We’re used to taking the web for granted. We expect it to be there as substrate, with its addresses, declaratory documents, universally available programming language and the links between pages.
Ah, the links. There’s the rub. How many times have you followed a link and got a 404 or a different page than you were expecting? Links rot. As Tim Berners-Lee says, eventually every domain becomes a porn site.
So we want to do better. We want to build a non-web web. A special place for ourselves and our friends that is self-contained, and where all the pages and links are in the same database, and they can’t rot.
Instead of these messy links with protocols and domains in we just use @names or +names and #topics and tag. It’s easier for people to do, and self-consistent and grows explosively. Biz dev gets excited about the reciprocal deals we can do with other content owners.
If you’ve read Nasim Taleb’s Antifragile, you know what comes next. By shielding people from the complexities of the web, by removing the fragility of links, we’re actually making things worse. We’re creating a fragility debt. Suddenly, something changes - money runs out, a pivot is declared, an aquihire happens, and the pent-up fragility is resolved in a Black Swan moment.
The special place disappears entirely. Or, if we’re lucky, the Archive Team lights the cat signal and emergency archivists preserve it in formaldehyde somewhere else, the clock stopped, the links severed.
Meanwhile, out there on the web, people can still connect and discuss and say what went wrong, and do better next time. The web itself is antifragile. It interprets our business models as damage and routes around them. If we’ve learned, we’ll respect this next time we make something.