What I hate about the web.

by Jack Seay Nov. 3, 2002 - Back to home

Back in 1990, before the web even existed, I used hypertext software (Thinker) that makes even the best web technology seem pathetic in comparison. Web methodology just seems to get worse and worse all the time. It was badly designed from the start and every "improvement" that purports to add features just adds needless complication. To add any amount of interactivity at all to a web page requires spending hundreds, if not thousands of hours studying layer upon layer of arcane technobabble. The whole idea of separating browser from editor is a very bad one. In a word processor, if you want to add a comment to something you are reading, you just type it in. Simple. This is how it was done decades ago. I have yet to see a web browser that has this basic feature. Maybe it's because we have cluttered up the creation of the content with so much complexity that only full-time students of the technology can fathom its intricacies. There are hundreds of acronyms to memorize, thousands of words of jargon, and tens of thousands of function names to learn as well as the details of how to use each one. Many of the languages have their own exact and cryptic grammar and punctuation rules that must be followed.

What is the answer? If it were easy, it would already be done. Of all the systems that have been proposed, one of the earliest ones contains many of the best ideas. Xanadu, outlined decades before the Internet, if/when completed, will be fully editable. You will be able to add comments and revisions to any document, add bi-directional unbreakable links. You will also not lose the original document (before you changed it). The changes you make will be visible. Multiple revisions can be compared side-by-side. Micropayments will make royalty payments a no-brainer, adding a world of content now unavailable on the web (much of the Library of Congress). Another of Ted's ideas, an infinite dimensional structure called ZigZag, is being developed in Finland (among other places) in a still experimental project called gzz. It has many different ways to view the same information. The ultimate goal is to integrate these ideas with Xanadu and the Internet (Floating World).

Some new languages, such as Rebol and Revolution may make the creation of better software easier because they are much easier to read (than C++ or Java) and hide many of the details, such as datatypes. Rebol doesn't yet have an easy way to draw interface elements, as Revolution does. It also has less Mac support than Revolution. Rebol does have a lot of good qualities, though, and if they can fix these two major flaws, it will be an important tool. Revolution also requires developing on a Mac to complile Mac programs, so if you want to develop for more than Windows and Unix/Linux, you will have to use a Mac for now. Whether either of these languages can create Xanadu remains to be seen. A must-read book is Mirror Worlds by David Gelernter. Some of his ideas have been implemented in limited ways, and if they can be fully realized, especially if combined with Ted Nelson's ideas, it would be a vast improvement over the web. Ted has also written several forward thinking books, especially "Literary Machines" and "The Future of Information". Despite spending a major part of my spare time for 8 years trying to learn web design, I am more disillusioned than ever about being able to master making truly interactive web pages. It is the wrong approach to collaborative information and should be scrapped as soon as a better replacement can be created. Perhaps what I have written here will make some geeks mad. After all, some of them love the complexity. I consider it inelegant inefficient overcomplexity. I'm not interested in being hindered by such problems caused by bad design, but rather in solving the more important problems of the world, of which there is an inexhaustible supply.

It's time to pull the plug on plug-ins and bury the browser. It has served it's purpose for almost 10 years, though not well from my point of view, as I know what could have been instead of what was. Start the Revolution, or is that Rebolution. The top web applications, such as search engines, auctions (and other financial transactions), chat/message services, and much more (business; research; movie production; collaborative information work; philosophical, scientific and artistic forums) could be written easier and work far better outside of a web browser.

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