What the web is made of?

“We are such stuff. As dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.” – Shakespeare

A few days ago I had a discussion on Facebook with some colleagues and friends, on the shocking and ridiculous declaration of an italian union of journalists, about the fact that an online newspaper – Il Corriere della Sera – published a link to “an external website” on their homepage (even? really? on a webpage? unintelligible! unacceptable!).

This happened the same exact day I took part to the London JS meetup, dedicated to D3.js, in which Rob Hawkes – a “digital tinkerer” as he defines himself – presented ViziCities, an incredible project carried on with Peter Smart, a UX designer.

ViziCities is a platform that brings together open and public geographical, transportation and statistical data, to create a realistic three-dimensional representation of a city right in the browser, using cutting edge technologies like WebGL, GeoJSON, Three.js, etc.

Their declared scope is to create something that let people take better decisions about the city they live in, they work for or they administer:

“We want to people to be able to see cities like they’ve been able to before. Imagine being able to see cities brought to life by live transport, schools, areas of high wealth, pollution…we’re making this happen.

Using different layers, they visualise huge quantities of data, like population or crimes, and real-time informations like underground-trains/bus positions or live tweets, overlapped on the topographic 3D representation of the city.

You can read more about the massive work these two guys have done, in just six months, and have a preview of what it will be when finished, herehere and here.

The connection

What is the connection between the two events, you may wonder. Well, the fact is that after that meeting, on my way home, I started thinking about how much this project struck my mind, for what reason. I was feeling so depressed. My work seemed so trivial and useless to me, compared to their.

And then I realised. These two guys are using the web in the way it should be: not simply like a development platform, but to actually improve people’s life, to connect different data sources among them, give a meaning to the data transforming that it into information, and finally connecting people with this information in a (frankly amazing) way.

So I started thinking about the nature of the web. Why I’m so in love with my job? What makes it so special the medium I work on, day in day out? What is the last matter that really makes the web? If we should remove everything, and reduce it to its utmost essence, what it would be?

Well, the answer was easy (and this was also the response I gave to my friends, to close the discussion). The capability of connect things together. Because it gives you the possibility to create a link, a bridge between two points, two elements, two resources. This ultimately creates a network, in which you can always go from one point to an other of the net, and the more the connections, the simplest will be moving between the points.

Well, believe it or not, right while commenting on the Facebook thread, I came across this post (obviously, through a link in my Twitter timeline) entitled  “Why I create for the web” which is a celebration of the hyperlink as fundamental basis of the web:

“Yet still, for me, the web has always been the most exciting platform to create for directly because of its ubiquity and reach, and despite its shortcomings. […] the radical ability to provide free and instant access to any content for everyone on the Internet”

I suggest you to read it, is very poetic. Especially when it closes the post with this link.

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