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Unraveling the web's story

  • Jamie Zawinski posted about Wikipedia and it’s representation as a source of truth, even when it isn’t. I followed a link to an interview with the author Emily St. John Mandel, who requested the interview simply for the purpose of going on record that she was divorced.


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  • Elan Ullendorff flips the premise on search engines entirely.

    We don’t need a better large search engine. Instead, we need to cultivate what I would call “folk search algorithms,” a set of tools and practices that, whether by chance or design, are not influential enough to move markets:

    As a search engine scale, Ullendorff argues, it falls victim to manipulation and an endless cycle of bad actors gaming the system and algorithms struggling to keep up. A better search, with the principles of the small web.


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  • Reading the original text of ‘Information Management: A Proposal’, the initial proposal from the internet’s inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, doesn’t really put you in the moment. Until now thanks to an insane quest by John Graham-Cumming to take the original file created by Berners-Lee and properly open it in today’s modern software terrain. When he discovered that even Berners-Lee could no longer access his original word file, Graham-Cumming embarked on a mission to emulate the 1990’s Word software, allowing the document to be viewed in its original context, providing a captivating insight into history.


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  • In 2011, early Facebooker John Hammerbacher was quoted as saying:

    The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks

    Given Facebook (sorry, I mean Meta’s) latest statement about artificial general intelligence, an all the enthusiasm poured into AI by Microsoft and Google and others, I feel as if that statement can be slightly amended now.

    The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make computers generate things that make people click ads. That sucks

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  • Today I’m looking at the work of Faruk Ates, who created the first version of Modernizr back in 2009. With the help of several other developers in a remarkably short period of time, Ate’s initial prototype transformed into a fully-featured library that empowered developers worldwide to utilize HTML5 and CSS3, accelerating the adoption of these new standards.

    The work on Modernizr was a collaborative effort, with developers from different browser makers and practitioners coming together through mailing lists and blogs. They worked at a rapid pace, transforming the tool in the spirit of cooperation. It’s a testament to the strength of open source and the open web that the fluidity of communication can lead to rapid development.

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  • I am a bit distressed about the web. Sometimes, I panic about it. And it’s why I look back so often to try and capture the long view. But when I peak up to loo around a lot of what I see—or rather, what is surfaced to me by broken down algorithms that hides beneath the surface a much longer tail that sadly most people never see—is all buttoned up and plain and unadorned and professional and (frankly) boring.

    Maybe that’s just the web splitting in two. The web is over thirty years old, basically an elder millennial if we want to call it that. And at some point, it was going to need to grow up, develop some consistency, and figure out a way to make money. But I didn’t think we’d have to ditch our punk rock digs, unique interests and unconventional spaces for a suit and tie and a job selling ads.

    I started thinking about this more this week when I pulled from some archives a site called Rotten Library. It was an offshoot of, an early web purveyor of morbid curiosities and vulgar fare. The Rotten Library was a unique take on Wikipedia, offering detailed and lengthy encyclopedic entries on a variety of topics from the domain. These entries were often written in a playful and casual tone, and they inspired many.

    I mention Rotten Library, not as a delightful nostalgic throwback, but because it effectively illustrates a simple point. On the fringes of the internet, where things are small and specialized (even when they’re grim or shocking), there’s something far more captivating than the sanitized, controlled environments we’ve established on the modern web. And it is still very much out there, and I believe it is growing.

    I hope to turn my attention there for the near future in my research. It is utterly fascinating.

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  • It occurs to me that, much like the web, what’s absent from the next wave of AI tools are any sort of concept of transclusion. Translcusion would have the sources of data traveling along the same pipes as that data itself, and make attribution actually possible. Can you imagine if LLM were actually accountable for providing the root of each source?

    Ted Nelson never quite cracked that technological nut, and we are so well past it that nobody even thinks about it anymore.

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  • I was reading about the latest experiment from Google, an AI-powered research tool called NotebookLM and I came across the name Steven Johnson. After doing a bit of digging I found that it was the same Steve Johnson who co-founded Feed magazine and wrote many books, including Interface Culture, which gave subtextual meaning to the hyperlink. Anyway, you can read Steven’s perspective on the whole thing over on his Substack.

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  • There are a lot of stories about companies or tech scenes that spawned really intricate web pedigrees as former employees made their way into the world and started new companies that had lasting impacts. The PayPal Mafia is the most cited example, but Silicon Alley also comes to mind.

    Anyway, in my research for Coldfusion, I was surprised to find that Allaire, the company which created Coldfusion, is one of those places as well.

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  • I’ve been interested in Coldfusion for a while, as this language that was (and in some ways still is) very popular, but never quite made the headlines. I like what its creator, JJ Allaire, had to say about his goal when he created it though:

    We built a language that had as its at its heart expressiveness… let’s let the developer express as succinctly as possible their intention and have that come come to life in a web application


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  • It used to not be all that common for some teenager to be borderline (internet) famous for just totally killing it at web dev. I’ve written about Lissa Explains it All and then recently came across this post about Nick Heinle, who wrote a book about JavaScript for O’Reilly when he was 17 years old. I know that’s still happening, but the gap between digital natives and the rest of the world was so much wider at the web’s birth that this was a semi-regular occurence.

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  • I was reading over a 1997 article in the Economists about the current state of what was still being called Electronic Commerce and I was struck by how simple its goals were:

    And since a shopper’s every step through a Web site can be traced, an online merchant can quickly put together a clearer picture of each shopper’s interests and preferences than an army of survey-takers in a department store.

    That’s it. Take a shopper’s interests and see if you can show them some other stuff they might like. Not exactly the follow-them-around-the-web-and-aggregate-their-preferences-with-millions-of-others-to-manipulate-purchasing-decisions-and-robotize-personal-interactions mentality we have floating around these days.


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