The Closed Web.

@iamdeveloper said this on Twitter this other day:

Starting a basic website in 2014:

  • 1. Install Node
  • 2. Install Bower
  • 3. Pick CSS framework
  • 4. Pick responsive approach
  • 47. Write some HTML

What’s that suppose to mean? you ask. Well, to put it simply, building a website is now – sadly – an exclusive thing ‘best left to the professionals’.

The Great Wall of Technology.

Imagine this person (regardless of age, gender or education) who’s excited by the prospects of the Web and wishes to build a product/service/presence online. Also imagine that he or she has no background in computers and technology whatsoever. Ten years ago, he or she could have easily picked up a book or gone online to find out how to code basic HTML or create animations with Flash and, I’m pretty sure, will be able to come up with something decent within a month.

By the time I’m writing this, though, Web technology has become so complex that it’s extremely difficult for anyone to start from scratch and build something for herself, either to save money or for her own creative expression.

In short, the hurdle is too high for a beginner to overcome.

Layers of Complexity.

Want to write some HTML? Well, make sure your HTML is semantic and accessible. Oh, and don’t forget to use the right tags – like, don’t use an <article> tag when what you actually need is a <section> tag.

Want to write CSS? Yeah, it’s not difficult. Just make sure you use more classes than ids and don’t nest your selectors more than four levels. And of course, make sure your styles accommodate themselves to all screen sizes. You know, it’s that responsive web design thing they’re all talking about.

You know what? Instead of worrying about all that, how about using preprocessors like Sass and Stylus and Zencoding/Emmet and…

I know, I’m losing you.

And that’s precisely what’s happening on the Web right now. In their mission to create an ever more sophisticated Web, the professionals in the industry are complicating things to such an extent that creating the Web is no longer an open-to-all activity that anyone who’s interested can participate.

Any sound-minded person who’s a beginner and whose goal isn’t to be a professional in the industry will find it too painful to climb the absurdly tall hurdle that faces him. To build a website, then, the only way out is to hire a professional or to buy into one of those cheap templates available everywhere.

Personal expression? Creative experiment? Wait till you have mastered all the 46 prerequisite technologies before you get started, noob.

Yes, the Web is still open to browsing by all (maybe except in places like China), it may even be open to participation by all, but it is no longer open to building by all.

The Closing Web.

Needless to say, I’m saddened by the fact that the Web that once promised us unlimited freedom is now starting to close on all fronts. The first time I felt this was when I typed google.com and was redirected to google.com.sg, automatically. Now the Web is no longer the world, it’s a fragment of the world that Google has decided to show me.

The second time I felt the Web closing up was quite recently, when this new setup I joined was all obsessed about the ‘standards’ and doing things the ‘right’ way. Gone, it seems, are the times when you can code anything as long as it works. Now you have the standards police whining when you don’t follow the rules. (Eventually, perhaps, you won’t be allowed to publish your work unless it adheres to the standards.)

And I know, there will be more of this happening, sooner rather than later, so that eventually the Web will become this massive black box that we know nothing about but which dictates our lives.

If you’ve been through the earlier days of the Web when it was truly open to all, you may feel this same tinge of sadness and nostalgia. Sure, the Web is a lot more powerful now compared to then, but it is no longer as open and democratic.

Perhaps, this whole ideal of complete openness is just that, an ideal.

And even the Internet can’t change that.