Boris Mann

Open Source. Community. Decentralized Web. Building dev tools at Fission. Cooks & eats.


Meta-Web Publishing

Greg sent me a pointer to a long article at called Processing Processing. It talks about Processing, a “small computer language layered above Java. Processing makes it possible to quickly create hopefully interesting images and animations”.

The article goes on to talk about some other interesting languages that are kind of at the intersection of programming and content. That is, the goal of these special-purpose languages is to create, to facilitate the creation of specific kinds of content. The very process of learning these languages makes the content more understandable, more explicit.

But it gets better…

At the very end of the article, the author talks about wishing the web were like that:

I wish that people would take a step back and look at everything we’ve done and “elegantize” the Web as a construct, define a set of core goals that web developers want to solve and create as small as possible a language, based on the smallest possible set of principles, that will help them meet those goals. At this point in my life as a web developer, I don’t want tutorials on hacking my CSS so it looks good in IE5.2 for the Macintosh (I’m about to give up on that very thing, in fact, after dozens of hours); rather, I want an answer to the question “what is a link?” I don’t want someone to make it easier, another Dreamweaver or FrontPage, I want it to be elegant, like the computer language Scheme is elegant.
Aside: Scheme was my favourite language that I learned in university.

What follows this paragraph is a discussion of 7 questions about the nature of the web, about why some things are the way they are today. One of my favourites is #5, the one about re-using content, “taking individual sentences and phrases and flowing them into timelines, automatically extracting plays from short stories”.

I think the answer to some of these might very well be something a little like a wiki. Lately, there have been some really interesting developments in Wiki-land. See Don Park’s post on Wiki-based Websites. In particular, he points to Matt Haughey’s website…which is actually a wiki, with some interesting plug-ins, and it’s, umm, not ugly (of course, there was a post earlier in the year that agreed that wikis were ugly, but beauty wasn’t their purpose, or somehow orthogonal to their usefulness).

So, I think a wiki might be the “small language layered above XHTML/CSS/etc.”. Why?

  1. It's the writable web
  2. Linking, creating new pages -- what the web is/should be -- is really, really, really easy; intertwingling at it's best
  3. It has a syntax that is simpler than -- yet can still leverage -- the underlying layers
Perhaps this has a lot to do with complexity migrating ever farther from the end-user as the technology becomes more well understood -- you keep abstracting away the layers until anybody (i.e. the mass market?) can use it.

No, this does not mean I’ll be ditching Drupal any time soon. But, the web as giant wiki, everybody with their own little corner of it, reaching out into other’s spaces, collaboratively editing parts of it, re-using bits of others.