Technology and evolution, day 2

A quick followup to Technology and Evolution.

The apparent paradox, eyes that evolved underwater can’t re-evolve when life moves to air, has many parallels in software. Thanks to all the commenters who provided explanations. I needed quite a few approaches from different perspectives in order to understand.

A couple of examples from the world of software.

A very long time ago, there was a famous rich entrepreneur who would, every so often, make a pronouncement of intention to revolutionize the world. This way, then next year — another way, and the year after that yet another. The press, who loves rich tech people, to them it’s the best kind of catnip — touted his vision as the next wave. That he never delivered didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm. Artificial intelligence! Object oriented! No forget all that — something else — new and daring and fantastic!!

Bill Gates complained, as did others who shipped real software, with customers — for naught. All the hype was drowning out the legitimate innovations, which were, as always, coming in small increments from people who weren’t as famous or rich or fabulous keynote speakers. (Gates eventually learned to sing along with the tune of the times, his breakthrough was more breath-takingly fabulous any anyone else’s.)

A second example — Google Reader. It squatted in RSS Land, and forced all other players to become clients for its undocumented API. They didn’t fund the project. No one at Google loved it. For years it stopped any of the incremental progress that could have come through small, evolution-like mutations. When they finally shut it down, a bit of progress, competition, came back. Survival of the fittest? We don’t yet know how this will turn out.

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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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