Complexity and Condensation

The web spread out so fast because HTML was so lame even a monkey could understand it. That simplicity created a low barrier to entry. Monkey see, monkey do learning was the key. A million monkeys at a million keyboards and a few years later … boom!

Even before the war buffs could turn around in their lawn chairs the long running standards war over document formats was transformed. It took Microsoft years to displace Word Perfect from the rich farm lands. It’s took Adobe years carve out an encampment on the high ground above Microsoft Word. Suddenly HTML was in control of the seas.

Bill Gates onces said of Netscape that they owned all the river front property. But, the HTTP and HTML were the water and owning those was harder. Not that they both didn’t try to own them.

Spreading fast creates very fragmented markets. The entire middleware industry is a side effect of this. Building a custom niche oriented authoring tool, say a bridge from your real time control system into the web, was the work of a weekend. Happy monkey.

Diffuse big markets call out to be condensed. They call out to capitalists to be owned. They call out to engineers to be made safe and efficent. They call out to the monkeys to come join in the fun, and those monkeys start demanding regulations, police, schools, etc.

One road to condensation is to roll up the big monkey firms, the ones that have found important bits of real estate in the new jungle. This is, for example, what Adobe is doing in buying Macromedia. Adobe likes the high ground, the sophisticated elegant page layouts and such, and Macromedia is it’s closest competitor for that ground. Flash is more widely deployed than the Adobe reader; end of story. Buying up the big monkeys isn’t an effective tactic if the new ones appear faster than you can buy them.

Another way to condense a difuse market is to raise barriers to entry. But, how do you raise the barriers to entry around HTTP and HTML? Easy. Make them more complex.

For HTTP the answer is SOAP, WS, et. al. You create a specification that is sufficently complex it scares off little monkeys. Frustrate their desire to whip off an implementation over a week end. It’s not clear this tactic is working; the value add of these stacks just isn’t as overwhelming at it needs to be.

For HTML the answer is DHMTL, XML, Javascript etc. This tactic is working out pretty well.

The idea is to make raise the barriers so the monkeys will wander off and find something else to play with. View source used to be a lot more fun for a lot more monkeys than it is today.

This is a story about standards. Simple low barrier to entry standards can spread like wild fire over an ecology. After the burn there begins a progression toward increasing complexity. Some players in the forest society will work to increase the complexity. Their motives vary. Some do it to for fun or to address real needs. Sometimes, particularly inside proffesional standards bodies, the complexity rises because the process tends to compromise to the sum of all features.

For some players the rising complexity is a conscious attempt to prepare the forest for something more suitable for their big agriculture of monoculture crops.

0 thoughts on “Complexity and Condensation

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  2. mariuz

    Well i agree with , the same happens with SQL standard
    It was simple enough to learn it in 21 days , Now you need to learn PL/SQL, XML , CLR , JAVA or
    whatever fad will be this year

  3. Mike Arsenault

    The beauty of the Web is accessibility. By making it less accessible, sure, you get to have coherent standards and the chance for a more robust overall architecture for future growth. But you have the option of doing that right now anyways. Why limit or constrain the freedom people have to create simple sites/apps? You can have complex architecture up the wazoo for every project you work on without, and I love this, “the monkeys” affecting your ability to do so. You will never be able to go back in time or transmute HTML/HTTP into something so complex that the “monkeys” will not be able to create things using those protocols. And indeed, without these simpler standards, I would argue that the Web would be nowhere as big and widespread as it is today. You would still be working on University intranet sites or for the military as a Web developer. What fun would that be? As long as DreamWeaver and FrontPage continue to incorporate advances in CSS/(d)HTML/XHTML/JavaScript/tool-du-jour, you are never going to get your “monkey free” environment.

    The best you can hope for is to raise up the “monkeys” by publishing as many articles/how-to’s/tutorials explaining the more complex standards as you are able to and sell it in such a way that everyone starts using them, “monkey” and “homo-sapien” alike. Elsewise you are going to end up stuck in an Ivory Tower of sorts, bemoaning the fact that many don’t use the same standards you use while the rest of the Web marches on whatever path the “monkeys” take it. Seriously, for every one developer who uses, say, architecture patterns in their web development, there are 100 programmers who do not and 1000 “monkeys” who do not. Without selling the standards you want to see in place and making them accessible, they won’t get adopted plain and simple.

  4. Jennifer

    I think you’re devalueing HTML a little too much. I like to think of it as the “gateway drug” of coding for many kids out there. Sure there are lot of monkey’s out there, but quite simply, that’s how many people learn, by looking at what others have done and expanding on it. Actually, it’s the smart way to learn. Why re-invent the wheel? All you have to do is look at all the forums floating around the web where there are developers helping other developers. It’s all about monkey-see monkey-do. Those who choose to learn from what they see and do are those who make a difference.

    Products like Dreamweaver are great tools for learning HTML and once you begin building web sites it becomes an addiction. Sure enough, kids will want to do more and if that desire is strong enough they will go out and learn Javascript, XML, PHP, MySQL, ActionScript or what have you.

    Anyway, I think many elitists out there forget where there roots are and like to think of themselves as the untouchable geniuses that they are not.

  5. Ben Hyde

    Just to be clear. The monkey in the picture? That’s me. I’m of the opinion that in the current technology econology if you don’t tap the power of the billion monkeys your irrelevant.

  6. Mike Arsenault

    So are you pro-“natural evolution of standards” VS pro-“elitist standards are fun!” ? Or are you simply pro-“monkey”? Either way, I didn’t take a “pro-monkey” view away with me after reading your article. I’ve had coffee now, so I’ll read it again now that I am awake.

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