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Unraveling the web's story

October 2019 Weblog: Changing How We Make the Web

A Great Reckoning

I missed this last month, but if you read one thing from this months weblog, I ask that it be Facing the Great Reckoning Head-On by danah boyd, a researcher and technology analyst that’s made an enormous impact on the tech industry over the years. Last month, she accepted the Barlow/Pioneer Award from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. In her moving speech at the event, which she subsequently published on Medium, boyd recalls her experiences with harassment and insensitivity, even from her award’s namesake, from immoral men who had nevertheless been extremely successful in their careers. She asks that we do better, that we listen to diverse perspectives and make empathetic choices:

Move fast and break things” is an abomination if your goal is to create a healthy society. Taking shortcuts may be financially profitable in the short-term, but the cost to society is too great to be justified. In a healthy society, we accommodate differently abled people through accessibility standards, not because it’s financially prudent but because it’s the right thing to do. In a healthy society, we make certain that the vulnerable amongst us are not harassed into silence because that is not the value behind free speech. In a healthy society, we strategically design to increase social cohesion because binaries are machine logic not human logic.

The Shifting Sands of Open Source

This month, Ars Technica published an article about several open source companies that have moved to more restrictive licenses in the wake of large cloud companies, like Amazon and Microsoft, distributing their technology and profiting from it. Open source is extremely important to the web, and its spirit is laced through its entire origin story. Right now, there’s an interesting debate in the open source community right now about how contributors are compensated and what can be done to ensure distributed open source technologies are maintained and secure. One solution is governance, which Chris Aniszczyk brings an interesting perspective to this month, comparing various governance efforts to political gerrymandering. This reminds me of a roundup a few months ago about regulation and the open web that’s definitely worth a read.

Was Flash a Good Thing? Or the Best Thing?

There’s a new book hitting the shelves next month called Web Design. The Evolution of the Digital World 1990–Today, compiled by Rob Ford and Julius Wiedemann. I say compiled because the 640 page visual guide, very much in the same spirit as this newsletter, visually collects important moments from the history of web design and arranges them in a unique and fun format (I’ll likely be picking it up). In a review of the book this month, Vice gets to one of its central thesis’: maybe Flash was good for the web back when it was popular, because it encouraged creative boundary pushing and unique approaches to web design, which has become a bit more staid over the years. That may be true, but there are plenty of people pushing new boundaries in web design, designing complex systems that are accessible, secure, and open. Either way, be sure to check out Web Design when it comes back, I’m sure I’ll be referencing it in the future.

Dive Deep, Deep Into Perl

One of my research focuses this month is Perl, a programming language that predates the web but is still extremely important to it. It’s behind sites like Craigslist (who once hired the language’s creator) and IMDb, among many, many others. If you want to take a similar deep dive, I found an article in Fast Company from a few years ago extremely helpful, and with lots of rabbit hole type hyperlinks.