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Unraveling the web's story

  • 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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  • Remembering Molly, one of the greats

    I just learned that Molly Holzschlag has passed. She was a tireless advocate for the principles of the open web. She fought for them for decades, and she never stopped fighting for them. She was an uproarious champion of the web and she always, always, always led from her heart. When I started this crazy […]
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  • AOL Pretends to be the Internet

    AOL Pretends to be the Internet
    In 1994, Ted Leonsis was the head of the new media marketing firm he created, Redgate Communications, spun out six years earlier from a CD-ROM based computer shopping business. Redgate dealed in digital media—sometimes called new media—new territory in the marketing world. And he was pretty good at it. That year, he went out to […]
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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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  • A compendium of important historical links compiled by Zach Leatherman (the ones that haven’t succumbed to link rot anyway). For a quick demo site, there’s a lot of interesting stuff there.


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  • Thinking of The Straight Dope today (earliest possible archive link). It started as a weekly column in the Chicago Reader, and then other newspapers, and then way back in 1996, on the early web. In some ways, its perfect for the web. Every week, it would answer some new, offbeat but still practical and relatable question, like how they get teflon to stick to a pan or how bread got invented. Its author wrote under the pseudoynm Cecil Adams and to this day, we don’t quite know who they are.

    In 2018, it ceased to be with a final post from Cecil. Sucked up, I assume, by the gravitational pull of social media’s walled gardens. For many years, the site was paired with a message board filled with lively discussion from a large, but still kind of small, group of people obsessed with finding answers. In that final post, Cecil addresses the message board directly:

    Notwithstanding newspaper comment sections, Twitter, Facebook, and so on, no online arena comparable to the SDMB [Straight Dope Message Board] has emerged for the clash of ideas of the sort we’ve tried to encourage – no forum where ordinary people with fundamental disagreements can duke it out provided they remain civil. I thought, and still think, providing a home for such debates is a critical role for us in the news media. The SDMB is a model in that respect. I acknowledge it hasn’t caught on widely so far. One can only hope.

    I’m still hoping Cecil.


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  • Recalling the still-simmering Browser Wars in 2002, Steve Champeon makes a pretty good point.

    The past six years have brought enormous change, standardization, and stability (not to mention top-notch implementations) from the major browser vendors. And that isn’t just because “Microsoft won the war.” We all won the browser wars. Compromises were made on both sides, and the Web of tomorrow will bear as much resemblance to the antebellum days of Mosaic as your desktop resembles that of Bartleby the scrivener.

    When browsers compete, we all win. When services and software and platforms compete, we all win. Innovation can’t happen in a vacuum. It’s a lesson that today’s web is starting to remember again.


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  • The new Beanie Bubble movie (available on Apple TV) documents the rise and epic fall of the Beanie Baby craze of the 1990’s. Beanie Babies are notable for their website, the first true “e-commerce” site. The year was 1995, before the likes of Amazon and right around the time eBay was founded. The site spawned a viral movement that had not been seen before. In the movie, the company’s CEO first goes into a tirade over people who would “pirate” his website’s images and photos, before realizing the benefits of rapidly spreading information online which prompts a laugh-out-loud one-liner.


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  • One corner of my research has me looking at a wave of blogging that started to build in the early 2000’s, in the wake of the dot-com crash and in the build-up to the Iraq war. In September 2000, blogger Rebecca Blood wrote a first draft of that new history in weblogs: a history and perspective.

    What struck me was how simple and how powerful the basic premise was:

    The blogger, by virtue of simply writing down whatever is on his mind, will be confronted with his own thoughts and opinions. Blogging every day, he will become a more confident writer. A community of 100 or 20 or 3 people may spring up around the public record of his thoughts. Being met with friendly voices, he may gain more confidence in his view of the world; he may begin to experiment with longer forms of writing, to play with haiku, or to begin a creative project–one that he would have dismissed as being inconsequential or doubted he could complete only a few months before.

    Blogging for personal enrichment. What a concept.


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  • I’m reading through Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 and it features this absurd and morbid aside:

    How did the post horn come in? That went back to their founding.In the early ’60’s a Yoyodyne executive living near L.A. and located someplace in the corporate root-system above supervisor but below vice-president, found himself, at age 39, automated out of a job. Having been since age 7 rigidly instructed in an eschatology that pointed nowhere but to a presidency and death, trained to do absolutely nothing but sign his name to specialized memoranda he could not begin to understand and to take blame for the running-amok of specialized programs that failed for specialized reasons he had to have explained to him, the executive’s first thoughts were naturally of suicide.But previous training got the better of him: he could not make the decision without first hearing the ideas of a committee.

    The absurdity of the high-level executive has been a reality for quite some time. It reminds me of some conversations happening around A.I. in the service of “efficiency.” Almost 60 years later, and we may actually be able to automate C.E.O.’s out of a job.

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