December 31st, 2015
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Let me use a computer game analogy to express two visions of the future Web.
The first vision is the Web as Minecraft—an open world with simple pieces that obey simple rules. The graphics are kind of clunky, but that’s not the point, and nobody cares.
In this vision, you are meant to be an active participant, you’re supposed to create stuff, and you’ll have the most fun when you collaborate with others.
The rules of the game are simple and don’t constrain you much.
People create astonishing stuff in Minecraft.
Here is an entire city full of skyscrapers, lovingly tended.
Here are some maniacs who have built an entire working CPU out of redstone. if this were scaled up big enough, it could also run Minecraft, which is a mind-bending thought.
The game is easy to learn and leaves you to your own devices. Its lack of polish is part of its appeal.
The other vision is of the web as Call of Duty—an exquisitely produced, kind-of-but-not-really-participatory guided experience with breathtaking effects and lots of opportunities to make in-game purchases.
Creating this kind of Web requires a large team of specialists. No one person can understand the whole pipeline, nor is anyone expected to. Even if someone could master all the technologies in play, the production costs would be prohibitive.
The user experience in this kind of Web is that of being carried along, with the illusion of agency, within fairly strict limits. There’s an obvious path you’re supposed to follow, and disincentives to keep you straying from it. As a bonus, the game encodes a whole problematic political agenda. The only way to reject it is not to play.
Despite the lavish production values, there’s a strange sameness to everything. You’re always in the same brown war zone.
With great effort and skill, you might be able make minor modifications to this game world. But most people will end up playing exactly the way the publishers intend. It’s passive entertainment with occasional button-mashing.