I’ll respect it when it ships

Smug Canadian, long rant about Dave and RSS: “This is the path to failure.”

[The Scobleizer Weblog]

Scoble finds a wonderful piece that offers new insight into what’s been going on in the recent RSS debate and in Dave Winer’s decision today to pull Scripting News offline (hopefully not for long – it’s now back).

One insight from Smug Canadian’s post:

Every debate about software always comes down to the same thing, and I find it fascinating that it mimics every fight I’ve ever seen in a meeting room between two or more programmers over a piece of software. You have programmers who have been around a while, who created something that works, who have seen users use software and who have seen failures. And you have the programmer across the table who has no “baggage” from having created that success and who thinks they can instantly improve on the whole deal, nearly always by starting over, and nearly always in a way they suggest.

And a bit further on,

It seems to me that if you want to be a success with XML, and more importantly with one of the few established XML standards in RSS, you need to ignore these people that keep trying to kneecap XML and RSS. The whole point of a “lingua franca” is not what that lingua looks like, it’s whether it works at all and whether anyone has used it. You gain advantage in an open webserver world by building on top of what is established, not by showing up a few years late and saying “it’s nice, but we can make it better.” You can’t, just like you can’t go back to 1992 and make HTML better.

“Lingua franca” triggerred it for me. Courtesy of GuruNet I grabbed the following definition:

lingua franca (l nggw fr ngk ) , an auxiliary language, generally of a hybrid and partially developed nature, that is employed over an extensive area by people speaking different and mutually unintelligible tongues in order to communicate with one another. Such a language frequently is used primarily for commercial purposes.

In other words, a language focused on the need to get stuff done now. A language that gets learned in the streets not in the classroom or the academy.

I studied Latin, Greek, and French for years. Sadly, I studied them all inside classrooms. Not a big deal for Latin and Greek, but a truly missed opportunity with French. The few times I tried to use my schoolboy French in the real world, I was absolutely crippled by the notion that I needed to say everything perfectly. One reason that kids learn languages so readily is that they really, really want that cookie up on the counter and they have yet to learn the strange idea that mistakes are bad. Success or failure is about whether they manage to get the cookie.

The tools I use all have warts. I don’t have the time or talent to build them myself. I’m old enough now that I no longer believe in the perfect tool, especially one that is coming Real Soon Now. But I will invest time in learning how to use tools that do exist. And I am willing to cope with the inevitable breakage. RSS and the blogging tools built over the last few years lowered barriers for me to the point where I could get useful stuff done with them, partly because I abandoned the myths perpetuated by software marketers about intuitive interfaces and other fairy tales.

I would hate to lose that and I am anxious. I fear that while engineers debate “edge cases” and argue over whose ego or IQ is bigger than another’s, I will see a hugely powerful set of ideas embodied in tools that work get gobbled up, watered down, and built into the products marketed by the BigCos. For an example of that process, compare the power of outlining tools such as ThinkTank and Grandview with what Microsoft calls an outliner as built into Microsoft Word. For an economy that depends on the quality of its thinking, that’s a dumbing down of ideas we can’t afford no matter how appealing it might appear from a marketing perspective.

The most pernicious thing about this process is how easy it is to suck engineers into this debate trap. FUD is a term that long predates the birth of Microsoft. It’s a strategy that’s been perfected by those with market leads to defend. Their interests are rarely my interests.

Navigating among all the conflicting demands of getting a design that works, converting it to code that ships, and having the patience to bootstrap a user base is hard. It deserves respect.