sure whether The Post’s social reader is it just that Facebook is a good environment for games, but a bad environment for news?

Winer: I don’t know. I resigned from Facebook a year ago. I just didn’t want to be on it. I didn’t like all the things that they were doing regarding privacy. I don’t know what’s going on there and I don’t want to know. Your guess is much better than mine. But I never believed they should have done that. It’s consistent with promoting your Twitter handle. Trusting Facebook is ridiculous. Facebook is run by a guy who’s 26 years old, didn’t get his degree from Harvard. I just don’t want that guy being the arbiter of what everybody reads. I don’t disrespect him, but I also don’t think he should be responsible for what a billion people read. And he is. He controls it. They don’t make any pretense that everybody sees everything that you post.

That was what Mark Cuban got so upset about, about a month ago, when he discovered that was true. He goes to all this trouble to build up this following on Facebook. And they do not forward everything that they post to everybody who’s liked him, who’s decided to subscribe to him. He was appalled. He was outraged. He was right to be outraged.

But it was not hidden. They don’t tell you about it, but it’s not hidden that they do that. They do.

John: How is that decision made?

Winer: That’s a very good question. This is the really scary part about it. They decide what’s relevant to you. They have algorithms that figure out what you need to see. [laughs] Do you think that has anything to do with their business model?

Martin: It’s kind of a hall of mirrors, in a way.

Winer: I don’t know what that means.

John: It’s the Google mentality.

Winer: It’s as if Google decided, in their search engine, that the results you needed to see were the ones that make them the most money. We trust that Google isn’t doing that, right? That’s implicit. It’s an integrity issue. It shows that…

John: I trust that they’ve got it under control enough to where, to what degree they’re doing it…

Winer: Doesn’t hurt you that much.

John: It’s not apparent and maybe doesn’t hurt me that much.

Winer: I’m there too. I know that they have their meetings and somebody says, “We’ve got to get our revenue up for this quarter. Why don’t we tweak this number a little bit so that we’re putting a little bit more pollution into that.” They’re trying to keep a balance, to the point where people don’t leave them. But I would much rather have the decision be made the way… This is where my affection for The New York Times comes in. As much as I don’t like a lot of their attitudes, the superior attitude they have about everything. I really don’t like that. I would rather have the decision made the way they make the deacons then the way Facebook makes it.

John: But you don’t see that as the future? You’re not confident that…

Winer: I would like to work together to try to make it more of the future. Not less. I would rather see that then I would like to see what we have right now. And yet the news industry, when I’ve said that there are really very few of them that are willing to listen to that idea. That I could personally, in any way, help them. But yet I can point to times when… We could have had Twitter. I had the river of news on the BlackBerry and we talked about this. I wanted to come present this to you. I had The New York Times on my BlackBerry in 2005. This is a year before Twitter launched. It was wonderful. It was incredible. I don’t know why The Times wasn’t interested. But The Times was clearly not interested in this.

When the door gets knocked on we need to have a response.

John: Do you know why?

Winer: I’m sorry. I don’t remember why.

Martin: I don’t want to put you on the spot.

Winer: I’m trying to think back. You know what my theory was? In the same sense that you asked about theories about Facebook and everything. I think they had spent a bunch of money on developing their own mobile client and they didn’t want to hear about one guy, working in his spare time, making something that was better than what they produced. Yet that was true. That’s how corporations work. I’ve been inside big companies. That’s how it works. You’d be forgiven for that, but let’s learn from that. This is another one. The Times is bringing in tech startups to share space with it. I would much rather see them bring in bloggers to share space with them. I think they have to have their buttons pressed.

They need to feel a lot less personally secure in their positions. Because that’s the reality. The reality is they’re a lot less secure. But it has to be not just in terms of their retirement programs and their salaries and whatnot. It has to be that culturally, they see the tension in their office, every day, and the people who rise to the challenge have a chance to do that, so that you get some cross pollination between the two.

So that they maybe learn that bloggers are not the worst people in the world. That we take baths and have college educations. We want a lot of the same things that they do. In fact, I think bloggers, in many ways, have a more pure…

Martin: My own view of the river 2005 was a particularly difficult year. Because we blew up NYTD. When NYTD existed, there was a small, more entrepreneurial group of people driving good and bad. There were positives and negatives to that. When it was integrated back into the mothership, the decision rights became quite fuzzy. So my ability to make a decision or not make a decision…

Winer: I believe that. Totally.

Martin: …became quite fuzzy. So things like accommodating people promising things from the outside, at that point, really became much more difficult.

Winer: But play Monday morning quarterback on this one. What would have been the right thing to do? You want to know my opinion? The right thing? Absent the circumstances. This is not politics. I knew that that had happened. I knew that you weren’t in a position to make a clear decision on this stuff.

Martin: I was one voice among many.

Winer: I liked it better when you were the guy that made the decision. But what would have been the ideal thing to do here would have been to try to strike a deal. And believe me, I didn’t want any money. Or I didn’t want very maybe just a little bit, because my time’s…

Martin: That never even occurred to me.

Winer: Right. What I wanted was to really do a launch on this thing. Here you’ve got a newspaper. You’ve still got people reading the newspaper. You’ve got all this visual stuff going. Let’s put ads out that tell people, “Read the New York Times on your Blackberry.” Let’s drive readership to this thing. Because it’s good for news. That should be the only thing that determines whether or not the news…

Martin: Let’s get into the metered model for just a minute. Because I know you have to go very soon.

Winer: What time is it now?

Martin: It’s two minutes to 12.

Winer: All right. I’ll be a little late, OK.

Martin: The tension here is that some of the decisions I made, including working with you on the XML piece, are viewed by a lot of people as giving away the store. The reader model was actually a huge compromise. There were a lot of folks in the company who wanted a hard pay wall. Then there were people like me, at the outset, who were totally for the open side of it. We came together at the end around metered model, which also allowed you to come in through the side doors. It’s a fairly open model. If you look at the numbers since we implemented the metered model, it’s pretty hard to argue that it hasn’t been a net benefit for the company. at least in the short term. Certainly it’s tens of millions of dollars of new money into the company.

At a time when print advertising has been declining, but Internet advertising, for all the reasons that we both know, is suffering. So tell me why you think it’s good for news to do what you just said?

Winer: I actually want to ask you a question. Why is it giving away the store to publish I don’t think you believe this. But what’s the argument?

Martin: The argument is that…

Winer: It says that it’s giving away the store to do the XML.

Martin: The argument is that by allowing the content to be aggregated in an RSS reader, as an example, it commoditizes it. In other words, you no longer become a destination. You no longer become an authority. The authority now rests with the aggregation point. That is, ultimately, the individual, which to me is an inexorable march of technology. You’re fighting against history.

Winer: I think there’s something to be said for that. I also agree that it’s the march of history. Then why not become the aggregation point? If you see it that way. I’m not asking you, I’m asking the world. In other words, why isn’t the news industry as cutthroat as the tech industry? That’s how the tech industry, that’s how Bill Gates…

Martin: It doesn’t have the DNA to do that.

Winer: That’s what we need to change. That would be the argument to have a rule that you at least have to sit down and listen to these ideas when they come along. Because it’s still the opportunity, Martin. It’s still the opportunity for any one of these guys. This is what Yahoo discovered in…what year was it? When we first came out with RSS… When RSS was catching on and they did My Yahoo. Probably it was 2003, 2004 time frame. Somewhere in there. They did My Yahoo and CNN wouldn’t do it.

Martin: No. My Yahoo was done in the nineties with Biz Dev deals. What you’re talking about is Yahoo Reader.

Winer: Yeah. But that was also called My Yahoo.

Martin: Oh? Was it?

Winer: Yeah. That’s when I…

Paul: It was added to My Yahoo.

Winer: OK. To me, that’s when My Yahoo started. From my own very parochial point of view. I went around. At that time as I understood it were MSNBC, CNN and Yahoo.

Martin: I think that’s still true.

Winer: So I went to all of them and primarily wanted to talk to CNN because I wanted Yahoo to have some competition. So we can start developing. Yahoo, I liked the guys tremendously. I thought they were very easy to work with. But they were going to be a lot more fun to work with if they had to worry about what CNN was doing. CNN would never do it. Their attitude was, “Why should we point to our competitors? Why should we give flow to our competitors?” Which didn’t turn out to be the right strategy. Because if people want to find out what’s new on CNN and they go to Yahoo to find out what’s new on CNN. Then Yahoo has an unfair advantage and Yahoo can always find a way to make that work to your advantage.

Maybe they have to send one person to CNN for every 10 people that come to them. But they’re also going to keep a lot more people reading, whatever. You want people to come to you. I would still argue that The Times…you know in the right column where they put the, “What we’re reading” thing? The links in the side? That should be a river, and that should be on the home page.

Ultimately that’s what we’re going to be going to for news. We’re all going to be going to mixed sources because that’s the message of Twitter. That’s really what Twitter’s saying to the news organizations. This is what people want.

People don’t want to go to the New York Times as a destination. They want to go to a place where…in a way, that’s like asking for the past back. There was a time when we all went to the New York Times for our news and NBC Nightly News in my family. At 7:00, we’d all watch NBC Nightly News. Some families were ABC, whatever.

We’re not going back there.

John: Part of the explanation of the 2005 that is outside of the intellectual argument you make, I think, is right, but what you can’t underestimate is how much the precipitous decline in, first, print advertising, then digital advertising, and then an even steeper decline in print advertising than anybody had ever imagined. How much that animated all the decision making. It put a blinding fear in all these companies. That’s around the period where Carlos Slim, they had to get him to invest in the Times. There were serious financial…

Martin: That was the view. There was a financial crisis in 2009 that transcended technology.

John: You had the advertising collapse. Then you had the financial crisis. And then all that was followed by what? Everyone thought that was the bottom, and then it turned out that print advertising actually was going to go even lower than anybody had imagined. Coupled with, you’re looking at your display digital advertising, and that started to go down. Now people are starting to think about the kinds of arguments that you’re making, but your point that it ends up with Twitter buying somebody and all that, is probably right.

Martin: I actually disagree. I think it’s going in the opposite direction. I think that this fear is causing more people to hunker down, to kind of retreat…

Winer: Which people?

Martin: More news organizations to hunker down and retreat back into an older model where people either want what they have and they’re willing to pay for it, and see it as a destination or not.

Huey: Well they’re trying that, but they don’t have the ability to do it in the way that the Times did. Maybe this is a parochial point of view, but I think it’s a pretty big deal when Time Warner just decided to say, “We’re getting out of this end of the business. We’re just not going to do this anymore, because we’ve got to make these kinds of decisions, and we’re just not going to do that.” They want a simpler business model. Not that over a long term, cable television…

Winer: I think Time Warner actually has a good business model. I think the New York Times did benefit from having a business model like that too. I don’t know why the Times isn’t fighting for better Internet access in Manhattan. This goes back to what we were talking about at the beginning. Why isn’t this something that the Times is vitally interested in? It’s the New York Times after all. Why can’t the New York Times take on problems like that and solve them? Why can’t the New York Times, if it spots an opportunity like that, make a business investment and own it? The aggressiveness of the tech industry is what we need in the news industry. We need to have some balls out thinking here, and some real risk taking, and some ideas, and some passion for the future, not just love of the past.

It’s always this fight with, “How do we get back to what we were before?” which is only going to be going on for another 10 or 15 years, until everybody retires that remembers the way it was before, at which point maybe we can start getting…I’m not optimistic about that either, though. I’m just afraid we’re going to be left without any kind of…we’re kind of there anyway. In terms of a news industry we can depend on, I don’t know.

An important note: These transcripts of our interviews have only been lightly edited — there may be typos, incorrect names, and the like.

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