[In response to Dave Winer] The Web browser can and will evolve...

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From: Adam Rifkin (adam@KnowNow.com)
Date: Sat Sep 23 2000 - 18:40:22 PDT

I just read the DaveNet essay, "What is P2P?", released on 9/20/2000,
7:38:39 AM Pacific, and FoRKed at:


[Recall that this was the post in which Dave dreamed that he was
"dressed like Mahatma Gandhi." :]

In his dream, a young man asks Dave "what, oh what, is P2P?", and
Dave's response begins with:

> ***A network app that doesn't run in a web browser
> First and foremost, the Web browser is going nowhere, like a cow in a
> crowded Calcutta square. Now that Microsoft owns the market, and the Web
> development world is thoroughly and permanently confused, there's no way
> to evolve HTML in any particular direction ...

The Web is an Internet-Scale System. Internet-Scale Systems are
designed to be evolvable. Therefore ...

1. Regarding the phrase "the Web browser is going nowhere" ...

I believe "the Web browser" can -- and will -- adapt and change as
needed. For example, Jakob Nielsen points out in his column "Finally
Progress in Internet Client Design" ...

 ... that after seven years without progress, people are now exploring
new Web user interfaces for special-purpose use and/or improved user control.

To paraphrase Alan Kay, the best way to predict the future of Web
browsers is to invent ways to evolve what already exists.

Tiny innovations such as "peering" -- embedding a Web server in an
existing Web browser -- have significant new ramifications for user
experience, user control, and Web application development & integration.

With time, we'll evolve out of the mouse-potato world of Web "browsers"
and into a richer, more interactive world of Web "peers". Imagine a
world with Web peers on every desktop and in every application... and in
every device!

And whereas The Web As It Exists Today is a "One-Way Web" -- only Web
"clients" can initiate communication -- a Web of peers is truly a
"Two-Way Web" in which *any* peer -- person and program alike -- can
initiate communication. Now *that* is true P2P: all the decentralization
of the Web, leveraging all of the existing expertise of the Web's
worldwide developers and all of the Web applications already out there.

Imagine taking The Web As It Exists Today -- a world of browsable Web
"pages" -- and evolving it into a world of composable Web "services"
that support a variety of user interfaces and allow countless ways to
extend the Web through active proxying:


Simple Object Access Protocol presents a clean path toward this world of
Web Application Integration.

To quote Sam Cooke, "Don't know much about history... [but] what a
wonderful a world This would be!"

2. Regarding the phrase "the Web development world is thoroughly and
   permanently confused" ...

I believe that Web developers are the most nimble group of developers
the world has ever seen. Whenever they need something that doesn't
exist, they find and extend something that's already out there, and/or
whip up scripts on-the-fly to do new and often amazing things.

I believe it is the ad hoc, decentralized, easily scriptable nature of
the Web that helped to accelerate its viral adoption among developers
over the last decade.

The innovation of a 100% Web-native peering platform -- a "WebOS" --
would allow the world's Web developers to leverage their collective
expertise to evolve the One-Way Web into a Two-Way Web with minimal
additions to The Web As It Exists Today. Whereas today's One-Way Web is
publish-and-wait-for-someone-to-browse, the Two-Way Web would use
publish-and-subscribe to deliver information to interested people and
programs instantly when that fresh information comes available. To
offer such a service at Internet-Scale is to evolve Web Application

Would the Web development world break their "thorough confusion" and
apply this new meme? I believe so.

And the reason I think they would try out the new meme is because of its
trialability. Web developers and Web masters and system administrators
and script jockeys and Web authors and Web hobbyists and so on have in
the past sampled offerings like Java and JavaScript that, in their day,
extended the Web browsing experience way past the limits of what was
possible before them.

So... how to evolve the One-Way Web into the Two-Way Web?

Well, what was once "Lunatic Fringe" can become "Conventional Wisdom" if
the timing is right. So I'll take this opportunity to pound the table
for the culmination of more than twenty years of event-notification
research and development in both industry and academia: "We recommend a
layered Interent-Scale Event Notification Service wire protocol, perhaps
as an asynchronous version of HTTP with hooks for notification
management," as advocated in ...


Geez, Rohit, did we really write that paper over two years ago? Why did
we never publish it? (Did we not think anyone would *subscribe*? :)

3. Regarding the phrase "there's no way to evolve HTML in any particular
   direction" ...

I'm not a member of the World Wide Web Consortium, but I look to them
for guidance:


To quote: "W3C's work in XHTML helps create standards that provide
richer Web pages on an ever increasing range of browser platforms
including cell phones, televisions, cars, wallet sized wireless
communicators, kiosks, and desktops. XHTML is intended to be used in
conjunction with tags from other XML applications, so that in principle,
you can combine say, XHTML tags with SVG Graphics tags or XML tags from
any other XML application."

It sounds to me like HTML is evolving in a direction that supports
richer interactions and many forms of extensibility. Regarding new
user interface memes in particular ...


To quote: "Work on forms has now grown to the point where it is
appropriate to split off into an independent working group chartered
with developing W3C specifications for the next generation of Web
forms. The key idea is to separate the user interface and presentation
from the data model and logic, allowing the same form to be used on a
wide variety of devices such as voice browsers, handhelds, desktops and
even paper. XForms brings the benefits of XML to Web forms, transferring
form data as XML. XForms aims to reduce the need for scripting, and to
make it easier to achieve the desired layout of forms fields without
having to resort to using nested tables etc."

I believe that W3C's Dave Raggett, Ian Jacobs, Masayasu Ishikawa, and
Takuya Asada are providing the leadership and the expertise needed to
evolve HTML and its successors not just in a particular direction, but
in the *right* direction.

Rohit recently published some thoughts on XForms:


To quote Rohit: "The Web won because the dominant GUI browsing idiom
controlled the user experience so thoroughly that authors could expect
to use the same fonts, layout, color, and input widgets across every
platform from workstation to wristwatch ... Evolution proceeds by fits
and starts ... Ultimately, the power to migrate to a new forms language
is in Web authors' hands ..."

So yes, I believe we are witnessing evolution-as-it-is-happening:


To quote: "In the competitive market of Internet technologies, it is
instructive to consider how the Web trounced competing species of
protocols. Though it shared several adaptations common to Internet
protocols, such as 'free software spreads faster,' 'ASCII systems spread
faster than binary ones,' and 'bad protocols imitate; great protocols
steal,' it leveraged one unique strategy: 'self-description.' The Web
can be built upon itself. Universal Resource Identifiers,
machine-readable data formats, and machine-readable specifications can
be knit together into an extensible system that assimilates any
competitors... in fact, the Web appropriated the philosophy of
content-neutrality from MIME types: it learned how to adapt to any
document type, new or established, equally well... [and] each step in
the ascent of XML adds momentum to Web applications."

Later in the essay Dave writes...

> ...Programming doesn't need to be so hard. With the power of P2P comes
> the opportunity to create new customized tools for specialized
> communities, corporations, schools, publications, and pre-IPO Internet
> startups. Everyone can participate in the new wealth of the Internet,
> and we can forget the ways of the Empire, and give the power to write
> programs to the people.
> Our motto will be "Not only do we let the users design the programs,
> we let them implement them too."

Amen. I'd like to quote Slide 31 from Vinod Khosla's infrastructure
presentation: "Adaptability, agility, and momentum will be the key to


I believe that the Web developers have that adaptability, agility, and
momentum to use their existing knowledge and tools and environments and
languages to design the programs of the Two-Way Web, and to implement
them too.

We're a scant 100 days from 2001. Don't fight The Web As It Exists
Today, and we'll avoid having HAL ask, "What are you doing, Dave?" :)

Think *evolution*, not revolution. The Two-Way Web is manifest destiny.


Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone. "But which is the stone that supports the bridge?" Kublai Khan asks. "The bridge is not supported by one stone or another," Marco answers, "but by the line of the arch that they form." Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: "Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me." Polo answers: "Without stones there is no arch." -- Italo Calvino, _Invisible Cities_

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