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The Missing Building Blocks of the Web

Anil Dash on the early promise of the web:

For the first few years of the web, the fundamental way that people learned to build web pages was by using the “View Source” feature in their web browser. You would point your mouse at a menu that said something like “View Source” (nobody was browsing the web on a touchscreen back then) and suddenly you’d see the HTML code that made up the page you were looking at. If you squinted, you could see the text you’d been reading, and wrapped around it was a fairly comprehensible set of tags — you know, that <p>paragraph</p> kind of stuff.

It was one of the most effective technology teaching tools ever created. And no surprise, since the web was invented for the purpose of sharing knowledge.

These days, View Source is in bad shape. Most mobile devices don’t support the feature at all. And even on the desktop, the feature gets buried away, or hidden unless you enable special developer settings.

It’s interesting to note after reading this that it’s clear at one point or another we all agreed that browsers should be “read-by-default.” The first thing you do in a browser is search for something or input a URL at the top. “View source” effectively just flips a browser into edit mode but dang what a half-hearted write mode it is. Anyway, I also really like this point that Anil makes here about taking tiny chunks of one website and placing them into another:

You’re supposed to be able to include other websites (or parts of other websites) in your web pages. Sure, we can do some of that — you’ve seen plenty of YouTube videos embedded inside articles that you’ve read, and as media sites pivot to video, that’s only gotten more commonplace.

But you almost never see a little functional part of one website embedded in another. Old-timers might remember when Flash ruled the web, and people made simple games or interactive art pieces that would then get shared on blogs or other media sites. Except for the occasional SoundCloud song on someone’s Tumblr, it’s a grim landscape for anyone that can imagine a web where bits and pieces of different sites are combined together like Legos.