Simple Web Apps, Digital Gardens, IE stories — things I’ve been reflecting on

Building simple web apps

I have the need to start building some simple websites and web apps.  This is probably the 3rd or 4th time in my career I’ve jumped into building simple sites.  

React is awesome but is a very large pile of technology.  If you just want to hack together a website for a limited purpose, React is daunting.  I want to get back to that world of 1995 when you could hack together a website in notepad.  

Tom MacWright’s essay on the return of fancy tools speaks to me — fancy frameworks and tools are great, and really necessary for some tasks, but they add a large amount of complexity to doing a simple task.  

I am drawn to simpler frameworks. seems worth learning more about, Vlad has been playing with a little and has had good experience. has appealed to me and i have written my “hello world” app in it, and now sveltekit might be the ticket.  Shawn Wang who is way smarter than me about this writes the case for svelte better than I can.

Personal Information Tools

I saw a nice aphorism recently — “If you write for any other reason than to discover what you think, you are just wasting everybody’s time” — Aaron Haspel.  That is totally why I labor on these posts, I am trying to figure out how to think about certain things in the world.

Blogs are great tools — they have made it easy to capture and post a lot of content — but they are not great for really understanding a topic or a space.  Shawn Wang wrote about Maggie Appleton’s summary of Digital Gardens which really resonates.  I struggle weekly with the right way to organize, summarize, and structure my reading and learning.  These posts are an attempt to pull things together, but are themselves another part of the stream and thus part of the problem.  I really want to figure out how to shift to more of a garden view, while maintaining the east of posting.


Ben wrote a nice history of Internet Explorer, which is finally being retired.  Some of the most fun, intense times I had at Microsoft.  Steven is also writing a nice history of the times.  I will add a couple little anecdotes to Ben’s and Steven’s stories.

One of my jobs at this time was to redeploy teams from existing Windows-centric commitments to Internet commitments.  I was spending time daily working with Ben,  Chris JonesThomas Reardon, and others identifying our shortfalls, and finding teams to take them on.  In early ’95 we had a smallish team working on internet client-side technology, within a year we had 700 people and climbing.  A key key lever in this effort was Andreessen’s perhaps apochryphal quote that Netscape would reduce Windows to “a poorly debugged set of device drivers.”  This was an incrediby motivating quote inside the Windows team, who were all very competitive people.  They had just killed themselves getting Windows 95 out the door, and yet were volunteering to immediately jump on internet tasks, thanks to this quote.  Made my job much easier.  Lesson — don’t give your competitors bulletin board fodder.

In early ’96 and we convened a set of web developers to get an early look at our web platform.   A lot of good developers came and we had a lot of great back and forth.  Chris Jones and I led one talk on ActiveX controls, these were going to be great, allowing developers to use great Windows features on webpages.  Wow did we get killed.  We were working at cross purposes to every web developer and they let us know it.  That is when I finally realized that Windows, at its height of power, was fading into irrelevance for a huge class of app developers, and that we had better get cracking if we wanted to remain relevant to these developers.  Not everyone at Microsoft felt this way and it was a source of tension for my remaining time at Microsoft.  Lesson — build things that are good for your customers, not good for you.

Switching to a more modern topic, a nice point/counterpoint on the costs of cloud computing.  Is cloud computing expensive at scale?  Sure.  But I fall on the side of — it is even more expensive to spend your team building a bunch of infrastructure, and losing feature leadership in your market.


We have built houses and we have remodelled.  The costs and schedule have always bloated out of control.  And “we have met the enemy, and he is us” — invariably we can’t stop ourselves from asking for more features.  Really drawn to prefabs as a way to control the process, and some of these look great.

“We have seen a disturbing amount of overconfidence paired with inexperience in the Alaska Range.” — National Park Service.

Daniel Kahneman on ‘noise’ in human judgement.  I may have to read, I am curious how and if he incorporates the understanding of noise from communications theory.

Always a sucker for visualization tools, Observable Plot.

2 thoughts to “Simple Web Apps, Digital Gardens, IE stories — things I’ve been reflecting on”

  1. I appreciate learning by doing and the real value in building apps being in what you learn. This is why I keep experimenting with connecting all the devices in my home over IP. It’s not about home automation but rather understanding connectivity beyond the web and traditional Internet paradigms.

  2. You are a great model bob, you keep pushing. I am playing with home devices as well, there is so much of the home that is not yet connected and does not yet have a software element. home automation is boring, but I feel like there are apps beyond the smart home solutions of today that will ultimately be interesting.

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