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robertogreco : bloat   8

Web Design - The First 100 Years
"Today I hope to persuade you that the same thing that happened to aviation is happening with the Internet. Here we are, fifty years into the computer revolution, at what feels like our moment of greatest progress. The outlines of the future are clear, and oh boy is it futuristic.

But we're running into physical and economic barriers that aren't worth crossing.

We're starting to see that putting everything online has real and troubling social costs.

And the devices we use are becoming 'good enough', to the point where we can focus on making them cheaper, more efficient, and accessible to everyone.

So despite appearances, despite the feeling that things are accelerating and changing faster than ever, I want to make the shocking prediction that the Internet of 2060 is going to look recognizably the same as the Internet today.

Unless we screw it up.

And I want to convince you that this is the best possible news for you as designers, and for us as people."



"So while Moore's Law still technically holds—the number of transistors on a chip keeps increasing—its spirit is broken. Computers don't necessarily get faster with time. In fact, they're getting slower!

This is because we're moving from desktops to laptops, and from laptops to smartphones. Some people are threatening to move us to wristwatches.
In terms of capability, these devices are a step into the past. Compared to their desktop brethren, they have limited memory, weak processors, and barely adequate storage.

And nobody cares, because the advantages of having a portable, lightweight connected device are so great. And for the purposes of taking pictures, making calls, and surfing the internet, they've crossed the threshold of 'good enough'.

What people want from computers now is better displays, better battery life and above all, a better Internet connection.

Something similar happened with storage, where the growth rate was even faster than Moore's Law. I remember the state-of-the-art 1MB hard drive in our computer room in high school. It cost a thousand dollars.
Here's a photo of a multi-megabyte hard drive from the seventies. I like to think that the guy in the picture didn't have to put on the bunny suit, it was just what he liked to wear.

Modern hard drives are a hundred times smaller, with a hundred times the capacity, and they cost a pittance. Seagate recently released an 8TB consumer hard drive.

But again, we've chosen to go backwards by moving to solid state storage, like you find in smartphones and newer laptops. Flash storage sacrifices capacity for speed, efficiency and durability.

Or else we put our data in 'the cloud', which has vast capacity but is orders of magnitude slower.

These are the victories of good enough. This stuff is fast enough.

Intel could probably build a 20 GHz processor, just like Boeing can make a Mach 3 airliner. But they won't. There's a corrollary to Moore's law, that every time you double the number of transistors, your production costs go up. Every two years, Intel has to build a completely new factory and production line for this stuff. And the industry is turning away from super high performance, because most people don't need it.

The hardware is still improving, but it's improving along other dimensions, ones where we are already up against hard physical limits and can't use the trick of miniaturization that won us all that exponential growth.

Battery life, for example. The limits on energy density are much more severe than on processor speed. And it's really hard to make progress. So far our advances have come from making processors more efficient, not from any breakthrough in battery chemistry.

Another limit that doesn't grow exponentially is our ability to move information. There's no point in having an 8 TB hard drive if you're trying to fill it over an AT&T network. Data constraints hit us on multiple levels. There are limits on how fast cores can talk to memory, how fast the computer can talk to its peripherals, and above all how quickly computers can talk to the Internet. We can store incredible amounts of information, but we can't really move it around.

So the world of the near future is one of power constrained devices in a bandwidth-constrained environment. It's very different from the recent past, where hardware performance went up like clockwork, with more storage and faster CPUs every year.

And as designers, you should be jumping up and down with relief, because hard constraints are the midwife to good design. The past couple of decades have left us with what I call an exponential hangover.

Our industry is in complete denial that the exponential sleigh ride is over. Please, we'll do anything! Optical computing, quantum computers, whatever it takes. We'll switch from silicon to whatever you want. Just don't take our toys away.
But all this exponential growth has given us terrible habits. One of them is to discount the present.

When things are doubling, the only sane place to be is at the cutting edge. By definition, exponential growth means the thing that comes next will be equal in importance to everything that came before. So if you're not working on the next big thing, you're nothing.



A further symptom of our exponential hangover is bloat. As soon as a system shows signs of performance, developers will add enough abstraction to make it borderline unusable. Software forever remains at the limits of what people will put up with. Developers and designers together create overweight systems in hopes that the hardware will catch up in time and cover their mistakes.

We complained for years that browsers couldn't do layout and javascript consistently. As soon as that got fixed, we got busy writing libraries that reimplemented the browser within itself, only slower.

It's 2014, and consider one hot blogging site, Medium. On a late-model computer it takes me ten seconds for a Medium page (which is literally a formatted text file) to load and render. This experience was faster in the sixties.

The web is full of these abuses, extravagant animations and so on, forever a step ahead of the hardware, waiting for it to catch up.

This exponential hangover leads to a feeling of exponential despair.

What's the point of pouring real effort into something that is going to disappear or transform in just a few months? The restless sense of excitement we feel that something new may be around the corner also brings with it a hopelessness about whatever we are working on now, and a dread that we are missing out on the next big thing.

The other part of our exponential hangover is how we build our businesses. The cult of growth denies the idea that you can build anything useful or helpful unless you're prepared to bring it to so-called "Internet scale". There's no point in opening a lemonade stand unless you're prepared to take on PepsiCo.

I always thought that things should go the other way. Once you remove the barriers of distance, there's room for all sorts of crazy niche products to find a little market online. People can eke out a living that would not be possible in the physical world. Venture capital has its place, as a useful way to fund long-shot projects, but not everything fits in that mold.

The cult of growth has led us to a sterile, centralized web. And having burned through all the easy ideas within our industry, we're convinced that it's our manifest destiny to start disrupting everyone else.

I think it's time to ask ourselves a very designy question: "What is the web actually for?"
I will argue that there are three competing visions of the web right now. The one we settle on will determine whether the idiosyncratic, fun Internet of today can survive.



Vision 1: CONNECT KNOWLEDGE, PEOPLE, AND CATS.

This is the correct vision.



Vision 2: FIX THE WORLD WITH SOFTWARE

This is the prevailing vision in Silicon Valley.



Vision 3: BECOME AS GODS, IMMORTAL CREATURES OF PURE ENERGY LIVING IN A CRYSTALLINE PARADISE OF OUR OWN CONSTRUCTION

This is the insane vision. I'm a little embarrassed to talk about it, because it's so stupid. But circumstances compel me.



There's a William Gibson quote that Tim O'Reilly likes to repeat: "the future is here, it's just not evenly distributed yet."

O'Reilly takes this to mean that if we surround ourselves with the right people, it can give us a sneak peek at coming attractions.

I like to interpret this quote differently, as a call to action. Rather than waiting passively for technology to change the world, let's see how much we can do with what we already have.

Let's reclaim the web from technologists who tell us that the future they've imagined is inevitable, and that our role in it is as consumers.

The Web belongs to us all, and those of us in this room are going to spend the rest of our lives working there. So we need to make it our home.

We live in a world now where not millions but billions of people work in rice fields, textile factories, where children grow up in appalling poverty. Of those billions, how many are the greatest minds of our time? How many deserve better than they get? What if instead of dreaming about changing the world with tomorrow's technology, we used today's technology and let the world change us? Why do we need to obsess on artificial intelligence, when we're wasting so much natural intelligence?


When I talk about a hundred years of web design, I mean it as a challenge. There's no law that says that things are guaranteed to keep getting better.

The web we have right now is beautiful. It shatters the tyranny of distance. It opens the libraries of the world to you. It gives you a way to bear witness to people half a world away, in your own words. It is full of cats. We built it by accident, yet already we're taking it for granted. We should fight to keep it! "
technology  web  webdesign  internet  culture  design  history  aviation  airplanes  planes  2014  constraints  growth  singularity  scale  webdev  siliconvalley  technosolutionism  boeing  intel  microsoft  cloud  raykurzweil  elonmusk  williamgibson  inequality  mooreslaw  timoreilly  software  bloat  progress  present  future  manifestdestiny 
july 2015 by robertogreco
The Corporatization of Higher Education | Dissent Magazine
"If corporatization meant only that colleges & universities were finding ways to be less wasteful, it would be a welcome turn of events. But an altogether different process is going on, one that has saddled us with a higher-education model that is both expensive to run & difficult to reform as a result of its focus on status, its view of students as customers, & its growing reliance on top-down administration."

"At elite schools, 74 percent of the student body come from the top quarter of the socioeconomic scale, while just 3 percent come from the bottom quarter."

"The professor who takes time out from teaching & research to devote him- or herself to administration for a few years increasingly is an anachronism. A new, permanent administrative class now dominates higher education."

"In the last forty years…[faculty grew by] 50 percent…number of administrators has risen by 85 percent and the number of staffers required to help the administrators has jumped by a whopping 240 percent."
administrativebloat  administration  bloat  middlemanagement  tuition  admissions  top-down  hierarchy  corporatization  competition  2012  nicolausmills  usnewsandworldreport  us  priorities  rankings  wealth  finance  money  highereducation  highered  education  via:sebastienmarion  corporatism 
november 2012 by robertogreco
The Way I Work: Jason Fried of 37Signals
"If anyone ever writes us with a complaint, our stance is it's our fault -- for not being clear enough or not making something work the way it should. I'm constantly keeping an eye on the problems that keep arising & then we address them. But I don't keep a list of all the complaints, because that's too time-consuming. We also get 1000s of suggestions. The default answer is always no. A lot of companies lie and say, "Sure, we'll do that." We never make promises that we can't keep, so we say, "We'll keep that in mind." Some customers don't like that...We rarely have meetings...huge waste of time...costly...chop your day into small bits...Creative people need unstructured time to get in the zone...We don't have big, long-term plans, because they're scary -- & usually wrong. Making massive decisions keeps people up at night...The closer you can get to understanding what that next moment might be, the less worried you are. Most of the decisions we make are in the moment"
37signals  productivity  planning  collaboration  entrepreneurship  strategy  jasonfried  business  work  administration  leadership  management  tcsnmy  meetings  complaints  bloat  featurecreep  features  lcproject 
november 2009 by robertogreco
LAUSD `bloat' draws outcries - LA Daily News
"Parents, teacher union representatives and school board members on Monday either blasted or questioned the growth of the Los Angeles Unified School District's massive bureaucracy in recent years as they responded to a Daily News analysis of the district's staffing and salary structure. The Daily News found that the LAUSD's bureaucracy ballooned nearly 20 percent from 2001 to 2007. During that same period, 500 teaching positions were cut and enrollment dropped by 6 percent."
losangeles  schools  money  funding  salaries  transparency  administration  administrativebloat  bloat  policy  teaching 
october 2008 by robertogreco
One Room Schools for the 21st Century | Explorations
"I wrote it originally as a sort of reductio argument to show that lack of money wasn’t the schools’ major problem, at least as far as educating kids was concerned, but as I’ve thought about it, it seems more and more like it might just work."
economics  education  schools  us  money  teaching  administration  bloat  waste  lcproject  schooldesign  government  history  learning  children  spending  bureaucracy  leadership  oneroomschoolhouse 
june 2008 by robertogreco
Pajamas Media » A One-Room Schoolhouse for the 21st Century [via: http://joannejacobs.com/2008/06/02/back-to-the-one-room-schoolhouse/]
"This back-to-basics educational venue, made famous during the 1800s, is surprisingly feasible today — even in the center of Manhattan. Could it get students learning again?"
economics  education  schools  us  money  teaching  administration  bloat  waste  lcproject  schooldesign  government  history  learning  children  spending  bureaucracy  leadership 
june 2008 by robertogreco
A Modest Proposal for Saving Our Schools
"The school I have just described is the school we’re paying for. Maybe it’s time to ask why it’s not the school we’re getting. Other, wiser, governors have made the prudent decision not to ask such embarrassing questions of the education-industri
education  spending  money  government  schools  administration  management  waste  bloat  bureaucracy  schooldesign  lcproject  economics  leadership  corruption 
june 2008 by robertogreco
The CORS Project: A Modest Proposal | Explorations [been thinking aout this for years]
"This is a business proposal for a new model for public schools...revival of...one-room school house...The original idea of this exploration and proposal was to ask the question “what do public schools pay for?” by looking at a different school model.
economics  education  schools  us  money  teaching  administration  bloat  waste  lcproject  schooldesign  government  history  learning  children  spending  bureaucracy  leadership 
june 2008 by robertogreco

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