Pioneer of RSS, Blogs, Podcasts Looks at What’s Next

Dave Winer is a visionary of the user-driven Web. He is a software developer who made his name in the 1980s by contributing key elements to the Mac and PC operating systems.

Winer was publishing his “Scripting News” Weblog in 1997, before the term “blog” was even coined, thus helping to define and popularize the new medium. And Winer recognized the value of a content syndication technology developed by Netscape, reworked it into the format known as RSS, and evangelized its widespread use in the publishing industry and beyond.

He also collaborated on the development of podcasting. The outspoken ex-CEO of Userland Software, and former fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, spoke with Senior Writer Edward Cone about what’s next.

CIO INSIGHT: You’ve said that RSS represents a sea change in information technology, but a lot of companies don’t really get it yet. What should companies be doing with it?

Winer: RSS is a joining of two flows of knowledge, a place where individuals and professionals meet and use the same tools. RSS is seen as a medium you can put ads into, but I think it’s an advertising medium itself. People seek out commercial information. Say you have an expensive product, like a BMW, with a user base that is fanatic—it makes sense to keep them informed about your product, and RSS and blogs are incredibly effective tools for doing that. Most people have looked at the Internet as a way to hitch a ride on other people’s communications flows. But you can create your own flows, and it doesn’t cost very much at all.

So the idea is that every time there’s news around a product, you push that out to devotees to build on their loyalty and facilitate communication with them?

Yes. But also the users of the products will themselves create information flows about the products they want, the features they want. Companies aren’t very good at listening, but the breakthrough idea of the future will have a blog, and the company that comes up with that idea will find people who want it through RSS feeds. Maybe it will dawn on people that it’s easier to make the new product themselves. Ultimately I think that’s the way commerce is going to reorganize itself around the Internet.

Companies are starting to blog. Are you satisfied that they understand the medium?

You can’t say you have a blog just because your PR department is using the software. Blogging tools and RSS are the realization of knowledge management. It’s about having employees speak in their own voices. Microsoft is a good example of how I would have hoped that blogs would be used: They let every employee have a blog. They have done more or less exactly what I wanted them to do, although I thought they should have done it quite a few years ago.

Do you see a significant role in the enterprise for podcasting?

Of course. It’s a natural for training, and for keeping people informed. Voice is a very good way of expressing ideas. If you have a complicated idea, podcasting lets you explain it slowly, repetitively, to use all the expressive power of the spoken word.

The Web tool you’ve been writing about lately, OPML, is a way of creating Web-based outlines to organize information. What’s that all about?

I’m focused now on Outline Processor Markup Language. It’s a format at the center of a bunch of different activities. RSS is very good for information that has a short life, for modeling the information flow of something like a newspaper. OPML is the basis for tools that organize information that changes infrequently. It’s a continuation of a process that is ongoing and inexorable. We’re taking our knowledge and learning to make better use of it. Now that we know how to get the information to you, the question becomes, what other information do you want?

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