November 24, 2003

Google Is Out To Get Dave Winer

...or at least that's the impression you'd get from Hiawatha Bray's article in today's Boston Globe:

It's not the casual Web surfers who are complaining. But as Google expands beyond mere search services, it sometimes alienates tech-smart users who were once devotees of the company. Consider Google's acquisition of Blogger, one of the companies that launched the personal weblog craze. It's got Dave Winer climbing the walls. Winer, a Berkman Fellow at the Harvard Law School, founded UserLand Software Inc., maker of the blogging program Radio Userland. Winer says that Google may crush rival blogging systems like Radio Userland.

He points to the popular Google Toolbar program that's attached to millions of Web browsers. The toolbar makes it easy to do Google searches and block pop-up ads, but it also contains a link to Google's Blogger service. Microsoft's critics once warned that the company would use its browser toolbars to steer people to Microsoft products. Winer sees Google trying to pull the same stunt.

"Do they have a right to do it? Absolutely," Winer admits. "But I also have a right to hate them."

Now, I do seem to have a tendency to pick on Dave, but let's be honest here - he generally deserves it. He's got a raging persecution complex combined with a spot of megalomania that makes the blogging community as a whole look pretty bad. Dave has responded to the article, complaining that his quotes are out of context-ish, and that Google isn't REALLY going to crush Radio Userland, etc... Oh, and he lashes out at Bray and tech journalists in general, but that's nothing out of the ordinary. The part that's interesting is this:
Bottom-line, I said Google screwed up by putting Blogger on the toolbar, a few weeks after promising they wouldn't do anything to favor Blogger. It made it impossible to trust them, and their business is built on trust. Google could have helped the whole blogging community, and it's not clear why they didn't - it's not as if they make any money off Blogger, it's a freebie. They did the small, selfish thing. That's why I think they don't have what it takes to be a leader.
What exactly is Dave saying here? That Google screwed over the blogging community by providing a link to a free blogging service - which they happen to own? Am I missing something here? Actually, that brings up a bigger question - as best as I can tell, Dave Winer does more harm than good to the blogging community as a whole, with his political games on formats, his single-minded obsession with the blog as the greatest thing since movable type (no pun intended) and himself as Gutenberg, his insistence on openness and flexibility - unless you're talking about doing things differently from HIM, etc... Yes, Dave's done some fantastic work with RSS and aggregators, but is he really that important any more? He doesn't work on Radio/Manila/Frontier any more. RSS 2.0 is already near being replaced by Atom. Is Dave Winer anything more than just a talking head at this point? Is there any reason we should pay any more attention to him than anyone else?
Posted by abayer at November 24, 2003 9:29 AM

I certainly agree that the toolbar would have been a much better product if it published by the existing shared API or even had support for Atom, in a later version.

I don't think it's entirely appropriate to say such a move though means Google can't be trusted. Google is a company. Don't trust companies unless you are naive. Trust comes from people and processes, not corporations.

I just think it was a dumb move. Since I don't use my Blogger Pro account anymore it doesn't serve me to have the Google Toolbar installed as i find I get more utility out of Alexa's. If the publishing component were open to whatever system I use then I'd likely choose the Google Toolbar over the Alexa toolbar.

Posted by: filchyboy at November 24, 2003 11:21 AM

Ok, I guess I can see the point about the Googlebar. I don't use it - I'm in Netscape anyway, so I use a homebrewed Googlebar knockoff - but I can see how it's a little off from the Google standard of openness to put the Blogger button there. But then again, does the Google toolbar have the capability to search other search engines built in? If not, how is having Blogger there but not anyone else any different? It may not be USEFUL for those of us not using Blogger, but it's not there for us - it's there for either people using Blogger or people who are just starting to blog for the first time, I'd think. Anyway...

Yes, Dave is listened to by people. I just don't understand *why*. I was at BloggerCon, thanks to the free ticket lottery, and Dave didn't say almost anything that day that impressed me. His commentary on weblogs and journalism wasn't nearly as relevant or interesting as Jay Rosen, Scott Rosenberg, Josh Marshall, etc... (though it was far more so than Glenn Reynolds, but I just don't like him at all...) When it comes to politics, Dave's just plain deranged and it's really hard for me to view ANYTHING he says as possibly having intelligent thought behind after he goes off on how the candidates should do all the blogging themselves, and how it's a betrayal of Internet-based fundraising to spend that money on TV ads, etc... He's a little nuts.

I will admit, he does still have it going on when it comes to knowledge management. The problem is that he doesn't seem to have anything useful to say OUTSIDE that realm, and yet he's always the guy getting interviewed in the mainstream press. That, and he's a total asshole. And Radio is one buggy and poorly supported piece of software. But anyway... =)

Posted by: Andrew Bayer at November 24, 2003 11:50 AM

But aside from that how do you really feel?

Posted by: filchyboy at November 24, 2003 1:25 PM

Well, I think both Winer & Crumlish are right in some ways & wrong in others. First, though I know very little about Winer I think Crumlish is a little too quick in dismissing his contributions. DId you forget BLoggercon? I've read about the most recent one & it sounded fascinating.

As for Winer's views about Google: I think he's right in one fundamental way that neither he nor you mentioned. I don't think that adding a Blogger.com link to the Google toolbar is going to do that much for blogger.com. It's just not a very good product IMO. Unless they improve it in revolutionary & dramatic ways, I don't see it eating the blog universe. But what Google has done wrong IMO (& MS also showed this lack of vision)is to miss the boat on interconnecting the blogger universe. Google could make a lot more money (I think, but I'm no marketing expert) if it thought of ways to tie this universe together.

One proposal I've posted about is creating a blog version of the Open Directory Project (their website submission tool) in order to categorize blogs and make them more visible & accessible on the web. I think there should be a Blog Search category on the Google toolbar just as there is a website search, news search, image search, etc. If they did this, they'd be creating a whole new potential for ad revenue for themselves plus they'd be helping better organize the blogging world.

Posted by: Richard Silverstein at December 1, 2003 11:37 AM

Richard, I think you may be confusing Andrew's writing with my own. Andrew wrote the original post (Radio Free Blogistan is now a group weblog), and I posted the first comment above. I'm assuming that's why you said I "dismissed his contributions," when in fact I wrote that by seriously tackling the role of blogging in politics and journalism and publicly demonstrating his new hierarchically categorized blog system as he develops it, he is contributing quite a lot and managing to rise above some of the petty personality politics that have tended to cluster around him in the recent past.

I just wanted to clarify this. I'm on record with some criticism of Dave but I do not underestimate his influence or importance to this medium, and I strive to be "fair and balanced" as they say.

Posted by: xian at December 1, 2003 1:24 PM

Yeah, that was me, not xian. I'm the resident Dave-basher here at RFB, and what I say does not represent the views and positions of my fellow RFBers. =)

And I hope that I don't underestimate his impact on blogging - he's big. Way up there, in fact, when you look at his roles in RSS, XML-RPC, SOAP, etc... I just think that he's said very little that really matters outside of the technical realm. And that Radio Userland is a great concept with really shoddy, amateurish execution. I was at BloggerCon, and trust me, Dave really didn't have much of interest to say there - the highlight for me was watching Esther Dyson forceably restrain herself from laughing at loud at some truly ludicrous rant of Dave's.

That said, yeah, there's a big space out there right now for connecting the blogosphere. Google, Technorati, weblogs.com, blo.gs, blogdex, etc all touch on one or more aspects of the interdependence of individual weblogs, but none of them get it all. I'm not sure one CAN get it all, but pulling RSS feeds and TrackBack-esque functionality into one Google-esque interface would be pretty damned sweet.

Posted by: Andrew Bayer at December 1, 2003 1:34 PM
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