The Web Can Be…

Most of us think we know what the Web is: a vast network of information, a mega entertainment center, virtual shopping malls and organizations, social networks. But I like to think that the Web can be more (or less, depending on your perspective).

The way I look at it, the Web can be:

1. Simple.

As a professional web programmer, I know too well the extent of complexity we’re adding to the Web. The fact that “information architecture” is now an actual term, and that UX experts are hired everywhere to tame the vast information online says a lot about this complexity.

But does the Web really have to be this complicated? Are we all buying into the misconception that bigger is better? For example, this is all I needed to make this point:

Example of a Simple webpage

You may argue that this is hardly a real-world example, but then what is a “real-world” example? If I change the text to “I Love You” and send the link to my girlfriend, it would be a swell real-world example of a simple webpage serving its purpose of delivering my romantic message. Just because it’s not potentially profitable doesn’t mean it’s not “real-world”.

It doesn’t always have to be complicated, you see.

2. Random.

The foundation of all computing systems, it can be argued, is logic. Therefore we would expect the Web to be completely logical, wouldn’t we?

But does it really have to be? Just as many of us would enjoy the company of a friend who’s completely random and catches you off guard while giving you the laughs, why shouldn’t we have a more random Web? Admit it, life is chaotic and random and indifferent to our logic, and sometimes that’s the way we like it. The Web, too, can be completely random:

Screenshot of a page where the elements are randomly placed.

I think we should stop settling for the assumption that the Web has to look or behave in one way or another, it can and certainly should be completely random at times.

3. Childlike.

Sure, we already have plenty of childish people online. But being childlike is a completely different quality. It means giving in to our imaginative, unbridled instincts. It means making use of the Web to create content that puts a glee on the faces of our children instead of thinking about the clickthough rate all the time.

I’m sure our kids (and many of us) will find this familiar:

Screenshot of a page where it's pitch black and there are cartoon eyeballs hinting at someone in the dark

(If not, you might want to start playing with your kids in the dark. Or at least have them read some good picture books or cartoons.)

4. Slow.

Maybe it’s the pace of expanding cities and its communities (who are such fervent contributors to the Web) that’s causing expectations of an ever faster Web, but maybe we can try to have a slower Web instead?

Just as physical spots like museums and gardens grant us the pleasure of slowing down, we can start building content on the Web that allows us to relax and immerse in the content. Faster doesn’t always mean better, as many of us know.

Screenshot of a green webpage with a crawling snail in it

Now I dare you to slow down and spend more than a minute watching the snail crawl on this page.

5. Old.

We’re all victims of the constantly upgrading Web. So many of us have gotten used to and grown to love the interfaces of our favorite web app or website, only to find that it was given a makeover overnight. Like the clubs in a busy town that can’t stop revamping themselves in order to retain their finicky customers, many websites change their look and behavior so fast and so frequently sometimes it’s hard to keep up.

It is my opinion that not every website has to revamp itself. Once we stop thinking of the Web exclusively as a functional tool, then perhaps we can start looking at it as a snapshot of our culture and times, and not just accept the possibility that web content can look the same all the time, but that it can be a good thing. (Luckily, we have a few websites that have stubbornly/ magnanimously retained their look and feel, so that we are still able to catch a glimpse of the Web at different times in the history of the Web.)

Screenshot of the original website of You've Got Mail, since 1998
The original website of You’ve Got Mail, online and unadulterated since 1998

6. Low-tech.

Building the Web is not a task exclusive to the programmers and designers and everyone professionally engaged in building web products, it is for everyone who wants to help build the Web.

The current state of the industry is such that we’re always looking for newer and more powerful tools to do the job. Again, that’s not always necessary. In fact, if we’re overly hung up on using powerful tools and, worse, demanding others to do the same, we’re raising the hurdle for newbies and amateurs who want to help build the Web. In the long run, this is going to result in a closed, boring Web lacking in variety.

Each and every example I’ve listed here are simple HTML pages that can be created by anyone who knows to open up Notepad and save text files with a .html, .css, or .js extension. No local server, no database, no frameworks, no package managers, no preprocessors, no build tools. Just the basics. Something any computer-savvy person can pick up in an hour or two.

Screenshot of the code behind a simple webpage
If you can type the above, you can help build the Web. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

* * *

As a user and professional who has known the Web from its earlier days, I can’t help but feel that the scope of the Web seems to have narrowed vastly at the same time as it has matured. The above is just a short glimpse of what the Web can be beyond its utilitarian purposes, but I hope to remind not just myself but also everyone who is contributing to the Web that we can and should make the Web a more balanced platform. Just as our physical society is not the sum of its economic activities, so should the virtual world be more wholesome, don’t you think?