The history of the GIF—a tale of licensing, compression, and standards.
A deep dive into the history of Gopher. For a while there, it looked like it was going to be bigger than the World Wide Web.
This article is filled with timely details:
The programmers were young guys, mostly in their 20s and, like McCahill, mostly huge Nirvana fans. Paul Lindner, a coding wunderkind from northern Minnesota who was dubbed the Gopher Dude for his evangelism, had long metal-head hair and signed Gopher emails with lyrics like “You have to spit to see the shine” from Babes in Toyland. Early Gopher servers were named Mudhoney, Danzig, and Anthrax.
Ah, Babes In Toyland! It’s like the soundtrack to my time in art college in the early 90s. I remember one of the best gigs ever being a triple bill of The Sultans Of Ping, Babes In Toyland, and Theraphy? at Sir Henrys in Cork.
Another dive into the archives of the www-talk mailing list. This time there are some gems about the origins of the
input element, triggered by the old
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. It feels like a user’s browser history is an incredibly rich seam of valuable information just waiting to be presented in a more interesting way.
The ancestors of the Internet were kind enough to give us a communication standard which is free, transparent, and standardized. It would be a shame to see the tech communication landscape move further and further into the world of locked gardens and proprietary schemas.
A wonderful investigation of a culture-shifting mobile device: the kaleidoscope. A classic Gibsonian example of the street finding its own uses for technology, this story comes complete with moral panics about the effects of augmenting reality with handheld devices.
(I’m assuming the title wasn’t written by the author—this piece deals almost exclusively with pre-Victorian England.)
On August 6th, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee sent a message to alt.hypertext newsgroup announcing his WorldWideWeb project.
Never let fear get in the way! Don’t be afraid to continue even when things appear to be impossible, even when the so-called “experts” say it is impossible. Don’t be afraid to stand alone, to be different, to be wrong, to make and admit mistakes, for only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
I lived in Freiburg for years but I never knew of this story.
From the ARPANET to the internet, this is a great history of the Domain Name System:
Root DNS servers operate in safes, inside locked cages. A clock sits on the safe to ensure the camera feed hasn’t been looped. Particularly given how slow DNSSEC implementation has been, an attack on one of those servers could allow an attacker to redirect all of the Internet traffic for a portion of Internet users. This, of course, makes for the most fantastic heist movie to have never been made.
Ten of us reminisce about where we were and what we were doing a decade ago.
Ten years ago I was writing on my blog. Lots of other people were writing on their blogs back then too. That would soon change, though. Twitter and Facebook were picking up steam and soon they’d be luring bloggers away with enticing and seductive short-form convenience. I’ve stubbornly continued writing on my own site. I fully intend to keep on writing there for the next ten years too.
The World Wide Web, with all of its pages, blogs and so on- has allowed human expression in ways that would have been uneconomic and out of reach before. The most dramatic effect has been this ability for almost anyone to express himself or herself whenever they want to- and potentially be heard by many others.
Vint Cerf there, taking part in this wide-ranging discussion with, among others, Kevin Kelly and Bob Metcalfe.
The introduction leans a bit too heavily on Nicholas Carr for my liking, but it ends up in a good place.
The internet connects us cognitively and becomes a membrane through which our minds can interact, manifesting a whole new iteration of our species, who have begun to exist in a connected symbiotic relationship with technology.
The internet is the first technology we have created, that makes us more human.
The video of my talk on hypertext at the HTML Special before CSS Day. I’m pretty with my delivery here. There’s a bit of Q&A afterwards as well.
A wonderful deep dive into the history of styling languages before CSS. I love spelunking down these internet history potholes—fascinating stuff!
From twenty years ago, a look back at the origins of the internet, written by its creators.
Progressive web apps – let’s not repeat the errors from the beginning of responsive web design | justmarkup
Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it:
When people learned about responsive design, there were many wrong assumptions. The iPhone and early Android phones all had the same screen size (320x480px) and people thought it is a good idea to change the design based on these device-specific sizes.
We wouldn’t do that now, right? We wouldn’t attempt to create something that’s supposed to be a progressive web app, only to make it device-specific, right?
We are still at the beginning of learning about the best ways to build Progressive Web Apps. I hope it will make many more people aware of progressive enhancement. I hope that nobody makes the error again and concentrates on the device part.
A fascinating thought experiment from Ted Chiang:
So let’s imagine a world in which Chinese characters were never invented in the first place. Given such a void, the alphabet might have spread east from India in a way that it couldn’t in our history, but, to keep this from being an Indo-Eurocentric thought experiment, let’s suppose that the ancient Chinese invented their own phonetic system of writing, something like the modern Bopomofo, some thirty-two hundred years ago. What might the consequences be?
An engaging look at the history of word processing, word processed by Josephine Livingstone.
This is my kind of talk—John Snow’s cholera map, the Yucca Mountain think-tank, the Pioneer plaque, the Voyager record, the Drake equation, the Arecibo signal, and the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
♫ These are a few of my fav-our-ite things! ♫
A lovely profile of Claude Shannon (concluding with an unexpected Brighton connection).
Adrian runs through the history of well-crafted websites:
- 1990s: Dynamic websites
- 2002: All-CSS layouts
- 2003: Nice URLs
- 2005: Ajax
- 2009: Custom web fonts
- 2010: Responsive web design
I think he’s absolutely right with his crystal ball too:
What’s a big hint that a site is crafted by forward-looking web developers? I’d say it’s service workers, the most interesting thing happening in web development.
But leaving trends aside, Adrian reminds us:
Some things never go out of style. None of the following is tied to a particular time or event, but each is a sign a website was made by people who care about their craft:
- Semantic markup
- Following accessibility standards
Eric asked me some questions and I was only too happy to give some answers.
A transatlantic cable, hurrah!
I particularly like Ethan’s Stop Making Sense era David Byrne suit.
A trip down memory lane with Håkon.
It’s not like the web has been done. This is history in the making. The web is only 25 years old. It’s going to be around for a long time, so there are lots of things to develop.
History, as the future will know it, is happening today on the web. And so it is the web that we must capture, package, and preserve for future generations to see who we are today.
Digital archivists run up against mismatched expectations:
But did you know that a large majority of web users think that when sharing their thoughts, images, and videos online they are going to be preserved in perpetuity? No matter how many licenses the general population clicks “Agree” to, or however many governing policies are developed that state the contrary, the millions of people sharing their content on websites still believe that there is an implicit accountability that should be upheld by the site owners.
A film about Tim Berners-Lee and the World Wide Web. Details are scarce right now but watch this space.
Michael Bierut on that logo …and graphic design in general.
Graphic designers, whether we admit it or not, are trained for the short term. Most of the things we design have to discharge their function immediately, whether it’s a design for a book or a poster, a website or an infographic, a sign system, or a business card. In school critiques, architecture and industrial design students produce models. Graphic designers produce finished prototypes. As a result, the idea that we create things that are unfinished, that can only accrue value over time, is foreign to us. It’s so easy for us to visualize the future, and so hard to admit that we really can’t. That’s what we face every time we unveil a new logo.
A wonderfully thoughtful piece on typography, Jan Tschichold and the web. This really resonated with me:
It’s only been over the past year or so in which I’ve recognised myself as a ‘Web designer’ with a capital W, as I now believe that something happens to information and technology, and even typography itself, when people pass through these interconnected networks and interact with hypertext.
It’s for these reasons that I don’t believe in “digital design” or “designing for screens” and it’s why I’m often attracted to one particular side of this spectrum.
Robin proposes three “principles, suggestions, outlines, or rather things-that-I-ought-to-be nervous-about when setting text on the web”:
- We must prioritise the text over the font, or semantics over style.
- We ought to use and/or make tools that reveal the consequences of typographic decisions.
- We should acknowledge that web typography is only as strong as its weakest point.
There’s an in-depth look at applying progressive enhancement to web type, and every single link in the resources section at the end is worth investigating.
Oh, and of course it’s beautifully typeset.
Even more intriguing than their vast distribution across three continents is their time depth. Acheulean hand axes have been found at sites spanning 1.5 million years of human existence, dating from roughly 1.6 million years ago to about 100,000 years ago. That makes the Acheulean ax the most sustainable technology that members of our genus (Homo) ever developed. Consider, in contrast, the amount of technological change that has occurred in just the last 150 years (since the first telephone call), one ten-thousandth the amount of time the Acheulean hand ax was made and used. Or consider the amount of technological change in just the last 10 years (since the first iPhone was introduced), one one-hundred-fifty-thousandth the amount of time that Acheulean hand axes were made and used. In the memorable words of my former professor Arthur J. Jelinek, hand axes represent “mind-numbing technological stability.”
A complete list of HTML elements, past and present. They’re all hyperlinked to the relevant specs.
This a magnificent piece of writing from James …all about pieces of metal fabric.
A single technology – the vacuum-deposition of metal vapour onto a thin film substrate – makes its consecutive and multiple appearances at times of stress and trial: at the dawn of the space age, in orbit and on other planets, at the scene of athletic feats of endurance, in defence and offence in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, on the beaches of the European archipelago. These are moments of hope as well as failure; moments when, properly utilised, technological progress enables us to achieve something which was beyond our capabilities before. And yet: we are still pulling bodies from the water wrapped in material which was meant to send us into space.
A detailed history of Babbage and Lovelace through the lens of Wolfram’s work today:
Ada seems to have understood with some clarity the traditional view of programming: that we engineer programs to do things we know how to do. But she also notes that in actually putting “the truths and the formulae of analysis” into a form amenable to the engine, “the nature of many subjects in that science are necessarily thrown into new lights, and more profoundly investigated.” In other words—as I often point out—actually programming something inevitably lets one do more exploration of it.
If this piques your interest, I highly recommend the Babbage biography The Cogwheel Brain by Doron Swade.
Written in 2001, this history of the web takes in CERN, hypertext, the ARPANET, SGML, and lots more.
This is a wonderful, wonderful look back at the state of hypertext in the run-up to the creation of the World Wide Web.
My jaw may have dropped when I saw the GML markup.
Now I’m going to read part two.
A subset of one of my favourite sites on the web:
Explore the Arctic of the past from the deck of a whaling ship.
Choose your vessel and get transcribing.
Such a vividly nostalgic project. Choose an obsolete browser. Enter a URL. Select which slice of the past you want to see.
Digital archives in action. Access drives preservation.
A fascinating detective story of the Enlightenment, told from a very personal perspective.
A really nice piece by Paul Ford on the history of databases and the dream of the Semantic Web.
Sometimes I get a little wistful. The vision of a world of connected facts, one big, living library, remains beautiful, and unfulfilled.
A fascinating ten-year old essay looking at the early days of the web and how it conquered FTP and Gopher.
And though glitz, politics, hard work, and competitors’ mistakes all played a role in the success of the web, there are also aspects of the architecture that ensured the web would catch on. I think the web won because of the URI.
URIs are everywhere, and what’s vaguely funny now is the idea that they’re something special. But they’re very special: URI management is the fundamental consideration behind the design of web sites, web applications, and web services. Tim Berners-Lee originally intended URIs to be invisible, but they’re too useful for that.
Sounds from our collective technological past.
(I’ll look past the fact that the sound labelled “ZX Spectrum” is using an image of an Amstrad PCP 464)
There’s something about this that I really like: a message transmitted via a modern communications medium converted into the oldest form of writing.
In a strikingly accurate replica of the original IMP log (crafted by UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History) on one of the room’s period desks is a note taken at 10:30 p.m., 29 October, 1969—“talked to SRI, host to host.” In the note, there is no sense of wonder at this event—which marks the first message sent across the ARPANET, and the primary reason the room is now deemed hallowed ground.
Pssst! Wanna read something scary for Halloween? Well, this should make you shit your pants.
Seriously though, if the event described here turn out to be true, it is one of the most frightening moments in the history of our species.
The sad history of
I wish I could share in the closing optimism:
Now imagine the future where Web Components are supported natively, and someone else is allowed to write a <better-input>, an element that is a real, encapsulated DOM element, and not just a div soup. Imagine using this <better-input> that isn’t implemented differently in each browser, that looks the same everywhere, and that probably also knows how to bake you a cherry pie.
But I all I can think is:
Now imagine the future where Web Components are supported natively, and everyone is allowed to write a million variations of <my-idea-of-a-better-input>, an element that is an inaccessible div soup under the hood.
There are Inception-like layers of nostalgia here: firstly, this web series of web pages made by Matt are a throwback to an earlier era, and secondly, the story being told goes all the way back to the birth of the ARPAnet.
A profile—published on Ada Lovelace Day—of Margaret Hamilton’s work on the Apollo project.
The promise of the web is that Alexandria’s library might be resurrected for the modern world. But today’s great library is being destroyed even as it is being built.
A fascinating account of one story’s linkrot that mirrors the woeful state of our attitude to cultural preservation on the web.
Historians and digital preservationists agree on this fact: The early web, today’s web, will be mostly lost to time.
A great little primer on the origins of the internet and the web, by Aleks.
A nice navigable timeline of historical events from Wikipedia.
This is so, so wonderful—hundreds and hundreds of photographs from all of the Apollo missions. Gorgeous!
The shots of Earth take my breath away.
Sometimes it’s nice to step back and look at where all this came from. Here’s Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal from 1990.
The current incompatibilities of the platforms and tools make it impossible to access existing information through a common interface, leading to waste of time, frustration and obsolete answers to simple data lookup. There is a potential large benefit from the integration of a variety of systems in a way which allows a user to follow links pointing from one piece of information to another one.
We need the Internet of Things to be the next step in the series that began with the general purpose PC and continued with the Internet and general purpose protocols—systems that support personal autonomy and choice. The coming Internet of Things envisions computing devices that will intermediate every aspect of our lives. I strongly believe that this will only provide the envisioned benefits or even be tolerable if we build an Internet of Things rather than a CompuServe of Things.
Here’s a classic. David Siegel—of Creating Killer Websites fame—outlines exactly why he turned his back on that 1×1 spacer .gif trick he invented.
A wonderful collection of treasures excavated from GeoCities. Explore, enjoy, and remember what a crime it is that Yahoo wiped out so much creativity and expression.
A wonderful, wonderful history of the web from Dave at this year’s Beyond Tellerrand conference. I didn’t get to see this at the time—I was already on the way back home—so I got Dave to give me the gist of it over lunch. He undersold it. This is a fascinating story, wonderfully told.
So gather round the computer, kids, and listen to Uncle Dave tell you about times gone by.
This infographic offers a visual way to explore the various stages of the Earth’s history using a 12 hour clock analogy.
It is a sad and beautiful world.
Thanks to their work, there was a moment in history when neuroscience, psychiatry, computer science, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence were all one thing, following an idea first glimpsed by Leibniz—that man, machine, number, and mind all use information as a universal currency. What appeared on the surface to be very different ingredients of the world—hunks of metal, lumps of gray matter, scratches of ink on a page—were profoundly interchangeable.
A long zoom and then a deep dive into web typography.
A magnificent presentation from Maciej that begins by drawing parallels between the aviation industry in the 20th century and the technology industry in the 21st:
So despite appearances, despite the feeling that things are accelerating and changing faster than ever, I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today.
Unless we screw it up.
And I want to convince you that this is the best possible news for you as designers, and for us as people.
But if that sounds too upbeat for you…
Too much of what was created in the last fifty years is gone because no one took care to preserve it.
We have heroic efforts like the Internet Archive to preserve stuff, but that’s like burning down houses and then cheering on the fire department when it comes to save what’s left inside. It’s no way to run a culture. We take better care of scrap paper than we do of the early Internet, because at least we look at scrap paper before we throw it away.
And then there’s this gem:
It finishes with three differing visions of the web, one of them desirable, the other two …not so much. This presentation is a rallying cry for the web we want.
Let’s reclaim the web from technologists who tell us that the future they’ve imagined is inevitable, and that our role in it is as consumers.
A fantastic piece by David Weinberger on the changing uses of the internet—apparently in contradiction of the internet’s original architecture.
Some folks invented the Internet for some set of purposes. They gave it a name, pointed to some prototypical examples—sharing scientific papers and engaging in email about them—shaping the way the early adopters domesticated it.
But over time, the Internet escaped from its creators’ intentions. It became a way to communicate person-to-person via email and many-to-many via Usenet. The web came along and the prototypical example became home pages. Social networking came along and the prototype became Facebook.
It seems grossly unfair to refer to this as an article. It’s a short book. It’s a very good short book; lucid and entertaining in equal measure. A very enjoyable read.
It is, unfortunately, surrounded by some distracting “enhancements” but perhaps you can use your cleaner-upper software of choice to route around their damage: Instapaper, Pocket, Readability, whatever works for you.
The first in a series of articles about the architecture of the internet and its security issues, this is a great history lesson of how our network came to be.
What began as an online community for a few dozen researchers now is accessible to an estimated 3 billion people. That’s roughly the population of the entire planet in the early 1960s, when talk began of building a revolutionary new computer network.
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