InfoWorld Test Center Lead Analyst Jon Udell has worn his fair share of hats during a 25-year career. An author, information architect, and software developer, he’s been an independent consultant, a Byte magazine editor and Web maven, and even a developer at Lotus. His Strategic Developer column runs weekly in InfoWorld, and his analyses and reviews appear nearly as frequently in these pages.
Yet to most of the tech-savvy world, Jon is best known for Jon’s Radio, his influential Weblog. As of this writing, Technorati lists Jon’s Radio as the 80th most popular blog in the world, based on incoming links. That kind of attention — not to mention traffic — gives Jon a great deal of clout in the tech world. More important, it is allowing Jon to pioneer a new model of hybrid print/online journalism.
Our cover story, “The long view on Longhorn,” is a perfect example. Microsoft won’t be shipping Windows XP successor Longhorn until 2007, but Jon was troubled by some of the design decisions he heard coming out of Redmond. So on June 2, 2004, he posted the first of a three-part series on his blog, challenging everything from the wisdom of WinFS (Longhorn’s proposed relational-database-driven, search-centric file system) to the need for Avalon, the new proprietary GUI.
“The idea,” Jon explains, “was that there really weren’t any secrets. I wanted to expose my thinking about the issue and to generate discussion” that would inform the eventual article. By June 9, when Jon posted his third installment, “Avalon’s enterprise mission,” the blogosphere was abuzz with informed responses from knowledgeable insiders.
Top Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble (his Scobleizer blog currently sits at No. 75 on Technorati) jumped into the fray with his own perspective; others came to Jon’s defense, responding directly in the comment-enabled Scobleizer. Eventually Joel Spolsky — a software developer (and former Microsoft employee) whose learned take on the Windows platform makes his Joel on Software Web site a must-read — weighed in as well.
The “ad-hoc collaborative thing that happens in blog space” had coalesced, Jon says. “I was hoping to flush out people who might otherwise wish they’d had a chance to contribute to the story before it was written.” Matter of fact, one of the people it flushed out was Quentin Clark, Microsoft’s director of program management for WinFS (see interview), whose cogent arguments ultimately changed Jon’s view of the new file system.
Although Jon has been plying the online-to-print feedback loop since 1996 (when the medium was a newsgroup, not a blog, he says), his article represents perhaps the most realized, and successful, version of that vision. Other journalists are sure to follow.