A tale of two webs


There’s a sharp divide between the people who make the Web, all of us, everywhere, and Silicon Valley Tech.

It’s a cultural divide I’ve seen come up again and again and again in discussions of tech culture.

On one side, we have the entitled, white frat-boy mentality of a lot of Silicon Valley start-up companies, with a culture going back years in a cycle of venture capital, equity, buy-out or IPO, repeat; a culture often isolated from failure by the fact that even the less amazing exits are still a solid paycheck. I suggest that this grew out of American industrial culture, the magnates of the nineteenth century turned inward into a mill of people all jockeying to be the next break-out success, yet a mass of companies all trying to get what they can from each other, be it customers, contracts or employees.

On the balance, we’ve the people who make the Web outside those silos. The lone designer at a traditional media publisher, doing the hard work to adapt paper print styles to the rapid publishing and infinite yet strangely shaped spaces of browser windows. The type designers who’ve now made their way out of lead blocks and work in Bézier curves. The scientist at CERN who realized that if every document had an address, scientific information would form a web of information. They don’t labor in a Tech Industry, they labor in their industries — all of them — connected by a common web.

In media, it appears as one giant “Tech industry”, and perhaps this is bolstered by the fact that a great number of people don’t know what a lot of us do — a software developer and a designer are so much the same job to someone who’s not paying attention to the details.

And yet, on Thursday, a great many people turned their Twitter avatars purple in support of a family who’s lost a child to cancer. Looking over who they were, something dawned on me: They were some of the best and brightest on the Web. Authors, developers, designers. The people who know and know of @meyerweb are the people who make the Web. This is the Web I care about, have always cared about. It’s the web of caring and sharing, of writing and collaborating. It’s a web that takes care of its own. It’s not the ever-running turf war to divide up the industries of the 21st Century, it’s the everyday people doing their everyday jobs — now online, more deeply connected than ever before.

In skimming over the people who’ve gone purple, I notice one thing: The bios that list locations say things like “Cleveland, OH”, “Chicago, IL”, and “Cambridge, MA”. “Bethesda, MD”, “Phoenix, AZ”, “Nashville, TN”. “1.3, 103.4". Their titles are “type designer”, “map maker”, “standards editor”, “librarian”, “archivist”.

And far, far down the list, a few “San Francisco, CA” and “San Jose, CA”, “Software Developer” and “Full-stack engineer”.

There really are two webs here. It’s not to say that we don’t share, but we do have our distinct parts.

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