One nice thing about being slashdotted, as happened with my recent The Web’s the Place, is the quality and depth of feedback you get. Herewith a little bit more coverage of the issues. I made a couple of corrections in the original piece, ain’t the Web great? Also notes on sharecropping, the agricultural variety.

Push-back · Some individual contributors get the exposure they deserve below, but a few themes showed up multiple times, so let me try to push back on them a bit.

You’re Stuck with IE · Several bloggers and slashdot contributors argued that since Internet Explorer has overwhelmingly high market share, if I want to reach people I’m stuck sharecropping anyhow.

I just don’t buy it; my company ships a product called Visual Net that runs in the browser, only in the browser, and on any modern browser. It’s rich, and intense, and interactive, and visual. Zeldman wrote the book on how to do that, and the name of the book is how you do it: Designing with Web Standards. I ain’t workin’ on Massa’s farm, nosirree.

Filthy OSS Commie! · Some others flamed away at me for allegedly telling them they had to migrate to OSS. Excuse me, I happen to work for a software company and right now, shipping source code is not in our business model. What I actually said was that OSS, along with Unix and the Web, were examples of non-sharecropper platforms.

Games Plus Three · I claimed that all computer apps fill into three buckets: information retrieval, database update, and content creation. D’oh, I missed games; the essay has been updated.

Richard Tallent · He’s one of the guys I excerpted, then tried to refute. He wrote an awfully good piece in reply, and in fact I'm impressed by his whole blog. He offers a really powerful exposition of the real reason that CIOs love browser-based apps (hint: no desktop deployments).

He also repeats his argument that browser apps aren’t rich enough, and would be better with combo boxes and drop-down menus and tri-state checkboxes and progress bars and tree views and icon/tile views and buttons with icons (I’m just skimming, his laundry list is impressive). I’m still unconvinced, but with WinForms thundering down the pipe, I guess we’ll have a chance to see who’s right.

Scoble · Said a bunch of things, all worth reading and some of them right. He pushed back on my claim that the browser was less rich than previous interfaces, and he’s right; it was an advance on previous online-service interfaces (compuserve, Prodigy and so on); so I updated the story. However, I think I’m well-founded in saying that the browse is not as rich as previous client application interfaces: VB, Motif, and the like.

Scoble also says “Name one big company making any decent bank off the browser. One. All I ask you is one.” But I wasn’t recommending that you build a browser, I was saying you should run your apps through them. And lots of companies, including IBM, Oracle, SAP (in fact pretty well every server technology outfit, including Antarctica) are finding the Web and browser good for business.

Brent Simmons · Pushed back pretty hard, not surprisingly since I implied that he’s a tenant farmer and due for a take-down by Massa Steve. I totally love Brent’s software and I would love for him to go on making some real money and proving me wrong.

But at the same time, NetNewsWire is tied so closely to Safari, that I often wonder why this cool little three-window thingie isn’t part of the browser; I never start one program without instantly starting the other, and I’m forever cmd-TABbing back and forth between them.

If I’m right and Apple does decide to farm that territory, they’re just totally fucking nuts if they don’t buy out Ranchero and get Brent to show them all the dumb mistakes he learned about working on two aggregators that they don’t know about yet. If I were them I’d offer him enough money to really impress him, but tie him up so he has to stick around for a couple of years, long enough to make sure that Safari is the world’s undisputed champion in the information-utility space. Because right at the moment, Safari+NetNewsWire already are.

Sharecropping; Another View · Brian Koontz wrote me from out of left field, acknowledging that the following which he posted on Slashdot was inaccurate in that I have indeed set foot on quite a few farms, and even lived on a couple:

Tim Bray might be an "XML Heavy," but he's obviously never set foot on a farm. He throws around the word "sharecropper" as if there's a stigma attached to it, when in reality sharecropping is a way of life for some people, just the same as working an assembly line or in the mines is a way of life for others.

My wife's family owns a 600-acre farm in southern Illinois. We have a sharecropping family that has farmed the land for over three generations. They have lived rent-free, all utilities and taxes paid, during this entire time. They are paid a fair wage in addition to bonuses from the farm's profits. College, if they choose to attend, is paid for. Their income, once the fringe benefits are added back, is probably greater than the average income for all professions in the St. Louis area. I can say for a fact their income is higher than most unemployed IT workers, and there has never been a layoff since the early 1800's.

I believe Mr. Bray was trying to be politically correct by using the term "sharecropper" when he really meant "indentured servant." Let's face it: Anybody who works for somebody is an indentured servant, especially if you are tied to said employer for necessities in life such as health insurance. Unless you have the good fortune to be in perfect health and can secure your own health insurance, you are, in fact, indentured to your employer if you depend on their group status for insurance.

And Another · Lauren, whose childhood was in rural New Zealand, tells me that there were “share-milkers” there, who operated dairy farms they didn’t own. They were referred to as “twenty-nine percenters,” “thirty-nine percenters,” or “fifty-percenters,” depending on the nature of the contract. A lower percent of the take implied also a lower investment; the structures varied also in who got the calves, who owned the machinery, whether they were paid extra for non-dairy work, and so on.

This provided a decent living and a path to farm ownership; in some cases the only possible one. And, Lauren says, this is perhaps not entirely out of line with the software analogy; you can make a living and put the kids through school, and maybe it’s not such a bad place to be.


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July 14, 2003
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