Mobile web ancestry

Joe Celko has a nice new article on about how easy it is to write SQL queries that unconsciously adopt the idioms of sequential media, i.e. magnetic tape.

When you sit in a live theater, you cannot do a close-up, pan shot, zoom, dissolve or other effect that are common in movies today. Early silent films parked the camera in one position and mimicked a theater experience. This is a general systems principle that the new technology will first mimic the previous technology before it finds its own voice.

The mobile web has two immediate genetic parents: mobile apps and the desktop web. When a mobile website can tries to follow in the footsteps of either parent too closely, it feels wrong. Encountering a mobile website that locks your vertical viewport size and forces you to use a custom scrolling algorithm is just uncanny-valley weird; whereas a site full of great content and links that doesn’t enjoy the full depth and richness of the “main” site feels unsatisfying.

Remember, though, that we haven’t been using magnetic tape as a mainstream storage medium for databases for some time now, but the idioms are still ingrained. The “classic” web has been around for a scant 20 years, and is still evolving. Mobile apps, as introduced by the iPhone, are only 3 years old

The mobile web’s parents are a teen and a toddler. Is it any wonder that it hasn’t found its own feet yet? Right now, it’s an ugly duckling inside a cocoon. Some onlookers may expect to see it emerge as a swan or a butterfly, but I’m betting on something much more interesting and strange.


One Reply to “Mobile web ancestry”

  1. It’s a good article and the comparison with mobile web ancestry is interesting, but it feels like both are missing a step.

    Sequential processing in SQL is also influenced by hierarchical databases like IMS, which were built to work well with sequential storage media, so the link is one step removed. IMS and other hierarchical approaches are now (mainly) redundant, and look likely in the long term to have had a fairly short lifespan, with SQL being effectively universal (although that’s now changing with MapReduce, NoSQL and other approaches).

    Similarly mobile web apps are influenced by the limitations of the mobile devices, but that limitation is rapidly disappearing as devices gain power and more importantly screen real estate. Anyone remember WAP? Long term I wonder if the distinction between mobile and “full feature” sites or apps will disappear, with users expecting a design that resizes well but is effectively the same in both cases.

    So should we expect “Universal Web”, works everywhere on any device, or will we continue to see a distinction?

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