the backbone of the web is the link. it seems a bit silly to say--what we call "the web" literally is the directed graph formed by hyperlinks--but we kind of take it for granted sometimes. it is difficult to overstate how fundamentally the rise of google changed the way we use the web, and consequently the incentive structure that determines how it is used.
google was the first search engine that actually worked, in the sense that the pages it returned as results were reasonably likely to have the information the user wanted. none of its predecessors worked like it did. excite operated off statistical analysis of concepts. yahoo wasn't a search engine, but a hand-built directory. lycos looked at word distance. altavista was pure keywords. overture's ranking system was even $impler than that. askjeeves had meat answering its queries. dogpile just searched a bunch of search engines.
what this meant was that you could not type something into a search engine and be handed a page with what you wanted. rather, when you searched, you were trying to get a good entrypoint into a tight-knit affinity group, a portal to a community devoted to the broader topic you were interested in. you'd read a bit, then if it seemed unlikely this particular site had what you needed, you went to the links and warped to a new context. repeat as needed, exploring clusters of sites and stumbling into new ones. similar to a wikiwalk, but with a purpose, and with every destination handcrafted by someone new to suit their own needs and tastes. stalking through the chaos of the open web, as natural then as we now open tab after tab after tab.
tabs, of course, weren't a thing either. but they didn't need to be. that wasn't how we used the browser. a browser was a single view--we didn't have sites open, we were on a site. rather than skimming the surface and picking through our catch, we plunged headfirst into the blue and grasped at what we could. it felt different, and the shape of the web both accounted for and encouraged it.
this is what made backrub so genius: it automated the way people actually used the web, giving primacy to number and quality of backlinks because those were the ones we often ended up following anyway. google is of course vastly more complex now, and the sad irony is if one were to replicate pagerank today it would probably be worse than it was back then because of google's search engine: its market dominance turned its best measure into a target, and its utility enabled it to usurp the place of the link as the best discovery mechanism we had.
nowadays links are citations or targeted sharing. most basic knowledge requires not more than one search, either on google, or on centralized content platforms such as wikipedia or stackoverflow. most of our socialization happens on sites specifically for that, too, where links are ephemeral and profiles replace homepages. people don't craft fanshrines these days. they contribute to wikis. links used to be infrastructure.
but I am fond of the old ways. here is a collection of links, always under construction--as any homepage worth its salt should be--that I like, in no particular order, in the hopes others might enjoy what they point to. and also so I don't have to log in to anything to sync bookmarks across browsers.
- status 451
- "Bringing all your favorite thought criminals together in one place since 1 Jan 2016."
- "Singer-songwriter, pop artist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, visual artist, graphic designer, video artist and writer from Santiago, Chile."
- "The Language-theoretic approach (LANGSEC) regards the Internet insecurity epidemic as a consequence of ad hoc programming of input handling at all layers of network stacks, and in other kinds of software stacks. LANGSEC posits that the only path to trustworthy software that takes untrusted inputs is treating all valid or expected inputs as a formal language, and the respective input-handling routines as a recognizer for that language."
- salted password hashing
- "The best way to protect passwords is to employ salted password hashing. This page will explain why it's done the way it is."
- smashing the stack for fun and profit
- "On many C implementations it is possible to corrupt the execution stack by writing past the end of an array declared auto in a routine. Code that does this is said to smash the stack, and can cause return from the routine to jump to a random address. This can produce some of the most insidious data-dependent bugs known to mankind."
- you might not need jquery
- "Please take a moment to consider if you actually need jQuery as a dependency. Maybe you can include a few lines of utility code, and forgo the requirement."
- operating systems: three easy pieces
- "The book is centered around three conceptual pieces that are fundamental to operating systems: virtualization, concurrency, and persistence. In understanding the conceptual, you will also learn the practical, including how an operating system does things like schedule the CPU, manage memory, and store files persistently."
- how does a relational database work
- "Relational Databases are very interesting because they’re based on useful and reusable concepts. If understanding a database interests you but you’ve never had the time or the will to dig into this wide subject, you should like this article."
- linux crypto basics
- "This series of posts aims at getting you set up with some basic tools that will allow you to keep your own information secure, to authenticate conveniently and safely with remote servers, and to work with signed and encrypted files online."
- "In the Node community we talk a lot about 'the Unix way', but the current crop of build tools don't seem Unixy to me: they're highly coupled, obfuscatory and verbose, wrapping particular versions of executables in hundreds of lines of custom integration code and configuration. Fortunately, Unix has had a perfectly good build tool for decades, and it's called Make."
- hacker howto
- "There is a community, a shared culture, of expert programmers and networking wizards that traces its history back through decades to the first time-sharing minicomputers and the earliest ARPAnet experiments. The members of this culture originated the term 'hacker'. Hackers built the Internet. Hackers made the Unix operating system what it is today. Hackers make the World Wide Web work."
- when nerds collide
- "Scratch the surface of 'Silicon Valley culture' and you'll find dozens of subcultures beneath. One means of production unites many tribes, but that’s about all that unites them. At a company the size of Google or even GitHub, you can expect to find as many varieties of cliques as you would in an equivalently sized high school, along with a 'corporate culture' that's as loudly promoted and roughly as genuine as the 'school spirit' on display at every pep rally you were ever forced to sit through. One of those groups will invariably be the weirdoes."
- real programmers don't use pascal
- "Real Programmers do List Processing in FORTRAN. Real Programmers do String Manipulation in FORTRAN. Real Programmers do Accounting (if they do it at all) in FORTRAN. Real Programmers do Artificial Intelligence programs in FORTRAN. If you can't do it in FORTRAN, do it in assembly language. If you can't do it in assembly language, it isn't worth doing."
- cypherpunk manifesto
- "Our code is free for all to use, worldwide. We don't much care if you don't approve of the software we write. We know that software can't be destroyed and that a widely dispersed system can't be shut down."
- the story of mel
- "Lest a whole new generation of programmers grow up in ignorance of this glorious past, I feel duty-bound to describe, as best I can through the generation gap, how a Real Programmer wrote code. I'll call him Mel, because that was his name."
- homesteading the noosphere
- "The society of open-source hackers is in fact a gift culture. Within it, there is no serious shortage of the 'survival necessities'--disk space, network bandwidth, computing power. Software is freely shared. This abundance creates a situation in which the only available measure of competitive success is reputation among one's peers."
- xenofeminist manifesto
- "Valuable platforms for connection, organization, and skill-sharing become clogged with obstacles to productive debate positioned as if they are debate. These puritanical politics of shame--which fetishize oppression as if it were a blessing, and cloud the waters in moralistic frenzies--leave us cold. We want neither clean hands nor beautiful souls, neither virtue nor terror. We want superior forms of corruption."
- odd comments and strange doings in unix
- "Bob Morris asked, almost conversationally, 'What are the arguments to ld?' Someone told him. We continued typing for the next minute, as a thought began to percolate, not quite to the top of the brain--in other words, not quite fast enough. The terminal stopped echoing before anyone could stop and say 'Hold on Bob, what is it you're trying to do?'"
- in the beginning was the command line
- "But--though efforts were made to keep us unaware of this--the teletype could do something that the card reader could not. On the teletype, once the modem link was established, you could just type in a line and hit the return key. The teletype would send that line to the computer, which might or might not respond with some lines of its own, which the teletype would hammer out--producing, over time, a transcript of your exchange with the machine. This way of doing it did not even have a name at the time, but when, much later, an alternative became available, it was retroactively dubbed the Command Line Interface."