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Unraveling the web's story

March 2021 Weblog: Trusting in the Standard

Chapter 7

I published the first chapter of this series for CSS Tricks last August. I’ve gone further with it than I rightly thought I would at the time, and I have at least a bit more planned.

Anyway, now seems like a good time to extend a few thanks. Thanks to Geoff at CSS Tricks for being so supportive throughout this whole thing. And thanks to Chris for continuing to experiment with the series and give it a home on his site (he just pushed a new design for the category archives if you want to see the new look). Thanks to Jeremy Keith for recording an audio version of each post and adding it to a homespun podcast feed. And thanks to all of you, who have read and shared the chapters along the way. I hope you’ll keep going along this journey with me.


There’s this thing the web can’t do. It’s called bidirectional links. Those are links tracked in both direction. So I can not only link out to other sources, but I can keep track of all the pages that have linked to me.

Bidriectional links were a major feature in early hypertext applications, and especially Ted Nelson’s Xanadu. They were such an integral feature in the history of hypertext that many believed the web would never succeed without them (of course, the opposite proved to be true).

Recently, there’s been a resurgence of bi-directional links in applications like Roam Research and Obsidian, and even on personal websites. Maggie Appleton, in a post in her own bi-directional link supported digital garden, takes us through the history of links that go in both directions, and how personal sites can sidestep the technical challenges and bring them back.

Uncertain Standards

Part of my research on the aforementioned Chapter 7 had me reading over what web standards conversations were like in the mid to late 1990’s. That brought me to a really insightful panel on web publishing from 1998.

The panel featured Tim Bray (one of the original editors of XML), Lauren Wood (DOM Working Group chair) and Håkon Lie (creator of CSS). What’s really incredible is how much time they had to spend explaining things that now feel obvious but at the time were completely new. You could sense their trepidation about the success of standards as they stood at the turning point of browser and web technology.

Goes really well with a tenth anniversary of XML post by Tim Bray which highlights some of the more important people in the history of XML (and where I first learned about Yuri Rubinsky and his contributions).

Generational Discourse

There’s been a bit of generation discussion about Generation X, spurred on, it would seem about from a bad faith discussion about their role in “cancel culture.”

Rather than get bogged down in those semantics, here’s a much better take from Heather Burns: Generation X will save the web. Burns argues that beneath the veneer of stodgy, old politicans bickering about technology on Capitol Hill, the real policy work is being done by Gen Xers who believe in the promise of an equitable, open web. After all, we often forget that Generation X built the first incarnations of the web when they set out to create amateur sites and zines, and try their hand at a new, interactive and communicative technology.