The Hummingbird Effect — How We Got to Now
How the printing press led to the microscope, and chlorination transformed women’s fashion—Steven Johnson channels James Burke.
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.
Ethan Zuckerman riffs on Maciej’s talk at Beyond Tellerrand about the vortex of nastiness that we’ve spiralled down thanks to the default business model of the web: advertising.
A bit of web history reacted by Paravel: the Microsoft homepage from 1994. View source to see some ooooold-school markup.
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.
In describing her approach to building the wonderful Julius Cards project, Chloe touches on history, digital preservation, and the future of the web. There are uncomfortable questions here, but they are questions we should all be asking ourselves.
Brian writes up his experience working on the line-mode browser hack event at CERN.
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.
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.
Squee! I’m going to CERN on the 19th and 20th of September to take part in this hackday-like project to recreate the first line-browser.
If you want to help out, fill in the application form.
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.
This is right up my alley: a timeline of the history of hypertext, starting with Borges.
This ticks all my boxes: a podcast by Eric and Jen about the history of the web. I can’t wait for this to start!
Jeffrey quite rightly singles out Derek Powazek for praise.
It was his site Fray that made me realise I wanted to build things on the web.
The Mirror Project is back! The Mirror Project is back!
This warms the cockles of my nostalgic little heart.
Tom describes his Foursquare ghost.
This post is ten years old, but I think it might still be the best attempt to demarcate a difference between web “sites” and web “apps”: think of them as stories and tools.
It’s also remarkably prescient about the need for an effort exactly like HTML5:
A widely-distributed, standards-compliant, browser and platform-independent library of functions that would perform the basic user interface functions for a web-based tool, relying on the server side only for the logic and data sourcing.
This is so crazy, it just might work. Matt wants the internet to buy Wardenclyffe and turn it into a Tesla museum.
A PDF to download and read that is both funny and fascinating.
Remember when I linked to the story of Twitter’s recent redesign of their mobile site and I said it would be great to see it progressively enhanced up to the desktop version? Well, here’s a case study that does just that.
How about this for a trip down memory lane—a compendium of articles from over a decade of A List Apart, also available as a Readlist epub. It’s quite amazing just how good this free resource is.
The only thing to fault is that, due to some kind of clerical error, one of my articles has somehow found its way onto this list.
If this were Twitter, you’d be at-replying me with the hashtag “humblebrag”, wouldn’t you?
Kellan explains the tech behind Old Tweets …and also the thinking behind it:
I think our history is what makes us human, and the push to ephemerality and disposability “as a feature” is misguided. And a key piece of our personal histories is becoming “the story we want to remember”, aka what we’ve shared.
The history of the WELL, a truly remarkable community.
I could listen to Vint Cerf all day.
I think that it’s perfectly reasonable to have packets raining down from satellites, IP packets just literally raining down from satellites and being picked up by hundreds, if not millions, of receivers at the same time.
A nice timeline visualisation of recent history.
This is rather wonderful: a DevFort project for navigating interweaving strands of history, James Burke style.
History with a sprinkling of Photoshopped fiction.
Nine years and five months after he began publishing every entry in Samuel Pepys’ diary, Phil Gyford posts the last entry.
Chris Anderson interviews Mark Andreessen.
Have you thought “There must be a good reason for the blink element.” Well, read on.
An excellent longish-zoom article by Alexis Madrigal with an eerily accurate summation of the current state of the web. Although I think that a lack of any fundamentally new paradigms could be seen as a sign of stabilisation as much as stagnation.
An oldie but a goodie: Clay Shirky looks at the design principles underlying HTML in order to figure out what made it so successful. Even though this is fourteen years old, there are plenty of still-relevant insights here.
An interview with George Dyson, whose next book—Turing’s Cathedral—sounds like it’ll be right up my alley.
A collection of articles on the tricksy art of Futurism from—amongst others—Bruce Sterling, Annalee Newitz, and Matt Novak, creator of the Paleofuture blog.
The wonderful story of an odd place:
The Jamesburg Earth Station is a massive satellite receiver in a remote valley in California. It played a central role in satellite communications for three decades, but had been forgotten until the current owner put it up for sale, promoting it as a great place to spend the apocalypse.