Dave Winer's Purple Cow – the OPML Editor

Product: OPML Editor
Founder: Dave Winer

Dave Winer has been working on outlining software for over 20 years. Check out his OPML Editor (OPML stands for Outline Processor Markup Language) that has recently come out of private beta – people are using it for everything from writing and updating simple to-do lists to creating and editing blogs. It’s extremely versatile and it’s open source.

OPML an XML-based format that allows exchange of outline-structured information between applications running on different operating systems and environments. Link

Since people are writing exhaustively about the product and the technology (and using it for incredibly creative things), I want to talk about it from a different angle.

For those of you familiar with Seth Godin, you’ll know what a Purple Cow is. The basic idea of the purple cow is that for products to be noticed in today’s world of fragmented attention and product saturation, it has to be something really special. You don’t notice cows any more no matter how cool they are (because they are basically all the same), but you sure would notice a big purple cow munching on some grass in a field somewhere.

Dave has in my opinion masterfully crafted a purple cow with his OPML Editor. I’ve been witnessing its development and launch for a while now, and I’m impressed.

The first time I saw the software in action was earlier this year in New York (Dave gave me a demo). The second time I saw it was just before the Gnomedex conference this year in Seattle. That’s about the time that Dave put his marketing efforts into high gear.

Step 1 – Dave “Sneezes” towards other Sneezers

After the sofware was (mostly) baked, Dave invited a small group of trusted friends to bang on it. Because this was such a select group, the people involved really felt special (and they were). They went out of their way to provide good feedback. He took their input and made changes. Then he increased the size of the group to 20 or so (I was in this group). At Gnomedex, he increased the size further. All the while, Dave was getting free QA and product work, and these people were blogging about how awesome and powerful it was.

Lots of people read the blogs of the testers, and want to know more. Heck, I begged him to be on the invite list.

Step 2 – Dave Eats his own Dog Food

On June 23, 2005, Dave announced that he would start using the OPML editor to edit Scripting News, his blog:

I’m sure this doesn’t mean a lot to most people, but I’m now using the OPML Editor to create and edit Scripting News. In the business, we call this Eating The Dogfood, which is actually kind of a gross image (you have to see your users as dogs, which may not be very healthy). Anyway using the product yourself helps reinforce its reality, to me.

Even more people learn about the software and understand that it can be used for things like writing and editing blogs, and want to know more.

Step 3 – Dave goes on the Road

Dave, who travels quite a bit anyway, started to hold OPML Editor road shows around the country. I believe the first one was in New York on July 12, and he’s been in many cities since.

Tonight, he had a road show in Berkeley, and 100+ people packed into the audience to see the Editor in action. I was there, and people were interested, inquisitive and downright passionate about it.

More users check it out. It’s available now, so people are starting to use it for unexpected things, and it grows virally.

To Summarize:

Dave is not a professional marketer, but he’s one of the best marketers I’ve seen. He’s spent exactly nothing in marketing dollars to promote the product (unless you count gas money), and yet he’s created a whole group of influential users (mostly bloggers who sneeze about the product) who feel special because they were part of the closed testing group. Not to mention hundreds more who’ve attended his road shows because Dave made the effort to come to them, show them the product and patiently answer the same questions over and over in different cities.

And yes, Dave is also eating his own dog food by using his product to write one of the most popular blogs on the internet (#22 tonight out of 14 million or so total blogs).

I’m impressed.