Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Evolving Web

In the beginning was dirt. Lots of it. Dirt was handy. You could stand on it. You could grow food in it. You could take a stick and scratch it.

Scratch the right things the right way, agree on the meaning, and you and your buddies could communicate. Leave a record of things. This was the first internet.

Didn't work that well.

The first breeze that came along messed it up bad.

Second, you all had to be there, looking at the scratches. Rather than sending the message around you sent the recipients. Awkward. But technologically promising.

Next came tablets. Wax. Clay. Stone. Time marched on. Tromp. Tromp.

Papyrus came and went. Then parchment. Quill pens had their day. Change was the one constant. Things had gotten beyond a few pokes with a stick. No longer could you do your tax return with a twig and a gob of clay.

Then the printing press. Mass communications. Industry. Engineering. Factories. Communication got easier in a way but it needed an infrastructure. Someone had to design type, melt metal, then set type and run presses, which had to be built first, but somehow this worked out. There was a division of labor. Specialization.

At one time only the richest, most privileged in society could read and write. Arithmetic was a university subject. Now they are all learned in grade school, and today it takes more than reading and writing to secure a fat career.

In the mainframe days you needed a Ph.D. to be a computer programmer. No, seriously. You had to plan carefully, and write down a bunch of ones and zeroes and feed them into a reader which programmed the computer, and then you got paid. A lot. Because no one else could do that.

Eventually programming languages were invented, and so on, and things got easier in a way, but not much. If you got inside the system you were set for life, just like in the old days.

Then, desktop computing came along. Revolution.

Back to the wild west. Anyone with time on their hands could do neat things. Not useful things but neat ones. Then they broke down barriers, overwhelmed the world, and made mainframes irrelevant.

Eventually those desktop toys got networked, and multi-tiered client-server systems came along, and remote procedure calls, and methodologies, and object orientation, and GUIs and IDEs and all that, and pretty soon you just about needed a masters degree to get a job again.

And then there was this web thing.

Put in a couple of weeks learning HTML, then start a new business. Couldn't do much, but it looked neat. Kind of a joke, really. The real computer people were not afraid.

First HTML, and then CSS were all you needed.

And then Photoshop: HTML, CSS, Photoshop. Period.

And graphic design.

Digital photography. Typography. Project management, iterative development. JavaScript. Ajax. Flash. Flex, C#, PHP, Ruby on Rails, HTTP, FTP, REST, CVS, SVN, Git, Python, Perl, XML, XHTML, Apache, IIS, Nginx, lighttpd.

And so on. A blizzard of technologies.

The web is mature. No longer a joke. Mainstream now. Desktop stuff folded into the enterprise black hole along with mainframes, and you can't make a living coding up web pages after work any more.

The web is now complicated and many faceted. It has complex interfaces. It is dynamic. It requires real programmers, user interface designers, usability engineers, test driven development, behavior driven development, design driven development, aspect oriented programming, scripting languages, frameworks, graphic artists, graphic designers, and a bunch more, depending on what the point is.

The early days are gone. We're well into the next wave. What it takes now, to get a solid web site built, and to keep it running, is professional help.

Luckily there is more professionalism in the industry these days. People with chops. People dedicated to producing and maintaining great sites. People who are sharp. People who have put in their time. People who will come through no matter what. Capable and committed.

So there's hope.


References:

Bertrand Meyer at ETH
Meyer's Introduction to Programming course and "Touch of Class" textbook
PDF of "Touch of Class" draft from 2004


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