Dave Winer is an indisputably smart guy. Even though lots of people don’t always get along or agree with what he does and says, he’s contributed more to the way geeks like me read the web that just about anyone else out there. That earns him my respect, no matter his personality.
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Recently, Dave got a BlackBerry 8700, and discovered the joy of being able to read web pages on it no matter where he was at – on the train, waiting in line, etc. And, like all mobile geeks, he immediately started looking for a way to make the mobile web browsing experience easier. So he started whipping up little mobile-friendly pages of popular sites, like his own pda.scripting.com, TechCrunch, Scoble, GigaOm, MicroPersuasion, and others. And now, a “river of news” view of the New York TImes at nytimesriver.com.
Here’s what Dave’s nytimesriver.com looks like in Pocket IE on my Windows Mobile device:
Presumably, he’s taking those sites’ RSS feeds, and formatting them for display on the page. Great use of syndication to make the content more accessible on the mobile device, if you happen to want to read one of those sites on your mobile device.
But what if you want to read a site that Dave hasn’t set up a scraper/viewer for? Do you have to wait for Dave to set up a scraper for it? Beg and plead to influence him to do your requested site before everyone else’s? It seems that the next logical step would be for Dave to put up a page that will let you enter the RSS feed for your favorite site, and display a mobile-friendly view of that feed for your browsing enjoyment.
Dave is understandably excited about this cool new way of viewing the web that he’s discovered. And for the sites he’s set up, it undeniably brain dead simple to use – just point your browser at the URL, and read. No setup or work required. But as we can see, it doesn’t scale. I doubt Dave wants to get into the business of creating a mobile web version of every site on the internet.
Here’s what the nytimes.com front page looks like when viewed through Google’s Mobile Page Translator:
You can feed any URL into this tool, and it will give you a mobile friendly version of the page. It will even reformat links that you follow off the page, so you stay in a mobile friendly environment. Oh, and it automatically applies this formatting to search results followed from the Google Mobile page (http://google.com/xhtml). And this is just one example – Skweezer.net provides a similar service, and Bloglines Mobile has been my tool of choice for a long time, since I can read all 1000+ of my RSS feeds in a perfectly mobile friendly web page.
So now, there are people like me, who are trying to (gently) point out to Dave that people have been doing this for years. Dave derides those people as “predictable backlash”, and claims that his way of doing the mobile web is a “turning point”, similar to how podcasting was a turning point for audio on the internet.
Dave, we love you, but we’d really like it if you took a step back here, and realized how arrogant you sound when you make claims like that, and how much it minimizes the efforts of people who have been providing and using tools for mobile web browsing for years. Yes, we’re happy that you discovered why it’s so cool, and yes, we have visions for how it could be made better in the future. But unlike podcasting, which was basically undiscovered territory, you’re jumping into a world that has a ton of prior art. And we definitely don’t want to turn you away from your newfound excitement, and willingness to innovate. On the contrary – I personally can’t wait to see what you can come up with that makes mobile web browsing even better.
So please, take a little time to become familiar with what’s already out there. Listen to people who leave comments and send you email about tools that are already doing what yours do. Give them a fair evaluation, absorb what they’re about, and then apply your knowledge and skills to help us make the whole thing better. It would be a waste of your time and ours for you to reinvent the world of mobile web browsing from the ground up.
EDIT: Dave’s response to my comment (which I also emailed him before writing this post): “I was doing aggregators before any of those people, so send them emails kvetching about how they didn’t look at what was avaialble before they started coding. ;->“. And then, after another message, “The key part of my message to you was to go kvetch at someone else.” Nice. Thanks for being open to listen to others, Dave.
Update: Bloggers are falling all over themselves telling us how cool Dave’s mobile pages are (Jeff Jarvis, Doc Searls, etc.). Kissing up to Dave? Or are the “old” geeks really just getting around to trying to view news on their mobile devices? I wonder if this is evidence of a geek generational gap?