Reading "Words"

You've no doubt seen Justin Jackson's excellent web site, Words.  I loved it before I was half-way finished reading the whole way through.  The idea is powerful.  Words are powerful.  The web is powerful.

A few days later I saw Roman Schmitz riffing on the same idea with words.txt.  Roman ends with:

Start with some initial words and continue with your fancy designs, responsive layouts, and scripts that do magical things.
I loved this too.  There's some excellent ideas in both pages, which I encourage you to read and ponder.

I want to say something about how these pages are constructed.  Earlier this year I had an interesting chat with David Ascher about what a modern web page is, and what it means to make something for the web.  We were doing planning work for Webmaker, and trying to think about what a person in 2013 needs to know and do in order to make something on the web.  David made the point that the web is no longer just HTML, CSS, and JS, but also metadata, analytics, APIs, and a host of other connective tissue beneath a skin of browser content.

Words and words.txt provide an interesting opportunity to explore this idea.  What is a web page in 2013, one that is intentionally stripped down, aware of itself, and trying to be nothing more than words?

We can't do a pure diff of Words and words.txt, since the content isn't identical, but if we did we see that Words is made of the following:

  • words
  • a doctype
  • a handful of HTML elements, including html, head, meta, title, body, div, h1, p, strong, em, a
  • a few HTML entities for quotes
  • a dozen or so URLs
  • a tiny amount of CSS styling
  • a small script block with JavaScript
    What I find interesting is how Words situates itself within the web.  Because there is so little that isn't words, it's useful to consider what is there.

For one, there are links to two different social networks, Twitter and Google+.  It's also interesting to look at that script.  This script, the so called GA or Google Analytics script, is so ubiquitous on the web, it's almost not worth mentioning, and Justin doesn't mention it.  I don't say that because I attribute nefarious intentions to him; quite the opposite, I point it out because it's so common now that you probably won't visit many pages today that don't also have it.  It's simply become a de facto standard for making web pages.  Whether that's good or bad is another discussion separate from the fact that it's reality.

The web isn't just HTML, CSS, and JS anymore.  The difference between Words and words.txt is HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and analytics.  We don't just write words on the web in 2013--we style them, lay them out, link them to other sites, and then watch and count people as they read them.

In 2013, the web is words with awareness, words with analytics.

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