I know this isn’t traditionally geeky, at least it’s nothing (directly) to do with computers, but I had to say it. Today la inamorata and I went for a walk across the Humber Bridge, which is a huge suspension bridge (one of the biggest in the world I think) over the Humber estuary. We had a discussion about what constituted a river mouth, an estuary and a delta. I decided this was an estuary, mainly because I’ve heard people describe it as the “Humber estuary”.
Anyway, that’s beside the point. The walk itself was simply down one side of the bridge, cross over, and back over the other side. About 4.5 miles in total I think. I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I have an aversion to heights and this bridge is very high. It’s made slightly better, or perhaps worse, by the fact that the water seems not that far away. Perhaps it’s the nature of the ripples of the water, but they only seem a few yards away. But they’re not.
Anyway, here’s the geeky bit. This bridge is so huge that it couldn’t be built on site, it had to be contructed elsewhere and shipped in bit by bit. In fact the two main spans were “swung” out from level with the shore to their final resting place by huge cranes. It really is an awesome bit of engineering, and it’s easy to be awestruck by a monolith to human ingenuity of of such scale when you’re stood underneath one of those huge suspension towers. In fact it was frightening.
Are there parallels we can make in the internet industry? Of course, lots of them. However the best thing about working in this area is that it is, mainly and extensively, a grassroots operation. The public face of the web has been created by individuals and small groups of designers, not huge multinational corporations or teams of architects like the Humber Bridge. And that’s a good thing, because it means that no matter how powerful, rich, good-looking or influential you are, if your websites are rubbish you won’t get the respect from your peers. It constantly amazes me that for every BBC website (which is of course run by a large team of developers) there are dozens if not hundreds of quality sites developed by small teams working to tight budgets.
So what’s happening now, today? Standards compliance and open source are making big waves, with governments looking seriously into Linux, and people like Dave Winer and Jakob Nielsen influencing thousands and thousands of web developers – tomorrows developers of Google, BBC, Microsoft, Linux, XML. The web is continuing to be a grassroots operation, which I think it a great thing. Let’s not lose sight of the vision that, on the web, whether you’re building a 2-mile long bridge, or just jumping over a stream, that you are Somebody.