Much of the web’s early cultural and design history is at risk, despite efforts by the Internet Archive and renegade archivists. One of our realizations after 20 years on the web is that our responsibility isn’t just to the new; we also need to preserve what’s been built in the past.
This is a wonderful presentation by Kimberley at O’Reilly’s Fluent Conference, running through the history of the Line Mode Browser and the hack project we worked on at CERN to emulate it.
A profile of a legend.
A really great piece by Scott Rosenberg that uses the myopic thinking behind “deep linking” in native apps as a jumping-off point to delve into the history of hypertext and the web.
It’s kind of weird that he didn’t (also) publish this on his own site though.
Before there was radar, there were acoustic mirrors along the coast of England—parabolic structures designed to funnel the distant sound of approaching aircraft.
I love this talk.
Alex takes a long-zoom look at the web and our technology stacks, from ’60s counterculture to start-up culture, touching on open source and the indie web along the way.
On the fifteenth anniversary of A Dao Of Web Design people who make websites share their thoughts.
Paul Ford’s is a zinger:
I don’t know if the issues raised in “A Dao of Web Design” can ever be resolved, which is why the article seems so prescient. After all, the Tao Te Ching is 2500 years old and we’re still working out what it all means. What I do believe is that the web will remain the fastest path to experimenting with culture for people of any stripe. It will still be here, alive and kicking and deployed across billions of computing machines, in 2030, and people will still be using it to do weird, wholly unexpected things.
This is a fascinating bit of web archeology: John has annotated the code from one of the earliest versions of jQuery.
A long-zoom look at life, work, and success.
I’m not usually a fan of portmanteau neologisms, but I really like Tash’s coining of the word longtrepreneur.
Mike runs through the history of Flash. Those who forget the history of the web are doomed to repeat it:
The struggle now seems to be turning to native apps versus non-native apps on the mobile platform. It is similar to Flash’s original battle ground: the argument that the Web technology stack is not suitable for building applications with a polished user-experience.
Alternative histories of communication.
The Web is the printing press of our times; an amazing piece of technology facilitating a free and wide-scale dissipation of our thoughts and ideas. And all of it is based on this near 20-year old, yet timeless idea of the Hyper Text Markup Language.
- Know Your History
- Know Your Medium
- Respect Those Who Came Before You
- Respect Your Audience
- Get Involved
A short documentary on the wonderful Grace Hopper.
Everyone who calls for WebKit in Internet Explorer is exactly the same kind of developer who would have coded to Internet Explorer 15 years ago (and probably happily displayed the best viewed in badge).
It’s happening again, and every petulant, lazy developer who calls for a WebKit-only world is responsible.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; alternate ways of paginating through the past e.g. by day instead of by arbitrary amount.
That’s Netscape 1.0n, released in December of 1994, running inside Windows 3.11, released in August of 1993, running inside of Google Chrome 39.0.2171.99 m, released about a week ago, on a Windows 7 PC, released in 2009.
But when it comes to trying to navigate the web with that set-up, things get a bit depressing.
First, the browsers competed on having proprietary crap. Then, the browsers competed on standards support. Now, finally, the browsers are competing on what they can offer their users.
A superb article by Josh on planning for progressive enhancement—clearly laid out and carefully explained.
A history lesson and a love letter to the early web, taking in HTML, Photoshop, and the web standards movement.
Those were long years, the years of drop-shadows. Everything was jumping just slightly off the screen. For a stretch it seemed that drop-shadows and thin vertical columns of text would define the web. That was before we learned that the web is really a medium to display slideshows, as many slideshows as possible, with banner ads.
Paul Ford’s potted history of web standards, delivered in his own inimitable style.
Reading through the standards, which are dry as can be, you might imagine that standardization is a polite, almost academic process, where wonks calmly debate topics like semicolon placement. This is not the case.
The transcript of Owen’s talk at The Web Is. It’s a wonderful, thoughtful meditation on writing, web design, and long-term thinking.
One of the promises of the web is to act as a record, a repository for everything we put there. Yet the web forgets constantly, despite that somewhat empty promise of digital preservation: articles and data are sacrificed to expediency, profit and apathy; online attention, acknowledgement and interest wax and wane in days, hours even.
A cute videolette on web standards.
Tantek shares a fascinating history lesson from Tim Berners-Lee on how the IETF had him change his original nomenclature of UDI—Universal Document Identifier—to what we now use today: URL—Uniform Resource Locator.
How the printing press led to the microscope, and chlorination transformed women’s fashion—Steven Johnson channels James Burke.
The text of Mandy’s astounding dConstruct talk.
A documentary on our digital dark age. Remember this the next time someone trots out the tired old lie that “the internet never forgets.”
If we lose the past, we will live in an Orwellian world of the perpetual present, where anybody that controls what’s currently being put out there will be able to say what is true and what is not. This is a dreadful world. We don’t want to live in this world. —Brewster Kahle
It’s a terrible indictment of where our priorities were for the last 20 years that we depend essentially on children and maniacs to save our history of this sort. —Jason Scott
Look, I would never usually link to a “listicle” on Buzzfeed, but this is all kinds of cumulative mirth.
A really nice little documentary about my friend Jeffrey.
An astute comparison of the early years of the web with the early years of the app store. If there’s anything to this, then the most interesting native apps are yet to come. App Store 2.0?
An alternative history from a parallel timeline.
He started coding his own just weeks after Tim Berners-Lee, a tunnel engineer helping to build the STERN protein collider, discovered ancient scrolls buried in the Swiss soil that revealed the secrets of HTML.
A look at the architectural history of the network hubs of New York: 32 Avenue of the Americas and 60 Hudson Street. Directed by Davina Pardo and written by her husband Andrew Blum, author of Tubes: A Journey to the Centre of the Internet.
These buildings were always used as network hubs. It’s just that the old networks were used to house the infrastructure of telephone networks (these were the long line buildings).
In a way, the big server hotel of New York—111 Eight Avenue—was also always used to route packets …it’s just that the packets used to be physical.
A profile of Norbert Wiener, and how his star was eclipsed by Claude Shannon.
A new essay from Maciej on Idle Words is always a treat, and this latest dispatch from Yemen is as brilliantly-written as you’d expect.
A short film about Claude Shannon and Information Theory — not exactly as in-depth as James Gleick’s The Information, but it does a nice job of encapsulating the fundamental idea.
Steven Johnson’s new television series will be shown on BBC in a few months time. Looks like it’s going to be good Burkian fun.
Bruce’s love letter to BASIC.
The closest I’ve ever come to that “a-ha!” moment I had when I first wrote something in BASIC was when I first wrote something in HTML.
This has the potential to be a terrific little documentary. What say we get it funded?
Greg isn’t just lamenting a perceived “sameness” in web design here. He’s taking a long-zoom view and pointing out that there’s always a sameness …and you can choose to go along with it or you can choose to differentiate.
We need a web design museum.
I am, unsurprisingly, in complete agreement. And let’s make lots of copies while we’re at it.
What a wonderful way to go online!
A great talk by Amber on the history of personal publishing and the ideas and technologies driving the Indie Web movement.
So Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee walk into a panel…
A short video featuring Jason Scott and Brewster Kahle. The accompanying text has a shout-out to the line-mode browser hack event at CERN.
This is a wonderful piece by Maciej—a magnificent historical narrative that leads to a thunderous rant. Superb!
A lovely little tour of eleven ubiquitous icons.
A fascinating look at the early history of HTML, tracing its roots from the dialect of SGML used at CERN.
A collaboration between Zooniverse and the Imperial War Museum. Now citizen scientists can become citizen historians by classifying diaries from World War One.
Now this is what I call research:
Through the use of my knowledge of computer magazines, my sharp eyes, and other technical knowledge, I have overcome the limited amount of information available in the video content of WarGames and with complete certainty identified the exact name and issue number of the magazine read on screen by David L. Lightman in WarGames.
A lovely history lesson on CSS from John.
A searing, angry, heartfelt eulogy.
This is a wonderful addition to the already-wonderful Flickr Commons: over one million pictures from the British Library, available with liberal licensing.
Y’know, I’m worried about what will happen to my own photos when Flickr inevitably goes down the tubes (there are still some good people there fighting the good fight, but they’re in the minority and they’re battling against the douchiest of Silicon Valley managerial types who have been brought in to increase “engagement” by stripping away everything that makes Flickr special) …but what really worries me is what’s going to happen to Flickr Commons. It’s an unbelievably important and valuable resource.
John shares his concerns about the increasing complexity involved in developing for the web.
A nice bit of markup archeology, tracing the early development of HTML from its unspecced roots to the first drafts.
I recognise some of the extinct elements from the line-mode browser hack days at CERN e.g. HP1, HP2, ISINDEX, etc.
A fascinating snapshot from 1995, arguing for the growing power of HTML instead of the siren song of proprietary formats.
I’m very happy that this is still available to read online 18 years later.
Brian writes up his experience working on the line-mode browser hack event at CERN.
The Hole in Our Collective Memory: How Copyright Made Mid-Century Books Vanish by Rebecca J. Rosen in The Atlantic
Copyright correlates significantly with the disappearance of works rather than with their availability.
From CERN to singularity - the digital pioneer and cofounder of the WWW on 20 years of webscapades.
Once you get past the cheesy intro music, there are some gems from Robert Cailliau in here.
I took a little time out of the hacking here at CERN to answer a few questions about the line-mode browser project.
The document that officially put the World Wide Web into the public domain on 30 April 1993. - CERN Document Server
Earlier today, thanks to Robert Cailliau, I held the only notarised copy of this document. That was quite a feeling.
A timeline of technology.
This history of hacking.
Information doth wish to be free.
A little sojourn around the Victorian internet.
Improve your word power: here’s a timeline of terms used to describe male genitalia throughout history. And yes, there is a female equivalent.
The story behind the classic arcade game Missile Command and the toll it took on its creator:
Theurer’s constant strides for perfection left him working his body to the point that Missile Command’s premise started to manifest itself in his subconscious, sneaking into his dreams and turning them to nightmares.
There was something about the sound of those explosions, the feeling of the trackball in your hand, and the realisation that no matter how well you played, you could only delay the inevitable.
Adam Curtis usually just pours forth apopheniac ramblings, but this is a really great collection of pieces from the archive on the history of incompetence in the spying world.
Y’know, the best explanation I’ve heard so far of the NSA and GCHQ’s sinister overreaching powers is simply that they need to come up with bigger and bigger programmes to justify getting bigger and bigger budgets. Hanlon’s Law, Occam’s Razor, and all that.
A terrific long-zoom look at web technologies, pointing out that the snobbishness towards declarative languages is a classic example of missing out on the disruptive power of truly innovative ideas …much like the initial dismissive attitude towards the web itself.
A wonderful presentation by time-traveller Bret Viktor.
I like this theory!
Caterina Fake takes a heartfelt look at the history of online communities:
The internet is full of strangers, generous strangers who want to help you for no reason at all. Strangers post poetry and discographies and advice and essays and photos and art and diatribes. None of them are known to you, in the old-fashioned sense. But they give the internet its life and meaning.
A really terrific piece by George Dyson taking a suitably long-zoom look at information warfare and the Entscheidungsproblem, tracing the lineage of PRISM from the Corona project of the Cold War.
What we have now is the crude equivalent of snatching snippets of film from the sky, in 1960, compared to the panopticon that was to come. The United States has established a coordinated system that links suspect individuals (only foreigners, of course, but that definition becomes fuzzy at times) to dangerous ideas, and, if the links and suspicions are strong enough, our drone fleet, deployed ever more widely, is authorized to execute a strike. This is only a primitive first step toward something else. Why kill possibly dangerous individuals (and the inevitable innocent bystanders) when it will soon become technically irresistible to exterminate the dangerous ideas themselves?
The proposed solution? That we abandon secrecy and conduct our information warfare in the open.
A wonderful article looking at the influence that Vannevar Bush’s seminal article As We May Think had on the young Douglas Engelbart.
A great history lesson from Dave.
Ah, I remember when the CSS Zen Garden was all fields. Now get off my CSS lawn.
A lovely site with thoughtful articles on the long-term future of the web.
There’s audio too, which is unfortunately locked up in the unhuffduffable roach motel that is Soundcloud, but I’m hoping that might change.
A fascinating look at the history of cookies …from the inventor of cookies.
Fascinating fodder for Huffduffer:
Beginning in 1996, Radio Diaries gave tape recorders to teenagers around the country to create audio diaries about their lives. NPR’s All Things Considered aired intimate portraits of five of these teens: Amanda, Juan, Frankie, Josh and Melissa. They’re now in their 30s. Over this past year, the same group has been recording new stories about where life has led them for our series, Teenage Diaries Revisited.
Colossus …in Lego.
In a piece for Medium commissioned by Matter, Jon Norris describes a little-known aspect of the UK’s information technology history:
Gender equality is still a major issue in the technology industry, but 50 years ago one British company was blazing trails.
Wow! The CSS Zen Garden is a decade old. Crazy! It’s a true piece of web history …and it’s back!
A history lesson from Vint Cerf. I can’t help but picture him as The Architect in The Matrix Reloaded.
When Tim Berners-Lee invented and released the World Wide Web (WWW) design in late 1991, he found an open and receptive internet in operation onto which the WWW could be placed. The WWW design, like the design of the internet, was very open and encouraged a growing cadre of self-taught webmasters to develop content and applications.
Mark writes about his work with CERN to help restore the first website to its original URL.
I have two young children and I want them to experience the early web and understand how it came to be. To understand that the early web wasn’t that rudimentary but incredibly advanced in many ways.
It was twenty years ago today:
On 30 April 1993 CERN published a statement that made World Wide Web technology available on a royalty free basis, allowing the web to flourish.
Keep it under your hat, but Paul has soft-launch his Project Portillo. And very nice it is too.
Documenting history through photography.
Celebrating 125 years of National Geographic, this Tumblr blog is a curated collection of photography from the archives. Many of the pictures are being published for the first time.
Charles Arthur analyses the data from Google’s woeful history of shutting down its services.
So if you want to know when Google Keep, opened for business on 21 March 2013, will probably shut - again, assuming Google decides it’s just not working - then, the mean suggests the answer is: 18 March 2017. That’s about long enough for you to cram lots of information that you might rely on into it; and also long enough for Google to discover that, well, people aren’t using it to the extent that it hoped.
My friend Dan’s stepfather Carl passed away recently, aged 90. His experiences during World War II were quite something.
I like this idea of slow journalism: taking seven years to tell a story.
The biggest plot holes of World War Two.
Warning: contains spoilers.
A fascinating blog documenting the secrecy around nuclear weaponry, past and present, by Alex Wellerstein of the American Institue of Physics.
Here’s a treasure trove of web history: an archive of the www-talk list dating back to 1991. Watch as HTML gets hammered out by a small group of early implementors: Tim Berners-Lee, Dave Raggett, Marc Andreessen, Dan Connolly…
Oh, my! This excellent, excellent post from Anil Dash is a great summation of what has changed on the web, and how many of today’s big-name services are no longer imbued with the spirit of the web.
Either you remember how things used to be and you’ll nod your head vigorously in recognition and agreement …or you’re too young to remember this, and you won’t quite believe that is how things worked.
This isn’t some standard polemic about “those stupid walled-garden networks are bad!” I know that Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and LinkedIn and the rest are great sites, and they give their users a lot of value. They’re amazing achievements, from a pure software perspective. But they’re based on a few assumptions that aren’t necessarily correct. The primary fallacy that underpins many of their mistakes is that user flexibility and control necessarily lead to a user experience complexity that hurts growth. And the second, more grave fallacy, is the thinking that exerting extreme control over users is the best way to maximize the profitability and sustainability of their networks.
A really nice explanation by Todd Kloots of Twitter’s use of progressive enhancement with Ajax and the HTML5 History API. There’s even a shout for Hijax in there.
Live in or near San Francisco? Interested in preserving computer history? Then you should meet up with Jason this Friday:
This Friday, October 5th, the Internet Archive has an open lunch where there’s tours of the place, including the scanning room, and people get up and talk about what they’re up to. The Internet Archive is at 300 Funston Street. I’m here all week and into next.