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March 2020 Weblog: Trying to Think about Something Else

I have been a bit burnt out this past month, as I’m sure many of you have as well. I don’t have much to say other than I hope everyone reading is staying safe and doing okay. If you’re out there helping, thank you. If you’re feeling a bit helpless, I’m right there with you. If you’re able, the Washington Post has a great list of organizations that need some help. I am grateful we have the web right now, and we’re all pretty sure it won’t break, probably.

There’s nothing about Covid-19 below, I’m sure you all have trusted sources of information for that. I’m hoping to send out a post next week that may provide a small distraction, and then maybe get back on some sort of schedule.

For now, here’s March.

Taking the Web to New Frontiers

There’s been a lot of news about the web this past month, mostly because the web turned 31. Last year was a time for reflection and a bit of celebration. This year is about refocusing efforts. The Web Foundation published an insightful and critical piecethat examines gender equality on the web from an international perspective before announcing that closing the gender gap for women will be one of its primary focuses in the year to come.

Privacy is obviously top of mind for a lot of people as well, and Tim Berners-Lee has been working on a new protocol called Solid to create a way for web users to own their own data. The protocol, however, is technically opaque and a bit hard to get started with. So the Solid team has created a new company called Inrupt that’s meant to create consumer focus products based on the protocol. Technologist Bruce Schneier recently joined the team and posted a great write-up about its goals.

The Internet is full of Lurkers

The book I most have my eye on right now is Joanne McNeil’s Lurking: How a Person Became a User, published this past month. It is a look at the regular old people that have been participated in, and shaped the future of, the web for decades. It takes a special look at forums, sites like Wikipedia and Reddit, and message boards to built a composite image of what a user on the Internet is actually like. The Outline has a fantastic interview with the author.

Max Read wrote about the book for New York Magazine, situating alongside other recent revisionist looks at the Internet and the way it has been built, Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing and Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley. The latter has also been on my list. Eleanor Cummins uses Uncanny Valley as a jumping off point to talk about digital dissociation, and the way in which our minds detach from our physical forms when we interact online, and the effect that has had on all of us. It is a compelling and absolutely unique take on our digital footprints.

Web History goes Mainstream

I came across two things this month that made me think the project of documenting the web’s history is beginning to pick up some steam. The first is a documentary about the Javascript framework Vue.js, produced by Honeypot. It is a well-done and very interesting look at how a framework comes to be. The other was a deep dive in the history of the URL on the Cloudflare blog. As time goes on, and we get some distance from the origin of the web, I hope we see more efforts like this to understand the trajectory of the web’s past.