The web is a critical part of the IoT story

In this O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Simon St. Laurent discusses the web's potential, and Tom Greever chats about experience design.

Simon St. Laurent, O’Reilly’s strategic content director for our web space and co-chair of our Fluent Conference, recently launched an investigation looking into the web’s potential to change not only computing, but the world in general. For this podcast episode, I caught up with St. Laurent to talk about the timing, what he’s exploring, and why the web isn’t dead. He said that in some ways, it has always been the right time to launch this investigation — after all, the web has continued to grow amidst market crashes and the dot-com bust — but noted the driving factors behind the health of the web are becoming more clear:

“Something different is happening, though, in the last few years. I think it’s rooted in the legitimization of JavaScript as a programming language. It used to be seen as this annoying, accidental scripting language. Doug Crockford and a lot of others demonstrated that if you looked at JavaScript in the right context, context that’s more functional, that is less obsessed with classical orthodox object-oriented development, that JavaScript is both amazingly flexible and incredibly powerful. That brought in a whole new generation of people to work on things.

“The concept of the web platform arose, which I like as a phrase to keep me from saying HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript over and over, but which gives people the idea that the web is a platform like Windows or the Mac, where you can really control thing pixel by pixel. Jeremy Keith has done a great job of explaining why that isn’t true, but there are a lot of people who come in expecting to be able to program on the web like they do for any other platform. They’re great JavaScript programmers frequently, but we need to be telling the story of the broader context and how all these pieces fit together for the long-term health of their projects as well as the web as a whole.”

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Another sign that the web is as healthy as ever is that even when people don’t think they’re using the web, they probably are. St. Laurent explains:

“You know that technology is successful when it’s still there but it’s become invisible. We don’t think about electricity very often. I mean, we do when we get shocked or if it goes away, but we assume that electricity will be available in a house. With the web, we assume that web protocols and web technologies will be available on pretty much anything that we consider a computer at this point, or even a phone for the most part. As that just becomes more ordinary, we stop noticing it unless by chance it suddenly turns off.”

With the rise of native apps and the Internet of Things, some argue that the web is dead. St. Laurent argued that there’s more to the story:

“I’ll start by saying not all of those networks will be using web technologies. With a lot of the really tiny stuff, it doesn’t make sense to have the overhead of HTDP or even web sockets. What tends to happen, though, is that we cluster our sensor data and then we make it available through the web somehow. The web isn’t always the interface to these things, but it’s such a constant.

“I remember being really amazed in the years when Reuters went from these crazy RS232 command line interfaces, where you plugged your computer in and hoped you knew what you were doing, to where you punch your computer into the same network that the device was on and suddenly you had an interface for administering it. That opened up huge new realms of possibility.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of that. I think we’re also seeing a lot of sensors that are really meant to be connected to the web. For instance, I have a weather station. The weather station feeds to a console that sits on my desk, which is nice, but the more important part is that I can then take that data and feed it to the web and share it with everyone on Weather Underground or people in my neighborhood who just want to look at my station. Once data reaches that broader web world, then we start seeing the aggregation. Then we start seeing people using it.

“We saw something similar with cell phone data and sensors — the way that Google Maps can know about traffic because you’re using the app and you’re sitting there in traffic. I think the overall progression is going to be that more and more of the world is going to be connected to the web, even if it’s indirectly. We’re shifting from sensors in our pockets to sensors in the world. I don’t think we know where this is going yet, but I’m completely certain that the web will remain a critical part of that story.”

St. Laurent also walked through the components of his investigation, including a look at web communities, web tools, and web privacy and security — to list but a few.

Also in this podcast…

In the second segment, O’Reilly’s Nick Lombardi talks with Tom Greever, UX director at Bitovi, about the evolution of experience design and how today’s designers are not only solving design problems, but business problems as well.

You can listen to the podcast in the player embedded above or download it through SoundCloud or iTunes.

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