Interview with Watson's Dan Wood
Pages: 1, 2
DS: Obviously Apple needs independent developers to be productive and creative in order to move the platform forward. My personal experience at the ADC level (Apple Developer Connection), is that those folks have much respect for independents. How do you think that respect could be better translated in to support?
DW: Well, it's obvious to us, but I wonder if it's really obvious to the leadership at Apple. I've had wonderful experiences with some individual people in ADC, but their leadership seems disingenuous, pushing Apple's anti-developer interests rather than really trying to help out developers. Apple could do so very much to build up a healthy economy of Mac developers and cross-promote their products, but they only seem to push the products from the big companies that they need in order for the Mac to survive, like Microsoft and Adobe. Just imagine if Apple were to take the one million dollars that they spend on a fancy staircase in their Manhattan store, and instead invested that in their developer community to help some small companies with fresh ideas get off the ground? Or heavily promoted third-party applications instead of writing replacements for them?
DS: Speaking of developers and writing software, let's talk for a moment about what's happening around Watson. As I understand it, Watson has an open architecture. Is that correct, and if so, could you say a few words about it?
DW: Right, we publish an API at http://www.karelia.com/developer/watson/ that describes the protocol that an individual Watson tool must follow, and the big toolkit that comes with Watson that makes it easy for the tools to load and parse web pages or XML streams. We provide header files, class documentation, and sample Cocoa code. We also have a developer community email list with over 150 members, so people can exchange ideas and help.
DS: Does this mean that there's opportunity for developers to write plug-ins for Watson?
DW: Absolutely! Many have, in fact. Some people are writing in-house tools that aren't for the general public, but we have a handful of smart programmers that have made available some additions that I couldn't have conceived of. One guy, Sujal Shaw, is a big sports fan, and he's contributed an amazing tool to show baseball scores and stats. And now he's working on a similar Football tool that's almost ready for release. Terrence Talbot wrote a tool for recipes that shames our built-in Recipes tool! There are a few others that are hovering near release, including a great genealogy lookup tool.
DW: I think it's really important to have an application be pluggable. For those who are curious, we actually have a comparison online--slightly biased, of course--between Watson's architecture and Sherlock 3's, which was documented online for less than a week. Being able to easily create a front end to an Internet service is a lot of work, and Watson's architecture should make is as painless as possible, because our toolkit has been evolving for quite a while.
DS: Since you've mentioned comparisons, how is Watson faring now that Sherlock 3 is out and in use?
DW: Sales dropped when Apple first showed off Sherlock 3 in May, and dropped again significantly around the MacWorld Expo New York time frame, when Steve Jobs showed off Jaguar. However, sales are strong again since our new release now that we've taken Sherlock 3 head-on. The jury is still out for the long run, but I think we're back to being a success again. Heck, maybe Sherlock 3 will inspire more people than ever to buy Watson as more users get a taste of the concept but wish for a faster, more powerful alternative.
DS: Do you think Watson is going to help change our idea of the Web? We're still very browser-centric in our thinking. Watson represents a shift away from the browser. More like a Web services thing. What's your take on that?
DW: I get a lot of comments from users that Watson opened their eyes that the Internet doesn't have to be just a Web browser. It's very easy for people to get used to one paradigm and get stuck in it. A year ago, there was nothing like Watson to quickly access the most useful services. And now we're starting to see a few other applications that break the boundaries of the Web browser and use the Internet in completely different ways. Take Spring from UserCreations. It puts a canvas of interconnected icons representing real-world objects like people, books, places, and foods on your desktop, and each object is connected to the net. NetNewsWire from Ranchero gathers up news feeds and presents them in a simple UI. WeatherPop from Glucose puts a quick weather display on your menu bar. I don't think that the Web as viewed through your browser will go away anytime soon, but people are starting to realize that it may not be the best way to view structured information.
DS: Is there anything else you'd like to cover today?
DW: Well, since the readers of this will mostly be developers, I suppose I have something to say to that community: go for it! It's actually possible to get a new product built and selling with a minimal outlay of time and money. Of course, you need a good idea, and you have to work hard, but it is possible to make a living and build a successful software company, even in today's economy, even deploying on a "minority" operating system like the Mac, even Mac OS X only. The new generation of innovative applications like the ones I just mentioned don't come from the Adobes and the Microsofts, they come from the hearts and souls of the little companies with fewer than 5 or 10 people. Apple has provided us a powerful system for building great applications. It's called Cocoa, and the rest is up to us. Just be prepared that a big company with intimidating lawyers might come along and build their own "cheap knock-off" of your idea, and then stay ahead of the game!
DS: Dan, thanks for your time. I'm thrilled with the success you and your team has had to this point, and I wish you all the best for the future.
Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.
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