A few years ago, decorators worldwide discovered the “minimal” interiors, featuring clean black walls, clean black carpets, clean black suede chairs and clean black celluloid blinds. The alternative was clean cream walls, clean cream carpets, clean cream suede chairs and clean cream celluloid blinds. Today, we laugh our rear ends off at the thought of the highly depressing world in which our parents (or ourselves) used to live a few years ago. Of course, you can’t blame them: they were just off the 70’s where flower patterns, groovy colors and orange backdrops were omnipresent. The reaction was inevitable and natural.
Today, it seems to me the web is going through a similar phase. A few years ago, sites were messy, bright and colorful: ugly markup for cross-browser functionality, bloated applications that did chat, email and web, “walled-gardens” filled with services… Our Internet was virtually painted bright orange.
A couple years ago came the backlash. Now that we have decided on semi-standards, gained a firm grasp on clean-markup producing languages such as XML, CSS and XHTML, we can produce just about everything easily, fast and with a smile. Yet, we are back to torturing ourselves with light colors, minimal design and brainwashing classes telling everyone how “less is more” and how traditional applications should get “real”.
The Internet today is a lot more gray and pastel, features a great many more hosted applications and gazillion of “real” blogs. But is it a more productive Internet? Is it a happier one? Underneath the white plaster that has been slapped on every corporate facade, mold is growing: SPAM, security issues, user tracking code, privacy concerns… Half the pages I load now fetch some random code I cannot identify from Google, Hitbox, Akamai or some weird IP on port 8080. Talk about trust… The websites we use still work poorly in many browsers, email is getting unusable, chat networks aren’t any more reliable or compatible, encrypted communications still aren’t the norm.
So where, exactly, are we getting “real”? Because we finally decided to apply principles as old as Gutenberg when designing interfaces? Because we finally discovered bright purple and neon orange don’t really mix well together? Because we have replaced weekly meetings by an all-in-one externally hosted organizer that allows people to not work during meetings and not work during the week? Because we have found a world-changing text editor?
Sure, every time and every social change will content some people and I am sure hosted planners or text editors can work wonders in some organizations or groups. But deep down, getting “real” has nothing to do with how much white we spray around or how minimal we make our interfaces. This is merely intellectual masturbation in reaction to a period of excess.
In the end, being “real” is about finding the technologies that work for us and that, well, work. I’m sure a great many people around the world prefer Netscape Navigator to Firefox, AOL to Digg and Nextel to Skype. After years of preaching the importance of everything standard, of everything cutting edge and of everything “signal”, I’m wondering whether noise, is, in fact, that bad. After all, even deep in the woods or in the middle of the desert, both coexist. Nature is about balance and, hence, is about noise too. Why would the Internet be any different?