Monthly Archives: September 2007

Not too late to Twitterdom?

Conversations with Dave Winer are always both enjoyable and mind-opening. It’s almost exactly eight years ago today that I first met him and he introduced me to EditThisPage and what came to be called blogging. That ranks — without exaggeration — as one of the most significant encounters of my life.

So when we met for lunch today and he was twittering when I walked into Saul’s, I quizzed him about Twitter. “You should do it,” he declared. “Doesn’t it depend on my finding the time to update my twitters? Who can keep up with these things?” Dave had a simple reply: “That’s exactly how people used to talk about blogging.”


So I’ve joined Twitter. Will it have the same impact on me as blogging? Who knows? But if Dave counsels me to try it, of course I will. My Twitter ID is lknobel.

Waiting for The War

I’m looking forward to Ken Burns’ The War, which starts on PBS on Sunday evening. My father was an infantry captain who landed at Utah Beach with the 4th Division on D-Day, and fought his way to Germany via the Battle of the Bulge. Like many of his generation, he didn’t really talk much about his experiences, and I regret that I never pulled harder to get his stories — good and bad — out of him. I suspect some of the personal histories that Burns uncovered will be similar to what my father went through.

But I have sympathy with Alessandra Stanley’s review of the documentary series in today’s New York Times. She writes about the near-exclusive focus on the American experience:

In 1944 infantrymen in the Ardennes followed every step of the Red Army’s advance. Certainly the men and women serving in uniform at the time were more curious about other fronts than Mr. Burns is. Public television is too often in a defensive crouch, fending off attacks by right-wing groups that accuse it of liberal bias. That insecurity has perhaps driven PBS to underestimate its audience’s appetite for widened horizons.

Having seen Burns speak about his series, it’s clear he set out to provide an insight into the American experience of the war and not what Jeremy Isaacs attempted in the great World at War, a synoptic television history of the war.

Non-programmers should read this

I suspect most people interested in software read Joel on Software. But his latest post should be read by all of us non-programmers. It’s Joel Spolsky’s interpretation of the future of the web. He calls it the innocuous Strategy Letter VI, but it’s really about learning from history.

Here’s the conclusion, but, as the saying goes, read the whole thing:

Imagine, for example, that you’re Google with GMail, and you’re feeling rather smug. But then somebody you’ve never heard of, some bratty Y Combinator startup, maybe, is gaining ridiculous traction selling NewSDK, which combines a great portable programming language that compiles to JavaScript, and even better, a huge Ajaxy library that includes all kinds of clever interop features. Not just cut ‘n’ paste: cool mashup features like synchronization and single-point identity management (so you don’t have to tell Facebook and Twitter what you’re doing, you can just enter it in one place). And you laugh at them, for their NewSDK is a honking 232 megabytes … 232 megabytes! … of JavaScript, and it takes 76 seconds to load a page. And your app, GMail, doesn’t lose any customers.

But then, while you’re sitting on your googlechair in the googleplex sipping googleccinos and feeling smuggy smug smug smug, new versions of the browsers come out that support cached, compiled JavaScript. And suddenly NewSDK is really fast. And Paul Graham gives them another 6000 boxes of instant noodles to eat, so they stay in business another three years perfecting things.

And your programmers are like, jeez louise, GMail is huge, we can’t port GMail to this stupid NewSDK. We’d have to change every line of code. Heck it’d be a complete rewrite; the whole programming model is upside down and recursive and the portable programming language has more parentheses than even Google can buy. The last line of almost every function consists of a string of 3,296 right parentheses. You have to buy a special editor to count them.

And the NewSDK people ship a pretty decent word processor and a pretty decent email app and a killer Facebook/Twitter event publisher that synchronizes with everything, so people start using it.

And while you’re not paying attention, everybody starts writing NewSDK apps, and they’re really good, and suddenly businesses ONLY want NewSDK apps, and all those old-school Plain Ajax apps look pathetic and won’t cut and paste and mash and sync and play drums nicely with one another. And Gmail becomes a legacy. The WordPerfect of Email. And you’ll tell your children how excited you were to get 2GB to store email, and they’ll laugh at you. Their nail polish has more than 2GB.

Crazy story? Substitute “Google Gmail” with “Lotus 1-2-3”. The NewSDK will be the second coming of Microsoft Windows; this is exactly how Lotus lost control of the spreadsheet market. And it’s going to happen again on the web because all the same dynamics and forces are in place. The only thing we don’t know yet are the particulars, but it’ll happen.

Egregiously obtrusive

Felix Salmon is the go-to guy for more and more of the stories I’m interested in these days: the ridiculous reverence given to anything said by retiree Alan Greenspan, the easy money habit of today’s central banks, and the crumbling subscription model in online publications. On the last, Salmon reports that Rupert Murdoch has all but confirmed that the Wall Street Journal will go free online, which is a thoroughly good thing.

I also agree with Felix that “any ad which ever covers up the story I’m trying to read does count, in my book, as egregiously obtrusive, and no respectable publication should accept such ads”. Financial Times, we’re talking to you!

Tennis nerds only

I’ve read over the years many examples of the value of blogs and what sets them apart. Here’s a minor example. If you are interested in tennis, as I am, there is frustratingly little coverage of the sport in most publications. Even during major championships, like the recently concluded US Open, a reader of, say, The New York Times receives very little information that she couldn’t glean for herself.

So we turn to Peter Bodo’s Tennis World above all. Here I find all the technical analysis, detailed insight and sheer gossip that I want. Rosangel’s statistical work to illuminate the GOAT (greatest of all time) discussion is a perfect example.