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Slicing through the Web with seamless Portals

Dion Almaer
Oct 23, 2019 · 4 min read

tl;dr: “If we get Portals right, we can offer a seamless user experience that lets users flow through the Web, and gives developers freedom on how they architect their codebase. Win, win! Let’s enhance the commons that is the Web.

NOTE: This was originally posted on my own corner of the Internet.

On native devices, I find myself naturally following the pattern of:

  • home screen
  • launch app
  • back to home screen
  • launch app
  • repeat

Sure, there are times in which I will bounce from app to app, but it often feels heavy, and most of the time it is an app showing some Web content.

On the Web this happens too (new tabs), but I really feel like I am surfing the Web when I am flowing through experiences…. tap to tap to tap. This can allow me to get a task done across multiple services in an enjoyable way.

You can also feel this when you see experiences that compose together. We get this naturally through SDKs that will embed on pages, which may use iframes or direct embedding. I remember the mashup generation, where there was an explosion of wiring things together. I loved playing with Yahoo! Pipes in this vein too, and feel like composable blocks can enable a lot of innovation.

However, the “C” in SLICE deserves more love. The flowing nature of the Web, and the way that pieces can be entwined is pretty special. It is what makes it feel like a real Web after all vs. a series of domains with launches as the entry point to them all.

This connectivity, sometimes loosely coupled where sites can be embedding or linking to you without you having to know, and sometime explicitly coordinated between a couple parties, gives us our commons.

One of the reasons that Alex Russell speaks so strongly on the performance of the Web is because of this commons and how we effect each other. Every time a user interacts with a web site it ticks some state on how they feel about the overall experience of the Web. As you surf through three connected sites, if the second one is really slow, what is the impact? How much does it matter than the other two were instant? This is subtly different to the general bar on a platform based on the quality of the individual experiences.

If there is a huge variety in interactions, will will be more likely to see more composition? I already feel like I used to browse around more, and we had classics such as web rings that are the perfect example of one site flinging you on to the next, building momentum. Now it feels like the motos operandi is often “keep users in my experience!” which I know is particularly due to dominant monetization models. This gets me thinking about attribution systems baked in that would incent links out again.

The Empty, White Page

Stuart Langridge gave a great talk on this that is typically entertaining to boot. He talks about one of the key problems with flowing between experiences, in that we tend to break the linkage with a bright white empty screen when going between domains.

This is like being blinded as you surf, and makes you feel disconnected as you navigate.

What if we could setup lovely hand-offs between navigations? What if you could use these across your own site or set of sites without being forced into an SPA architecture or PJAX is just on your own?

This is why I am excited about Portals. We finally have a way that will fix up the seams in interesting overlapping ways. Each side of the navigation can talk to each other, enabling a lot of new innovation again in how your surf.

Finally, you can get fantastic UX, with a very loosely coupled architecture and codebase. This is huge, especially for large teams. We have built up so much machinery in the name of allowing a massive site with teams for each of /product, /checkout, /search, bundle, build, and ship separately. Or across subdomains, or different sites in a shared portfolio.

This is why I am excited on having us work together to build out Portals and I hope you have a play and give the community feedback. And partnered with web packaging, you can be flowing through the Web like Spiderman through Metropolis consuming packages from a close by CDN.

We are always building out capabilities to help you get the most from the native platforms your users are on, but I *really* love thinking about what makes the Web special and different, and I think there is so much more that be done through this notion of the Web and composition.

Ben and Dion

now: Google, formerly: Walmart Labs, Set Direction…

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