I used ICQ in 1997ish, and I didn't like it, mostly because it meant that Dave Matthews Band fans could interrupt me at any time and beg me for backstage passes, something that I'm not even capable of providing them with. However, I've read so much about Jabber in the past year or so that I just had to download it. I'm running Fire.app on my PowerBook, and I'll run some sort of a Jabber on my Linux box when Asus finally sends me my motherboard. So far I've only done the whole IM thing, but eventually I'll get into the guts of the system. From what I've seen so far, it seems quite elegant.
I've joined the PostNuke team, more or less. I've made an account on the developer site, joined the mailing list, and e-mailed them to notify them that I intend to contribute. I've been reading the mailing list (which doesn't appear to be available as a digest, but Procmail is doing the trick right now), and it'll take me a week or two to find my sea legs, I'm sure.
Today, I visited a large insurance company that shall remain anonymous. Let's just call them Insurance Company. Insurance Company is working with Proprietary Software Developer, who makes policy issuance software. The firm that I work with, a surplus lines brokerage, has offered to beta-test Proprietary Software Developer's new Web-Enabled(tm) version of Proprietary Software. So I spent five hours in Richmond, Virginia (USA) today in a meeting with The Powers That Be at Insurance Company, going over the basic concepts of Proprietary Software to see how it can fit in at my company. There are so many flaws in this system that it borders on silly, but the biggest is that they've more or less locked themselves into this Proprietary Software.
Now, Insurance Company has been around for a long time. So this move to the Web-Enabled system is not something that they take lightly. What would lead them to transition themselves from paper to digital is fairly obvious to all of us, I imagine. However, what would make them think that it's a good idea to become entirely dependent on Proprietary Software Developer is a complete mystery to me. Proprietary Software Developer has been in business for about a decade. They've shown a strong bent towards gauging their customers, with licensing fees upwards of $40,000/year. I put this question to Insurance Company: Who is going to be in business longer, Insurance Company, or Proprietary Software Developer? They felt, of course, that they would be. Which made me wonder why they would make their company entirely dependent on Proprietary Software. They didn't have an answer to this.
After about four hours of discussion, I delivered an impassioned speech on the merits of open source, free software, attempted to convince them to release their XML standard into the public domain, set up an XML-RPC server and allow brokerages to develop the software. This was lost on them in a tremendous number of ways. Why would they give away their valuable (in their eyes) XML standard to their competition? Why should they cooperate with people that they'd like to defeat? Why would brokerages develop software?
Try as I might, I made little more than a dent in their two basic misconceptions. And these are the misconceptions that most BigCos (credit to Dave Winer) have:
If they would take their largely-pathetic innovations and combine them with similar innovations of just a few other insurance companies, then they'd have something close to a standard. A standard would allow software developers of all sizes and shapes to develop software that would work for many insurance companies, brokers and agents and, if the standard continued to grow, perhaps a tremendous portion of the industry as a whole. A rising tide raises all boats, after all. But I guess Insurance Company didn't get that memo.
- Their idea/technology/standard is so incredibly valuable that they can't possibly share it with anybody under any circumstances.
- Cooperation with competition is inherently damaging.