#MindMatters: Weaving the Web

About this month’s #MindMatters spokesperson

Name: Paul Kizior
Team: We Are Mammoth Consulting
Role: Back-end developer
Location: Seattle, Washington
Favorite place to eat/chill/drink: Now that the weather’s getting nice again, one of my favorite ways to relax is to go for a walk along the Puget Sound in the park near my apartment. When it’s a clear day, you can see incredible views of both the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier.

What’s good and plentiful in life for you lately?

I’ve been spending the past bit painting my apartment, and I’ve finally managed to wrap that up. So, other than that there are still plentiful paint cans and other implements left over, it’s been good to finally be able to look around my apartment and not cringe at the least-inspiring color scheme ever created.

What did we read as a group this month?

This April, we read Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee (to whom I’ll refer as TimBL). Actually, that’s a bit misleading, as most of us listened to the audiobook. The irony of being unable to find a digital textual copy of a book about the birth of a new digital medium was not lost on us. Anyway, this book followed the path that TimBL took as he developed the concepts and technology behind the World Wide Web through the late 1980s and early 1990s, from his adoption of hypertext and creation of HTML, to the development of the first web servers, to the browser wars in the early nineties. Eat your heart out, Al Gore.

It’s really important to make a distinction here between the World Wide Web and the Internet, especially since this is pretty much lost nowadays. The Internet, networks within networks of interconnected computers, already existed before TimBL started developing the World Wide Web. Even by the early 1980s, people could communicate with others over the Internet via email, bulletin board systems, and Usenet. However, these systems all lacked a key feature of the modern Internet – namely, the web itself. That is, there was no standardized way to access, travel between, and link the content from all these various systems on the Internet at that time.

Here are a few points our team is taking away from the book:
  • It can often be really difficult for revolutionary ideas to take traction. While TimBL was working at CERN, his funding proposals for working out the World Wide Web were rejected multiple times. Even after he got funding, his work was still ignored within his immediate community for some time. While this might be the case of a computer scientist being out of place at a physics laboratory, it still shows that it can be difficult to recognize the value of radically transformative ideas.
  • Some of the key concepts that he championed are still cherished in the web development community today. One of TimBL’s goals when developing HTML was to divorce content from presentation so that any browser on any machine could display an HTML document or “web page”. This is still going strong as the mobile revolution has come to fruition and “responsive” is on every front-end developer’s lips.
  • We are still dealing with many of the same problems with Internet culture today that we were dealing with when this book was published in 1999. Tim Berners-Lee expressed hope that the Internet could provide a safe space for reasoned discussion, dialogue, and community. However, I think that if anything, we’ve only seen culture on the Internet grow louder and more tribal in many ways – with people shouting past each other instead of coming together past differences. Don’t read the comments.

What notable discussions happened in the #MindMatters HipChat room over the past month?

One of the things that came up this past month was the adoption of holacracy as an organizational system at Zappos and the resulting fallout. In a nutshell, holacracy is a system that distributes decision-making power and authority throughout various self-organizing and self-managing teams. One interesting take on the transition at Zappos is questioning why a CEO would need to mandate the adoption system of self-management. It seems a bit antithetical to the whole philosophy.

What are some other interesting things you’re reading, listening to, or learning from lately?

Lately, I’ve been rekindling an interest of mine in philosophy and have just caught up to the latest episodes of the podcast The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps. This podcast does seemingly cover the entire history of Western philosophy, from its beginnings with early Greek philosophers, through it’s adoption by early Christian and Islamic thinkers, to early European scholasticism in the Middle Ages, which is where the podcast is up to right now. The pacing and approach of this podcast have been very manageable, and I’ve made a routine of listening to an episode at lunch, which is also a great way for me to get my mind off work on my break. Now that I’m finally caught up with this podcast, I’m trying to take on Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy on audiobook.

What are we reading as a group this month?

For May, we are reading The Definitive Book of Body Language by Barbara Pease.