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Pop-up from Hell: On the growing opacity of web programs

I started to learn how to program in high school at the end of the 1990s using a mix of BASIC, Turbo Pascal and HTML with JavaScript. The seed for this blog post comes from my experience with learning how to program in JavaScript, without having much guidance or organized resources. This article continues a theme that I started in my interactive Commodore 64 article, which is to look at past programming systems and see what interesting past ideas have been lost in contemporary systems. Unlike with Commodore 64, which I first used in 2018 in the Seattle Living Computers museum, my perspective on the Early Web may be biased by personal experience. I will do my best to not make this post sound like a grumbling of an old nerd! (I thought this only comes later, but I may have been wrong...)

The 1990s, the web had a fair amount of quirky web pages, often created just for fun. The GeoCities hosting service, which has partly been archived is a witness of this and there are even academic books, such as Dot-Com Design documenting this history.

Some of the quirky things that you could do with JavaScript included creating roll-over effects (making an image change when mouse pointer is over it), creating an animation that follows the cursor as it moves and, of course, annoying the users with all sorts of pop-up windows for both entertaining and advertising purposes. Annoying pop-ups will be the starting point for my blog post, but I'll be using those to make a more general and interesting point about how programs evolve to become more opaque.

This blog post is based on a talk Popup from hell: Reflections on the most annoying 1990s program that I did recently at an (in person!) meeting of the PROGRAMme project. Thanks to everyone who attended for lively discussion and useful feedback!

Published: Friday, 8 October 2021, 12:14 PM
Tags: academic, research, web, philosophy, talks
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