Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
# 9:30:00 AM:

Keep visitors by sending them away

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Last June I briefly met blogging, podcasting, RSS, OPML, and outlining software pioneer Dave Winer at Gnomedex 5 in Seattle. Until then I had been puzzled about why—when he's been around so long, had so many good ideas, and contributed so many things to the Internet community over the years, and even came close to dying from heart disease caused in part by the stress of it all (plus the smoking)—so many people hate his guts.

I had some of it figured out before then. Mr. Winer, for instance, is a pragmatic developer, a "just get it done" kind of guy who's made many things possible for the rest of us. But those who value elegance often dislike what he builds, because it's made to do things, and not always as cleanly as they'd like. Sometimes he eschews or actively ignores what other might like to do in favour of his own solutions. His software can be off the wall, occasionally a bit clunky, and might be hard to understand—even if the ideas underneath are good.

What I found at Gnomedex was that, like many smart people, if he thinks you're wrong, he won't hesitate an instant to tell you. In person, even more than on the Web, if he disagrees with you, he can be very rude. He shoots from the hip. He makes the kind of impression that's hard to dispel.

But once again, Dave Winer is right on target about how things work on the Web:

Now the fundamental law of the Internet seems to be the more you send them away the more they come back. It's why link-filled blogs do better than introverts. It may seem counter-intuitive—it's the new intuition, the new way of thinking. The Internet kicks your ass until you get it. It's called linking and it works.

People come back to places that send them away. Memorize that one.

This came up in a back-and-forth with Jakob Nielsen in 1999. The duality of the Internet. The dark side sees eyeballs and user-generated content. The light side sends them away, trusting that they'll come back. The beauty of it is that the light side works and the dark side doesn't. This is where the optimism of web people comes from. We called it Web Energy in the early days, and it's still with us today.

When I talk to students and others about making websites, that's one of my key messages too. Thanks, Dave.


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