I still remember the moment I saw a big piece of the future. It was mid-1999, and Dave Winer called to say there was something I had to see.
He showed me a web page. I don’t remember what the page contained except for one button. It said, "Edit This Page" -- and, for me, nothing was ever the same again.
I clicked the button. Up popped a text box containing plain text and a small amount of HTML, the code that tells a browser how to display a given page. Inside the box I saw the words that had been on the page. I made a small change, clicked another button that said, "Save this page" and voila, the page was saved with the changes. The software, still in prerelease mode, turned out to be one of the earliest blog applications.
Dave was a leader in a move that brought back to life the promise, too long unmet, that Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the Web, had wanted from the start. Berners-Lee envisioned a read/write Web. But what had emerged in the 1990s was an essentially read-only Web on which you needed an account with an ISP to host your web site, special tools, and/or HTML expertise to create a decent site.
What Dave and the other early blog pioneers did was a breakthrough. They said the Web needed to be writeable, not just readable, and they were determined to make doing so dead simple.
Thus, the read/write Web was truly born again. We could all write, not just read, in ways never before possible. For the first time in history, at least in the developed world, anyone with a computer and Internet connection could own a press.
The words above are adapted from my book We the Media, which was published last year. The book is a result of the blog I started in 1999, a blog largely inspired by Dave. The past few years of experimentation and change further inspired me to leave a great newspaper job early this year, to try and see if I could help move along the notion of citizen journalism.
His early fueling of the blog is hardly Dave's only accomplishment. He's been a leader in RSS and podcasting, and has a way of seeing key pieces of the future before the rest of us.
I don't always agree with Dave. But even the disagreements have been instructive. When someone is ahead of things in so many ways for so long, you listen and learn.
Dave just celebrated his 50th birthday, and has been feted by many for that milestone. I add my good wishes here, with my certainty that he has many more years and achievements yet to come.