I don’t know Chuq from Adam, wouldn’t know him if I ran into him on the street or in a hallway. I do know that he was one of those people that ‘got email and usenet’ and how some facets of online community could work for both dispersed and local teams.

To me, it’s always been about community. Call it whatever you want, but it’s people sitting down and communicating with each other. Everyone understands that today, but 10 years ago when we first were firing up mailing lists at Apple for real, or 20 years ago with USENET, or (sigh) even going back almost 30 years ago in college, when people were writing things that allowed folks to email, and chat, and post messages to each other.

Think about this: a computer program where you could post messages, and they were displayed in “most recently published first” order, and others could leave comments on things you posted, and everyone could get involved in talking about things.

Except we’re not talking about blogs. We’re talking about something we wrote back in 1979, in fortran (god help me, using fortran for text processing), and on a CDC Cyber. In it’s widest usage, about 200 users used it, or various flavors of it. MIght even have been one of the ealiest open source projects, although we didn’t know that at the time, iether. we just handed over the software if someone asked, as long as they promised not to let the school administration find it, since at the time, there was still a strong “schoolwork only” aspect to the administrators (by the time I left college, they gave up and told us to just not screw up the system along the way…)

Think about that the next time someone claims to have invented blogging. Found a way to adapt it to modern technologies, yes, but there’s nothing new under the sun. And no, that’s not an attempt to deflect any credit this way; I don’t want it. Just a reminder that all this “new stuff” is a lot less new than some folks want to think. Frankly, geeks would be better served to study the history the net a bit more and hack a bit less, because one thing we seem to insist on doing is re-inventing the mistakes of the past. People who were familiar with (or simply stopped to consider) the problems with Spam on e-mail and USENET should have known better than to design blogs with wide-open, easily spammed comments and trackbacks. The lack of knowing the past has really cost the present and future some serious headaches….I’ll give full (deserved) credit to those with the foresight to build tools that allowed blogging to bloom — but they need to also take responsibility for the flaws in their designs, also (and I give Six Apart full credit for doing so, and trying to do something about it…)

But to me, the geek part (which I love) has always been a way to allow me to reach out to people, touch them, and help share their life and maybe (hopefully) enrich it again. People who know me from my years running mailing lists know that what I really enjoyed was the interaction — and trying to figure out how to make those groups thrive.

And I sure hope that doesn’t change. I’ve been a bit distant from that in my current project, and I think that’s one thing that got me thinking maybe it was time to look around. Much as I love my current project, the direct customer interaction is harder to touch, even as the project touches people constantly.

For what its worth, I identify (perhaps marginalize) him as ‘the email list guy’ at Apple (even if that isn’t the case now), who managed their public facing mailing lists in a time when I didn’t see many large companies making those open and available. For that, I think there’s a subtle legacy left on Apple’s public persona, which is a good thing; and set a standard for some corporate transparency

I have always tried to evangelize the idea that the customer isn’t someone to be afraid of, or hide from. And I think it made a difference. I hope so. I do think the time running the tech list servers was probably when I was happiest. That’s not making any criticism of my current project at all — it’s a hell of a team, all great people and great team members, and it’s technologically bigger and more challenging than I’ve ever remotely tried before — but with the list server, I was in the trenches and in direct touch with (primarily) the Apple developers that in a real way make or fail Apple’s products with their own products and commitment. (if you’re interested in the story of how the mailing list server came to be, I wrote about it long ago)

Sometimes, you have to sit down and ask yourself “why do you do this?”

For me, it was always about making a difference. I’ve been blessed and lucky (or perhaps simply too stubborn to not be allowed to get my way….) to have made positive differences at Apple more than once; I was a founding member of the group that first turned on the telephones and said “Apple support, can I help you?” — the group that is, basically, most of Apple Austin today (and how many people are old enough to remember when support @ Apple was “call your dealer?”);

I was also in the right place at the right time to help Guy Kawasaki help Apple when it was desperately trying to stay alive with his Semper Fi and EvangeList. I do think that some important results is keeping developer interest at a time when the Mac and Apple were at severe risk of becoming irrelevant; as I like to put it, I did the plumbing, and Guy did the hard parts, but you can’t spend any amount of time around Guy without being changed, and he caused me to start thinking a lot differently just by sitting back and listening to him explain things.

And the work I did for Guy led to others seeing the possibility of lists, which led to the lists “going corporate” and the full listserver. And out of that came some of the early corporate newsletters (anyone remember “iMac update”?) — which has led to both Apple eNews and New Music Tuesday, (and yes, every time you read New Music, it’s because, in part, I have blisters on my fingers from flogging the hamsters….).

And the corporate newsletter stuff is part of what’s been keeping me busy the last few years; in many ways, the easy part. The other part has changed how Apple does business in ways nobody could have comprehended; the last few years has been a study in hanging on and trying to steer and hoping you don’t hit the wall before you get the growth under control. When my original business partner and I started it, we hoped we’d save Apple a few bucks. We did better than that; we created a set of tools that have been adopted throughout the company (and have done so globally; we’re localized in about 30 languages now), and which touches almost anyone who touches Apple in some way or another. It’s a project that my VP’s proclaimed to have the best ROI of any project he’s ever funded; And yes, I’m continuing with the discretion on exactly what it is. sorry…

But she and I (she left Apple, and is now at Microsoft) used to sit around and talk, and look at what we’d put together, and we’d realize that we’d done something that very few people have an opportunity to do: fundamentally change the way a company does business.

Now, THAT is a massive rush.

(though, of course, Apple is anything but transparent on future elements, they have proven reasonably transparent (support discussion groups, open KB, more bug tracking openess than some, etc), which this was a part.

Steve is Steve. And to be honest — especially early on, Apple needed every trick in the book, and the surprise and the secrecy were things that really made a difference in creating the interest that made people pay attention to Apple. Now, I don’t think it’s nearly as critical, but Steve is in charge. It’s his company. You buy in and make it work, or you get out. And that’s why I have no tolerance of the people who violate their NDAs and leak stuff. Change Steve’s mind, if you want to try, but they do nobody any good by running their own game for the ego of seeing their leaks on a web page…

But in truth, Apple’s a lot more open than most people think, and it’s a lot more open than it used to be. These things take time; and I think the process continues.

Of course, his post does leave me wondering what (the project — name edited, chuq) is supposed to be…. Sounds appliance-y, and shiney.

Well, I’ve given enough hints for now. The newsletters were never a secret. The other part, if you think about what my technical expertise is and what I’ve been involved in, could come into focus. But it involves a bunch of Xserves, some Perl, some PHP, and a really big MySQL database and various other open source pieces, and out the other side comes.

Oh, magic, in a way. And all we started out doing was trying to cut our vendor costs. go figure.