Victus Spiritus


The World Wide Web isn't an Open Platform

07 Feb 2011

We're doing it wrong

My family can send email, make phone calls, and navigate well designed user interfaces. I'd call those unequivocal open platforms for participation. Yet building web tools is broken for regular folks. The vast majority of people with access, can't create web apps to satisfy their needs. My argument is that there is enormous potential for billions of personal apps, if only people can piece them together. The small fraction of adept web hackers won't be coding up apps of a personal nature because they're not profitable or relevant beyond an individual's need. Open to only a few, isn't indicative of an open platform.

Last night I spent an hour browsing through web documentation on how to setup an Amazon Elastic Beanstalk with a JRuby on Rails test server. I have a broad coding background, and the last couple of years include web development. I'll admit that I'm not in the same category as the web hacking elite I learn from, but I'm a confident amateur*. I expected a smooth installation for remote app deployment from Elastic Beanstalk, but after bumping into a few problems with mysql (activerecord-jdbcmysql-adapter helped) and simply creating the database I had to admit the technology is not quite ready for mainstream adoption. I'll get it working later this week when I steal a few moments, but this made me aware of just how tough creating web apps is for non-coders.

One click for a hello world app, two to request and parse remote data, and three to process the returned information

What possible advantage can there be to making dynamic web application servers overly complicated to install and utilize? There's little real value in obscure programming interfaces for web app development. The proof will be evident when viable technologies gravitate towards the lowest barrier to entry and follow that design with a rich toolkit. The easy entry app environments will gain traction while arcane architectures fade into obscurity.

Only when simple web applications are commoditized, will we enjoy the richness of a diverse app landscape where all people are encouraged to participate. Contrary to the belief that this will result in lower need for professional web developers, the opposite will occur. An unlimited wave of personal apps will drive demand for beautiful front ends, and complex constructs which are capable of intelligently and productively weaving billions of services together. Professional web designers and developers will be in higher demand than ever before.

* = confident amateur defined: I no longer have fear of pouring over tutorials, github repos, documents and books. I've built Rails and Sinatra apps before with a few different interpreters (thanks rvm), as well as simple PHP, Python and Scala examples. I've deployed to a variety of remote hosts like Hostmonster, CouchOne, Heroku and the Google App Engine.

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