Part 5: Here’s the deal

So where are we today with this web thing?

Something is definitely happening, but like Mister Jones you don’t know what it is. It’s about much more than that old web stuff. If you read Mary Meeker’s latest state of the Internet, things are getting seriously goofy. Most people in Indonesia think the Internet = Facebook. Period.

Most people look at stuff through their phones. I think 60% of usage is phone or tablet, so the “mobile first” zealots can pipe down. They won.

Most searches are spoken these days because the bulk of the world’s Internet users are in China and other emerging markets, where I assume literacy rates are a bit lower than New Hampshire’s and people need to say their searches (“Ok Google. Tattoo Removal. Laconia“) rather than do some convoluted finger swiping to make a Sanskrit character that to my eyes looks like it came out of the Klingon dictionary.

Stuff is all over the place now, flowing through the pipes and landing on electronic billboards, the dashboard of your Executive Overlord’s Tesla, Dick Tracy Wrist Watches, Glassholes’ monocles….and who knows what will happen five years from now. Augmented Reality First Person Shooter Porn anybody?

Point being: if you’re still thinking web these days, you’re toast. But old habits die hard and so do old words, terms, and slang.

I think the problem is we’re undergoing Digital Hysteria 2.0. The first wave was back in 1995 when we all laughed at Dan Rather for saying four “W’s” when he tried to say a web address on air like a guy who forgot his helmet one too many times. The one that is happening now has fear behind it. I love fear. Other than sex, nothing gets people fidgety and reaching for their wallets than good old Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

This is what is probably what is happening behind the scenes: . CEOs have only so much time to absorb “thought leadership” and they aren’t going to read yours. They get a copy of the McKinsey Quarterly and they skim a couple articles that tell them what to do. Those articles talk about made-up things like “digitization” or “digitalization.” One means the phenomenon of growing fingers and toes. I think the other means ripping your old CD collection into MP3s. Anyway, the CEO gets all FUDdy when she hears she’s going to get transformed into the hereafter like ex-garbageman Wayne Huizenga and Blockbuster were by Netflix. So she reads this year’s flavor of Schumpeter’s Creative Destruction (and we all know how scary an Austrian with a Destruction theory can be) and convenes a task force to Digitize the Business.

The board of directors is crawling all over them and they get cotton mouth when they read about Yahoo letting 1.5 billion of our emails, passwords, mother’s maiden names, and shoe sizes slip into the hands of some “state actors” or the poor CEO of Target who got canned after a big security breach breached the company’s cash registers.

So damn right they care about this “digital thing” now. The “website” thing is important and they are scared because it seems expensive and complicated and this “digital disruption thing” feels out of control. “Digalization?” “Transformation? “Paradigm Shift?” “Freedom to Innovate?” Just do something. Anything.

These people aren’t big fans of Squarespace and Wix. They could give a rat’s ass if their CIO and CMO use chisels and stone tablets or a sky writing witch on a broomstick to get it done, they just want it done and done cheap.

So the CIO looks around the World O’Web and realizes things are really ugly. There are 20 content management licenses floating around the company. Websites with logins and passwords no one remembers. Ghost sites taken over by fringe groups using the “talk-back” forum on some abandoned marketing micro-site to plot decapitations or worse. No one knows who commissioned the damn things except they were probably made in 2001 by two aspie hipsters in Brooklyn with a long-gone web agency called “Sucking Chest Wound Digital.” The company’s General Counsel needs to refresh the terms and conditions on every web site the company has to make sure the regulators don’t start issuing fines for some breach of Germany’s new Bundesdatenschutzgesetz (“Don’t Look At Me Goddammit”) privacy regulations. And the CMO is freaked out that the Freedonia website has a home page hero better suited to an R-rated teen slasher flick than a company selling ERP-CRM-SAAS (which, if you say it out loud, sounds like a wicked case of borborygmus).

So the CIO comes in with a plan to quell the anarchy on a cloud-platform with amazing governance capabilities. The lawyer likes that. The CFO sees massive savings in software licenses. But the country managers hear “governance” and they think about the Sphincter Era when they needed to hide their little digital pirate ships. They hear not “governance” and “ROI” but that the No Fun Committee is being reconvened. Remember – this Internet thing was supposed to be about freedom and openness and the democratization of information which wanted to be free – and now it’s about fake news, foreign policy in under 140 characters, and the return of the Process Patrol with their Black Belts in Six Sigma and Conjoined Triangles of Success who get out of the shower to take a piss.

silicon-valley-conjoined-triangles-of-success-poster-11-x-17-557_670

The corporate developers get word that the CIO is out on the golf course or diving into a steak before a night in the Champagne Room courtesy of the sales weasels at Hooli, so they start polishing up their resumes and get ready to revolt because they have snuck in their own illegal open source pirate ships so they can just ship code and get shit done fast without waiting for procurement to buy them a license to whatever is being peddled on the golf course. Lotus Notes anybody? Why fret over bad software when you can download it for free, hack something together in a sprint, and get back to the Settlers of Catan game now in progress?

This is how open source snuck in the back door behind the CIO’s back and now the developers are in total control because they know there isn’t an unlimited supply of Boss Level Coders in the world and they have leverage now by threatening to quit, go to Google, or start Tightpants.com, raise a lot of money, and start competing with the dummies that wouldn’t take delivery from the Cluetrain. All Hail the New Kingmakers. They are in charge now, it’s just the world of enterprise b2b tech marketing and sales hasn’t figured that out yet.

We hold these truths to be self-evident

Mitch Kapor, when asked why Lotus succeeded in the early 80s, said he made a bet that somewhere over the next hill would come the ability to display graphs on IBM PCs. So he designed Lotus 1-2-3 to not only do rows and columns and perform the formulas all spreadsheets perform, he anticipated pie charts and bar charts.

The challenge is about stance and agility. Don’t fight the last war. Look over the hill. I was a goalie and the best advice I heard, the advice that changed the game was: Stay on your toes and anticipate the shot, don’t be stand flat-footed (or flat-skated). The content management world is undergoing one of those “paradigm shifts” right now because a lot of the vendors are fighting the last war, not the next.

First truth. Open Source won. If you make your living charging for software you are dead and don’t know it.

Second truth: proprietary “marketing clouds” are marketing babble for handcuffs. The history of software shows that “suites” of technology are always inferior to best of breed components. But then again adding the word “cloud” to anything makes it better and seem like heaven, doesn’t it?

Third truth: this stuff is the bullseye now. Whatever you want to call this Digital Experience stuff, it isn’t a sideshow anymore. Web Content Management was born in the late 1990s when the CEO needed a corporate website. It was a sideshow. A brochure like they handed out at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store along with Ski Sunapee!  tri-folds. Now this “stuff” is the heart of the matter, right at the center of the proverbial tech stack. Look, I don’t know about you but I rather use the damn website than get on the phone or stand in line to renew my license from some mouth-breather at the RMV. Digital is the thing now!  Derp. It’s everything now! Duh. So when a company or a big organization looks for the tech they need to deliver it, they have to look at how they are going to connect it to the back office where all the good stuff is – the customer histories, the patient records – and then how to get it out there into the chaotic world of tablets, phones, the Internet of Thangs, and the rest of it.

Oh, and the fourth truth is if it gets hacked they’ll get fired. (nice knowing you Marissa)

Fifth truth: cloud hosting. There. I said it. Hosting. I used to be exhibit A in Wired’s definition of the “Slashdot Effect” in the 1990s after Forbes put Linus Torvalds on the cover and Slashdot sent a bolus of traffic towards Forbes.com and smoked our wimpy servers. Then AOL hosed us again in 1999 when they pimped our List of the Richest Plutocrats on their log-in screen. Moral of the story: when you need your site the most it will fail you.

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

I love this stuff. I really do. I’ve been in the middle of it since I ran the Bibliographic Press and hand set No Smoking signs in the basement of Sterling Memorial Library in 1978 and I am glad for a career that had at least one tenuous theme running through it: tools for publishing stuff. That what I do now for Acquia and I’m at Acquia because of all the truths I just listed. But the future is going to be wildly weird. Content marketers are going to use machine learning to automatically develop custom content and their own special fake news for every visitor based on a total invasion of their personal privacy. And no one will read it and the content marketers are going to be out of work. Someone is going to hack the power grid and put us into the stone age again.  Chips will be embedded in our skulls.  In the future we’re all going to be Glassholes. But whatever happens, the stupidity will be breathtaking and very funny.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

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