Websites sit on a design spectrum. On one end are applications, with their conditional logic, states, and flows—they’re software.
On the other end of the design spectrum are documents; sweet, modest documents with their pleasing knowableness and clear edges.
For better or worse, I am a document lover.
This is the context where I fell in love with design and the web. It is a love story, but it is also a ghost story.
Monday, January 6th, 2020
Thursday, April 12th, 2018
I recently put the call out for freelance front-end devs on Twitter, and my experience mirrors Chris’s.
Not having a personal website was a turn-off. I don’t know if it matters industry-wide or not, but I’m one person with my own opinions and I’m the one making the call so it mattered here. A personal website is the clearest place I can get a sense of your taste, design ability, and writing ability.
Saturday, December 9th, 2017
In an excellent piece called The First Web Apps: 5 Apps That Shaped the Internet as We Know It, Matthew Guay wrote:
The world wide web wasn’t supposed to be this fun. Berners-Lee imagined the internet as a place to collaborate around text, somewhere to share research data and thesis papers.
In his somewhat confused talk at FFConf this year, James Kyle said:
The web was designed to share documents.
The web was not designed to do any of things it is doing. It was intended to be a simple—even primitive—document retrieval system.
Some rando on Hacker News declared:
Essentially every single aspect of the web is terrible. It was designed as a static document presentation system with hyperlinks.
It appears to be a universally accepted truth. The web was designed for sharing documents, and was never meant for the kind of applications we can build these days.
I don’t think that’s quite right. I think it’s fairer to say that the first use case for the web was document retrieval. And yes, that initial use case certainly influenced the first iteration of HTML. But right from the start, the vision for the web wasn’t constrained by what it was being asked to do at the time. (I mean, if you need an example of vision, Tim Berners-Lee called it the World Wide Web when it was just on one computer!)
The original people working on the web—Tim Berners-Lee, Robert Cailliau, Jean-Francois Groff, etc.—didn’t to try define the edges of what the web would be capable of. Quite the opposite. All of them really wanted a more interactive read-write web where documents could not only be read, but also edited and updated.
As for the idea of having a programming language in browsers (as well as a markup language), Tim Berners-Lee was all for it …as long as it could be truly ubiquitous.
To say that the web was made for sharing documents is like saying that the internet was made for email. It’s true in the sense that it was the most popular use case, but that never defined the limits of the system.
The secret sauce of the internet lies in its flexibility—it’s a deliberately dumb network that doesn’t care about the specifics of what runs on it. This lesson was then passed on to the web—another deliberately simple system designed to be agnostic to use cases.
The web (like the internet upon which it runs) was designed to be flexible, and to adjust to future use-cases that couldn’t be predicted in advance. The best proof of this flexibility is the fact that we can and do now build rich interactive applications on the World Wide Web. If the web had truly been designed only for documents, that wouldn’t be possible.
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
Sunday, May 2nd, 2010
Every so often I’ll read something on the web that somebody else has written and I’ll think
Yes! That! That’s what I’ve been trying to say!
He reeled me in with the synopsis of his latest article. It’s called Understand The Web:
Perceptions of the web are changing. People are advocating that we treat the web like another application framework. An open, cross-platform, multi-device rival to Flash and Cocoa and everything else. I’m all for making the web richer, and exposing new functionality, but I value what makes the web weblike much, much more.
On the one hand, it’s a straightforward fact-check and slap-down for the factually-incorrect nonsense being spouted on Twitter and elsewhere by those who are reconstructing the history of the web as a work of fiction spun in the own minds to match their misunderstandings of how browsers and standards bodies work. As Ben puts it:
This is the short, perhaps selective memory that the internet suffers from. It is not acceptable to me that 21st century knowledge retention has become so short and shallow as to be overwritten by influential ranting on Twitter. A greater tool for the dissemination of misinformation has never been known.
But the real reason why you should read Ben’s piece is that it encourages all of us to take a step back and think about what the web really is. It’s not just a choice of
platform for building
applications (whatever that means), it’s so much more:
Want to know if your ‘HTML application’ is part of the web? Link me into it. Not just link me to it; link me into it. Not just to the black-box frontpage. Link me to a piece of content. Show me that it can be crawled, show me that we can draw strands of silk between the resources presented in your app. That is the web: The beautiful interconnection of navigable content. If your website locks content away in a container, outside the reach of hyperlinks, you’re not building any kind of ‘web’ app. You’re doing something else.
I could quote the whole thing, so perfectly does it map to my own feelings and thoughts on the web, but instead I urge you to go to Ben’s site, read what he has written and understand the web.
Friday, February 23rd, 2007
The Future of Web Apps gets a write-up on the BBC site.