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March 14, 2006

A changed landscape

Dave Winer: "The goals have been accomplished. Billions of Websites now no longer seems an outrageously ambitious goal. We're pretty close to a billion, I suspect. The goal was also to create tools that would make it easy for everyone to have a site... That's done." I don't use Dave's tools (tried them, they didn't work for me), but I don't doubt that without his contributions I still wouldn't have a Web site and nor would I find the Web half as useful as I do. "Content management for the rest of us", together with the ecosystem-enabling protocols and formats that underlie it, has opened up the Web as decisively as Visual Basic opened up the Windows desktop. There's a long way to go -- too many of the tools and platforms are tied into the today's straitjacketing chronological structure -- but the underlying concepts and protocols are now there, it's just a matter of finding the right content structures and realising them in code. That's what the so-called Web 2.0 apps seem to be pioneering -- content structures aligned around photography, calendaring, etc. instead of diarising.

March 14, 2006 in Web | Permalink


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A mutual friend (trading as mr_snips.livejournal.com) suggested I ask you a question which is nothing to do with the above, but reminded me that I was going to reply to the above.

The point surely is that Visual Basic Classic (which in many ways is FORTRAN with the serial numbers filed off) made development of Windows applications of a certain (non-trivial) size and complexity relatively straight forward.

I am not convinced that anything makes development for 'the web' similarly straight forward - so much of web development is all about knowing all the silly tricks you need to employ in order to get a not too crap application.

Even if one managed to come up with a suitable framework which managed to hide most of the complexity of AJAX on the client and session management on the server (and the fact that you are using a nasty mix of at least 3 languages HTML-CSS-DHTML, Javascript and something on the server), it is inevitably going to be a nightmare to debug - one of the unsung benefits of VBClassic was its WYCIWYD aspect (What you code is what you debug) - something that Delphi or VC++/MFC never had.

The fact has got to be faced that HTML stopped being empowering at approximately the point that the 1 by 1 bitmap and cunning nesting of tables was born, thereafter it became the nastiest most illogical 'platform' ever seen.

I am probably the only person in the world who thinks that the world would have been a better place if Microsoft Blackbird had managed to crush 'the web' as we know it out of existence.

Posted by: Harvey Pengwyn at Apr 24, 2006 7:40:00 AM

Excellent, my cunning plan to foil you with bad analogies has worked perfectly.

I absolutely agree that Web development remains a nightmare. We are seeing gradual improvements but it remains the domain of professional developers.

But I wasn't thinking about application development for the Web. I was thinking of the mechanics of getting a simple personal or small-company Web site up and running. Back in the good old days, you would not only have had to write everything from scratch, but also to manage the content by hand using ftp and chmod and all those other good good things that every 8-year old girl creating a Web site for her cat has at her fingertips. Now you sign up for a LiveJournal or Typepad account and all of the magic of publishing/managing content, applying site styles, setting up basic navigation, etc. is done for you.

It's not just that HTML got too complicated. It's also that HTML was only half the problem: the other half was all the plumbing that goes around the content I want to write. I want to post photos of my cats, but I don't want to have to figure out how to organise them on the server, write and maintain boilerplate navigation, go through every page changing the title colour to yellow, etc. Personal content management has largely solved these kinds of problems. It's also made a big dent in the HTML/CSS problem.

Read Winer's phrase again: "billions of Web *sites*" (emphasis added). He's not talking about billions of ASP / JSP / PHP developers. Certainly not. He's talking about pages like yours or mine, pages that would have been prohibitively tedious to put together by hand but become almost trivial once content management comes into play.

Posted by: Ivan Towlson at Apr 24, 2006 11:54:53 PM