14 April 2006

Perspective and Change

I was talking with an old friend - one of the original Organic guys - you know... sitting on the porch and talking smack about the so-called "good old days."

Once we got through the litany of complaints and memories, we started talking more seriously about how things have changed - and about how things have not. In a weird way, it was a pretty cool coversation. I think that we were among the very first "web developers" available for hire. We've seen this from the very early days - have lived through the boom and the bust, through zealotry about the potential for the medium ("we're going to change everything") to burnt out cynicism ("I'm moving to the dessert where there are no computers").

This conversation has really stuck with me - like a splinter in the ball of your foot. As a result, I've started to get a better perspective onto the topic.

So... some differences, some commonalities and some issues...

- In those early heady days - the folks doing web development for hire were the true serious innovators (as a general rule). Internal (client) folks were far behind us and the work coming out of internal development groups was usually between laughable and terrible.
- These days, it seems like most of the innovation is coming from within product companies. The service companies (folks who do development for hire) seem to be producing "professional" work - but without creating change or pushing the envelope in any real way.

This is depressing to me. I guess I'm stuck in the past - but I love consulting services. And I love that we were the ones setting the standard.

- In those early days we had to just make stuff up as we went along. We had no idea of what we were doing - 0r how to do it. We borrowed and stole from other markets and mediums and technologies as best we could. But we didn't have tools. We didn't have best practices. We didn't have models and methodologies and processes.
- Now we're in a world of Solved Problems. There are the rare situations where things just have to be "invented" but for the most part this has all be done before. We're improving - but not inventing. We have tools - and they get better all the time. We have lessons we can learn from. There are best practices all around us.

And yet... somehow... people don't seem to learn. I see the same mistakes being made. I don't know what is going on - but it seems like folks are not seeing the potential here. People don't see that the tools and the case studies and the lessons learned can be combined to give you the freedom to easily and quickly and reliably do things the right way. Worse than that... the folks who do seem to be learning this are all on the product side.

- Early on, sites were crude and hardly interactive. We dreamed of sites with great functionality and integration into people's lives. As a result, we did crazy things like built our own custom application servers. Because we had to. And even then, sites were weird and crazy and half-baked much of the time. And these were the good sites. The bad ones were huge image maps and the blink tag. Brochure ware and re-purposed content.
- Now there almost are no such thing as "sites". There are complicated applications that happen to use browsers for an interface. Commercial application servers combined with full fledged APIs and web services for every software package available have created the opportunity where anything can become a "website."

This is the exciting thing! This is why I'm still doing this.
There is so much potential.
I just hope that it's not all realized by Google and Platial and other product companies.
I just want us to lead again.


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