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Aug 01, 2000 :: Michael Sippey

Stating the Obvious turns five today. On August 1, 1995, I published my first piece under the obvious title (but not domain -- that wouldn't come for another few months), Apple's Salvation, where I argued that the Internet was (pre iMac) Apple's ticket to ride. The site's name, and the site's slogan, "all meta, all the time" fit that first piece perfectly -- in an incredibly awkward and halting way, I was basically agreeing with things that Nicholas Negroponte and Dave Winer had recently said.

It took me until late 1996 to realize that publishing other people's writing was not only less work than writing my own stuff, but that it usually produced much better results. My first victim was none other than Jeff Bezos -- who patiently answered some incredibly off-topic questions about how they were using email for customer service. Since then, I've had the privilege of publishing some of the best minds on the web, thanks to writers who have donated their pieces, and those intrepid souls who have been victims of the deceptively simple "just one question" interview format. (Note -- I have it on fairly good authority that The Industry Standard did borrow that from me. But then again I borrowed the format, if not the title, from G. Beato's Soundbitten, so who's complaining.)

To avoid having to write an actual piece this week, I've copied and pasted some of the best guest quotes from the last five years. They're in chronological order, so if you squint real hard, and suspend all notions of disbelief, you could almost imagine them as a history of something.

Or not.


"Our plan is to ultimately make it as easy for customers as possible to do as much as they would like by web form. Right now, the only thing you can do on our site is check the status of your orders. We'll add customer accessible features over time. There will always be a place for email because customers will want to ask that question that just doesn't quite fit into the things you've anticipated." -- Jeff Bezos, answering emailed questions about using email as a customer service tool

"My gut tells me that the word 'push' is going to be a minor footnote in future histories of the late 20th century boom in telecommunications. A quirky blip, ranking slightly higher than the blink tag, but lower than gopher." -- David Hudson, in the Publishers on Push special

"7. Run puzzlers, with the answer in next month's issue. Sample puzzle: 'If you have 300 gallons of neon green flourescent ink, but only 220 pages to spill it on, how many ounces of ink per page?'" -- Unknown contributor to 101 Ways to Save Wired

"I want things to work." -- Carl Steadman, answering just one question about what he wanted for Christmas

"It really doesn't make much sense to rearchitect GeoCities. Anyway, it's good to have a morass around to do one's virtual slumming in; I say leave it be." -- Lou Rosenfeld, answering just one question about how he would architect GeoCities.

"In the language of today's interface critics, whodunits are reader hostile. But no one doubts their capacity to entertain. Same goes for the more adventurous interfaces of Myst and Riven. It's my guess that we will see much more of this user-hostility in the years to come." -- Steven Johnson, answering just one question about his then new book, Interface Culture

"Giving away your source code opens up all sorts of possibilities for end-user browser-customization. But it does not relieve you from your primary responsibility as a "platform" vendor: listening to your developers, and providing a stable code base full of features that will enable us to deliver on your crossware vision." -- Steven Champeon, in An Open Letter to Netscape

"Because the web allows one to immediately disseminate one's work to the entire world (there are no intermediary steps of duplication or shipping, and program schedules are far more flexible), the urge is to get something out - anything out - quickly. Why work three years on a novel, when some dashed-off musings may prompt feedback today?" -- G. Beato, in a one question interview on why the web is such a great medium for soundbites

"Tactical inaccuracies have a long history in the negotiation of schedules and assignments, and by simply pre-planning and coordinating these efforts, a development team can easily define the course and future of an entire company." -- Greg Knauss, in Grass Roots Terrorism

"I'm still the politics of myth---in the profound economic dislocation and our loss of faith in the democratic experiment (or in any sense of common cause, for that matter) that resurface, in our collective dream life, as the paranoid zeitgeist of "The X-Files" or the apocalyptic premonitions of David Koresh or the rocket-finned gnosticism of the Heaven's Gate cult." -- Mark Dery, in a one question interview on his then new book, The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium

"I'd been planning a collection of web-based fictional stories for a very long time. I wanted to produce the type of content that took chances and risked jostling the reader's sensibilities by its very nature, whether that was erotic, or violent, or simply unusual. I've always been attracted to pulp, to stories that are out of the norm, difficult to categorize and sometimes difficult to read, and those have always been the types of stories I've told myself, or written down, or imagined." -- Magdalena Donea, answering just one question about her then new site, COLORS

"What did this, uh, platform? Political movement? Journalistic ethics crusade? Non-threatening positional variance... whatever... propose to do to make the world a better place to live? Did they really want to stop wiring schools? Answer: Yes, and no. Did they think we should do away with copyright? Answer: No, of course not. We need to get paid! Okay, what did they propose, then, to resolve the problem of copyright enforcement on the Web? Code watermarks? Some pot o' creds that everyone pays into who accesses anything that is then divvied up among the card-carrying? Answer: We'll get back to you on that, we're not here to give solutions, only to foster communications." -- Lance Arthur, on the Technorealists, in Technosurrealism

"Contrary to 'unique needs and wants,' much of what we desire is hugely influenced by what others have, and whether or not we want to have it -- or can get it -- too. Choosing "the daily me" will also include inventing "who do I want to be today?'" -- Vivian Selbo, responding to a piece of mine on the one to one future, in Michael, are you Serious?

"We are constantly looking at the real world, not just for analogies, but to understand what people are trying to do, how they are living." -- Marc Rettig, answering just one question about the now-defunct sceneServer.

"The Internet is a social network, and it's that aspect that makes it so different from previous media. And yet, because there aren't any fundamentally new aspects to the 'cybereconomy,' business is still business, and remains focused on the bottom line. What counts in culture and the arts are illusion and imagination -- but these fluid, untamed elements are precisely what is endangered now. We clearly cannot revert to visionary sales talks or neo-luddite anti-technological persuasion. The time has come for radical forms of media pragmatism -- living paradoxes rooted in a messy praxis, unswervingly friendly to the virtual open spaces that are being closed everywhere else." -- Geert Lovnik, in Radical Media Pragmatism

"Think about it. What products, in the real world, use the possessive 'My' in their names? Products for small children, like 'My First Sony.' How foolish would it sound, say, to buy something called 'My Telephone' or 'My VCR'. Obviously, they're yours--you own it! Using 'My' on a Web site encourages this childish sense of propriety, a propriety which is unfounded." -- Peter Merholz, in Whose 'My' is it Anyway?

"TCP/IP is inherently seditious. It undermines unthinking respect for centralized authority, whether that 'authority' is the neatly homogenized voice of broadcast advertising or the smarmy rhetoric of the corporate annual report." -- Christopher Locke, answering just one question about how TCP/IP has made the inside of companies look so much like the outside of companies.

"It's easy to be cynical, of course, but how can anyone not giggle into their sleeve when lists of links to the iBrator are described in terms that usually accompany the overthrow of a government? ... This is not to say that weblogs aren't useful or fun. I read several every day, and have profited from the experience. I just love that Mahir guy." -- Greg Knauss, in My Ass is a Weblog

"Andover.Net betrayed Slashdot's founders by selling to a Linux company and removing its greatest asset -- editorial distance. Anyone who believes that Slashdot is still an independent voice about the stuff that matters should get back to me when Microsoft buys VA Linux." -- Rogers Cadenhead, in The Cash-Out Effect

"I no longer channel surf, looking for something to watch. I don't care if I get home in time to watch all my favorite shows. I no longer watch or listen to crap just because it's on. But most importantly, I'm presented with new choices on a regular basis based on recommendations that reach much farther than my group of personal acquaintances. And these new choices are a click away. And clicking is a lot easier than buying stuff." -- Jeff Veen, answering just one question about collaborative technologies



Other pieces about miscellany: