We can’t afford another browser war

It was with a sense of foreboding that I read the posts that swam past on Planet Intertwingly today. First came Mozilla’s Brendan Eich’s chastisement of Microsoft’s Chris Wilson, followed in a short while by commentary by Sam Ruby, where he wrote:

It is interesting how the don’t-break-the-web meme means different things to different organizations: Mozilla, Microsoft.

I’m not a language designer. My only stipulation with a new scripting language is that whatever constructs are added to ECMAScript4 need to be backward compatible. We can’t afford to re-write a couple of billion web pages because the ECMAScript group got clever. From what I’ve read in the past and in these new writings, Eich concurs, as do several other members of the team.

In regards to the new items added to the language: I share other concerns that ECMAScript–no let’s call it JavaScript because that’s how it’s known in the world–may become bloated and over large. I can understand about making it into a ‘real’ language, but I’m less concerned with posterity than I am getting a job done, quickly and efficiently. In other words: I don’t have any ego involved with the fact that I work with a programming language many folks consider somehow less worthy. If the extensions make a better language enabling me to do a better job, that’s great. Otherwise, leave the esoteric for ACM papers.

The future perfect ECMAScript is currently not my concern. My concern on this interchange between Mozilla’s Eich and Microsoft’s Wilson is that we’re seeing the seeds being planted for another round of browser wars, similar to what we had a decade ago. However, today’s web isn’t like the web of a decade ago, because today’s web pages are much too complex to attempt to cover every nuance and difference in implementation with if statements and conditional tests. It was especially disquieting to read comments to the effect that, it’s OK if the companies don’t agree: we can use Flash. Flash is not an alternative to open standards. We don’t need any more Flash dependency as a way of ‘soothing over’ corporate intransigence. Neither do we need more SVG plug-ins or Google cross-browser libraries. Workarounds are no longer acceptable.

Any company is going to want to implement a version of any specification that favors what they currently have, as much as possible. Of course, this is understandable. Accept the fact that this is understandable. What keeps this behavior in line is there is enough push from other forces that everyone eventually has to compromise, and no one is a clear winner. When no organization is a clear winner, this typically means that everyone, eventually, ends up being a winner.

There’s no denying that Internet Explorer continues to be a problem. I found it unacceptable that Microsoft would put in the time to create its own 2D graphics system with Silverlight, when one already exists with both SVG and Canvas (the Canvas object, not markup element). There was absolutely no good reason for this, and no amount of plushy blue monster or outreach effort is going to hide the fact that Microsoft basically did its own selfish thing with Silverlight.

There is no denying, however, that Microsoft’s browser continues to dominate (though every year, it dominates less). There is also no denying that Eich has considerable ego invested in ECMAScript–to the point where I have to wonder if this may make him overly aggressive, leading to confrontations that could injure the likelihood of pulling together a new version of JavaScript all browser makers are willing to endorse. We need a consistent platform: no matter how good the language, if a sizable number of people are using a browser that doesn’t implement it, the language is screwed, the browsers are screwed, we’re screwed.

“So I’ll expect to see no more of these lies spread by you.” No matter how angry you get, or frustrated, or peeved, if you want to work in an open standards group, particularly if you want to lead an open standards effect, you can’t write statements like this! Period. End of story. Along with the authority of leadership comes responsibility, and such statements are irresponsible. Where is Mitchell Baker? Time for her to step in and exert a calming influence. At a minimum, act as referee.

The same could be said for the Microsoft representation. No matter how subtly worded, we’re picking up our marbles and going home, neener, neener is not ‘working together as a team’; nor is it considering the true best interests of the web, in general, and of those loyal to Microsoft products, specifically.

Sam mentions that this issue is one based on culture. Frankly, from these exchanges, it seems more like a pissing contest to me.

Disappointing.

Hello iPhone

Amidst all the hype surrounding iPhone, one thing is very clear: the iPhone will have some impact on web site development. At least, for those sites wanting to attract a well-to-do, gadget focused community. Or I should say, among those who are well-to-do, gadget focused, and who don’t have long fingernails.

The iPhoney emulator provides a means to test your site or web application in an iPhone environment, without having to shell out the money or sign up for two years of service at AT & T.

Apple has also, sort of, kind of, provided development guidelines. The company stresses making content ‘double tap’ friendly: blocks of text, sized just right. You’ll have to decide how much of your site you want to make ‘double tap’ friendly, and whether attracting iPhone users is worth the extra effort.

West Civ has done a more detailed look at the design specs for the device, and points to a Google Group related to the product (via Virginia DeBolt).

Ajaxian has created a whole new category devoted to iPhone development. GigaOm asks Where are the games?. Why, right here: Pick-a-Pair small gameMedium Game, and Triple card game. These are image match games based on technology close to 8 years old (JavaScript/HTML) that I updated to use with the Flickr recently loaded image queue (accessible via the API). I thought the games might work with iPhone, and according to iPhoney, they do.

Game board on iPhone

I feel so über hip, now.

Before rushing off to hack the black, one thing I take away when reading Apple’s developer material is that the company doesn’t necessarily want people building overly complicated, special purpose iPhone applications; or, at a minimum, applications that make torturous use of any possible hacked entry into the device. The stress is on small image and script files, clean scripts, fast application execution time, and fast loads. If you build an application on an undocumented hack, don’t be surprised to find that door slammed in your face next software update.

Apple wants control with this device. Keep that in mind when you spend your time on finding those clever ‘workarounds’.

Frustrating

Leigh Dobb’s wrote:

RDF is essentially a relational model, although not in the classic RDBMS sense. This means its much easier, IMO, to clearly express a model in RDF.

Much of the functionality that the library community is seeking: the ability to move data between formats and identify authorities, is already present in RDF. It’s there in the ability to create local schemas and/or inferencing rules that massage data into the model required for a particular application; RDF allows late binding of your application schema to your data. The functionality is also present in the means to derive variations on existing vocabularies, and annotate existing metadata with new properties. Authorities like the Library of Congress can publish their own schemas.

But the message isn’t getting across. I think the failing is that there’s too much emphasis on the big vision of the semantic web, and the more immediate, more pragmatic, benefits of RDF (with a sprinkling of OWL) are being lost. There’s some tasty morsels at the bottom of that semantic web layer cake. The only way to demonstrate that is to come up with more convincing demonstrations, e.g. a recast of MODS as RDF, backed by some useful code.

From a post written November 8th, 2003:

Clay also mentions that the Semantic Web has two goals: to get people to use meta-data and the other is to build a global ontology that pulls all this data together. He applauds the first while stating that the second is …audacious but doomed.

Michelangelo was recorded as having said: My work is simple. I cut away layer after layer of marble until I uncover the figure encased within.

To the Semantic Web people there is no issue about building a global ontology — it already exists on the web today. Bit by bit of it is uncovered every time we implement yet another component of the model using a common, shared semantic model and language. There never was a suggestion that all metadata work cease and desist as we sit down on some mountaintop somewhere and fully derive the model before allowing the world to proceed.

FOAF, RSS, PostCon, Creative Commons — each of these is part of the global ontology. We just have many more bits yet to discover.

And later:

Tim, man, you got to get down, son. Scrabble in the hard pack with the rest of us plain folk. Yank off that tie, and put on some Bermudas and hang with the hometown gang for a bit. You been with the Big Bad Business Asses too much — you forgot your roots.

What I do agree with in Clay’s paper is that the semantic web is going to come from the bottom up. It is going to come from RSS, and from FOAF, and from all the other efforts currently on the web (I need to start putting a list of these together). It’s going to start when we take an extra one minute when we post to choose a category or add a few keywords to better identify the subject of our posts. It will flourish when more people start taking a little bit of extra time to add a little bit more information because someone has demonstrated that the time will be worth it.

It will come about when people see the benefits of smarter data. Small pieces, intelligently joined.

’ll let you in on a little secret: my semantic web is not The Semantic Web. They won’t give nobel prizes for it, and it won’t be a deafening flash or a blinding roar. It will just make my life a bit easier than what what it is now. Some folks who like the Semantic Web won’t necessarily like or agree with my simple, little small ’s’, semantic, small ‘w’ web. But I don’t care, and neither does it.

In this semantic web, people like Danny Ayers with his good humored patience persistence supporting RDF and the ’semantic web, will have just as much an impact as any Tim, Dave, or Clay.

To quote Tonto: Who is ‘we’, white man.

(Archive of this page, with comments, at Wayback Machine)

What’s the use?

Wayback Machine has copy of this story with comments

Last week I had an email from a person writing an anger management manual, who wanted permission to quote my old posts about using anger as a weapon against helplessness.

In the posts, I wrote about Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman’s research into a cause of depression he termed ‘learned helplessness’–where a person internalizes their inability to control a situation so much so that even if a method of change does present itself, they don’t see it. Seligman has based his entire career on techniques to fight this destructive perception.

As serendipity would have it, Joel Spolsky of Joel on Software just released his list of book recommendations for programmers and it featured Seligman’s book on the subject. This list, though, led to an ironic development, because I’ve been fighting my own sense of ‘learned helplessness’, and Joel’s book recommendations just added to it when I noted that not one of the books featured was by a woman; not even a co-writer.

I have become increasingly sensitive to this because not long after receiving the email from the anger management person, I had a chance to see pictures of employees of a company that provides services central to weblogging, and was disheartened to see that of all the pictures shown, over 20, only one was a woman–and she was in a non-technical position. This started me searching among all of the tech companies associated in some way with weblogging. In all, regardless of the nature of the business, there are very few women employees; of those, most are either in business or support positions.

For instance, O’Reilly Publishing has several women in key positions, but if you look at the senior editing staff, there isn’t one woman–at least none that I can see, and I looked, hard. People have said that women at O’Reilly do play a major part in the O’Reilly conferences, but from what I’ve seen in the past, they’re behind the scenes, not up on the stages. And where are the women authors? Where are the women who write the articles, and the books? Are there none of us left? Not at the new O’Reilly weblog–and rarely in the photos.

How many women are engineers at Six Apart? I know that the support staff is primarily women, but how about the engineering staff? How many women engineers with Google? How about Yahoo? The other major companies associated directly or indirectly with weblogging?

(I hope you all return with “lots”. It would give me fresh hope.)

I wrote in an email to a friend last week that rather than empower women, especially women in technology, I’m concerned that weblogging will ultimately prove harmful to women. Why? Because technology companies are looking more to the weblogs and to those who are more ‘vocal’ in this environment for new recruits for their companies. When you consider that most of the people doing the hiring are men in their 40′s or less, who tend to read others of like frame of mind, particularly those who have more notoriety, what happens, then, to the more traditional recruiting process?

Rather than post a job notice to Monster, or to local recruiters or in whatever local newspaper, these same people send emails out to the bright, enthusiastic, vocal, usually younger men who dominate the technology weblogs. The end result is that technology companies associated with weblogging tend to have a male-female ratio out of synch with the demographics of the rest of the country. So what happens, then, if this continues as a trend, as more and more companies enter into the world of weblogging?

This is a chilling prospect, especially to us older women in technology who haven’t secured a comfortable position. I ran from this in fear a couple of months ago when I took what little money I had on a trip to Florida to try and discover a new career in travel writing and photography. I was desperate to find hope, and instead, found a timeshare.

That’s not to say that I haven’t had interviews. Two weeks ago I had a phone interview with a major player in this field, and the interview did not go well. Everything was fine until he started giving me the technology quizzes — the questions that techs tend to ask to see if you ‘really’ know this stuff. As soon as he started I froze and had difficulty answering any of the questions. It wasn’t that I don’t know the stuff — it’s just that I have never been particularly adept at these types of interviews. When I was fresh out of college, true; but not lately.

When he asked how he could assess my technical abilities, I suggested he read my writings and look at my resume. He was very personable and very pleasant, but it did leave me feeling even more depressed.

These thoughts rattled around in my brain this last week, and with each new photo published online featuring primarily all men, or each new radio show or company almost exclusively all men, I became more depressed — I was fast approaching an internalized view that women in technology are a dying breed, and there is little we can do to change this–and I was one of the first old dragons being booted out the door.

Normally in times past, I would have written a blistering note about this issue in my weblog, and felt re-energized and ready to battle this particular demon. My anger sustained me and made me strong. Not this last week, though, I just felt quieter. Every time I would go to write something, I would lose interest almost immediately. I focused instead on working on Wordform and playing with Greasemonkey, and other odds and ends; even then, I didn’t feel like writing about what I was doing.

“What’s the use,” I told myself, and therein is the statement that lives in the core of learned helplessness.

The three most deadly words are not, “I hate you”, but, “What’s the use”.

I had a second interview with another major player on Friday, and this time, I felt very good about my answers. Rather than quiz me on specific uses of technology, he asked what I would do in this circumstance or that. Now, these are the types of questions I am very comfortable with, and which are equally good about determining how familiar you are with the field, the technology, and even how much you’ve thought about it and where are your interests. More than that, it was in a specific use of technology that has been important to me and my enthusiasm for the work was such that I probably could have talked his ear off for several hours.

I have no idea if either of these recruiters will follow up after the interviews. I have learned not to get my hopes up too high (being realistic is not being helpless). Regardless, though, I felt good about the second interview and this gave me a boost.

Looking around I see debates on technology and other topics that I want to be a part of, and though I have to fight my growing tendency to say to myself, “What’s the use”, I counter this with noting that if I’m ignored by the players, others are also ignored by the players and that sex isn’t always. the determining factor. This helps chip away at the helplessness when I realize that the ‘problem’, as such, doesn’t necessarily reside in me, as much as it resides among the players and the environment.

I am also getting more requests for help with individual and smaller company sites, so I am gainfully employed (thanks in no small part to the requests and recommendations I’ve received from many of you), and this helps break me out of not only the cycle of worry about money but a growing despondency. Even if I have to find work outside my field in order to make it month to month, this isn’t a sign that I’m not good at what I do or a failure in my field; it is a sign that times are tough. Most importantly, I can’t look at others and their successes and allow this to make me feel a failure–each of us has different times in our lives when things work…and when they don’t.

I actually want to find that point again where I get angry–furious–at what I read. I want to write scathing retorts and blistering diatribes, and sincere though strongly worded commentary. Then I’ll be the bird that burns, and people will be pissed and link and de-link accordingly, and I’ll just smile toothily at the results because anything is better than “What’s the use”.

But I don’t think I’ll ever burn quite as brightly again: over the last few years, I’ve had my deepest confidence in myself and my future shaken; there will always be a part of me ready to throw in the flag, a tiny voice ready to cry out, “What’s the use”. When you’ve gone down this road, you’re marked. It’s now up to me to make sure this was a one-time journey and not a repeat trip. In this effort, I’ll use any weapon, up to, and including, walking away from something important to me if I feel it gives harm.

Now I’ve aired my dark thoughts and my doubts, and time to focus on the light and the wonder, and there are new and interesting debates on the semantic web emerging, and I don’t think I’ve chastized the Men of Weblogging enough this week–and my cat wants me to play. Thank goodness for cats, chocolate, friends who can handle soggy shoulders, cuddlesome moments, nature, small children, music, good books, and new toys we can’t afford–not necessarily in that order.

Guys Don’t Link

The Better Bad News folk did a take on the AutoLink fooflah, which is worth a chuckle, though not necessarily a guffaw. However, what I found more interesting about the page is the *list of webloggers that the BBN folks referenced:

1. Opt Out Petition
2. Dan Gillmor
3.The Scoblizer

4. Dave Winer
5. Cory Doctorow
6. Time
7. Mark Jen
8. Steve Rubel
9. Kas Log
10. Tim Bray

with sonic support from Plastikman

Aside from the Time article, which is actually written by a woman, and the petition, all of the webloggers linked were men. Every single one.

This matched closely what I found at Doc Searls, in his post on AutoLink. He references the following bloggers:

Steve Gillmor
Tim Bray
Dave Winer
Dan Gillmor
Fred Von Lohmann
Craig Burton

ubermostrum at kuroshin

Again, all guys.

Point of fact, if you follow the thread of this discussion, you would see something like Dave linking to Cory who then links to Scoble who links to Dave who links to Tim who links to Steve who then links to Dave who links to Doc who follows through with a link to Dan, and so on. If you throw in the fact that the Google Guys are, well, guys, then we start to see a pattern here: men have a real thing for the hypertext link.

Well, huh. How about that. Not being a guy, I couldn’t understand this male obsession with the link, so I decided to call on an expert on gender roles about the issue: Lawrence Summers, Harvard’s current President.

“Larry,” I said. “What is is with guys and links?”

“Well Shelley, statistics–now, don’t worry, I won’t show you any actual values because being a women and all, we know that you can’t do more than count your ten fingers and toes–anyway, statistic show that guys are linked more than women, and link to each other more than they link to women. And when one guy links to another guy, a whole bunch of other guys come along and link them both, and then start linking to each other.”

“I’m aware of the behavior, Larry. But what causes it?”

He beamed at me, patted me on my head and chucked me under the chin. “Why honey, it’s because the male brain is wired for linking!”

I’ll have to admit, I was taken aback by Larry’s response. I mean, it didn’t make sense that a guy’s brain could better handling linking, especially since women also use the link.

“Larry, are you sure that linking isn’t a pattern based on cultural and social similarities, rather than gender-based differences in the brain? Guys are linked more because our current society and most cultures still see men as ‘authorities’, regardless of demonstrated capability?”

Larry just smiled, somewhat sadly and shook his head.

“All too often we think that guys are linked more than women because of social patterns, but that’s really not the case. Look, there are three reasons why men are linked more than women, and I’ll take them in the order of importance.”

He held up the index finger on his right hand. “The first reason men are linked more is based on interest and time. Women just aren’t interested in weblogging as much as the men, and don’t have the time for it, even if they are interested. You ask both men and women the question, ‘What’s more important: your families or your weblog?’, and I bet you’ll find that women, overall, will pick their families over their weblogs.”

He held up the middle finger on his right hand. “The second reason is aptitude — men and women’s brains are different, and men are more equipped to handle the complexities of the link, as compared to women.”

Larry then held up the third finger, almost indifferently and said, “And then there’s the social issues, but I don’t want to get into this because anything having to do with social issues means folks like me have to change, and we don’t want that.” He quickly lowered his third finger. “And I don’t want to get into time and interest, because I’m running out of time and the topic has little interest”, and with that, he lowered the index finger, leaving only the middle finger raised.

“And that leads us back to men and women’s brains being different, and men being better equipped to handle linking.”

At that point, Larry noticed the stunned look on my face, my mouth opened in astonishment. He said, “Seriously, I think it’s important to focus this topic on the hard wired differences between men and women, virtually to the exclusion of any other discussion.”

“To take an example I discussed previously, when I gave weblogging tools to my twin little girls, and they are Daddy’s good little girls might I add, it wasn’t long after I showed them what a link was that they were calling them ‘Daddy links’, ‘Mommy links’, and ‘Baby links’. Leaving aside that all the television they watch features ads with little girls playing house and pretending to be mommies, how else can you explain this behavior other than the female brain perceives the link in a different way from the male brain?”

The conversation continued from that point, but I don’t remember much of it as my brain was in a red haze–I imagine that Larry would say it was because I am a woman and we were, after all, discussing links. Later that day, though, not feeling overly satisfied with his answers, I sought out the one fountain of wisdom I always returned to, again and again, whenever I was troubled about gender issues: Mags the bartender down at the Bushels of Beer Bar & Grill.

When I got there, business was slow and Mags was wiping down the counter. Her hair was steel gray, though strands of golden blonde appeared here and there–she always did miss a few when she colored. Peering out at me from behind thick, fake glasses, she smiled broadly, easily re-cutting the lines long creased into her cheeks. She was a lovely woman, though she spent a great deal of time trying to live this down.

“Shelley! What are you doing here on a fine afternoon! I thought you walked during this time of day?”, she said, reaching under the counter at the same time to get the mixings for my usual margarita.

“Skip the drink today, Mags.” I said, heavily, as I plopped down on the stool. “What I want from you is advice, not booze.”

I then proceeded to tell her all about Google’s new AutoLink, and my own findings on men and links, and the conversation with Larry the Harvard President. She nodded from time to time, as if nothing I said was unexpected. When I was finished, she looked at me a moment and then did something she rarely did — come out from behind the counter to sit on the stool next to me.

“Shelley, I’m not surprised by anything you’re saying. But you might be surprised when I say that I sort of agree with your Harvard President — men do think differently about links than women.”

I was surprised, and showed it.

“Oh, I don’t mean that men and women’s brains are wired so differently that men are naturally more adept at linking then women. No, the difference between men and women lies in how men perceive links, not their ability to use them.”

She leaned closer to me, even though no one else was in the place.

“You see, guys see links as an extension of themselves. “

Extensions of themselves? Extensions? Slowly, understanding dawned.

“You mean…”

“You always were a bright girl, mores the pity.” She said, winking at me. “You got it in one. To you and me, a link is just a link. To a guy, however, a link is something special, a part of himself. The most,um, important part of himself.”

Time for plain speaking. “Mags, are you telling me that guys equate links with their dicks?”

Mags just smiled, patted my hand one more time, and then got up and moved back behind the counter.

“Shelley, to a woman, a link is a way of connecting and being connected. To hearing and being heard. But not so for a guy. Guys see links as power, and therefore something precious, and to be protected. They hold on to their links as tightly, and as lovingly, as a thirsty drunk holds onto a bottle.”

At that moment I had a mental image, of a male weblogger I know, carefully adding a link to his post, bright, feral grin on his face, manic glaze to his eyes. But instead of typing into a keyboard he was…oh, that’s disgusting!

I shuddered, world twisted upside down. “Surely, Mags, not all guys think this way!”

Mags shook her head. “No, this attitude isn’t universal among men. There are many guys who see a link as nothing more than a way of inviting a conversation or passing along useful information. They link without regard to the consequences, and the most they hope for is that it might spark an interesting discussion.”

She stopped wiping the counter and leaned closer to me, lowering her voice. “The power-link guys have a word for men who link just to link,” she whispered. “They call them linkless.”

At that point, a couple of people entered the bar and Mags hurried off to do her job, leaving me to think on our extraordinary conversation. The more I thought on Mags words, though, the more I could see the truth in them. Much that has confused me about this environment is explained if one considers for a moment that some men think of links as some form of virtual penis.

For instance, ‘nofollow’ wouldn’t just be a misuse of HTML and a way for Google to solve the weblogger pest problem: it would be way of increasing the power of one’s link– literally a hypertext version of Viagra. As for Google, it becomes both the hand and the condom, enabling and protecting at the same time.

Sites such as Technorati become the internet version of a locker room, where the guys can hang around, comparing themselves to each other. Those that come up short look at their better endowed brothers with both envy and admiration; sucking up in order to increase their own stature.

When we women ask the power-linkers why they don’t link to us more, what we’re talking about is communication, and wanting a fair shot of being heard; but what the guys hear is a woman asking for a little link love. Hey lady, do you have what it takes? More important, are you willing to give what it takes?

Groupies and blogging babes, only, need apply.

And the phrases, “circle jerk” and “Google juice”, take on new depth and sudden meaning in light of this discovery.

I wandered home from the bar, in a daze of comprehension so strong, it literally staggered me. I thought back on what started this all: the AutoLink. Now, I could understand the concern: it was all about protecting the Link.

What I see is functionality that can only be used in one browser, in one operating system, and only when the weblog reader pushes a button; when pushed, the tool only autolinks a few items: addresses and ISBN numbers and a few other innocuous odds and ends. To me, this is no big thing, but to those who run afeard of this technology, if we treat this service indifferently, other tools will take this as a sign of easy compliance and do truly evil things with the link.

We could then have ‘neocon’ and ‘progressive’ linking toolbars, that automatically link words such as ‘patriot’ to either Michelle Malkin or Atrios if the reader pushes a button. Or syndication toolbars that convert the word “Atom” to a link to the RSS 2.0 specification. (Resulting in such fine combinations as: “RSS 2.0 and Eve” and “Water is made up of two RSS 2.0 of hydrogen and one RSS 2.o of oxygen.”)

Why, some toolbars might even link terms to Wikipedia entries, and modern civilization, as we know it, would collapse into tattered heaps of folksonomic trash.

But not all guys saw AutoLink as the damnation of all mankind. No, a few anarchists in the crowd are always looking for opportunities to rip open the constraints and just let it All Hang Loose.

Yes, so much is explained now. Where I saw AutoLink as a relatively uninteresting and innocuous innovation, to some guys it was a way of dropping their pants and swinging what they got, while to others, it was a big metal Zipper, just waiting to catch the unwary.