Dave Winer Speaks at Microsoft about Standards versus Open Formats

Dave Winer spoke at Microsoft, and discussed the definition of "blog". An important point he explains is why he makes a distinction between "Standards" and "Open Formats":

[28:00 into the video]

Question from Microsoft: How is that different from having a departmental web page?

Answer from Dave: It's not different. In 2004, a personal web site is a web log. And in 2004 in my opinion, a departmental web site is also a weblog.

We've worked on the user interface, and we've worked on the technology, and it's gotten easier, and there are certain standard practices, and that's all sort of boxed up in this concept called "Weblog".

Question from Microsoft: Your description of that sounds suprisingly like what the Shearpoint team has said their vision has been for the last four or five years. Build easy to use team sites that don't require any knowledge of scripting or html, and have notifications that people can subscribe to to get updates, and it captures all the knowledge.

Question from Dave: How's it doing?

Answer from Microsoft: (silence)

Answer from Dave: I'm going to summarize: Basically that vision that I just talked about sounds remarkably like what Shearpoint is saying. That's the Shearpoing vision. So I came back and said "OK, well how's it doing?"

In other words, we have to different competing visions, one from one company working by itself. And I honestly don't know very much about Shearpoint. I don't use it myself. So you could help me out here. I don't want to say anything that's wrong about it.

Question from Dave: Does it build in open formats? That's a question. In other words, the way it shares that information, is that something that if I wanted to build Davepoint, that I could build my own client for that stuff?

Answer from Microsoft: It's totally browser based, with an SQL back end.

Question from Dave: But that doesn't answer my question.

Answer from Microsoft: I'm not sure how to answer your question. You can customize it. You can write applications for it.

Question from Dave: No, no no. That's not what I want to do. I don't want to run any Microsoft software at all on my desktop. I'm a Linux user, OK? And I want to be able to... what?

Question from Microsoft: Isn't that a Windows laptop that you just plugged into that thing?

Answer from Dave: I know, but don't be -- come on, humor me. I'm trying to set up a scenario for you. I mean, some of us don't want to run Microsoft software. I mean, I know that might seem really foreign to you, but that's true. We certainly don't want to be beholden to Microsoft. You see the difference there?

Question from Microsoft: Your analysis of this, it seems like the way you author content is less interesting, than the ability to publish and discover content through RSS.

Answer from Dave: No. I don't fully understand what you just said. Maybe you could stand up and talk to everybody. I'll try to say it again if you explain it to everybody. I don't understand what you just said.

Question from Microsoft: I'm trying to get back to your point about "is it standards based?"

Answer from Dave: I didn't quite ask it that way. The question is "is it standards based?" I don't like using the "S" word, because that's a little presumptuous.

I don't think we're dealing with Standards here. I think we're dealing with Open Formats.

And what it means to be an Open Format to me means, is that it's subject to competition.

In other words, let's say Sharepoint delivers on some percentage of the promise that I'm talking about. I'm not arguing with you. I'm not disputing that. I'm accepting that Sharepoint does.

But let's say I don't like one thing about the way it works, so I'm going to go shopping, I'm going to ask Sharepoint: Would you please implement this feature that I want. And suppose they either don't answer me or they say no? What choice to I have?

See, what I'd like to be able to do is to have a competitive environment, where if one company, one vendor, one developer, won't provide me the feature I want, then somebody else might provide me that feature.

In all honesty, I mean -- how to put this? -- as I said, I've been coming to Microsoft since 1981. In '81, Microsoft had competition. Lots of it. In fact, Microsoft at that point was only a languages company. It had just barely shipped its first operating system, and that wasn't something that Microsoft even developed. And there were tons of competion. Microsoft didn't have any applications to speak of, and every move that the company made at that point was a competitive move.

Today things are really different. And I think that to be at Microsoft today, competition must seem a really irritating thing. Sort of like, arrogant: I mean, who do they think they are, competing with Microsoft? I've heard this from Microsoft people. But that's bad.

Competition is good. Competition means that if I can't get it from you, I can go down the street to get it from somebody else. That's why it's important to have Open Formats. See, I would welcome Microsoft in the RSS space, as long as Microsoft played like everybody else. It would be very constructive if Microsoft came in here.

I was at a conference maybe four years ago. Steve Balmer was also at the conference. I walked up and said hello. This was when the whole issue of Netscape dieing or living had not quite been resolved yet. And I said, "Steve, you ought to be doing everything you can to make sure Netscape survives this." And he said to me, "That's just not the way we do things. We don't do that. That's their problem."

And I think, "I wonder what Steve would say today?" Maybe he would still say that, but I think he was wrong then, and I think he would be wrong today, and I think he might know it.

Because having Netscape there doing OK if not great -- because the argument was that Netscape sort of self destructed, and there's a lot of truth to that, a lot of truth -- but having Netscape doing OK might have created another company to come after them, and be a competitor of theirs, and they might have fostered another company. And Netscape might have died anyway. But we would have had a competitive market, where today we don't have a competitive market.

And there haven't been a lot of upgrades, if you've noticed, to IE, since Netscape went away. We haven't got any new features, we're not really getting any bug fixes, barely getting the security holes dealt with. And yet, we've got an economy that's more and more based on the web. And guess what, which browser does everybody use? MSIE. 90% of the people use MSIE.

Does it make any sense that our economy allocates almost no dollars to the improvement of MSIE? It doesn't make any sense. That's why competitive markets are so good. Competitive markets keep everything moving.

There's a lot of people running around saying that we have to be standards complient, because if you're not standards compliant, then you're a jerk, oryou're not a nice person, or you won't go to heaven. I'm not one of those people. I don't think you do this for any other reason than it's a smart thing to do: to be open. To let people compete with you.