Memories of Ajax

I just finished watching The Billion Dollar Code, a German language miniseries on Netflix. It’s no Halt and Catch Fire, but it combines ’90s nostalgia, early web tech, and an opportunity for me to exercise my German comprehension.

It’s based on a true story, but with amalgamated characters. The plot, which centres around the preparation for a court case, inevitably invites comparison to The Social Network, although this time the viewpoint is from that of the underdogs trying to take on the incumbent. The incumbent is Google. The underdogs are ART+COM, artist-hackers who created the technology later used by Google Earth.

Early on, one of the characters says something about creating a one-to-one model of the whole world. That phrase struck me as familiar…

I remember being at the inaugural Future Of Web Apps conference in London back in 2006. Discussing the talks with friends afterwards, we all got a kick out of the speaker from Google, who happened to be German. His content and delivery was like a wonderfully Stranglovesque mad scientist. I’m sure I remember him saying something like “vee made a vun-to-vun model of the vurld.”

His name was Steffen Meschkat. I liveblogged the talk at the time. Turns out he was indeed on the team at ART+COM when they created Terravision, the technology later appropriated by Google (he ended up working at Google, which doesn’t make for as exciting a story as the TV show).

His 2006 talk was all about Ajax, something he was very familiar with, being on the Google Maps team. The Internet Archive even has a copy of the original audio!

It’s easy to forget now just how much hype there was around Ajax back then. It prompted me to write a book about combining Ajax and progressive enhancement.

These days, no one talks about Ajax. But that’s not because the technology went away. Quite the opposite. The technology became so ubiquituous that it no longer even needs a label.

A web developer today might ask “what’s Ajax?” in the same way that a fish might ask “what’s water?”

Have you published a response to this? :


Phil Gyford

I spent a lot of Monday finishing off improving my Docker-based Django development environment which is the kind of start to a blog post that will drastically filter the readers. I gave up on getting VS Code to interact with Docker in any way – more trouble than it’s worth – but I am otherwise pleased with the small improvements I’ve made to it.

I like to have a stable basic set up, now used for this site and Pepys (both on GitHub), which I can quickly re-use for future projects, whether for myself or the increasingly-rare clients. The only tricky aspect is, if I find a way to improve things, whether/if/how to improve all the other projects’ set-ups in the same way.

I also improved the interface for writing blog posts on this site which, aside from removing a bit of JavaScript (that was apparently designed to always bring back older versions of posts), and adding an “off” button to disable a different bit of JavaScript (that is apparently designed to make it hard to edit text on touch-based devices), mainly involved increasing the font size of a text box.

There’s probably a business in that. “Yes, we have a patent-protected secret process for increasing your firm’s productivity by at least 110%. In layperson’s terms we turn off JavaScript and increase the text size but ha there’s cough a lot, lot more to it.”

I spent a couple of days at the end of the week starting to write code to send and receive Webmentions (Trackbacks for Millennials) on this site. I looked at a couple of existing python/Django packages but none were quite what I needed so I thought it would be a great idea to spend days writing code to do something that will get very little use.

But it is very satisfying to be writing some new code for myself, which I haven’t done for a while. The satisfaction is only hampered by my desire to Do It Properly and write lots of tests, which always makes progress much, much slower for me. I’m probably getting better at it but there’s always something that puzzles me and seems so difficult I’m convinced I’m doing it wrongly. This week it was how to test a model mixin class.

§ The biggest achievement of our week was moving a wardrobe.

We had a narrow wardrobe, the same height as me, in an upstairs bedroom which we no longer needed. So, having found it a new home on Freegle, we had to get it to the front door. Between that bedroom and the front door was a low door, an awkward corner, a low lampshade, a flight of stairs, another corner, an even lower ceiling with a smoke detector, an even even lower doorway, another lampshade, and a door.

There were several points along that journey where it seemed physically impossible to advance further and I was worried we’d end up with a wardrobe version of Dirk Gently’s sofa. But each time, with the removal of a lampshade or smoke alarm, and some backing up or precarious leaning, we managed to ease it gently to the next stage. It was a series of seemingly-impossible puzzles, each one eventually solved. It still doesn’t seem achievable and yet the wardrobe has now gone away, in one piece, inside a nice man’s only-just-long-enough estate car.

§ This week we watched The Billion Dollar Code on Netflix, a German drama miniseries based on ART+COM coming up with a way to zoom into a globe of satellite photos in the early 1990s and then, in the 2010s, suing Google for doing the same thing in the same way with Google Earth.

As Jeremy said:

It’s no Halt and Catch Fire, but it combines ’90s nostalgia, early web tech, and an opportunity for me to exercise my German comprehension.

If I’d got my code finished this week I’d totally be webmentioning the hell of Jeremy’s post right now. Anyway, we really enjoyed it. I very much loved the 1990s hackers and setting so it’s recommended on that front alone if you’re of a similar vintage.

Netflix also has a “making of” documentary, interviewing the real people involved about the story, with little actual “making of” at all. That was very interesting and I could easily have watched a lot more of it.

§ We started watching the western The Harder They Fall (Jeymes Samuel, 2021, also Netflix) which was promising, and looked fun in a Tarantino-ish style, but we stopped part-way through; we were both tired and realised we didn’t really care who succeeded or failed.

But we very much enjoyed The Rhythm Section (Reed Morano, 2020, Netflix again) which as Lee said, is “a decent La Femme Nikita / Bourne riff if you like that sort of thing”. Recommended if you do.

§ I had my Pfizer booster shot this week so I am now willing it to transform my DNA or whatever in time to help fight off this next wave of baddies.

# Posted by Phil Gyford on Sunday, November 28th, 2021 at 9:01pm


I am writing a blog post every day from December 1st to December 24th, 2021, about a blogger whose writing or site I follow. My aim for this series is to help you discover new blogs and to help get the word out about content creators whose blogs I appreciate. You can read more about this series in the inaugural post where I chat more about this series. Let’s begin!

Adactio (

Adactio is a blog run by Jeremy Keith, the founder of Clearleft. On the Adactio blog, you will find four different types of content: a journal with shorter articles, a list of links to resources Jeremy has liked, articles Jeremy has written, and shorter form notes. All of these categories have their own feed so you can pick and choose which one(s) you enjoy the most and subscribe. I have subscribed to three out of the four categories in my RSS feed.

Jeremy blogs mostly about the web, covering topics such as web tracking, using the right tools for the job, and his work writing for the blog. I have enjoyed posts on all of these topics. Jeremy’s extensive experience shines through in every article, presenting informed and well-articulated arguments for many areas that I find interesting.

I have found some terrific web resources on over the last week. Posting links on quite a regular cadence, you’ll almost certainly find a link to a web resource or article that you will find interesting, as long as you are interested in the web. If you are in the mood for a long-form piece of content, look no further than Jeremy’s articles section. You’ll find plenty of written talks, presentations, and long-form content to perus.e also comes with a terrific set of themes. I in awe of the themes available, which cover a wide range of historical web aesthetics and made me feel confident in offering a “retro” version of my site.

If you’re looking for a place to start on, I would recommend:

Today I also learned that Jeremy has been blogging for 20 years, making his blog one of the longest-running that I have seen to date. Amazing!

Wrapping Up

I love writing this series. For the last three days, one of the first things on my mind after waking up is “what blog am I going to feature today?” I have seen so many interesting websites in the last few years. If you ever feel like the web is all the same, I’d recommend checking out the IndieWeb or clicking through the websites I feature in this series. You’ll realise there is still a great deal of creative content on the web written by independent bloggers: you just have to know where to start looking. And this series will give you a good place to begin if you haven’t already!

I shall see you in tomorrow’s edition of this series. Until then, happy reading and exploring!

# Posted by James on Friday, December 3rd, 2021 at 12:00am


# Liked by Jan Skovgaard on Friday, November 5th, 2021 at 1:43pm

# Liked by Chris Taylor on Friday, November 5th, 2021 at 9:24pm

Previously on this day

11 years ago I wrote Drafty

Publish or be damned.

14 years ago I wrote Berlin, day 1

Touristische sachen.

15 years ago I wrote Geekend in Ironbridge

Five go to Shropshire… well, a lot more than five, actually.

18 years ago I wrote Less blog, more rock

It looks like I’m going to have to miss the Brighton Bloggers meetup tomorrow night in the Wi-Fi enabled Black Lion pub. There’s a Salter Cane gig happening down at the Freebutt and I have yet to master the art of bilocation.

19 years ago I wrote v-2

Adam Greenfield’s website just got even better. It now uses a lean mean combo of XHTML and CSS.

19 years ago I wrote Lost Weekend

It’s been a wild weekend of music.

20 years ago I wrote My new scarf

Despite the warmest October since records began, I’m not going to let the nice weather fool me.

20 years ago I wrote The world outside my window

It’s another lovely day in Brighton.