Thursday, September 24, 2009

Web X.x?

At the risk of sounding old, I remember when the web was in black and white. Or rather, when text was a default black, backgrounds were grey, fresh links were blue, old links were purple, and the combination of limited technology and limited knowledge prevented most web content from diverging from that scheme.

This was Netscape Navigator 1.0, and I was a student at the University of Manitoba making regular trips to the Engineering building to browse on a Solaris workstation, when I should have been in the library studying my social work textbooks.

Can you blame me?

I don't. It was an exciting time. Even then, I was the social work geek with the transplanted heart of a computer science nerd. I was beside myself with joy when the university granted me a unix shell account and dial-in access ("Please explain in detail: Why do you need this?"), then worked diligently at home to configure Trumpet Winsock to provide a TCP/IP interface for my copy of Windows 3.1.

While I was pleased to watch how the web grew in beauty and sophistication over the passing years, I never felt the need to attach a version number to it.

HTML version numbers rose, Navigator extensions proliferated, Internet Explorer 1.0 arrived on my desktop to much derisive laughter before being joyfully deleted (it was truly inferior at that stage). The web changed from a monochromatic newspaper to a semi-interactive meeting place, to what it is today -- a more fully interactive social networking and collaboration environment that much of our daily activities now occur on. It's education and entertainment, communication and commerce. LifeOS. With the proliferation of web-based applications, the operating system you run at home and at work has become less and less important (and as a Linux user, I appreciate this perhaps more than most).

Still, there's been no version number as I perceive it. No staggering, lumbering steps of laboured movement, counted with a pedometer. No exhausted, fitful rests next to a planted flag, after passing out on successively higher plateaus during the vertical climbing expedition.

Feel free to disagree vehemently, bolstering your opinion with a carefully labelled progress vs. time graph. :-) But I'm not trying to tell you you're wrong; only that I perceive things differently. For me, the development of the world wide web has felt organic -- a continuum of progression; with increasing complexity and functionality over a long span. Old growth like Archie, WAIS and Gopher have now been long ago supplanted by Google, but I still remember how searching used to be. Often, what is widely perceived to be revolutionary is usually just evolutionary, but without the benefit of historical perspective.

So I'll talk with you about Web2.0, just so that we have a common term of reference that points to a particular range on the evolutionary timeline. But it's still just "the web" to me.