The second guy makes the standard

Another thing about standards that most people don’t realize is that it’s not the first guy who makes the standard, it’s the second guy.

Seth Godin calls him Guy #3 because in his video it was the third guy who made the dance movement happen, not the first or the second. But it’s the same story, very graphically demonstrated. Go watch the video, it’ll inspire you, I’m sure of it.

How I tell the story

When I tell the story it goes like this. Someone has to stand up and say “This is the way we’ll do it.” Usually the second guy says “Fuck you, this is the way to do it” and proposes a method that’s not compatible with the first guy. We don’t get a standard. That’s why they’re so rare.

However had he said “Excellent, let’s make our stuff work together!” then boom, it works. You get a standard. It’s the cooperative nature of the second guy that gets the ball rolling down the hill. It makes it much harder for the next guy to blaze his own trail.

So the second guy can’t kill the standard, exactly — but he can ratify it. The second position is imho the more powerful one.

How this applies to RSS

In 1997 I came up with a syndication format for my blog, and implemented it.

Early in 1999, Netscape came up with an incompatible format. They were the usual second guy. I guess they figured, we work for a big company, so we don’t have to pay attention.

At first, for a brief moment, I was angry. But then I saw how to turn it around.

I said OK — I’ll do it your way. So I got to be the first guy and the second guy.

It worked. My blogging software which a lot of people were using, was compatible with the format Netscape proposed, which a handful of big pubs were using. A level playing field and a small but critical mass. From there, I think — it was pretty much assured that something would happen. That it was so huge was due to a very powerful user coming on board.


About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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