From an article a couple weeks back, on anniversaries and Resurrected Landmarks, by Eric Meyer. Boldface mine.
It was just last week, at the end of April, that CERN announced the rebirth of The Very First URL, in all its responsive and completely presentable glory. If you hit the root level of the server, you get some wonderful information about the Web’s infancy and the extraordinary thing CERN did in releasing it, unencumbered by patent or licensing restrictions, into the world, twenty years ago.
That’s not at all minor point. I don’t believe it overstates the case to say that if CERN hadn’t made the web free and open to all, it wouldn’t have taken over the net. Like previous attempts at hypertext and similar information systems, it would have languished in a niche and eventually withered away. There were other things that had to happen for the web to really take off, but none of them would have mattered without this one simple, foundational decision.
I would go even further and argue that this act infused the web, defining the culture that was built on top of it. Because the medium was free and open, as was often the case in academic and hacker circles before it, the aesthetic of sharing freely became central to the web community. The dynamic of using ideas and resources freely shared by others, and then freely sharing your own resources and ideas in return, was strongly encouraged by the open nature of the web. It was an implicit encouragement, but no less strong for that. As always, the environment shapes those who live within it.
It’s worth noting that as hypertext technologies go, the web stack (HTTP, HTML 1) wasn’t the most sophisticated implementation; in many ways it still isn’t. But it was operational, and available, and learnable, and it was free and open. And that has made all the difference between science-fiction dreams and a fundamental, transformational shift within world culture, society and learning.
In other news, thanks to Eric for reminding me to wish a very happy belated 10th anniversary to CSS Zen Garden.
I wrote a Thunderbird add-on to make the email interface I’ve always wanted — one that helps me remember to stay in touch with people I really care about, instead of always distracting me with the newest incoming trivia.
About a year ago, I wrote a post about how much I hate email. I was frustrated that the few relevant messages from people I care about quickly get buried under a flood of distractions and nonsense. Not spam, even; just trivia.
There’s a saying that “Life consists of what you choose to pay attention to.”
Software encodes values, biases, assumptions, often unconscious, of the people who create it. The more that software becomes our filter on the world, the more that the unconscious biases of the software determine what we pay attention to.
My email interface should be helping me remember to stay in touch with old friends and distant family. But instead, email buries the important conversations under a flood of auto-generated GitHub and eBay notifications, political mailing list ACTION ALERTS, charities begging for money, etc. etc.
Maybe I opened my email interface with a thought in mind about what email I wanted to write. But my thought is soon lost as the interface bombards me with distractions — all the newest, unread stuff.
Meanwhile that thoughtful, in-depth conversation from an friend I haven’t seen in years is down on the third or fourth page. I didn’t respond right away because it deserved a considered, crafted response. I starred it, sure, but… I guess I star a lot of things, most of which rapidly lose their relevance.
Unless I make a concerted effort, that conversation’s going to get buried forever and I’m gonna forget about it. Now I’m gonna die with regrets because my email interface focuses my attention on what’s new instead of what’s important!
So I decided to do something about it. I started hacking around with an idea for an email client that would put that conversation with the old friend front and center of my interface, keeping it in my attention.
I built it as a Thunderbird add-on. Since its purpose is to help me stay in touch with the people I love, I named it “Lovebird”.
Since it’s people I care about, not messages, the Lovebird UI is built around a list of people, not a list of emails.
This add-on / rewrite is really kind of a beautiful thing, and I think in more or less every way an important step in the right direction as far as thinking about user interfaces for e-mail goes. It’s strongly tempting me to spend some time back with Thunderbird again.
You will be assimilated: State of Illinois vs. Technological Progress and Human-Scale Trade, from Cameron Scott at SocialTimes. The company behind the Square credit-card processor — one of the single most beneficial developments in years for small-scale sellers, ranging from storefront small businesses to informal hawkers and yard sales (I use it myself for ALL Distro tabling events — is being targeted with a cease-and-desist order and a threat of massive overkill fines from the State of Illinois, because they offer an unlicensed alternative to existing businesses for transmitting money under the State of Illinois. Since they haven’t complied with the right paperwork for a state license that they couldn’t possibly have known they needed, based on the State Government of Illinois’ arbitrary declaration that it will classify them in the category of transmitting money rather than a merchant payment processor, the State of Illinois will now shake them down for a no-doubt expensive and certainly legally burdensome licensing settlement, or else it will assess a fine of $1,000 per transaction, $1,000 per day, and 4× the transaction amount for continuing to process credit card payments for individuals and small businesses. As usual, the state’s mad insistence on compliance at all costs, with a maddeningly complex, largely arbitrary and in practice completely unpredictable set of bureaucratic requirements, means an assault on any disruptive technology or low-overhead upstart, even those that maintain a superficially respectable corporate front; the only way to survive is to call in yet more lawyers, fill out more forms, and to sink yet more time and money into making yourself indistinguishable from every other financial business in operation. Before the Law stands a doorkeeper, and you must be made to see that he is mighty; after all, the clash-of-the-titans competition between oligopolistic bureaucratically managed, government regulated finance industry has of course served us all so well that its business model must be locked in and secured against upstart alternative business models, at every opportunity, no matter the cost to low-overhead alternatives and infrastructure and services that community businesses and human-scale commerce have come to depend on.
This clip is a very early, full-color Kodachrome film made by Kodak in 1922 to test new film stock and color processing. The color and lighting are exquisite—all warm reds with flattering highlights—making it a purely enjoyable thing to watch. In 1922, for all its technical achievements, Kodak hadn’t yet done away with the flicker that gave movies one of their earliest and most enduring nicknames: the “flicks.” The flicker resulted from variations in film speed produced by the slow, hand-cranked cameras of the time and by variations in the density of the film itself .