Eclecticity: Dan Shafer's Web Log : Where author, poet, sports fanatic, spiritual teacher, and dabbler in things Pythonesque and Revolution(ary) Dan Shafer holds forth on various topics of interest primarily to him


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My First Review of Radio 8

Before the invention of HTML and the emergence of the graphical browser, only people with technical chops and an indomitable will to communicate could publish information on the Internet. That was OK, because only very few people would ever see what they published anyway. It reminds me of the story of a little boy who was laboring intently over a piece of paper with a pencil when his father came in and asked what he was doing.

"I'm writing a letter to Tommy," the little boy said.

"But Tommy can't read," his father reminded him gently.

"That's OK," the boy said. "I can't write."

The Web made it possible for a larger number of people to experience that content. This in turn led to the development of tools that would make it easier to create Web sites. Over the past few years, we've seen incremental improvements in those tools, but the fact is that putting information onto the Web is still too hard for the vast majority of people. I find myself spending lots of time helping my friends and colleagues build Web sites. The technology is still too inaccessible to far too many people.

Radio UserLand 8 changes that equation forever. It is the Great Democratizer of Web Publishing. There is no longer a reason why anyone who wishes to do so cannot put their viewpoints online for everyone to see. My father could do this. He can't (won't) learn HTML or futz around with FTP or even site tools like GeoCities where he doesn't have that much to learn. But Radio 8 is the Web's Typewriter. That he can do.

That is the visible part of the real genius in this program. But there's more. UserLand has always had the motto "Keep digging." If you do that with Radio 8, you will find more and more wonderful stuff under the hood. But it's under the hood, not lying around on the ground for you to stumble over while you try to learn how to use it.

This layered approach to software is a manifestation of the "Doctrine of Progressive Revelation" that has been a touchstone of the user interface world for a number of years. In designing dialogs, the notion is that as a user makes choices, the dialog "expands" (not necessarily physically but functionally) to reveal deeper levels of information.

There are some great programs out there that don't worry about this concept, programs that lay out all their functionality out of the box. Dreamweaver is like that. Great product, but there's a good bit of learning curve even to do fairly basic stuff. Photoshop is even more like that.

HyperCard was the best example of this notion at one time. If Apple hadn't abandoned it, it still would be. I am still amazed when I look at how good that product is. My wife still uses several stacks I wrote for her years ago. They aren't broke, so she's not fixing them.

Radio 8 does for the Web what HyperCard did for the Mac desktop, only it does it better. My father would probably never have learned to create stacks in HyperCard. But he'll publish a Weblog one of these days, I just know it. But Radio 8 also does for somewhat serious Web content providers what HyperCard did for people who were willing to invest some time and energy learning its ins and outs.

Just walking through the preference settings in Radio 8 is a wonderful experience, a breath of fresh air in an increasingly bloated and polluted world of software. Each preference is on a Web page of its own. Each comes with a detailed but perfectly comprehensible description of what that preference setting does and in most cases tells you why its default value is what it is. This stuff is a scintillating example of communication clarity. And yet there is a great deal of depth here. With proper settings, you can make your Radio Weblog as deep, rich, broadly published, and accessible to human and agent users as you'd like.

So Radio 8 really isn't "just" the Typewriter for the Web. It's a typewriter keyboard sitting on top of a well-thought-out word processor which in turn sits on top of an automatic publishing machine whose guts you can tweak. Or it's just a typewriter. You choose.

And therein lies its elegance and its beauty.

© Copyright 2002 Dan Shafer.
Last update: 11/13/02; 2:12:48 PM.

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