A potted history of communication networks from the pony express and the telegraph to ethernet and wi-fi.
Monday, January 17th, 2022
Thursday, April 22nd, 2021
I’ve lately been trying an exercise where, when reading anything by or about tech companies, I replace uses of the word “infrastructure” with “means of production.”
Thursday, April 9th, 2020
On Monday, I linked to Tom’s latest video. It uses a clever trick whereby the title of the video is updated to match the number of views the video has had. But there’s a lot more to the video than that. Stick around and you’ll be treated to a meditation on the changing nature of APIs, from a shared open lake to a closed commercial drybed.
It reminds me of (other) Tom’s post from a couple of year’s ago called Pouring one out for the Boxmakers, wherein he talks about Twitter’s crackdown on fun bots:
Web 2.0 really, truly, is over. The public APIs, feeds to be consumed in a platform of your choice, services that had value beyond their own walls, mashups that merged content and services into new things… have all been replaced with heavyweight websites to ensure a consistent, single experience, no out-of-context content, and maximising the views of advertising. That’s it: back to single-serving websites for single-serving use cases.
A shame. A thing I had always loved about the internet was its juxtapositions, the way it supported so many use-cases all at once. At its heart, a fundamental one: it was a medium which you could both read and write to. From that flow others: it’s not only work and play that coexisted on it, but the real and the fictional; the useful and the useless; the human and the machine.
Both Toms echo the sentiment in Anil’s The Web We Lost, written back in 2012:
Five years ago, if you wanted to show content from one site or app on your own site or app, you could use a simple, documented format to do so, without requiring a business-development deal or contractual agreement between the sites. Thus, user experiences weren’t subject to the vagaries of the political battles between different companies, but instead were consistently based on the extensible architecture of the web itself.
I know, I know. We’re a bunch of old men shouting at The Cloud. But really, Anil is right:
This isn’t our web today. We’ve lost key features that we used to rely on, and worse, we’ve abandoned core values that used to be fundamental to the web world. To the credit of today’s social networks, they’ve brought in hundreds of millions of new participants to these networks, and they’ve certainly made a small number of people rich.
But they haven’t shown the web itself the respect and care it deserves, as a medium which has enabled them to succeed. And they’ve now narrowed the possibilites of the web for an entire generation of users who don’t realize how much more innovative and meaningful their experience could be.
In his video, Tom mentions Yahoo Pipes as an example of a service that has been shut down for commercial and idealogical reasons. In many ways, it was the epitome of what Anil was talking about—a sort of meta-API that allowed you to connect different services together. Kinda like IFTTT but with a visual interface that made it as empowering as something like the Scratch programming language.
There are services today that provide some of that functionality, but they’re more developer-focused. Trys pointed me to Pipedream, which looks good but you need to know how to write Node.js code and import npm packages. I’m sure it’s great if you’re into serverless Jamstack lambda thingamybobs but I don’t think it’s going to unlock the potential for non-coders to create cool stuff.
Cables is a tool for creating beautiful interactive content.
It isn’t about making mashups, but it does look something that non-coders could potentially use to make something that looks cool. It reminds me a bit of Bret Victor and his classic talk on Inventing On Principle—always worth revisting!
Friday, March 15th, 2019
Monday, May 1st, 2017
A documentary by Matt Parker (brother of Andy) that follows in the footsteps of people like Andrew Blum, James Bridle, and Ingrid Burrington, going in search of the physical locations of the internet, and talking to the people who maintain it. Steven Pemberton makes an appearance in the first and last of five episodes:
- What is the Cloud vs What Existed Before?
- Working out the Internet: it’s a volume game
- The Submarine Cable Network
- How Much Data Is There?
The music makes it feel quite sinister.
Sunday, February 14th, 2016
Monika’s end-of-year piece is rather excellent:
The map exposes the network of fibre optic internet cables that lie deep below the sea giving an unfettered glimpse of the government’s counterterrorism tactics and the murky justifications behind them.
Tuesday, December 1st, 2015
Saturday, October 31st, 2015
Monday, March 16th, 2015
This year’s map from TeleGeography is looking lovely.
Thursday, October 3rd, 2013
This is a great explanatory piece from James Bridle in conjunction with Mozilla’s Webmaker. It’s intended for a younger audience, but its clear description of how web requests are resolved is pitch-perfect primer for anyone.
The web isn’t magic. It’s not some faraway place we just ‘connect’ to, but a vast and complex system of computers, connected by actual wires under the ground and the oceans. Every time you open a website, you’re visiting a place where that data is stored.
Sunday, September 1st, 2013
A little sojourn around the Victorian internet.
Friday, April 26th, 2013
A beautiful piece by James on the history of light as a material for communication …and its political overtones in today’s world.
What is light when it is information rather than illumination? What is it when it is not perceived by the human eye? Deep beneath the streets and oceans, what is illuminated by the machines, and how are we changed by this illumination?
Sunday, February 3rd, 2013
This year’s TeleGeography map of the undersea network looks beautiful—inspired by old maps. I love the way that latency between countries is shown as inset constellations.
Thursday, July 19th, 2012
This is just wonderful! It combines almost all of my recent obsessions into one unified post: website performance (particularly on mobile) and the locations of undersea cables. The interactive map is the icing on the cake.
Tuesday, February 28th, 2012
Explore the shape of the underwater world of internet backbones.