Does the web need a bill of rights? | Web Directions

Sir Tim Berners-​​Lee says yes, we do, if we are going to protect and enshrine the independence of the medium he created. He spoke of his concerns in a recent Guardian interview:

Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture. It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.

He was speaking exactly 25 years after he wrote the first draft of the first proposal for what would become the world wide web — the first page of which we shared in the printed program for Web Directions South last year, including that wonderful annotation there at the top from his boss “Vague but exciting …”

Sir Tim Berners-Lee's Information Management Proposal
Hard to believe too that we held our first ever event for people who work on the Web just 15 years after this proposal was published!

Sir Tim Berners-​​Lee went on to say that the issues of privacy, free speech and responsible anonymity have crept up on us.

Our rights are being infringed more and more on every side, and the danger is that we get used to it. So I want to use the 25th anniversary for us all to do that, to take the web back into our own hands and define the web we want for the next 25 years.

Which I thought was a nice echo to some of the words in this magnificent angry rant by one of our keynotes from Web Directions South last year. Maciej Ceglowski. Maciej’s rant, actually from his recent Webstock presentation, is well worth the read in its entirety, but here’s the bit that especially caught my eye:

What upsets me, what really gets my goat, is that we did it because it was the easiest thing to do. There was no design, forethought, or analysis involved. No one said “hey, this sounds like a great world to live in, let’s make it”. It happened because we couldn’t be bothered.

Making things ephemeral is hard.

Making things distributed is hard.

Making things anonymous is hard.

Coming up with a sane business model is really hard—I get tired just thinking about it.

So let’s take people’s data, throw it on a server, link it to their Facebook profiles, keep it forever, and if we can’t raise another round of venture funding we’ll just slap Google ads on the thing.

“High five, Chad!”

“High five, bro!”

That is the design process that went into building the Internet of 2014.

via Does the web need a bill of rights? | Web Directions.

Stateless: retaining no information about previous events

Stateless means that a protocol (i.e., an agreed upon format or set of rules) or application program keeps no information one or more preceding events in a given sequence of interactions with a user, another computer, another program, device, etc.

Statelessness is the opposite of maintaining state. It offers the advantages that it can simplify programming and that it can reduce network traffic.

State is maintained by most modern application programs in order to ensure data consistency and facilitate ease of use. A major benefit is that it allows programs to remember what users were doing earlier in the same session in a program or in the previous times they ran the program. For example, it allows programs to retain the user’s configuration settings.

In contrast, much of the Internet and web is intrinsically stateless. For example, HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) by itself provides no means for maintaining state, and thus, without the use of special coding, each request for a new web page is processed without any knowledge of the pages previously requested. Because maintaining state is extremely useful, programmers have developed a number of techniques to add state to the web, including cookies and server APIs (application programming interfaces).

User datagram protocol (UDP), one of the core protocols of the Internet, is a stateless, transport layer protocol that runs on top of IP networks. Its stateless nature is useful for servers that respond to large numbers of small queries.

via Stateless: retaining no information about previous events.

Info Churn

via Info churn.

The graph represents a “Semantic Network Visualization” composed of individual concepts aggregated from streaming social media content. The size of the nodes (spheres) indicates the frequency of a concept in the data, while the thickness of the links indicates the frequency of connections between two concepts, and the color indicates that the concept is on a custom Watchlist.

Adactio: Journal—By any other name

Adactio: Journal—By any other name.

I’m not a fan of false dichotomies. Chief among them on the web is the dichotomy between documents and applications, or more broadly, “websites vs. web apps”:

Remember when we were all publishing documents on the web, but then there was that all-changing event and then we all started making web apps instead? No? Me neither. In fact, I have yet to hear a definition of what exactly constitutes a web app.

I’ve heard plenty of descriptions of web apps; there are many, many facets that could be used to describe a web app …but no hard’n’fast definitions.

One pithy observation is that “a website has an RSS feed; a web app has an API.” I like that. It’s cute. But it’s also entirely inaccurate. And it doesn’t actually help nail down what a web app actually is.

Like obscenity and brunch, web apps can be described but not defined.

I think that Jake gets close by describing sites as either “get stuff” (look stuff up) or “do stuff”. But even that distinction isn’t clear. Many sites morph from one into the other. Is Wikipedia a website up until the point that I start editing an article? Are Twitter and Pinterest websites while I’m browsing through them but then flip into being web apps the moment that I post something?

I think there’s a much more fundamental question here than simply “what’s the difference between a website and a web app?” That more fundamental question is…


Why do you want to make that distinction? What benefit do you gain by arbitrarily dividing the entire web into two classes?

I think this same fundamental question applies to the usage of the term “HTML5”. That term almost never means the fifth iteration of HTML. Instead it’s used to describe everything from CSS to WebGL. It fails as a descriptive term for the same reason that “web app” does: it fails to communicate the meaning intended by the person using the term. You might say “HTML5” and mean “requires JavaScript to work”, but I might hear “HTML5” and think you mean “has a short doctype.” I think the technical term for a word like this is “buzzword”: a word that is commonly used but without any shared understanding or agreement.

In the case of “web app”, I’m genuinely curious to find out why so many designers, developers, and product owners are so keen to use the label. Perhaps it’s simply fashion. Perhaps “website” just sounds old-fashioned, and “web app” lends your product a more up-to-date, zingy feeling on par with the native apps available from the carefully-curated walled gardens of app stores.

In his recent talk at Port 80Jack Franklin points to one of the dangers of the web app/site artificial split:

We’re all building sites that people visit, do something, and leave. Differentiating websites vs. web apps is no good to anyone. A lot of people ignore new JavaScript tools, methods or approaches because those are just for “web apps.”

That’s a good point. A lot of tools, frameworks, and libraries pitch themselves as being intended for web apps even though they might be equally useful for good ol’-fashioned websites.

In my experience, there’s an all-too-common reason why designers, developers, and product owners are eager to self-identify as the builders of web apps. It gives them a “get out of jail free” card. All the best practices that they’d apply to websites get thrown by the wayside. Progressive enhancement? Accessibility? Semantic markup? “Oh, we’d love to that, but this is a web app, you see… that just doesn’t apply to us.”

I’m getting pretty fed up with it. I find myself grinding my teeth when I hear the term “web app” used without qualification.

We need a more inclusive term that covers both sites and apps on the web. I propose we use the word “thang.”

“Check out this web thang I’m working on.”

“Have you seen this great web thang?”

“What’s that?” “It’s a web thang.”

Now all I need is for someone to make a browser plugin (along the lines of the cloud-to-moon and cloud-to-butt plugins) to convert every instance of “website” or “web app” to “web thang.”

Google Bags (Another) Machine-Learning Startup | Wired Enterprise |

Google Bags (Another) Machine-Learning Startup | Wired Enterprise |

Famously, Google says it’s on mission to organize the world’s information. And Wavii says it’s on a mission to understand the world’s information.

Wavii analyzes blogs, tweets, and other web content and tries to organize it so that it can be readily mined for stuff that you’re interested in. That’s quite a challenge. Some internet is already structured with this sort of thing in mind, but there are so many different ways of structuring it, and most web data is unstructured. The dream of a the “semantic web” — where all web content would conform to standard structures to make it easier for machines to organize information — is still a long way from reality. Wavii attempts to overcome this limitation by using machine learning to understand natural language and automatically structure data.

Wavii Vows to Understand Entire Internet | Wired Enterprise |

Wavii Vows to Understand Entire Internet | Wired Enterprise |

Adrian Aoun wants to build a system that instantly understands everything posted to the internet.

As it stands, Wavii’s online service is a Facebook-like newsfeed for everything other than Facebook. It feeds you news about what’s going on in the world at large, not just random thoughts from your friends and family. But in building this service, Aoun and company are tackling a much larger problem. They’re trying to organize the internet’s information in ways that machines can understand it.

“There’s a world of untapped information out there, in news articles and blogs and tweets,” Aoun says. “What we’ve done is we’ve taught our machines to read those articles, blogs, and tweets, and we extract the concepts that are being talked about. We’re watching the web in real time, what everyone is writing about and talking about, and we’re building structured data that can then be used by automated applications.”