Dave Winer is one of the keynote speakers at The Next Web Conference 2011. He wrote the first blogging software, invented RSS and podcasting and is a visiting scholar at NYU in journalism. He blogs at Scripting.com.
I chatted with David about Twitter, ‘Blorking’, the future of blogging and his upcoming talk at TNW2011.
Boris: You developed the first blogging software. What year was that?
Dave Winer: In 1996 or 1994. It depends.
Boris: Depends on what?
Dave Winer: I started autoweb in 1994 and clay basket in 1995 but not many people used that. In 1996 I wrote software that a fair number of people did use to blog. Then in 1997 it really took off so it kind of matters if there’s uptake. That’s reallly what it’s all about.
Boris: I have a timeline here that says that the term weblog was coined in 1997. Is that wrong or did you use a different name before that?
Dave Winer: Yeah, we called them “news sites”. Jorn Barger came up with the name weblog in late 1997.
Boris: “News sites”? Cool. Brings me to my next question: You could argue that Twitter and Facebook have replaced blogging and are really sufficient for most people to express their ideas. How do you see the future of blogging?
Dave Winer: twitter and facebook are a *kind* of blogging that is very popular. But they haven’t replaced blogging. Use your eyes man! Blogs are everywhere! You have a blog right? I have quite a few. Matt Mullenweg (WordPress founder) hosts a lot of them! As do the tumblr guys.
Boris: That is one way of putting it. I see dinosaurs everywhere too…
Dave Winer: you see dinosaurs? Really? Wow, i’m coming to Amsterdam. I want to see them too.
Boris: Well, I’m joking of course but also making a point. TV isn’t radio with images.
Dave Winer: That’s kind of what I was going to say…
Boris: And you could argue that Twitter isn’t blogging…
Dave Winer: I take the subway, some people drive a car. We’re both going places. Twitter is definitely blogging. It’s MICRO blogging. It’s got all the basics…
Boris: So is MSN blogging too?
Dave Winer: What is msn?
Dave Winer: :-)
Boris: You recently called Twitter ‘a new channel for sensational journalism’ and proposed Twitter look at that. What would you change to make the information that people spread more informational and less fleeting?
Dave Winer: That’s a really good question and it would be hard for twitter to turn that corner. If twitter wanted to be less about grunting and snorting they would have to give up on some of their sacred cows, like the 140-character limit. There are some ideas (many in fact) that cannot be expressed in such a tight space. I’ve been writing for a long time, so i know how to sharpen prose and reduce it. but some things just can’t be reduced to a soundbite. It has to become a medium where people who are good writers can express interesting, funny and new ideas, otherwise it’s just sensationalism: Someone died. Someone had sex with someone. Someone betrayed someone. All simple ideas.
Boris: So… Twitter should become more like megablogging (versus microblogging)?
Dave Winer: Not sure the answer is that simple Boris. There’s something wonderful about twitter. I just don’t think 140 is as magic a number as the guys at twitter do.
Boris So what would still be Micro? 280 characters? 560 characters?
Dave Winer: We would have to play with that, with great writers telling us what they think, based on actual practice not theory. It’s very important to work with users. We did a study of the synopses that the NY Times writes for its pieces in its feeds and they are on average more than 140 chars.
Boris: The 140 character limit was based on research the SMS investors did. It wasn’t theory but they counted thousands of postcards and calculated the average amount of characters. It turned out to be 160. That is where the Text message limit comes from and that is what Twitter based it on.
Dave Winer: Yeah, and sms is about grunting and snorting. But twitter should be “THE NEWS SYSTEM OF THE FUTURE” in my opinion, and not some sort of group sms thing.
Boris: Couldn’t Twitter just be the little cousin of Blogs. Where it is just a medium that whispers little messages which you can follow to blogs?
Dave Winer: Sure. That is the way I see it.
Boris: But you still think 140 characters it too short for whispering?
Dave Winer: Yes, I do.
Boris: I don’t think the iPhone and Android have a limit for text messages anymore, correct? So that would take away the biggest reason to limit it to 140?
Dave Winer: Don’t people use clients on iphones and androids? That’s why the sms thing is kind of a red herring. It may have been an issue in 2007 but twitter predates the iphone and “smart” phones changed everything.
Boris: You are 55 now so you were 33 when Tim Berners-Lee invented the web. What do you expect to do online, in 22 years, when you are 77?
Dave Winer: Tim Berners-Lee and I are the same age. Anyway, if i’m around in 22 years we’ll be better connected to more people. If you can dream up a question you’ll be more likely to find the answer. That’s the good stuff. The bad stuff is that there will be less freedom. Governments have already figured out what networking can do and they’re going to stop a lot of the good stuff.
Boris: Aren’t they way too slow for that? (said the young and optimistic blogger)
Dave Winer: Good for you but unfortunately no — they hire the smart people who want power. We have some big problems to solve and understanding each other is pretty important part of solving the problems.
Boris: You know what Picasso said about computers?
Dave Winer: Yes, they only answer questions.
Boris: He could’ve tweeted that in 140 characters you know.
Dave Winer: Sure, I’ve played with that too and I didn’t say nothing could be expressed in 140 characters. I just said some things couldn’t…
Boris: But isn’t it true that giving more piano keys to a person won’t make better music. Getting someone with talent will? Sorry for the lousy metaphor.
Dave Winer: That’s an important point. Most people just read, they don’t write. I wish it weren’t so but it is. I learned that when i was evangelizing blogging.
Boris: Some people complain that most online conversations are shalow. I’m just afraid that most conversations are shallow.
Dave Winer: Absolutely. But there is a Picasso or a Hemingway out there who can make beautiful art in this medium. Who can inspire us. Who can show us who we are, through this medium. We have to think about tools for that person, not just for the average person.
Boris: That is a beautiful and inspiring thought. One last question: What can people expect from your presentation at TNW2011?
Dave Winer: To get a few ideas and maybe even some really good ones. To stretch our minds together and maybe to figure out what we can do together. I’m also going to talk about “blorking”.
Boris: Blorking? Cool! What is that? Nothing sexual, I hope?
Dave Winer: No, it’s like what twitter does but without the big company in the middle. I haven’t written about that on Scripting.com yet, but I will before I’ll arrive in Amsterdam.