Dave is a programmer, entrepreneur, writer, and to some, a gadfly. The word “gadfly,” by the way, means “an annoying person, especially one who provoke others into action by criticism.”
That’s Dave all right…and I mean that in a positive way.
We first met when I was a software evangelist for the Macintosh Division, and he was the CEO of a software company called Living Videotext. My job was to convince people like him to create Macintosh versions of their products.
He delivered. The first version of his product was ThinkTank. I loved how it enabled you to think, plan, and communicate in outline format. The second version of the product was More. It enabled people to take an outline and easily display it as a presentation slide with borders and bullet items.
In addition to making outlining a mainstream product, Dave made great contributions, if not invented, to technology such as blogging, RSS, and podcasting. As Dave explains, technology is not created in a discrete event, so it’s difficult to identify the exact inventor, but there is no doubt that Dave’s work has touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
In recognition of his contributions, InfoWorld named him as one of the “Top Ten Technology Innovators” in 2002. Dave was a resident fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and a visiting scholar at New York University’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute.
Dave has a BA in math from the University of Tulane, and an MS in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
More than any other episode, this is a conversation, as opposed to an interview, between two old friends who have not talked or seen each other for years. I hope you enjoy it.
Listen to David Winer on Remarkable People:
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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with David Winer
Guy Kawasaki: I’m Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. This episode’s remarkable guest is David Winer. Dave is a programmer, entrepreneur, writer, and to some, a gadfly. The word ‘gadfly,’ by the way, means “An annoying person, especially one who provokes others into action by criticism.” That’s Dave, all right.
And I mean that in a positive way.
When we first met, I was a software evangelist for the Macintosh Division of Apple. He was the CEO of a software company called Living Videotext. My job was to convince people like him to create Macintosh versions of their products; He delivered. The first version of his product was the Think-tank.
I loved how it enabled you to think, plan, and communicate in outline format. It enabled people to take an outline and easily display it as a presentation with borders and bullet items.
In addition to making outlining a mainstream product, Dave made great contributions, if not, invented technologies such as blogging, RSS, and podcasting. As Dave explained, technology is not created in a discrete event, so it’s difficult to identify the exact inventor. But there is no doubt that Dave’s work has touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
In recognition of his contributions, InfoWorld named him as one of the top ten technology innovators in 2002.
Dave was a resident fellow at Harvard Law School is a Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and a visiting scholar at the New York University Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute. Dave has a BA in math from the University of Tulane and an MS in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
More than any other episode, this is a conversation as opposed to an interview between two old friends who have not talked or seen each other for years. I hope you enjoy it. I’m Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. And now, here’s the remarkable, David Winer.
David Winer: I’ve been thinking about this conversation. We could spend months talking about what we learned. You know, Apple did some things very right, yeah, but they also did a lot of things very wrong, and they live with the consequences, and we live with the consequences.
Guy Kawasaki: So, okay, that’s a good start. So what has Apple done right? And what has Apple done wrong?
David Winer: So what Apple did wrong. Let’s start with that. That’s always much more interesting than what they did right. What they did wrong was they kept their networking very private. The thing they did right was with…remember the Macintosh Office? I think it was eighty-five when they came out with a Mac, every Mac had networking.
What an incredible idea that was, and it was cheap! It was easy to set up, it was really good networking. And so consequently there was your basic foundation for what could have been the Internet, except they made the software impossibly difficult to write.
In order to be able to make networking software that ran on that network, you needed to have permission from Steve Jobs or Sidhu pretty much. You know how Inside Mac had all these big, thick chapters, right?
There was a chapter in there called I guess the AppleTalk Manager, and I must have spent a full year trying to get software to run against that thing. And somehow that was the one tool kit I could not get my arms around.
So the first thing we did when I joined up with Symantec was we tried to buy everything that we could get our hands on that was actually doing that networking and we got Think Technologies. We were able to buy them, but then somehow Sidhu must have liked them. That was my guess.
And so he gave them a little floppy disc on the side and said, “here, because I like you, you can write software here.” But if they had done that, Guy, if they had made it easy, there would be no web. I don’t think there would be a web. I think it would all be on the Macintosh.
Guy Kawasaki: What? Say that again!
David Winer: Seriously, I don’t think there would have been a web. I don’t think there would have been a need for one. The web wouldn’t have solved a problem that anybody had because what the web solved was that it made it easy to write software that runs on a global network.
And I was there in ninety-four. That was when I had my come-to-Jesus moment. I was lost. Ninety-four, I mean, I had been completely pushed out of the software industry and I was looking for something to do.
And somehow tripped over…I had a friend who was saying, “you need to check out this web thing. You need to check that out.” And when I finally did do it, and I had the time to do it, I was completely blown away with having spent all that time, trying to get networking to work on a Mac network, the experience of getting something to work on the web.
It was, I don’t know, ten minutes. It was like, “I can’t believe this thing works, but look, it’s working!” And that was the thing nobody tried to make that hard. Whereas in the corporate world, not just Apple, but Microsoft and IBM and Borland and Net–what was the name of that company? They were in Utah?
David Winer: Novell. It was Novell, remember them?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah.
David Winer: They were all heavily invested in making it very exclusive, being able to develop that thing. That’s always a mistake. You try to keep it to yourself, sooner or later, some jerk working in Switzerland is going into the thing that makes it easy, and that was what happened there.
Had Apple decided to make it easy, the installed base would have been enormous. And here’s the tragedy of it; We had to give up the GUI. We went from having all this great user interface standards to the web, which had no user interface standards.
And so we’re still in a complete mess there. The software that we use on the web is grossly inadequate compared to the software we were using in ninety-four on the Mac.
Guy Kawasaki: Can you step me through the process a quick summation? The “Gospel According to Dave” of the development of outlines or outlining, RSS, and podcasting?
David Winer: Right now, outlining is experiencing a resurgence. It’s really something. There’s a whole people in their twenties, I’m in my sixties as you are probably too, and so I’m watching them, they’re just getting started, and there’s this incredible enthusiasm.
The users…Guy, they sound just like we sounded. They don’t know, really don’t know–I don’t like this, it sounds arrogant. It isn’t really, I mean, I’m reveling in it. And, so that’s all very interesting. Maybe we should come back to that in a year or so because I think this is really going to be very interesting.
Outlining was very separate. It was the first thing that I worked on, and I got this idea from a friend of mine when I was in grad school at the University of Wisconsin. He told me about, editors for LISP, which is a programming language, that understood the structure of the program.
And LISP is very simple structure. The guy who wrote it, who designed both who designed the programming language also created an editor for it. I think that’s what people loved about LISP is that it’s simplicity and the fact that its editor understood the structure of the program.
And I was off writing in C, and C, a wonderful language, but the editors, that was completely up to you, and none of them understood structure. So I said, “Why don’t I just do a program editor for C that understands structure?” and I did that. And then I showed it to some of my friends who were English majors and they said they wanted–one of them said he wanted to use it!
I said, “You can’t use it. This is for programmers,” but there’s the idea, right? So then that bothers me. I go, “Why couldn’t I make it so that he can use it?” And that led me to, “Let’s take the programming language out of it. Let’s see what it’s like without the programming language in it.”
And it was nice. It was really nice. Most people don’t understand outliners. It’s a fact. You show it–it’s like blogging was–you have to include blogging in there too, by the way, blogging came before both RSS and podcasting. And it’s a precedent. You have to have that before you have either the other two.
But most people aren’t bloggers when I, so when I, how did I come up with blogging? I was driving in my car to San Francisco on Highway 280, and it struck me that I could have published my ideas through this thing that I had just discovered–The Web. And being a software developer, my first impulse was, “What can I do with this? Now I’ve just discovered it.”
I go back to all the things that I wanted to do on the Mac but couldn’t do because I never got the networking together. Can you see that, like, the outliners we were doing in the Mac, they begged to be networked! That’s the way I looked at it.
I thought, “This thing isn’t really going to happen until we can network these things.” So I started with an announcement of a friend’s press conference, and I pushed it out over the web and over email. And then I had been going around to various different companies, trying to tell them what they should do.
And of course they didn’t listen. Nobody–they’d pat me on the head at that time. I was kind of well-known in the tech industry, but not known for anything that anybody respected in particular–kind of a gadfly. I don’t know. You never really know how other people see you.
But it wasn’t a whole lot of respect in there and so they blew me off everywhere. So I said, “I’m going to just publish all the letters that I wrote to them, and let’s see what happens.” So I had a few of those and the response was unbelievable. It was just amazing.
You push these things out and, all of a sudden, and this was in a vacuum, Guy, nobody else was doing this, and it was in the tech industry. So they all had email. Most of them weren’t using the web yet, but they all had email. And, all of a sudden, they start getting back responses from people, famous people.
And so it got around and then I realized that all these great plans–what was it, Open Doc and Taligent? Remember Taligent?
Guy Kawasaki: Oh, gosh.
David Winer: These were all contemporaries. These were all, like, political things that the tech industry had put together as ways of dumping projects that they didn’t want to have on their balance sheet.
They all created these complicated…the manual for Open Doc was a bookshelf and none of them had–they were just, like, “Here’s the Novell section. Here’s the Borland section. Here’s the Apple…” None of this shit worked together. I’m not sure…am I allowed to say that?
Guy Kawasaki: …why not.
David Winer: Okay, you had the guy who was saying that, “How to do something when you don’t give a F…”
Guy Kawasaki: Mark Manson, yes.
David Winer: So he can say that I get–if he could do that, I guess I can say that.
So then I figured, “Okay, none of this stuff’s going to work because now we’ve got the networking. It really does work. And look, I’m proving the concept. I’m pushing these ideas out. People are reading them, they’re responding.” And I am, by the way, pushing out their ideas over the network, editing them, and sending them back out to everybody.
So I wrote a piece called “Bill Gates Versus the Internet,” and…Bill Gates responded. And I sent that out. Obviously, Bill Gates is a very powerful person still to this day, but this was kind of at his peak power in the tech industry. He had just, sort of, completed his domination of the world.
Windows was everything. And, all of a sudden, here’s this web thing. And I got the story, Guy, before anybody else did that. That really–they had no future without the web, and it was a very radical idea at the moment.
And Bill Gates writes me this very “Bill Gates” email. It’s, like, full of the kind of, I mean, it’s whiny and weedly and argumentative, and I thought “This is perfect!” So I just ran it back out, and I think that made a lot of people sit down and go, “Whoa, what just happened here?”
I once got Spindler, Michael Spindler, who was the CEO of Apple for a while, was quoted in the San Jose Mercury saying, “You’ve been talking to that Winer guy, haven’t you?” They go, “Yeah, probably have.” I loved that. It was the best. It didn’t get–every day, something new, but then there was that moment.
This is like what you were talking about with how you are with podcasting. There was that moment when you hit the ‘send’ button on these things and you just don’t know what kind of ten-ton weight is going to come down on your head for what you just did.
And there’s nobody to blame. There’s nobody that can share the blame. It’s just you, so there’s that; That’s how blogging got started.
And then it was a software thing really, because the whole thing was to try to figure out how to make this accessible so that real people could do what I was doing because the tools were still very technical. And so this was sort of a puzzle from a software development standpoint, user interface design, all of that is: how do you make it so this stuff is understandable, doable? And we’ve pretty much got there in 1999.
So this is like ninety-four to ninety-nine, and there was this piece I wrote called “Edit This Page.” What we were doing was–I had a company at this time, Userland Software–and what we were doing is we were hacking at the process of editing a news site is what we called them at the time.
And literally wrote out the steps you have to take to publish something or to make a change and just trying to take steps out, taking one step out. That was a big victory. And then there was a moment I realized that the big problem, I don’t know if this gets too technical, but the big problem was that there were two views of the data.
There was the view that the reader sees, and then there is the view that the person editing it sees. And the thing that would really make this thing simple was if you could make it one view, just one way of looking at it. And that meant putting an, “edit this page” button on every page. And that meant that this is, like, the ‘undo’ button.
It’s that important to the whole thing is that, if you see a mistake, there should be a button there that you click, and then the text of the page that you can edit shows up in an editor. You make a change, you hit submit. Three steps to making a change. It can’t get any simpler than that.
And that was blogging. That was basically the formula for blogging. And then with that, everything just started growing like crazy. So that’s blogging.
RSS, where that came from was, Adam Bosworth was a guy at Microsoft at the time, and he was in charge of XML at Microsoft. XML was very big at Microsoft– elsewhere in the industry too.
This would be like 1998. And he decided that if he could get me on board with XML, that that would be all they needed somehow, or I was one of the people that had to get on the board and he just kept hassling me over this thing. And I kept saying, “This is crazy. Nobody’s ever going to use this shit.”
And so I did something just to shut him up, and that was basically doing an XML-ization of my blogs, Scripting.com, and so I did that in the end of 1997. And so there was, like, the HTML version of the blog that you see in the web and then there was this other thing that was alongside it, which was the XML version that was machine-readable. One was human readable and the other was machine readable.
And it just sat there for about a year. And there were few people that did some experiments with it. Really nothing was happening until I started noticing hits on my server from Netscape, and I knew some people at Netscape at the time, and I networked my way through, and I found out what they were doing.
They were inventing this new thing called RSS and so I found out, literally, what they’re doing, then they announced it and they had this thing called Mynetscape.com. And I’m going to try to make this short because this is a long story and a very sort of sad one in a lot of ways because of all the contention and fighting that happened.
But their RSS was not as powerful as what I had, but I had learned something in all the dealing I did with Apple, which was that if you have a ‘better thing’ than they have, it’s actually better to punt on your ‘better thing’ and just use what they have, because that means that…I have a slogan that says, “One way of doing something is better than two no matter how much better the second way is.”
And even though they came second, theirs was really the first because you could tell from my description that I didn’t care about this thing. It didn’t matter to me. I wasn’t promoting it. I didn’t think it was important, but then coming along and doing RSS, that was kind of the first version of this stuff.
So I deprecated Scripting News format, went whole hog in on their format. And then they did something really kind of remarkable on their side: they came out with a new version of RSS. They didn’t tell me they were doing this. They basically adopted most of the features I had in my format that they didn’t have in theirs.
So it was kind of an open negotiation. I later found out that the guy who was in charge of this was a guy named Alex Cohn, and we became friends later. It was very much the same kind of thinking. Netscape was falling apart at the time, Guy, that was what was happening.
And that’s probably why they went ahead and implemented my stuff because they knew that after that, they never answered the phone again on RSS. They never answered the phone on anything. Later that year, or next year or whatever, they got acquired by AOL and that was the end of the Netscape. So I was left holding the bag on this RSS thing.
I had built software called MyUserland.com. They had MyNetscape.com, and it was just this struggle. Everybody in the industry was trying to take it over. I don’t like this story very much. It was just not pleasant, but I was having–this is where it actually happened.
I had a meeting with Martin Nisenholtz who was the CEO of the New York Times Digital, and how that dinner came about was kind of an interesting story, but I’m not going to go into that. I asked him for a license for their XML-ization of the New York Times. They had done a masterful job of syndicating the New York Times for all of the news organizations that had licenses, and he gave me a license for free.
And so I converted their stuff into RSS, and that ended all the fighting in RSS land. In the next months, basically the entire news industry adopted RSS. They all did it exactly the way the New York Times did it. That ended all the fighting in the tech industry, and RSS was off to the races.
It’s an amazing story in the sense that it shows the power users have so much power if they just decided to use it. And this case it wasn’t the New York Times really decided to use it, they just decided to trust me and I was trustworthy. It was the combination of two things.
I just put them into a standard basically and said, “This isn’t something I’m going to use in a proprietary way to make my products better. I’m going to use it in my product, but I’m also opening this up to everybody else to use it too.”
Podcasting was audio blogging. The most simple idea is that I love radio. I think radio is incredible.
And I always thought that eventually my blog posts would be audio blog posts. That’s what podcasting is. It took four years from having the whole thing technically done that we had software that worked on both ends, and we had a format that was basically the same format that we use today.
That is a really strong standard, Guy. It’s based on RSS. And, but it took four years after that to actually get it moving as a medium. Try and tell that story in kind of a short, abbreviated version. I just thought everybody would get it right off the bat. I just thought, “Yeah, this is going to snap into place.”
It makes perfect sense to me what everybody else is going to get it right away and they didn’t. They didn’t really understand what I was talking about. I was just sending Grateful Dead songs over the wire, using that as a proof of concept. I did that and just sat there. Nobody did anything with it.
That’s not exactly true…there were a few people that were already doing audio-blog posts, basically, notably, Doug Kay and Steve Gilmore. They both had these things going, and they just, they adopted the podcasting format. Didn’t really go anywhere.
When I finally got to Harvard, though, I met Chris Lydon, and Chris was an NPR guy who was also doing a fellowship at Harvard at the time, and I thought, “This is interesting. Look who’s here, Mr. NPR.” And Chris really is very much the proto NPR guy. If you talk to him, you feel like you’re having dinner with NPR. It’s really something.
And so he did a series of interviews with people in the blogosphere in 2003-2004, and these were really incredible programs that he did. And they all went out the same way and they were widely listened to, but it did not get a lot of other people to do it.
I think that happened when I started podcasting myself and I took a bunch of road trips across the United States. I was doing that, going back and forth across the United States a few times, and podcasting the whole way.
I went to the Democratic Convention in 2004, and I did interviews there and I guess that was shortly after Adam Curry started. Adam had the initial idea for why this made sense at that particular point in time. This was the first meeting that we had, and this goes back to 2000.
He saw me do it, and then he started doing it. And then, I don’t know, by September of 2004, there were twenty or thirty people doing, and we needed a name. And so we had a mail list and I asked people, “What should we call this?” And a guy named Danny Gregoire said, just call it “podcasting.”
And Adam and I were doing a podcast called Trade Secrets, and on that we discussed it. So let’s just go with podcasting, and that’s it.
Guy Kawasaki: That’s how podcasting got named?!
David Winer: What did you think? We hired some kind of a market research firm and they did a focus groups and shit? Come on! That wasn’t how it worked! Everything like that is ad hoc. How did they name the Macintosh?
Guy Kawasaki: I don’t even know. Somebody’s daughter…
David Winer: Someone said, “What are we going to call this thing? I don’t know. What are some apples?”
Guy Kawasaki: This could have been called a Fuji!
David Winer: You see? That probably would have been more popular.
Guy Kawasaki: I have to say, Dave, that you played such a significant role in some very significant technologies and platforms. Outlining, blogging, RSS, Podcasting. May I go on the record right now in saying that you don’t get enough credit for how much you have done?
David Winer: Yeah, I think that’s true. I have theories about why that is it.
Guy Kawasaki: Why?
David Winer: I just think there’s a limit to how much people can sort of process. It’s, like, you and I, we met back…what was it? In eighty-three, probably?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah, yeah.
David Winer: And it’s funny how I know what every one of these years was. It’s like, “eighty-three, that was the year I met Guy Kawasaki. We got interview at InfoWorld. No, Guy, you were obviously…you were a pivotal guy in my career. Oh, yeah. Oh, you got me a Mac! Let’s start there!
Guy Kawasaki: Okay!
David Winer: How the fuck was I getting a Mac at the end of 1983? Somebody had to believe in me.
Guy Kawasaki: That’s true.
David Winer: And that’s what you do. You’re a pretty unique guy yourself. Most people that worked at Apple were not very, sort of, open-minded as to what developers could do. Your point of view was you were hired to make developers go. Yeah, and you took that job seriously. I watched you.
First of all, I was a nobody at the time you and I met. Maybe I was starting. I think we had had one review or something. So maybe I was on my way to getting to be somebody. So maybe you don’t get to me—you get a lot of points, actually, for coming to my tiny, little office on San Antonio Road.
But I once saw you, and this was a couple of years later at some trade show, and there was this guy, this developer, who was lost. He had no idea what he was doing, and I watched you. I was standing a few feet away, and…I don’t think anybody else at Apple would have given him the time of day, but you worked with this guy.
It’s, like, I said, “Man, this guy cares about this,” and I don’t know what you were thinking. Maybe you were thinking, “This could be the person who puts Apple over the top,” right?
That would be the rational thing. That would be–you’re being paid to do that. But a lot of people don’t see it that way. So anyway, people in this new outlining world can’t process the fact that I know anything about outlining.
Guy Kawasaki: Because you’re too old?
David Winer: No, because they know me as the RSS and blogging guy. There’s also another thing too, is that people–everything is past-tense in my reputation. And I think this is true for a lot of other people. People don’t even notice that the words that they use to describe how they appreciate you is all what you did in the past.
So it doesn’t open the door for anything that you might do in the future. They’re not open to it. Their view of me is, “Yeah, you’re in the past,” and it makes it hard to do anything in the future. Like, how many people who do podcasting have I been able to talk to and just to ask them about their podcasts?
When I contacted you, honestly, that is what I was thinking. I said, “Okay, sure. I’ll be on your show,” but that wasn’t really what I had in mind. What I had in mind is you and I talking in a more casual way about your experience in podcasting.
You remember that time I came down to Apple in, what was it, eighty-six, I think it was? And we had Think-tank, and we had come up with this thing that could do slideshows? And you said, “Print this out for me. Can you print this?” That was what you asked.
I said, “Yeah, we can print it.” So we printed it, and you took that piece of paper and you drew a box around it and you put some bullets on it. And you said, “If you can do that, I can sell thousands of these things.” That’s what you said.
Guy Kawasaki: That was the start of presentations!
David Winer: Yeah, absolutely! And you were right. You did sell thousands of them. I’ve been getting goosebumps on this one. No, seriously, because that’s the way this stuff works is that users, who are paying attention, will give you ideas like that.
They will have ideas like that. If they’re smart and they’re paying attention and they’re really into the product, and they’re also thinking expansively about more things they can do, they’ll give you ideas like that.
Guy Kawasaki: May I just point out that it takes two to tango? So it took me having that insight, and it took you the willingness and intelligence to recognize that maybe I had an idea that was worth doing.
David Winer: Absolutely. That was an important lesson. A lot of times–let me go back to the Adam Curry story because I left that part out and it’s really important because it’s, like, exactly like that. You know who Adam Curry is?
Guy Kawasaki: Barely.
David Winer: Okay. He was a big star. He really was. I remember the first time–I didn’t even have the courage to talk to him. He was that big of a star.
I was at a party at an AOL executive’s house outside of DC, and they had gotten all these people together and one of them was Adam Curry and he was the MTV star in the heyday of MTV. He was the star, as far as I was concerned. He was the only one that I knew.
He’s very pretty, air head. That’s what I thought, Air head. There’s nothing in there. He’s just a star.
So he had this idea about what the last yard is like. At the time, the Internet was very slow. And so anybody comes to you and says, “I know how to make video work on the Internet. I know how audio works on the Internet. In 2000, you go, “Yeah, sure you do.”
The problem is that it’s too slow. I’m going to sit there. I’m going to click on the thing. I’m going to wait an hour before it downloads. And it’s going to be three seconds and it’s going to be this tiny, little postage stamp and I’m never going to do it again because it’s just such a terrible user experience.
This is what he wanted to meet with me about. And I said, “Yeah, well, it’s Adam Curry. I’m going to meet with him, sure. Yeah.” And he just kept at it. And he showed me how he had hacked up my code to make it work.
And that really got my attention because I was very angry. I said, “You can’t do that.” It’s like, “Who are you to…?” Again, this thing in my head, there’s nothing in there.
And he got me to look at it and then I realized, “Wow, this is actually a really good idea.” And the lesson that I learned from that is exactly what you just said, is that, I’m not so good that I would listen to every user under every circumstance.
I almost missed that idea, Guy. I really did. If he hadn’t been so persistent and so passionate about it and willing to put up with my obvious…he must have gotten it all the time–the airhead thing. “Oh, he’s famous. I’ll ask for his autograph, but I don’t care what he thinks.”
But he persisted, and it was a good idea, and out of that came podcasting. So you’re absolutely right. It takes two. And most developers will not listen because I’ve been on the other side of that thing. Most people won’t listen. You tell them, “I’ve got this great thing,” and they go, “You can’t have that great thing so go away.” I’ve had that. That happens all the time. All the time.
Guy Kawasaki: To be fair to developers, most things that you hear from people are shit, right?
David Winer: Maybe you’re not listening. Maybe there actually is a gem. Yes. Most–you’re absolutely right. Most of it is shit, but I’ll give you two responses to that.
One is: one of them is going to be a good idea someday. It’s going to happen, and you listen to enough of them. It’s going to be worth listening to.
Other one is: Learn who has the ideas there. If they come back to you with one after giving you one, you should listen, right? You develop a track record with somebody.
If you come to me some day and say, “Dave, I figured something out about, whatever, and it’s something that I care about.” I’ll listen. Why? Because you gave me an idea that got me…had we not had that idea about More, maybe More would have been a good product anyway, but the bullet chart thing and the treat, especially the bullet chart thing. I know that made the product, Guy. It really did because outlining is kind of esoteric for most people.
They don’t really get it. I get it, you get, a few people get it. Maybe two percent of the people. You have to be aware of how you think or open to the idea that a tool could support your thought process. You have to be open to the idea. Most people aren’t open to that idea, but a production tool that makes better bullet charts, people get that. They understand that.
Guy Kawasaki: It sounds almost silly, but back then, oh, my God…We were printing on acetate and that was how you made a presentation on an overhead projector!
David Winer: And that goes back to our friend, Sidhu, who made the networking so terribly backward. There’s another guy, I knocked on his door a million times and, “help, help, help. I’m going to do something great with this.”
It’s like when I tried to become a NeXT developer. The message I got back was from our friend, Steve Jobs. He said, “Tell him we can’t let just anyone develop for this machine.”
Guy Kawasaki: No…
David Winer: Yeah. That’s what they said. Yes. That’s what they said.
Guy Kawasaki: No. Wow…
David Winer: He had a message for me. They picketed my booth at SoftCon, and Jobs sent people over to pick at my booth, to tell our customers, “Don’t use this. We don’t like this product.” He didn’t like our scroll bars. I know it sounds really silly today. They were looking at scroll bars!
Guy Kawasaki: It’s absolutely…Yeah!
David Winer: Steve Jobs. It’s perfect Steve Jobs.
Guy Kawasaki: That’s a perfect Steve Jobs story. Yes. “The trash can is not black enough.”
David Winer: I have another good Steve Jobs story. You want to hear it?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah!
David Winer: I had gone to lunch with, I can’t remember his name…He was the Internet Explorer guy at Microsoft and…Dean Hachamovitch! That was his name, is probably still his name, and as we go outside, there’s Steve Jobs, and Steve Jobs recognizes Dean Hachamovitch, and so he’s going to hold court. That’s what Steve likes to do.
And I’m just standing there, and he starts talking about podcasting, telling him how they have this new thing podcasting and that, “Yeah, Microsoft’s probably going to do this, but it won’t be anywhere near as good as ours because we invented this thing,” and I’m standing right there!
It’s, like…there’s this old joke about Apple, the developer inside Apple sees Steve jobs in the hallway and he says, “Hey Steve, you just had a really great idea.” I never had any love for Steve Jobs. I know that’s not nice to say that, but he’s not…he was not one of my favorite people. None of them really were. You were. You and Jean-Louis Gassée; I loved Jean-Louis Gassée.
Guy Kawasaki: I’m almost afraid to ask you because I think I know what you’re going to say, but it seems like Apple and Spotify and Amazon, they’re now trying to gate-keep podcasting.
David Winer: Yup!
Guy Kawasaki: Are they going to ruin podcasting?
David Winer: I don’t think so. Maybe. They might. It could happen. It’s had a really good run. It’s been around since 2004. So what is that? Seventeen years? Seventeen years of constant growth and plenty of big companies trying to own it, and none of them ever actually do.
Why is that, I don’t know. It’s inexplicable to me. It seems one of them should have managed to do it, but the fact that there are three or four of them kind of says that not one of them is actually going to pull it off.
There is a very strong standard. Let’s put it that way. The RSS feed with an enclosure, with a title, link, description. The basic pattern of a podcast feed is so totally well-established that, is that ever going to go away? Yeah, probably at some point, I suppose, but if it does, it’ll have had a really good run and then maybe we won’t have…podcasting is very gratifying.
You get to discover new things, you learn stuff. Will that go away? I don’t know.
Guy Kawasaki: I’m obviously an author and now I’m a podcaster. I don’t think I’ll ever write a book again. Of course I said that fourteen times, but…
David Winer: Did you really?
Guy Kawasaki: To me, podcasting is so much better. The lifecycle is so much faster. So podcasting, you can turn something around in days, hours, if you had to. It is completely flexible, and with writing a book, you get one advance and that’s it. But with podcasts, you can sell a sponsorship every week!
There’s so many advantages, and Dave, I know this guest that you’re referring to is a guy named Mark Manson, and one of the things he said in the interview is that, you’re on track and you’re doing the right thing and you’re finding your interests and your passions when you love shit sandwiches.
And so for me, podcasting is a shit sandwich that I love because I will take this raw audio file, it’s going to be transcribed by the machine, and then I’m going to go over it line by line. I am going to research all the names that you said because Adam Curry is easy, but some of the other names, however, Hachamovitch or whatever from whatever, nobody knows.
I got to go look that up, and then I’m going to make sure that the person who’s going to actually do the final transcription has a shot of getting all this right. I will probably spend myself six or seven hours before it gets to the sound designer. And I tell this to other podcasters and they think I am nuts! They say, “Well, I turn on the recording. I give it to my producer….”
David Winer: You want to know what I do? You want to know what I do?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah, yeah.
David Winer: I open up my iPhone, I turn on the Voice Memo app, talk for a while, I email that to myself, I upload it to a server, I put it on my blog. Goodbye.
Guy Kawasaki: That’s it? Yeah, we are at the extremes.
David Winer: Yes. I don’t do any production whatsoever. It’s kind of almost a religion with me, actually. Most of them I don’t actually publish. Most of them I just talk and it’s not worth anything.
Guy Kawasaki: It’s a religion for me too.
David Winer: Yeah.
Guy Kawasaki: I am the Mr. Miyagi of podcasting. Mr. Miyagi in the movies, he would spend hours with his little bonsai tree, clipping the little leaves and all that. And I feel like I’m Mr. Miyagi, just clipping the little leaves.
David Winer: Why do you do all that?
Guy Kawasaki: Because I’m OCD! Because I want people to listen to my podcast and think, “Oh, my God.” I can tell you that in an hour recording, ninety percent of people do it, in a one hour recording, they say, “um, uh, right, well,” 250 to 400 times. Everybody! The most intelligent people in the world do that. And I take almost all of those out. I want people to listen to my guests and say, “My God, that is a really remarkable, smart person,” not someone who says “um” 250 times.
David Winer: And you do that editing? You actually do that?
Guy Kawasaki: Yes! That’s Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi produces his own bonsai tree. He doesn’t farm it out to Orchard Supply!
David Winer: Really? Wow. Come to think of it, I don’t think I heard any of…but I didn’t also didn’t hear any obvious editing in the podcasts that I’ve listened to.
Guy Kawasaki: When you look at Mr. Miyagi’s bonsai, it’s not obvious where he clipped the leaves.
David Winer: Yeah, I’d never heard of Mr. Miyagi to be honest with you.
Guy Kawasaki: …So you’ve you never saw the Karate Kid movies?
David Winer: Oh, I might have, yeah, but I didn’t really, I didn’t really pay attention.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay, then the metaphor breaks down.
David Winer: I’ll go look at it. If you think I should go watch Karate Kid…it doesn’t, it’s not the kind of thing I would watch.
Guy Kawasaki: No, probably not.
With this hindsight about outlining and RSS and podcasting and all this stuff, what’s your advice about creating a platform or an enabling core technology?
David Winer: What’s my advice?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah, if some young punk out there says, “I’m going to create the next, whatever, what should I do?”
David Winer: I actually really want to tell the story because people have the wrong idea about how you create new stuff. People say, “You’re the inventor of podcasting,” or “You’re the inventor of blogging or RSS,” and it’s not like that at all. There’s no moment at which, in any of these processes, where the idea came to me fully formed and that I could tell you what it would look like when I was done with it.
I couldn’t even give you the slightest idea of what it would be like when I was done with it. Look at Outlining–It started out as a programming editor, but there was a moment when my roommate, who was an English major, said, “Can I use this thing?” And that sent me off in a completely different direction that I had ever thought I would go in.
I felt like I was done with it at that point before he said that. I had gotten my grade. It was being done. I was way in advance of most grad students. Most grad students would write papers about someone else’s research on something like that. It’s experimentation.
It’s like you say, “Okay, I’ve got an idea. Let me try it out and see what happens.” You want to try it out as quickly as possible so that you have to use it yourself. That’s another big thing. If you’re not using it yourself, you’re not going to ever get there, whatever it is you’re doing.
One phrase I absolutely hate is when they talk about eating the dog food, you ever hear that term? Dogfooding somebody? I hate that because it says you have come to the conclusion that your users are dogs and they eat dog food. And you make things that you understand, that you love. You don’t set out to make a platform. You don’t.
This is never what you would you try to do. You see something new in the case of, “Let’s go to the insight that I could publish these ideas that nobody was listening to,” that was the insight that led to blogging. That was blogging, basically. All you’re doing is saying, “Oh, this might be interesting. Let’s try it out and see what happens and then learn from it. Watch to see what people do with it.”
If they, if it doesn’t work, try a variation on it, try something, or give up. Maybe it isn’t, maybe you don’t like it. Maybe it isn’t interesting anymore. Once you found nobody was else was interested in it, maybe that was enough to turn you off, but I don’t think you set out to make a platform. That isn’t what you do. You make a platform out of something that has worked, that something that became successful, and you make it a platform because that’s the honorable thing to do.
You don’t lock your users in. You don’t force them to continue to use your product. They continue to use your products because you make the best product. And that’s very naïve by the way, Guy. I had the shit kicked out of me because I did that. Why is it that my RSS reader started an industry but didn’t participate in it itself?
You wouldn’t believe why that happened. It’s because the guy who wrote the first article about RSS left my product out of it, and all the journalists just copy each other, and my product wasn’t in the list of products. And at that time, Guy, my product was dominant. Mine was the product that was driving the whole market.
Let me go back to the thing that was pivotal in RSS. The fact that I had the New York Times and nobody else did. The deal they did was with my company. I wasn’t contractually obligated to do anything with it.
I could have just used it in my own product. So maybe creating a platform isn’t always the best idea at, huh? Maybe be proprietary about it for a while and intend to make it a platform at some point in the future, but you don’t necessarily have to actually follow through immediately on it.
It may not be a very good practice because the world’s full of assholes. Yeah. Yeah, you can quote me on that. It’s one of my slogans. It’s an observation that I’ve made. It came late to me, Guy. It really–maybe that’s why I made platforms…So many platforms.
In my blog, I signed a no lock-in pledge. I put up a post the other day, my no lock-in pledge. Why? Because in this new nascent rebooting, outlining market, there is a market leader. There is a company that raised nine million dollars from the Collison brothers, the guys who started Strike, these guys are, like, multibillionaires, right?
They must like outlining because they gave nine million dollars to one of these companies based on a, like, a five hundred-million-dollar evaluation. Believe me, my outliner has never got a million-dollar evaluation. But I did make, I mean, I did get a lot of Symantec stock for them, though, so there’s that, but they’re very much a closed silo.
They’re not open to letting anybody else have access to their customers, but they have spawned an awful lot of competition, and all of their competition is open and they all see their only hope of competing with this company as being the opposite, being no lock-in, and so they’re kind of loving me right now, actually, to be honest with you. My no lock-in pledge is resonating.
And even though they have absolutely no idea, really, that I had anything to do–they don’t even know that there was outlining. If you look at their…yeah, you think it’s funny. This is why this is a good time for you and me to talk. It’s very good for my ego, my friend. It really is because you’re, I mean, there are other people that remember it, right?
Guy Kawasaki: Sure
David Winer: Yeah, all right, but they’re all in their sixties!
Guy Kawasaki: Me, you, Peter and Alice. That’s four that remember.
David Winer: Oh yeah. Well, but they’re, like, they’re not opinion leaders. You might be an opinion leader. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. You’re good. Talking to you is good for my ego. It is definitely good for my ego because, yeah, you remember.
It is encouraging to me because something similar to this happened. This is a sort of a loop that repeats. This is the tech industry. It is all about loops. It always goes round and round and round. And you remember Doug Engelbart?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah.
David Winer: Okay. So Doug Engelbart was the first guy who did outlining. And I remember when I learned about…
Guy Kawasaki: Really?
David Winer: Yes, really. Doug Engelbart understood outlining. He did a thing called Augment, and Augment was an outliner, and it ran. It probably still runs, but he was the guy that was keeping it alive. And I got to know Doug Engelbart. I would have hired him in an instant to work on my stuff, to help us. So here I am now in Doug Engelbart’s position.
So what I learned is that I think he made a mistake. I think he should have worked with me. I really do because I had what he didn’t have. I had code that ran on the machines people were using at that time. He did not. So you didn’t even know he was an outlining guy, right?
Guy Kawasaki: I thought he was the mouse guy.
David Winer: Yeah. That seems to be the same thing, right? It’s the same damn thing. It’s what you asked me. I don’t get enough credit. He didn’t get credit for the outlining.
And if you had asked Doug Engelbart, “What was your most consequential contribution to computers?” He wouldn’t have said the mouse.
Guy Kawasaki: Really?
David Winer: Yes! Just like I would not say it’s RSS or podcasting or blogging.
Guy Kawasaki: What would you say?
David Winer: I think it’s the outliners. Are you kidding? Outliners are amazing. They’re amazing tools. And these other things are just natural outgrowth.
To say that you could do publishing on a publishing platform? All we did was hack it, making it easy. Now, maybe nobody else thought that that’s something that could be done.
It certainly was controversial at the time. In the nineties, when we were iterating over, making content management easy, there were all these enterprise companies that were charging hundreds of thousands of dollars for their publishing systems. And I said, “Yeah, we’re going to make this free, this isn’t going to cost any money.”
If it costs anything, it’ll be thirty-nine dollars and they might have believed we could do it, but they certainly didn’t want it to happen. IBM had a half a billion dollars in revenue from consulting with publishing companies. Now you see why they didn’t want RSS to succeed.
Let me tell you one more story like this. Okay. I got so many stories and this was a really great fucking story.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay.
David Winer: So I’ll try to make it short. I once went on a road tour in the south. I think I had just moved to New York, and I stopped at a newspaper in Spartanburg, South Carolina. One of the readers of my blog was there. And, I’m kind of like you, you do things like this, you would go hang out if you knew somebody who was, like, an avid reader or listener to your podcast, who was always giving you ideas and you happened to be nearby where he was, you might go have lunch with him, right?
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah.
David Winer: Okay. So I stopped in, and he had to go to meetings so he parked me in his office and I watched on his screen, and he had a screensaver that was rolling through the pictures from the AP wire service, the AP photo wire service, of all the news, and I was just transfixed by this thing. Sitting there, watching the news in the form of…these are fantastic photographs, very high resolution of exactly what’s happening right now.
And unlike what you get on CNN or MSNBC or whatever, which they cover three stories, and they just repeat them over and over again, this is the real news. It was an amazing thing. I thought this is unbelievable. I want this, right? So I went that night and I wrote a blog post and said, “This–I’ve just been blown away by this thing. This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
Soon after that, I get a call from a guy at the AP, and this is after I had been successful with RSS and I’m blogging and maybe podcasting had even started up, I don’t know, it was somewhere in there, and they said, “Well, we’ll give you a license. You can have all the pictures.” And I said, “Really?” They said, “Yeah, we’ll give you a license.”
And so I got a license and soon all of the AP wire service photos were coming to my server and I was writing a screensaver. Then I went to a conference in Paris, and this guy from AFP– I was going to try to imitate it in French, but I couldn’t.
Okay. He says “We saw that you made the deal with AP for this thing. We would like to also do this with you.” So I also had the AFP wire photos, right? And so I start publishing it. They didn’t say what I could or couldn’t do with it. They just said, “Here, have the photos.” So I started publishing it and nobody believed I had the right to do it.
Nobody believed that I was licensed to do this. And I had all these–knocked on all these doors. I saw this–I went to the, what airline was it? Might’ve been Southwest. There’s a big, new, fancy terminal at JFK that had all these huge screens and I happened to meet the guy who did the systems for that thing and said, “Boy, do I have an application for you!”
And he argued–this was at a dinner party in New York–he argued with me about having the license, “You don’t have the license.” And he told her anybody what an idiot I was because –I can’t believe this is happening! How does this…why is the world like this? it’s like, it’s the inverse.
You ever seen that Woody Allen movie where Marshall McLuhan is behind him in line?
Guy Kawasaki: No.
David Winer: No, you didn’t see? All right, this is like your bonsai tree.
Guy Kawasaki: Yeah, exactly. We all have our Mr. Miyagi’s. Yes.
David Winer: So anyway, and that’s the point. You could be living the most charmed life in the world, and at that point, obviously, I was living a very charmed life, and all I had to do was wish for something and then they would give it to me? Come on. But nobody believed I had it.
So what’s the point if you have all the, whatever? So I ended up feeling that. And this goes to what, Mark Manson, is that his name?
Guy Kawasaki: Yes, Mark Manson.
David Winer: You guys were talking about legacies and things like that. And as I was listening to it, I was thinking, “Boy, do I have something to say about this?”
So I don’t think we should be trying to change the world. I don’t think that individuals should do that. I don’t think we should have legacies. I think we should just do what pleases us and if something out of that, ends up changing the world, then you accept it. But you don’t try to change the world because too many people are doing that.
And most of them are wrong, and some of them are conflicting. And most of what people try to do is just plain old self-aggrandizement and it’s not good for the world. None of us really have that picture. That’s why billionaires are running philanthropies. We found out that Bill Gates, he’s been positioning himself as this great philanthropist.
It turns out now he invested in the Pfizer vaccine, and therefore he has a huge conflict of interest. He never told anybody. People knew about it, but he never disclosed it. And he’s running around now, saying, “Well, no, people shouldn’t expect the patents to be given away for free.”
I wonder why, Bill, you feel that way? As if having Bill Gates kind of money isn’t enough for Bill Gates. Come on, Bill. What do you need more money for? Give me a break. He, by the way, is also–he’s exactly my age. We were born the same year. I don’t know what year you were born in, but I know what it means to be Bill Gates’s age, which means he’s starting to think about winding it down.
I certainly don’t think my–this is why I kind of love that there are these outliner, young guys out there, there cause their horizon…I have all this knowledge, all of this experience. I have things that I can give them and I would love to give it to them. What they have that I don’t have is they have a forty-year horizon, and I don’t have it.
Right? It’s just a fact. I could be as wealthy as you want. It’s just, I can’t think forty years out in the future. It’s okay. I’ve had a good run.
Guy Kawasaki: Okay! So completely switching topics. I want to know what you think about…Facebook Oversight Board, Mark Zuckerberg, the whole “mishigas”, as we Japanese say.
David Winer: I didn’t realize that was a Japanese word.
Guy Kawasaki: It is a Japanese word. Yes.
David Winer: Look, it’s a complicated situation because I actually think Facebook’s really good because Facebook isn’t just a company and it isn’t just Mark Zuckerberg. It’s also two, no, how many billion people? I think it’s two point eight billion users or something like that. It’s a huge number of people who use it, and they’re doing, well, I should say we’re doing some amazing things on Facebook.
In March of 2019, I moved from Manhattan. I lived in an apartment in Midtown Manhattan–very nice apartment, very nice lifestyle, but I was tired of it, and I wanted to live in the country. So I moved up to Woodstock, New York and. It was about two hours north of the city. And I didn’t know anybody here, but there was a private Facebook group for Woodstock and I started networking and very quickly I knew a lot of people here and although that couldn’t happen a few years ago, or it never would have happened. So you may hate Facebook. There are lots of good reasons to hate Facebook. They refuse to do anything to help the web. That’s the thing I hate them for.
I don’t blame them for what happened with Cambridge Analytica. I think that was just the press being idiots. Before Cambridge Analytica and the Trump campaign, they were boosters of Facebook. They had disclosed all that stuff about the API. They refused to listen to anything that said that this could be abused.
They just went right through that. He was like the wonder boy, like, they treated all of Silicon Valley like that. They love money. Journalism loves money, and they love Zuckerberg for that reason. I guess they turned on him because they realized that, if this goes much further, they won’t have jobs anymore.
I don’t think they have the slightest bit of objectivity on it, and they don’t disclose their conflicts of interest. And they’re just out there promoting themselves. So I think there’s a lot of hate that should be directed at journalism here. I think they deserve a fair amount of it.
To expect Zuckerberg to monitor Facebook and control what people say on it. That’s crazy. Can’t be done. Journalism acts like there’s some answer to this. They don’t have any answers. There aren’t any answers to it. It’s going to have its own problems.
Guy Kawasaki: I want to know you, David Winer, how you do your best and deepest thinking.
David Winer: Oh, I go for a walk. I go for a bike ride. I get to a stopping point. I trust myself. That may be the biggest part of it is that, I maybe get to a point where I don’t have an answer or I feel like I’m stuck and I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I think I’ll put it down and I’ll come back.
And when I come back, I will know what to do. And I almost always do because there’s a lot of thinking that you do. There’s the conscious part of who you are and that’s, like, when you’re doing stuff, right? And then there’s the subconscious, which is, like, always working. It’s always processing. It’s always doing whatever it does.
I think you love yourself, and you trust yourself. I think you say that, “I know Dave, and Dave will probably figure this out, so just relax.”
Guy Kawasaki: There you have it–David Winer. Gadfly, programmer, writer, inventor, or at least huge contributor to blogging, podcasting, and RSS.
As I said in the introduction, his ideas have touched hundreds of millions of people. So when you listen to this podcast, remember: David Winer had a great role in making it possible.
I’m Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. My thanks to Peg Fitzpatrick and Jeff Sieh who had a great role in making this podcast possible. Until next time, be well, be safe. Mahalo and aloha!