I make software for poets, and myself.
That means my stuff stretches the boundaries of what’s possible, which makes it a mystery for many of the people I would like to have use it.
My goal has been to chip away at the mystery. One step at a time. That’s why a few years ago I started working on EC2 for Poets, a tutorial that proposed to show non-geeks how to set up their own server in the cloud at Amazon. There have been three versions of the tutorial. And in the interim Amazon has dropped the price for the server that you set up to $0 for one year. So with it being so easy, and free for a year — there shouldn’t be any reason that anyone who knows about it isn’t running a server.
The problem is that it isn’t all so easy. Yet.
Last week I helped a friend Anton Zuiker, a really smart and stubbornly persistent person, get his EC2 for Poets server up and running. He had set it up, but when I went in to look, I found a half-dozen small problems that were keeping his server from running.
While I was doing the work, I got depressed. I realized that we had set Anton out on the open sea in a very small boat, with a leak, and no paddle and only a couple of gallons of gas in the engine. I realized that we had done him wrong.
Then I realized there was a missing tutorial.
You can only see these things, I find, when you look at your own work through the eyes of a user that’s trying really hard, but not getting it.
So I opened up my outliner and started writing.
This is what came out: S3 for Poets.
I take S3 for granted, I think it’s easy, and for programmers it is easy. But we forget sometimes that what seems simple to us might not be so simple to a literate person who isn’t a programmer. For example, a poet. Like Anton.
Here’s what the problem was. We got Anton’s server up and running, but it wasn’t connected properly to its storage.
A storage system is like an external drive from Seagate, for example. It hooks up to your server, on EC2 (or where ever). And it also hooks up to the Internet. That’s what’s really cool about S3. But the connection between the two things, as explained in the Why It Works section, is something not everyone gets. So I work up to the punchline. Slowly, methodically and carefully. If you stick with it, for maybe 1/2 hour, you will understand the Internet one thousand times more fully than you did before. This is the Aha that programmers got a long time ago. Now you can have it too, even if you’re not a programmer.
Everyone wants to become a coder these days. My friendly and avuncular advice is to start here. First get an Amazon account, then connect it up to your GoDaddy account (I know I hate them too, but everyone uses them), then put a file up there, then view it in your web browser. Connecting these dots gives you a view into the crazy simplicity of the Internet. It’s all mirrors pointed just the right way so it looks like the Internet. That is all the Internet is. When you fully appreciate this you’ll laugh at how funny this stuff is. Really. I’m not kidding.
I’m thinking about Jay Rosen and Doc Searls, and the students that learn from them. Joi Ito, Ethan Zuckerman, Zach Tumin, Nicco Mele, Susan Crawford, David Weinberger, John Palfrey and his high school students, Tim O’Reilly, Larry Lessig, Esther Dyson, Clay Shirky, danah boyd, Markos Moulitsas, Cory Doctorow, Revi Sterling, Mark Bernstein, Andrew Grumet, Craig Newmark, Josh Marshall, Bill Gates, Charlie Nesson, Marc Canter, Chris Anderson, John Perry Barlow, Michael Arrington, Douglas Rushkoff, Emily Bell, Jeff Jarvis, Steve Wozniak, Matt Terenzio, Edd Dumbill, Matt Mullenweg, Philip Greenspun, Paul Ford, Arikia Millikan, Anil Dash, Zeldman, Kottke, Megnut, Evhead, David Jacobs (both of them), Rex Hammock, Fred Wilson, Bijan Sabet, Mitch Kapor, Mitchell Baker, Noah Robischon, Robert Scoble, Micah Sifry.
All these people can do this, and even better, they can show others how to, as well. I think that enabling people to put their own stuff in the cloud, especially young people just beginning their careers, can help give us all some ideas about freedom, and what we might do with it. Every one of the people I listed above is fully capable of doing this. How many actually have had the experience of putting something on the net that’s entirely in their control? Created something new that didn’t exist before?
I know it’s possible to find flaws this setup. And I point them out in S3 for Poets. But we need to move forward on both fronts. Using the flawed tools we have today, and at the same time building tools without the flaws. S3 is pretty good. Not perfect. But it’s something we can use today, for good.