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Nieman Journalism Lab
Pushing to the future of journalism — A project of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard

Dave Winer: We need to improve tech criticism. Here’s how.

Culture and technology have an interwoven future; we need a tech press, the web pioneer argues, that can do justice to both.
Editor’s Note: We’re wrapping up 2011 by asking some of the smartest people in journalism what the new year will bring.

Today, it’s web pioneer Dave Winer, a man key to the evolution of many of the publishing technologies we use online today, and currently a visiting scholar in journalism at NYU.

Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard has asked me to contribute a piece for their end-of-year roundup. I did one last year. I guess we were thinking about paywalls then. It’s not such a hot topic now.

At the end of this year I’m thinking about the need for proper criticism of software, alongside other arts like theater, movies, music, books, travel, food and architecture. It’s finally time to stop being all gee whiz about this stuff. Tech is woven into the fabric of our culture, as much as or more so than the other arts. And it’s headed toward being even more interwoven.

We all need this, on all sides of the art. As users and creators. There’s very little understanding of how we work. That’s illustrated perfectly by the Isaacson bio of Steve Jobs. We now see what a disaster this is going to be, from the future-historian point of view.

I’ve thought that perhaps a panel of product creators could give awards to journalism that really captures the spirit of technology. The goal would be to move away from the lone inventor myth and see tech projects as more like film production or a even more apt, a TV series. Software is a process. It’s not like Starry Night, as Joni Mitchell said, but it’s not like a song either. It’s like Breaking Bad or Dexter or Boardwalk Empire.J-school students learn how to manage infrastructure.

  1. And when a developer sells out and the acquirer shuts the service down, it’s like Deadwood, leaving the users in a lurch, wishing to know how it turned out! :-(

    Ian MacShane: “You’ll never know what the fuck really happened.”

    Joni Mitchell: “That’s one thing that’s always, like, been a difference between, like, the performing arts, and being a painter, you know. A painter does a painting, and he paints it, and that’s it, you know. He has the joy of creating it, it hangs on a wall, and somebody buys it, and maybe somebody buys it again, or maybe nobody buys it and it sits up in a loft somewhere until he dies. But he never, you know, nobody ever, nobody ever said to Van Gogh, ‘Paint a Starry Night again, man!’ You know? He painted it and that was it.”

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  • Anonymous

    My prediction for 2012 is that the website, Topix continues to be one of the few companies who continue to do nothing about cyberbullying and become an even bigger hang out for the cowardly to attack other people, yet Topix will claim they are trying to change their “discourse” while outside of posting a few polls on their site,do absolutely nothing. I also predict that more and more media continue to report on how dangerous that site is, yet Topix makes no changes to their site.

  • Anonymous

    Does that mean that Windows Vista is the “John from Cincinnati” of the software world?

  • David Brauchli

    Uh, paywalls are NOT a hot topic? The NYT does a successful implementation, the FT follows with a successful implementation of it’s app/html5 paywall, Gannett announces they are going to put up 87 pay-walls next year, Press+ is doing 20 installations a month, the Times of London has over 112,000 subscribers, Piano Media put an entire country behind a pay-wall and will expand into four more countries next year and this is NOT a hot topic. Guess I’m confused then, what would a hot topic be, especially for online publishing monetization?

  • Dan Mitchell

    “Here’s how?” Where’s how? 

    So, the Nieman Journalism Lab (which always makes me envision a guy pecking away at a manual typewriter, reaching for his bottle of Wild Turkey, phone at his ear, a Lucky hanging from his lips, all while wearing a white smock and surrounded by test tubes and Bunsen burners) decided that Dave Winer is one of the “smartest people in journalism” (which, I mean, shouldn’t you be in journalism to be called that?) and asked him to weigh in on the year. This is what he came up with: tech criticism should be better. Really, that’s all he says. He doesn’t quite say what’s wrong with it, or, really, what can be done to improve it – just that’s it’s bad, and needs to be better. He gives not a single example, other than a link to his equally superficial and example-free dissing of  Isaacson’s Jobs book. The only idea he puts forward in his tiny handful of dashed-off paragraphs is that there should be awards granted by a “panel of product creators.” This, he says, will, stop tech journalists from “being all gee whiz about this stuff.” 

    What do Joni Mitchell and Breaking Bad have to do with anything? He doesn’t bother even trying to make the connection there. 

    One of the smartest people in journalism.

  • Simon Saunders

    HI David,

    I think you mean, the Times of London has *only* 112,000 subscribers. That’s around 1/100th of the actual population of London. Also you also quantify the NYT”s ‘successful implementation’?A hot topic would be whether or not paywalls are proving successful, or whether a more successful business strategy would be to jettison them altogether and combine a vastly increased readership with PPC to attract revenue.The online reader’s bottom line is this: journalistic standards in the UK are at their lowest (google ‘Leveson’ for more on this). Why, in what’s turning out to be a global depression, would readers pay a subscription for information that’s not of a significantly higher quality than that from other sources? Paywalls for this type of content will fail, ultimately, for the same reason that online music and film sales have failed to achieve potential: it’s not difficult to copy and re-distribute content, share passwords etc.
    Uh, there’s a grocer’s apostrophe on line two of your comment. 

    Meditation will help with the confusion, and maybe the punctuation too.

  • Simon Saunders

    When, a couple of years ago, I worked as head of I.T for a mid-sized UK charity, I was amazed that there were no websites where I could read reviews of software used by peer organisations before embarking upon lengthy and costly tender exercises.

    Why is it possible to read a dozen user reviews for a $19 hand blender, but none for a £200,000 CRM implementation?A ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ for software products would be a superb idea. Let’s do it!