People Who Live in Glass Houses

Yesterday I blogged effusively about a new software architecture called OPML that Dave Winer is promoting as a tool for assembling web publications on the fly. I woke up this morning even more exited about the potential of this open source development project, so let me throw a few more words at a point Dave made in his talk — that content creators had to work hand-in-glove with tech folks in order to put these new publishing ideas into practice.

At least that’s what I heard, though I admit to the possibility of selective perception, because I had driven from my home to the presentation site preoccupied with the thought that distributed computing had failed to live up to its promise.

You may recall that once upon a time computing meant the mainframe, which lived in a glass, air-conditioned house. One of the big knocks on glass-house computing was that people had to line up and ask the programmers to create whatever utilities they needed to do their work. Distributed computing promised to push programming power down into the organization and enable departments and teams to roll out applications on their own.

Spin forward a decade or two. I work inside a distributed environment. But the problems of administering the 500 or so desktops in my organization have become so aggravating that the systems folks have de-distributed the power. When I wanted to install Google toolbar on my desktop, I had to call systems. I lacked the authority to alter my desktop (though, truthfully, I am not that swift on the technical uptake and sometimes require hand-holding even for simple tasks).

So, anyway, I head into Dave’s talk with these thoughts in the back of my mind — that wannabe publishers, like myself, may not have the technical smarts to use the existing tools and, even worse, should we envision some useful function for which no software currently exists, there is no line in which we could wait until the developers get around to building our app.

And then Dave turns the tables and says OPML developers want the content gang to get involved in shaping the system. A perfectly timed challenge so far as I’m concerned. Now I just have to find the time and the entry point to put my shoulder to this particular wheel.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that there is at least one template for collaboration between content and programming folks. Earlier this year, word guy J.D. Lasica and tech guru Marc Canter launched OurMedia — a sort of depot and meeting ground for indy video and other content folks. That site is built around an open source community building software called Drupal. I’m sure there are other examples that don’t occur to me at the moment. And I have to cut out now because I’m actually sitting down with a software guy in a little while to spin out some ideas and I have to pull together my presentation — without help from systems 🙂

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, your’re Mini Media.