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Web Design is Broken

Date/Time Permalink: 08/10/07 05:43:05 pm
Category: General

I was setting about coding the XHTML/ CSS/ Javascript/ PHP/ MySQL for my new portfolio page, and, typical for me for any web coding project, I dawdled a lot and took frequent breaks. This is because of all the computer-related tasks, web design is the thing I loathe the most. It always feels like I'm trying to build a skyscraper out of bubblegum. But this time, as I reeled off to the nap couch, it occurred to me to really ask why.

OK, look how the WWW was intended: document publication. Originally to facilitate sharing and updating information among researchers.

Look what real users use the web for these days: web-based applications. AJAX. Flash. Javascript. Interactive stuff. Email. Chat. Games. Movies. Podcasting. Looking at pictures. Downloading music. Every thing in the whole wide world besides reading documents.

Isn't it clear that, in fact, the web audience wants what is inside the web browser to be an application? And yet the web is built around a document metaphor? When in fact, we don't want the Internet to be an electronic newspaper or even a TV set. We want to interact with it. We want to push buttons and see it move.

And hence the clumsy state of our language situation, where we have to begin building every single web app using hypertext mark-up language, when 90% of the time our final intended product has as much to do with a formatted text document as a bird does with a fish.

So we have all these other languages that are more like real programming languages, except that they're glued-on add-ons which are little pieces of languages. Generate server-side content? You need PHP or Perl. Generate client side? Java or Javascript. Animate something? Flash. Collect and process user data? Javascript. Make it look like anything but plain text? CSS. Need some vector lines? SVG. Need a meta-language to build a smaller language? XML. Are you going to publish a feed of your content? RSS.

We make web pages that are more like applications than they are like documents. Why aren't we using a straight programming language? ONE language, like Python or C? Something that can do everything? If we want to print text in a programming language, we still have print statements.

Apple got this right all the way back in 1987; they made Hypercard. It was a programming platform first and foremost. It combined all the media capabilities into one base, not scattered out in a jackstraw menagerie of a dozen little toy languages specialized for niche purposes.

I've gotten my tail kicked for criticizing Tim Berners-Lee before, and I've been mulling it over for years and I'm still critical. Daring to disrespect Saint B-L may seem shocking to some of you out there, but, dammit, HTML was short-sighted! If it wasn't, then why have we been trying to extend it in so many different directions for two decades, now?

Well, too late to do anything about it, now. Complaining about web languages equates to fussing about the weather in terms of productivity. I should quit grousing on my document blog and go back to work in my document web page editor. Using ten languages to make one document image gallery before uploading it to my site's document CMS so that it will display in a browser which was built with one language that was designed with the right purpose in mind.

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