Archive of UserLand's first discussion group, started October 5, 1998.
Writers conf at Brown in April
Author: Dave Winer Posted: 1/16/1999; 1:18:38 PM Topic: Writers conf at Brown in April Msg #: 2171 Prev/Next: 2170 / 2172
I've been invited to present Frontier 6 at a writer's conference at Brown University in April. I hope the software is ready by then. They've asked me to write a bit of my philosophy about writing tools for the web, and I just sent it in. It may be a little bit rough, but I wanted to get it on the record on my own website. It's a bit of a preview of the philosophy of the next rev of our software. A new bit is taking shape, the workstation component. You'll see some hints at that in this piece. Hope you enjoy it!
Dave Winer, our understanding was that you are also an XML advocate. What makes sense to you in terms of getting the advantages of this technology across. The attendees should see Frontier, no doubt. What else?
Yes, I am an advocate of XML but only for pragmatic non-religious reasons (or at least I hope so). Here's why. Most writers are already computerized and have been for many years. Most have a favorite writing environment, whether it's Eudora or Word or Notepad or BBEdit. Trying to get people to give up their favorite writing tool is not something any software developer should want to try to do. That's the only reason XML is important, for compatibility between writing and design environments and content servers. And it's not always essential because there are already integration APIs, COM on Windows and Apple Events on the Mac that make this kind of integration possible even if the tools don't support XML.
Further I think XML should be largely behind the scenes, invisible to the writer. The attributes of documents can be edited thru normal GUI techniques, but when the result is transmitted to the server, it should be in XML, so that the tools can plug in thru open non-proprietary interfaces and so that the servers can be compatible with each other. No group of writers should be locked into a closed architecture so that they can't switch to a competitive server without seeing a change in the writing interface. (Summary: Choice is important. And no lock-in. XML, if properly implemented, gives us that.)
For me, both as a writer and a software developer, the goal is to get the technology out of the way of the writer. I strongly believe that writers shouldn't be concerned with the presentation of the material. Writing is its own reward, and words are far more powerful at communicating than style (I *am* a writer after all).
Templates are the province of designers. They should be plug-in-able, and subject to change at any time without involving the writers. And the design tools, e.g. Macromedia's Dreamweaver, should be compatible so that designers can have similar convenience. And if the writer and the designer happen to be the same person, then they only have to learn a single technique for getting stuff on the server, and most important it should build on what they already know. The File menu of the writing environment should be all that's needed to converse with the server.
I think creative linking to random pages is a wasted exercise. More and more the experience on the web is that writing is linear. I want the reader to go all the way from top to bottom of my piece and I write and link accordingly. Look around the web, and you'll see the early creative ideas about linking fading out. When you have a story to tell you don't want the reader distracted. Put the links at the end. Browse around Dan's ZDNet, and you'll see they do it that way. Same with CNN.com, nytimes.com, every newspaper and sites like my own www.scripting.com.
I think the best we can do in 1999 is get a stark and simple environment for writers that's totally integrated with the web. A clean slate for words and simple structures, and a File menu that only knows about the Web, so there can be no confusion about where the "real" version of a piece-in-progress lives -- it lives on the net, and only on the net.
That's our goal at UserLand. It's not exactly Frontier, which is our server and content environment. Our goal is to put a writing tool on the writer's desktop that's as simple as the web browser is for reading. No question about where to put something. Very tight integration with the browser so the result is easily previewed. And tight integration, where possible, with the writing tools the writers already love and are committed to.
Another goal is to shorten the publishing cycle. Writing for the web is often responsive to other writing for the web. Someone writes something, and I want to present an alternate viewpoint. I want to produce a document that's updated in realtime. A lot can be accomplished there, and the key is a very fast user interface. Write, control-s, update, control-s, etc. Every time you save, the website is updated. I think that's what writers want in 1999.
Time and searching are the two primary interfaces for reading on the web. I want to go to an always-current home page showing me the top stories and features. And I want to be able to find out what happened on a specific day. (Example: easily visit all the PC industry home pages on the day that AOL bought Netscape). That's the time-based interface. And I want the reader (and writer) to be able to quickly find things in archives thru an intuitive searching interface.
3D worlds are great, but first let's get this working. The flashy visual structures require months of design and premeditation, and when the result is delivered, the reader often wonders why the writer went to so much trouble. I see no great writing on the web that required so much premeditation by designers. In fact, the opposite is true. Timeliness is what's novel about the web. Short shelf lives and quick responses. The world moves quickly now largely because the web can move quickly. The tools must accomodate.
This conference is for writers, so I want to talk about writing. I want animation, in due time, but first I want an editorial system that's brain-dead simple to set up and operate, and gets the publishing cycle out of the way of writers.
That's my speech for now. I want to be in the loop on this and present my ideas and software in April, and do a lot of listening and learning.
PS: Is there a website for the conference?
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