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a defunct web development blog

10 web revolutionaries

Mon, 05 Jul 2010 10:59:41 +0000

This is sort of a reaction to Mashable's "10 Founding Fathers of the Web".. Those guys appear to belong in several very different categories, like someone was just randomly throwing out big names. The comments on that post give a much more accurate picture of people you'd be likely to think of as "founding" the web. Everyone listed helped move the web forward, but the mixture of guys who created fundamental parts of the web's infrastructure with guys who sort of improved on existing concepts is confusing.

Regardless, thanks for founding the web, dudes. It is a very nice web, and much appreciated. However! This is Independence Day and sitting on the lawn drinking Budweiser and pointing bottle rockets at your neighbors isn't something you do to celebrate quiet perseverance in service to science and progress. You do it to celebrate revolution and fucking shit up. In the spirit of the latter, these folks are ten of my most favorite web revolutionaries:

1. Joe Burns

In terms of revolution, I see Mr. Burns as a kind of Martin Luther, bringing HTML to the people. Specifically, in my case, bringing it to people who were teenagers and without HTML Goodies, wouldn't have known where to begin researching the fledgling art of web development. It became the primary resource I pointed other beginners to during my time as a community leader at Geocities. Eventually it stopped being relevant to what I was doing, but I continued recommending it to people just starting out for years after I quit actually using it. There were a lot of sketchy resources at that time, a lot of conflicting information, dogma, and superstition - it wasn't the most technically advanced guide in the world, but it was more reliable than many and accessible to anyone.

2. Jennifer Ringley

I have to admit I never actually saw JenniCam, so I guess this is all kind of hearsay, but I remember plenty of discussions about it. It was strange and crazy for this woman to set up a webcam in her dorm room. It changed the web socially, but I think it's also fair to say Ringley and subsequent camgirls played a part in changing it technically. If video on the web hadn't moved beyond pictures of fish and into voyeurism and pornography, I don't think we'd be talking about video in HTML5 today. Certainly at some point, but not today.

3. Craig Newmark

In contrast to the oversaturation, the technical complexity, and the questionable motives of most of the web, Craigslist is plain, small, and genuine. Not such a big deal when it started out, but I think its refusal to change with the times is what makes it revolutionary. Sometimes changing with the times is bullshit. While the rest of us throw every damned OAuth connection and -moz-cupholders:5000 we can find all over our websites in hopes of generating more interest than the thousand other sites we're competing with, Craigslist does one thing very well and continues doing just that one thing, without gimmicks. Ignoring the very minor tweaks along the way, there's something to be said for that kind of stubbornness. I could post this same thing almost anywhere on Craigslist and more people would see it than will ever read it here. As Facebook overtakes MySpace overtakes Friendster, Craigslist remains constant and eternally popular.

4. Nate Oostendorp

At the time I discovered Everything2, I didn't know of anything else like it. Livejournal may have been around at that point. Wikipedia most certainly was not. Flickr, the site that bears closest relation as far as I'm concerned, was just a twinkle in some young developer's eye. A decade later it continues to exist and there's still nothing like it. It's similar to Craigslist but also completely opposite. The nature and purpose of E2 changes with each successive wave of moderators, features come and go in slow reaction to technological fashion, and it remains completely fucking obscure and yet a huge part of the lives of a relatively small group of people. Given that what makes it revolutionary is its unceasing anarchy, it seems a little weird to hang it all on one person. On the other hand, I think I'm probably correct in believing E2 was the first site to ever be so fully handed over to its users, and for that he's a pioneer.

5. Zeldman

Seriously you should probably just take your can of Budweiser and go re-read "To Hell With Bad Browsers". It's way more inspiring than this drivel.

6. Dave Shea

I remember using CSS Zen Garden and the ALA article mentioned above as a two-pronged attack against my boss' policy that we were going to keep marking up our website in tables until armed terrorists broke in and made us stop it. CSS Zen Garden was sort of like Stalin to ALA's Marx. It's also one of the most elegant proofs of concept that I've ever seen. Not only could this professional design guy style carefully structured markup to look more or less like what a client wanted, tons of other web guys and girls could style exactly the same bare-bones markup to look like any goddamned thing they could imagine. I still think it was a huge fucking deal.

7. Holly Bergevin

I'm resisting the urge to extend the Marxism analogy all the way to its breaking point here. Instead I'll just ask where we'd be without the Holly Hack? I fear it's always going to be the case that the dominant web browser is a decade-old version of IE. Without IE hacks, the web would be nowhere.

and 8. John Gallant

And the problem is never just IE. I've torn my hair out over all the others, too. PIE made it possible not to give up. Idealism is awesome, but we're always going to need someone documenting the realities and, in doing so, keeping the pressure on.

9. Crockford

Last week at work I was in an argument about whether we were going to offer a version of a product that didn't require Javascript. Imagine that five years ago. Imagine even considering not having a noscript alternative then. A hell of a lot of people contributed to this massive shift - some of them mentioned in the Mashable thing - but Crockford stands out to me because he's promoting all the "good parts", not just one specific technique or library. I'm not going to go on about it. You know why Crockford's awesome.

10. Nicole Sullivan

I don't see anyone better poised to do for CSS what Crockford et al have done for Javascript. And god knows CSS needs the help. Even as the web collectively freaks out over the potential of CSS3, people are coming up with all kinds of crazy ways to avoid actually writing CSS and I'm getting in fights on Facebook about how CSS is fundamentally broken. I'm hopeful that Ms. Sullivan's work is going to help CSS evolve to suit those of us who already love it (instead of to pacify the h4terz) and to get the respect it deserves.

All pretty subjective, but hey..
Happy Fourth. :)