diego's weblog

there and back again

Monthly Archives: March 2009

the web is not the browser (redux)

A few years back one discussion that was all the rage was whether mobile phones could or couldn’t supplant PCs as web browsing devices. In 2009, that is taken as a given. Mobile browsers (Safari Mobile, Opera Mini, Skyfire, even, ahem, IE on WinMo) have become pretty good at what they do. The web experience has migrated into high end phones successfully, or as successfully as one would expect while retaining the browser metaphor.

But therein lies the problem.

I far prefer (and I don’t think I’m alone in this) browsing twitter through, say, Tweetie on the iPhone than through a browser. And while not a regular Facebook user, I also prefer to use the Facebook iPhone app to the site itself. No doubt the seamless interaction enabled by the iphone plays a role here, but Android, Blackberrys, S60 phones, and even, yes, Windows Mobile phones (mostly thanks to Samsung and HTC) all have apps that somehow pull us in more effectively than their web counterparts. While every once in a while I end up looking at an embedded browser within whatever app I’m using, or occasionally I may load Safari, most of the time I don’t. I would even say that I avoid loading the browser if I can.

What’s going on here?

We think of form as function. We conflate ‘web’ with ‘html’. Or even html and (gasp) CSS.

In other words: We confuse the web with the browser.

What the mobile app renaissance sparked by the iPhone app store is showing is that there’s a whole set of tasks and modes of use that don’t really lend themselves well to a browser. Some of it, surely, is reverse causality. We do them in a certain way because that’s what the phone allows and then it becomes natural to to them in that way, and we shouldn’t confuse natural use with designed use. Twitter is perhaps like that. But the Facebook app example and others show that what started as a pure web app can find a more comfortable home in modes of interaction that are not browser-centric.
It’s not the first time this has happened, or, even, that I make this point: see this post from 2003 the web is not the browser, in which case I was making the argument for RSS, readers, and such. (Yes, I repeat myself. But always in style).
HTML 5 is, I believe, trying to react to this trend. I personally cringe at the idea of HTML 5 and the boondogle it’s becoming. It’s trying to do things that should be better left for other things. Maybe it is another standard of markup. Maybe it is another standard of something else entirely. For example: The progress element. HTML trying to be a UI language. But It’s not. So many of HTML’s roots are part of the browser that the browser’s “box” is inescapable, and trying to make these new experiences into the confines of the browser model will just ensure that it’s both modern and irrelevant.

The future of the web is in the mix of browsers and apps, feeds (Atom, RSS), and ad hoc REST services. A lot of it will happen through interfaces other than a web browser. And that’s ok.

The fabric that is the web will be all the better for it, and so will we.

the story of ‘the plan’

I’ve been writing a little bit (again) this past week — or, rather, doing mostly editing of things I wrote over the last few years but somehow never got around to finish. I’m going to be publishing them through Amazon (Createspace for dead-tree versions and the Amazon Digital Text Platform for Kindle versions). Each has its own challenges, especially formatting. In the case of the print version, I continue to be amazed at the difference font makes in how we perceive what we read, and I’ve now learned more about Serif fonts than I care to mention, but I digress…

So, without further ado, here’s the first one for kindle & iphone (through the kindle iphone app): The Plan. Go get it! :-)

I wrote the first version of The Plan in Spanish in December 1999 as a sort of episodic novel that I sent around to a group of friends from Argentina over email, every day. It was, as these things usually are, written mostly for my own entertainment (and that of my friends :)). At first I wasn’t sure where I was going with it but over time the characters became a bit more formed and in the end I took all the emails and re-wrote it as a book. But it was still in Spanish.

Fast-forward a few years and when I started blogging it occurred to me to start Plan B, a ‘blognovel’ (and yeah, I coined the term, not that it caught on that much beyond a small set of mentions). The Wikipedia entry for “blog fiction” mentions my musings while working on it though. Like with The Plan, I wasn’t sure where Plan B was going at the beginning but I started out from the idea of basically following the same character a few years after the events of The Plan, and Plan B contains a bunch of scattered references to its, um, prequel, and near the end it becomes clear that the genesis for the events of Plan B lay with what happened in The Plan a few years earlier. Of course, at that point no one could get The Plan or even knew of its existence.

So after writing Plan B (which, as an aside, was left unfinished online due to, well, finishing the thesis, starting a company and all that, but I’ve now completed it and will complete republishing it) I came back to The Plan and rewrote it in English, this time with the followup of Plan B firmly in mind. The styles of writing, while similar, don’t exactly match since The Plan is really intended as a verbal narrative whereas Plan B is straight-out first-person writing, which I meant to use as a subtle device to show the evolution of the character.

I think over the last few years I’ve re-read (and tinkered) with The Plan a two or three times, and now after this final edit I came to the conclusion that this was it and I should either abandon it or publish it.

So here it is. If a few people enjoy it, then it will be worth it. :)

PS: I’ll also be publishing Plan B in the near future, but with a change to the title. Plan B will remain online but the re-published version will be expanded (a ‘director’s cut’ if you will!).

PPS: There is also another novel that I’m finishing editing. This one way more ambitious, complicated, and generally a lot darker. That one will come after these two are out. :)

watchmen (the movie): too good for its own good?

Could Alan Moore have been both right and wrong at the same time? This is what I keep asking myself a few days after seeing Watchmen.

The anticipation for this movie, certainly among the graphic novel nerds like myself, was probably matched in recent memory only by The Dark Knight. Zack Snyder & Co. clearly went through an herculean effort to remain as true as possible to the source material. Everything is there: as good and sometimes better as you could have imagined it. The complexity of the story remains untouched, and given what the book was this is, to me, nothing short of astonishing. Even the change to the ending, with the now-famous removal of the squid, is definitely an improvement. The squid may have been ok in the 80s, but these days… it just wouldn’t fly.

And yet… as the movie was ending I felt a bit exhausted. The story is, clearly, simply too much to cram into two and and a half hours unfiltered. Maybe it would be better suited to be a miniseries (Battlestar Galactica comes to mind as an example). The best way I can describe it is by using the oft-abused metaphor of drinking from a firehose. But even as it blasted your brain with raw data, Watchmen also felt somehow … surgical. Not that it had no soul, but, perhaps, that it had simply borrowed the book’s soul without developing one of its own.

More importantly, I was just sad. Not because the movie leaves you sad, but because I was immediately convinced that the movie would be a commercial failure (I still am). Why? Well, I knew the story really, really well going in. And even so, it was almost an effort to keep up and take it all in. Every scene, every sequence, was dense with references, in-jokes, subtext, and, of course, the time-jumping criss-crossing plotlines. I tried to think what would someone who hadn’t read the book, who wasn’t as much into multi-level, dense meta-plotlines (read: most people), would take away from the movie, and if they would enjoy it at all.

No, not all movies have to be blockbusters. But let’s face it: when you spend $150 MM to make a movie and then (at least) $50 MM to market it, and you basically spend over a year splattering trailers all over TV, cable, newspapers, and the interweb, that’s what you’re angling for. And in that, Watchmen fails miserably. It is not, in my opinion, making the story accessible to a wider audience which is part of what movies like this one are supposed to do.

Which brings me back to where I started. Moore famously stated that Watchmen was “inherently unfilmable”. We have the movie now, which proves the literal part of that statement wrong. But in staying true to the story as it was, in all of its complexity and overwhelming fury, it shows that it hasn’t made it more accessible at all — if anything, it’s become less accessible since you can’t just savor it: once you enter the theater you have to take it all in, beginning to end. So the movie becomes less a movie than a live-action version of what we already had, failing to become a unique entity on its own right. The alternative, chopping up the story to turn it into a marketable movie, would have also eviscerated it, negating the reason for doing the movie in the first place. In a word: unfilmable.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it. A lot. But I enjoyed it a bit less than I would have if I knew that everyone else would enjoy it as much. And that’s part of what makes a movie like, say, The Dark Knight, great. It lets everyone, fans and not, in on the fun. Isn’t it?

Update: A week later. Watched the movie again tonight. It’s as good if not better on a second watching. However – theater half-empty. At 7 pm on a Saturday. I hate to be right sometimes.

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