inessential by Brent Simmons

The OPML Editor

Seeing Dave Winer’s The OPML Editor demo during Gnomedex was kind of a trip for me—there was a bunch of stuff that I used to use, and some things I worked on, when I was at UserLand.

I’m not saying I designed any of it, just that I wrote some code. (For instance, I worked on the C code for converting OPML text to an outline and vice versa. The code was essentially a C-ified version of scripts Dave had written.)

One of the things this brings me to mind is how long it takes for an overnight success to happen. RSS may be hitting it really big right about now, but it’s not by any means new.

When did I use my first RSS aggregator? It was 1999—almost six years ago—with

One of the little things in the demo reminded me of a small story about managing programmers that I don’t think I’ve ever told.

In the outliner, in the text, you can see bold and italic text and links colored blue. For many years the outliner didn’t have this feature. But one day (in 2000, I think) I was visiting California for a UserLand staff meeting. We were talking about weblog editing via the outliner, and we thought it would be cool if the outliner could handle the basic HTML tags for bold, italics, and links and do the right thing visually.

I remember telling Dave that the text library we used actually had the ability to display styled text and that it would work on both Windows and Mac—so that, at least in theory, it was do-able.

Dave replied that he’d give a million dollars to anyone who made that work.

I went home, and I had it working a few days later.

Of course the “million dollars” part wasn’t literal—but it was a challenge, a colorful way of saying, “If you make this work, that would be really cool and impressive.”

What programmer can resist? (Well, maybe some could, but I couldn’t, which I’m sure Dave knew full well.)

Back to the demo... it was interesting (to me) to note how good it felt to see that code I worked on years ago is still doing things for people. That makes me lucky.

Another thing—slightly trippy for me—was when Dave demonstrated opening, in The OPML Editor, an OPML file generated by NetNewsWire. It was, for me, a demo of code I wrote recently working with code I wrote a few years ago, which was cool.

I know that sometimes things get misinterpreted on the web, and I don’t want to see a headline like “Simmons claims credit for OPML.” No. I just wrote some code.