Notes on the old internet, its design and frontend.
Sunday, July 5th, 2020
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!
Monday, April 6th, 2020
Tom’s videos are so good! Did you see his excellent in-depth piece on copyright?
This one is all about APIs and the golden age of Web 2.0 when we were free to create mashups.
It pairs nicely with a piece by another Tom from a couple of years back on the joy of Twitterbots.
Tuesday, October 30th, 2018
Looking back on this classic explainer video from eleven years ago, I know exactly what’s meant by this comment:
its weird that when i first saw this video it made me think of the future, and now i watch it and it reminds me of the past..
Wednesday, August 13th, 2014
When Rock’n’roll and Web 2.0 collide, the result is not pretty.
Tuesday, January 18th, 2011
The new HTML5 logo is quite versatile.
Tuesday, December 29th, 2009
A quick way of leaving Facebook, Twitter, Linked In and MySpace. It uses the password anti-pattern but after using this, I guess you won't be needing that password again.
Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009
This presentation by Steven Pemberton increases in value over time.
Wednesday, December 10th, 2008
Steven Pemberton's talk from XTech 2008 in Dublin is becoming more relevant with each passing day as yet another service shuts down; Pownce, Ficlets, Stikkit...
Thursday, May 8th, 2008
Why You Should Have a Web Site
The enigmatic Steven Pemberton is at XTech to tell us Why you should have a Web site: it’s the law! (and other Web 3.0 issues). God, I hope he’s using Web 3.0 ironically.
Steven has heard many predictions in his time: that we will never have LCD screens, that digital photography could never replace film, etc. But the one he wants to talk about is Moore’s Law. People have been seeing that it hasn’t got long to go since 1977. Steven is going to assume that Moore’s Law is not going to go away in his lifetime.
In the 1980s the most powerful computers were the Crays. People used to say
One day we will all have a Cray on our desk. In fact most laptops are about 120 Craysworth and mobile phones are about 35 Craysworth.
There is actually an LED correlation to Moore’s Law (brighter and cheaper faster). Steven predicts that within our lifetime all lighting will be LCDs.
Bandwidth follows a similar trend. Jakob Nielsen likes to claim this law; that bandwidth will double every year. In fact the timescale is closer to 10.5 months.
Following on from Moore’s and Nielsen’s laws, there’s Metcalfe’s Law: the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes. This is why it’s really good that there is only one email network and bad that there are so many instant messenger networks.
Let’s define the term Web 2.0 using Tim O’Reilly’s definition: sites that gain value by their users adding data to them. Note that these kinds of sites existed before the term was coined. There are some dangers to Web 2.0. When you contribute data to a web site, you are locking yourself in. You are making a commitment just like when you commit to a data format. This was actually one of the justifications for XML — data portability. But there are no standard ways of getting your data out of one Web 2.0 site and into another. What if you want to move your photos from one website to another? How do you choose which social networking sites to commit to? What about when a Web 2.0 site dies? This happened with MP3.com and Stage6. Or what about if your account gets closed down? There are documented cases of people whose Google accounts were hacked so those accounts were subsequently shut down — they lost all their data.
These are examples of Metcalfe’s law in action. What should really happen is that you keep all your data on your website and then aggregators can distribute it across the Web. Most people won’t want to write all the angle brackets but software should enable you to do this.
What do we need to realize this vision? First and foremost, we need machine-readable pages so that aggregators can identify and extract data. They can then create the added value by joining up all the data that is spread across the whole Web. Steven now pimps RDFa. It’s like microformats but it will invalidate your markup.
Once you have machine-readable semantics, a browser can do a lot more with the data. If a browser can identify something as an event, it can offer to add it to your calendar, show it on a map, look up flights and so on. (At this point, I really have to wonder… why do the RDFa examples always involve contact details or events? These are the very things that are more easily solved with microformats. If the whole point of RDFa is that it’s more extensible than microformats, then show some examples of that instead of showing examples that apply equally well to hCalendar or hCard)
So rather than putting all your data on other people’s Web sites, put all your data on your Web site and then you get the full Metcalfe value. But where can you store all this stuff? Steven is rather charmed by routers that double up as web servers, complete with FTP. For a personal site, you don’t need that much power and bandwidth. In any case, just look at all the power and bandwidth we do have.
To summarise, Web 2.0 is damaging to the Web. It divides the Web into topical sub-webs. With machine-readable pages, we don’t need those separate sites. We can reclaim our data and still get the value. Web 3.0 sites will aggregate your data (Oh God, he is using the term unironically).
Questions? Hell, yeah!
Kellan kicks off. Flickr is one of the world’s largest providers of RDFa. He also maintains his own site. Even he had to deal with open source software that got abandoned; he had to hack to ensure that his data survived. How do we stop that happening? Steven says we need agreed data formats like RDFa. So, Kellan says, first we have to decide on formats, then we have to build the software and then we have to build the aggregators? Yes, says Steven.
Dan says that Web 2.0 sites like Flickr add the social value that you just don’t get from building a site yourself. Steven points to MP3.com as a counter-example. Okay, says Dan, there are bad sites. Simon interjects,
didn’t Flickr build their API to provide reassurance to people that they could get their data out? Not quite, says Kellan, it was created so that they could build the site in the first place.
Someone says they are having trouble envisioning Steven’s vision. Steven says
I’m not saying there won’t be a Flickr — they’ll just be based on aggregation.
Someone else says that far from being worried about losing their data on Flickr, they use Flickr for backup. They can suck down their data at regular intervals (having written a script on hearing of the Microsoft bid on Yahoo). But what Flickr owns is the URI space.
Gavin Starks asks about the metrics of energy usage increases. No, it drops, says Steven.
Ian says that Steven hit on a bug in social websites: people never read the terms of service. If we encouraged best practices in EULAs we could avoid worst-case scenarios.
Someone else says that our focusing on Flickr is missing the point of Steven’s presentation.
Someone else agrees. The issue here is where the normative copy of your data exists. So instead of the normative copy living on Flickr, it lives on your own server. Flickr can still have a copy though. Steven nods his head. He says that the point is that it should be easy to move data around.
Time’s up. That was certainly a provocative and contentious talk for this crowd.
Saturday, December 29th, 2007
A great article about designing for what Tom Coates calls a "web of data", emphasising the importance of making sure that a resource sits at one URL.
Thursday, September 20th, 2007
This Ning competitor has a lot of really nice UI touches. Also, the fact that you can play around a lot without signing up is a plus point.
Wednesday, August 15th, 2007
“Attention all startups, it’s a bad idea to hang your ID hat on a speech bubble. Just don’t.”
Sunday, March 18th, 2007
Speaking at South by Southwest
This was my third year attending South by Southwest and also my third year speaking.
It seems to have become a tradition that I do a “bluffing” presentation every year. I did How to Bluff Your Way in CSS two years ago with Andy. Last year I did How to Bluff Your Way in DOM Scripting with Aaron. This year, Andy was once again my partner in crime and the topic was How to Bluff Your Way in Web 2.0.
It was a blast. I had so much fun and Andy was on top form. I half expected him to finish with “Thank you, we’ll be here all week, try the veal, don’t forget to tip your waiter.”
As soon as the podcast is available, I’ll have it transcribed. In the meantime, Robert Sandie was kind enough to take a video the whole thing. It’s posted on Viddler which looks like quite a neat video service: you can comment, tag or link to any second of a video. Here, for instance, Robert links to the moment when I got serious and called for the abolition of Web 2.0 as a catch-all term. I can assure you this moment of gravity is the exception. Most of the presentation was a complete piss-take.
My second presentation was a more serious affair, though there were occasional moments of mirth. Myself and Derek revisited and condensed our presentation from Web Directions North, Ajax Kung Fu meets Accessibility Feng Shui. This went really well. I gave a quick encapsulation of the idea of Hijax and Derk gave a snappy run-through of accessibility tips and tricks. We wanted to make sure we had enough time for questions and I’m glad we did; the questions were excellent and prompted some great discussion.
Again, once the audio recording is available, I’ll be sure to get it transcribed.
That was supposed to be the sum of my speaking engagements but Tantek had other ideas. He arranged for me to rush the stage during his panel, The Growth and Evolution of Microformats. The panel was excellent with snappy demos of the Operator plug-in and Glenn’s backnetwork app. I tried to do a demo of John McKerrell’s bluetooth version of the Tails extension using a volunteer from the audience but that didn’t work out too well and I had to fall back on just using a localhost example. Still, it was good to be on-hand to answer some of the great questions from the audience.
And yes, once the audio is available, I’ll get it transcribed. Seeing a pattern here? Hint, hint, other speakers.
As panels go, the microformats one was pretty great, in my opinion. Some of the other panels seem to have been less impressive according to the scuttlebutt around the blogvine.
Khoi isn’t keen on the panel format. It’s true enough that they probably don’t entail as much preparation as full-blown presentations but then my expectations are different going into a panel than going into a presentation. So, for something like Brian’s talk on the Mobile Web, I was expecting some good no-nonsense practical advice and that’s exactly what I got. Whereas for something like the Design Workflows panel, I was expecting a nice fireside chat amongst top-notch designers and that’s exactly what I got. That’s not to say the panel wasn’t prepared. Just take one look at the website of the panel which is a thing of beauty.
Anyway, whether or not you like panels as a format, there’s always plenty of choice at South by Southwest. If you don’t like panels, you don’t have to attend them. There’s nearly always a straightforward presentation on at the same time. So there isn’t much point complaining that the organisers haven’t got the format right. They’re offering every format under the sun—the trick is making it to the panels or presentations that you’ll probably like.
In any case, as everyone knows, South by Southwest isn’t really about the panels and presentations. John Gruber wasn’t keen on all the panels but he does acknowledge that the real appeal of the conference lies elsewhere:
At most conferences, the deal is that the content is great and the socializing is good. At SXSWi, the content is good, but the socializing is great.
Friday, February 23rd, 2007
The Future of Web Apps gets a write-up on the BBC site.
Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
The Web 2.0 show
This is quite possibly the best thing I’ve seen since breakfast: Cerado’s Web 2.0 or Star Wars Quiz. The premise is simple: decide whether a silly-sounding word is the name of an over-hyped web company or whether it’s really the name of a character from Star Wars.
I scored a reasonably good 41 thanks to my knowledge of Star Wars, I’m glad to say… I’d hate to have scored well by actually recognising half of the companies listed:
31-40: As your doctor, I recommend moving out of your parents’ basement.
Friday, January 5th, 2007
This is cargo cultism in action. Reductionism at its worst.
Monday, October 23rd, 2006
Who says the W3C don't have a sense of humour? Check out the logo of the Web API Working Group (who are doing great work, by the way).
Friday, October 20th, 2006
The ultimate Web 2.0 social application: a bunch of people sign up to be in a tea group. People in the group issue requests for cups of tea. The app randomly picks someone to make 'em. Genius!
Wednesday, October 18th, 2006
Go on, take a pot-shot. You know you want to.