The Future Web: Minecraft or Call-of-Duty?


If you have not read Maciej Ceglowski’s clearheaded and perspicacious talk on Website Obesity take a moment and do so. It’s entertaining, insightful, and a tad wicked.

The talk concludes with a profound question about the future of the Web. Maciej identifies two competing visions:

Web As Minecraft

The first vision is the Web as Minecraft–an open world with simple pieces that obey simple rules. The graphics are kind of clunky, but that’s not the point, and nobody cares.

In this vision, you are meant to be an active participant, you’re supposed to create stuff, and you’ll have the most fun when you collaborate with others.

He points out that Minecraft players have created mind-blowing creations using these simple and robust rules in an open-world. Including full-blown computers that themselves could run Minecraft.

These simple rules gave us the first webcam, Craigslist, and Blogger amongst others. And I would be remiss to not include Google’s so-simple-it-hurts search interface.

Web As Call-of-Duty

The other vision is of the web as Call of Duty–an exquisitely produced, kind-of-but-not-really-participatory guided experience with breathtaking effects and lots of opportunities to make in-game purchases.

Creating this kind of Web requires a large team of specialists. No one person can understand the whole pipeline, nor is anyone expected to. Even if someone could master all the technologies in play, the production costs would be prohibitive.

The user experience in this kind of Web is that of being carried along, with the illusion of agency, within fairly strict limits. There’s an obvious path you’re supposed to follow, and disincentives to keep you straying from it. As a bonus, the game encodes a whole problematic political agenda. The only way to reject it is not to play.

Despite the lavish production values, there’s a strange sameness to everything. You’re always in the same brown war zone.

Do you ever feel that way? Do you find many large web properties have a creepy similarity?


Maciej turns to why this really matters:

Pretending that one needs a team of professionals to put simple articles online will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Overcomplicating the web means lifting up the ladder that used to make it possible for people to teach themselves and surprise everyone with unexpected new ideas.

And there it is: an ugly future web sterilized of things “normal” people could have created if not for the mandatory “web stack” toolchain (as complex as an AAA game) that’s a prerequisite just to post a picture of a cat.

Maciej finishes with: “Keeping the Web simple keeps it awesome”.

I couldn’t agree more.