The Web is a Ghost Town

You’re out of beets, so you hit the market. When you get there, it’s deserted. You saunter over to the beet vending machine. $3 billion dollars per beet? That’s a little rich. As you turn to leave in disgust, you feel a tingle down your spine. Something is different. Everything is a little different. There’s no one in sight, though. Creepy.

Not that creepy, we navigate a similar situation every time we use the Internet.

Most of the Web only moves when you're not looking.

Most of the Web only moves when you’re not looking.

The Web is a ghost town. Go to eBay and it’s clear that there are a lot of people there, spruiking wares & trawling for bargains, but you never see them. Every time you turn around (hit refresh), stuff is different, things have happened. It’s as though the Web is Boo’s Mansion. Things only change when we’re not looking. This is a relic from the dawn of the Web, where pages rarely changed and everything operated on a request/response model. Modern sites should be always current.

In addition to being always current, Web pages should be live and lively without being distracting. There is an untapped world of engaging, emergent behaviour in highly interactive apps. Sometimes things become absolute pandemonium and need to be reigned in, but subtle indicators that the world is still spinning can drive engagement. I want to see more Highly Interactive apps.

Finally, it’s been over four years since Joshua Topolsky laid out his dream for the Continuous Client. After so long, it is largely still just a dream: when I switch devices, my context rarely follows.

These might seem like disparate ideas or features, but there’s a vein of similarity between them. In every case, we’re saying that a resource (Web page or otherwise) can change over time and that changes should be reflected on every screen viewing that resource. It doesn’t sound so controversial, but it’s rarely done. Our tools and technologies don’t currently make it easy to produce these reactive applications.

Technology moves so quickly and yet so slowly at the same time. The proliferation of reactive apps will come eventually, but we might be in self-driving hover cars before it happens.

We can do this. We’re engineers, it’s our job.