Category Archives: Week 12

The Appification of Tumblr

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

For this week’s case study, I’ve decided to revisit an old friend: Tumblr. During my high school years, the visual blog platform, Tumblr, was all the rage. It also happened to give me my first coding experience, and at the time, I didn’t even realize/consider that I was acting as a coder. Tumblr is a highly customizable blog building website. I consider it a less formal version of WordPress. Users are able to share, like, reblog, and send photos, videos, texts, audios, etc. When constructing your own blog, you have the capability of customizing the theme (color, background, fonts, layout, etc.) of your blog, and all of these themes are coded with HTML and CSS. More experienced coders are able to write their own codes for themes and widgets in order to customize their blogs. As professor Irvine explains, HTML “allows a flexible, unlimited nesting of content and structure layers, embedded media types, interactive functions, and
behind the scenes communication with multiple network sources and services for
fetching and updating real-time data — all customizable for any device, OS,
interface, and screen form factor,” (2018). This essentially means that HTML is a metadata structure that is completely independent of any device or operating system.

When analyzing Tumblr as a socio-technical and modular system, it is clear that there are various unseen forces that drive the design of the site. Tumblr is still a business and therefore, there are various ads across the site and many of the already made themes hide behind a paywall. If the site detects that you’ve found a way to copy a paid theme’s HTML code without paying, it will revert your site to the default Tumblr theme,

Tumblr makes available specialized HTML and CSS code (“Tumblr Template Code”) for the design and layout of blog pages available for use on some of the Services (“Themes”). Certain Themes are available for purchase as a Paid Service (as defined below) (such Themes, “Premium Themes”). Purchased Premium Themes may not be transferred between Accounts, between blogs, or between Services on a single Account and are subject to the payment terms herein. (Tumblr Terms of Service, 2020)

However, how does the experience change with the “appification” of the website? One of the greatest functionalities of Tumblr is completely removed in the application. Users are no longer allowed to adjust the code of their theme to customize the interface of their blog on the application. The application includes a very simple, default theme and the only adjustments that one is able to make is background and accent colors. Why is it that Tumblr took away the functionality that made it so succesful in the first place? Well, as professor Irvine exaplains, “App development is Web standards-based in principle, but in practice app development is detached from the general Web and designed for the proprietary architectures of corporate brands and manufactures (Apple iOS, Google Android, Microsoft are the major device platforms), so that an app can run as a “native” piece of software in the proprietary device,” (2018). The creation of an application must abide by the regulations of and be exclusively installed and downloaded through the provider’s store i.e. the Apple App Store, “Apps thus de-Webs the Web on many levels by simultaneously exploiting modularity (and black-boxing a device as one module)
and the open architecture of the Web and Internet for bundling specific functions
and services that work only on the device-branded app,” (Irvine, 2018). If you compare the website version of my site and the appilcation version below, you’ll see their are huge visual/interface differences, even though they are the same site.

The application also differs with the website in that it has a camera capability. It draws on the modular design and camera capabilites of the phone in order to allow users to take photos and videos and post them through the application.

My question is: How can we take advantage of the safety and easy usability of app designs, while also encouraging customization and innovation? Is there a way for us to have both?

References

Irvine, M. (2018, Nov 12). The World Wide Web: From Open Extensible Design to Fragmented “Appification.” Unpublished Manuscript.

Tumblr. (n.d.). Retrieved November 11, 2020, from https://www.tumblr.com/policy/en/terms-of-service

Behind the scenes of Internet

The advent of computers made all life and work easier. When it comes to a large number of pages, most of the pages are written in the same language (HTML) and delivered using the same protocol (HTTP). HTTP is a commonly used Internet language or protocol (standard), which allows friendly conversations between machines running Windows systems and machines running Linux. The web browser can interpret the HTTP protocol and render HTML into the form of artificial prototypes. Web pages written in HTML can be browsed anywhere, with computers, mobile phones, Pads, and even popular game consoles. Even if you use the same language, different devices need to agree on certain rules when communicating through the web, just like you have to raise your hand when you ask questions in class (I guess not so much now with Zoom classes). HTTP is the protocol used for communication in the Internet. Due to the existence of HTTP, the client (just like computer) will know that it needs to request a Web page firs and send this HTTP request to the server. The server is the computer specified by the URL. The server receives the request, then finds the web page you want, and then sends it back to the computer (client) and display it in the browser.

Each request/response starts by redirecting URL in the browser address, like http://www.google.com. For instance, open the browser like Chrome and enter http://www. google.com. Click Enter and you will come to the Google’s homepage. One thing you may not know now is that the browser does not actually use URL to request web pages from the server but uses Internet Protocol or IP address. It is like phone number or postal code as it’s used as an identification server, not an actual phone or address. Google’s IP address is 173.194.203.106. You can open a new browser tab or new window, enter 173.194.203.106 in the address bar, and then click Enter. Now you will open the same web page as when you just entered http://www.google.com. This is because people are generally better at remembering words than a long list of numbers. Realizing this process is the DNS system, which is equivalent to the dynamic directory of all machines connected to the Internet. When you type http://www.google.com and press Enter, this address will be connected to its corresponding IP address. Since tens of millions of machines are connected to the Internet, not every DNS server can contain a list of all machines connected to the network. So there will be a system that will allow your request to be sent from this server to another server when the server cannot find what you want. Therefore, after the DNS system sees the URL of Google official website, it finds that it is located at 173.194.203.106, and then sends this IP address to your browser. Then, your browser will send a request to the server of this IP address and wait for a reply. If the whole process is normal, the server will send a message to the client (your browser) saying that everything is OK and then send the web page you want. The information sent is contained in the HTTP header.

 

References:

Martin Irvine, Intro to the Web: Extensible Design Principles and “Appification”
Ron White, “How the World Wide Web Works.” From: How Computers Work. 9th ed. Que Publishing, 2007. P. 3

The Internet is Alright

At first, I began getting worked up about ‘Appification’ destroying the web. The web works because of the open ended Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP) enabling intercommunications between Internet servers (and services) and individual connected devices based on a client-server model (Irvine, 1). This means there has always been enormous potential of building client-side devices in various ways to enable access to the web. Yet any client-side device/software, be it Apple II, IBM, PC series, or Microsoft had to follow design rules of the World Wide Web. The open, standards-based, device-independent architecture meant that it was distributed, modular, extensible, interoperable, and scalable (Irvine, 2). The networked “hypertext” system is now networked “hypermedia”, with images, videos, audio, all available alongside textual information, each hyperlinked. The link-encoded displayable objects produce on-screen indicators in the graphical interface (colored or otherwise marked text strings, icons, navigational indicators) (Irvine, 3). This extensible feature of the Web is what gave rise to applications. Since modularity and extensibility were features of the web, the market exploited this by building apps which tap into a portion of the internet to retrieve information that the specific application requires.

For example, Tinder a popular match making app, uses the web to store information about its users on servers. When a user logs into tinder and starts swiping, they are sending network deliverable files to tinder servers. This app uses the ISP (Internet Service Provider) to send those files to the nearest DNS node, a cooperatively run set of databases (White, 369). The DNS informs your app of the IP address where your app sends a request to receive communication from tinder servers, which responds with images and texts of people near your location, which you can go through (Swipe). The images and texts of people in your area, is a very small subset of the vast information available around the web. Now think if that was your only access to the web, and anything and everything you wanted to learn about the world would be via Tinder. This is “appification” where applications replace general purpose browsers as gateways to the www.

I began this essay by saying that I was getting worked up. I got worked up because it sounds like facebook is doing exactly what I tried to show with my hypothetical “Tinder as the sole access to the web” example. Mobile computing has moved from, as Zittrain puts it, “from a generative Internet that fosters innovation and disruption, to an appliancized network that incorporates some of the most powerful features of today’s Internet while…heightening its regulability.”(Zittrain, 8). A set of blunt solutions to the problem of overwhelming information and security issues that were waiting to emerge from the open architecture of the web.

After getting worked up, I began searching for features in applications that compromise open ended access for ease of use. I began with google maps and I could find every feature that I needed, with no difference in the desktop as opposed to the mobile application. The same thing happened with chrome as a browser on desktop as opposed to the application. And it kept on happening as I moved across multiple apps. Apps had almost everything their desktop counterparts had, even though I really thought that there has to be some sort of compromise!

I think as long as we have a search engine (google or otherwise) that indexes  every website as extensively and regularly as the googlebot (White, 374), the web will always be accessible. I think it will stay on as this vast ocean, that we once voyaged across. But we voyaged only because we needed something from it.  “People never cared about the Web vs. apps and devices,” commented Mark Walsh, co-founder of geniusrocket.com. “They want free stuff, entertainment, and services when they want them, and on the device they have in front of them” (The Future of Apps and Web). Now that we have a plentiful right where we are at, there is no need to go on long journeys across the web. But if we wish, the indexing search engine will always ensure that there is unlimited access, even if the search engine itself is ‘appified’. The Internet will live.

 

References

Design Thinking and Web

Design Thinking and Web

Yingxin Lyu

“The design for the Internet and the Web as an integrative platform are extensible and scalable as new developments and hybrid technologies emerge for the Internet/Web system.”1 Web is a modular complex system and it has many subsystem technologies. Like the example of civil aviation system, Web has many different parts of subsystems work together.

The first layer is various protocols, like HTTP, IP, TCP, UCP. “A protocol is the rules governing how two computers connect to each other – how they break up data into packets and synchronize sending them back and forth.”2 Thus, it is like a gatekeeper, or a guaranteed mail service, sending and receiving data packets in the first place. They are the components of Internet, so in this layer we can see the intersection of Web and Internet. Second, there are some programs invented for Webs in order to achieve some goals. For example, Google uses software called Googlebot to browse and download pages of other websites. Then Googlebot will send pages to another software, Google’s indexing program. Websites create different software to let them function better, or it will be like an normal interface, a page of book, presenting some informtion. The third layer maybe some special algorithms working for different websites. The Google PagRank is the search engine’s ranking algorithm, which is very famous for ranking the most relevant websites according to keywords.3 The fourth one are severs and databases that the websites have. They are important architecture of these websites. The databases center collect user’s information in order to understand them better and improve their experience. However, now it may lead to privacy issues. The fifth layer includes all hardware of computers and portable devices, like RAM, speakers, cameras. Web takes advantage of this hardware that computers and portable devices have and construct multimedia environment for users to enjoy various functions. Sixth, coding languages, like Java, are also an important layer because they create the interfaces of websites, and are the basis of websites. Moreover, learning these languages means that people can set up their own websites and create new world for users. Seventh, there are software in computers or other devices, like web browsers and media players. They are also necessary media for websites to achieve more functions. All these different technologies work in different departments, layers, and the summation of their work is the websites that normal users are using now.

However, not all these subsystems technologies appeared in one day. They are gradually invented, step by step, and finally develop into what Web now looks like. All of these technologies can be seen as artifacts that are invented on the base of other older technologies or ideas. For instance, the idea of a search engine comes from Archie, a tool for indexing FTP archives, allowing people to find specific files.4 Moreover, although it is a huge and complex system, users only interact with the interface, entering orders, pressing buttons, and achieving answers. Thus, the Web also applies abstraction in this point of view. It hides all the complicated things and let every user freely enjoy the benefits, like surfing websites, searching for information, shopping online, or watching videos. And that is the value of the Web: “it enables human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge.”5 It is a black box for most of users but not everyone because people still can learn the coding language and create their work in Web world, which may lead to further development of the society. The Web is open to change and creation. Now, Web with streaming and clouds construct a binger system. These subsystems connected with each other, make the virtual world more and more attracting, and bring a lot more benefits to people.

 

References:

  1. Martin Irvine, Intro to the Web: Extensible Design Principles and “Appification”
  2. Ron White, “How the World Wide Web Works.” From: How Computers Work. 9th ed. Que Publishing, 2007. P. 361.
  3. Ibid,
  4. “The First Search Engine,Archive.” n.d. Accessed November 11, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20070621141150/http://isrl.uiuc.edu/~chip/projects/timeline/1990archie.htm.
  5. “W3C Mission.” Accessed November 11, 2020. https://www.w3.org/Consortium/mission.

“Bounded Browsers” in the NYT Cooking App

Mary Margaret Herring

For this response, I decided to download the New York Times Cooking app for iOS. Since the content featured on this app is also featured on the New York Times Cooking website, it should be an interesting case study when determining how the bounded features of the app compare to the website.

Immediately, I noticed that the content featured on the app and website were extremely similar. Both the website and the app prominently displayed the same seasonal categories of recipes. After choosing a category of recipe, both versions of the site display all the recipes in that category. Then, you select the recipe that you’d like to view and the app and website take you to the recipe. On both platforms, users must login to access the cooking site and are able to save recipes to their virtual recipe box. Users can also mark recipes as ‘cooked’ to keep track of what they have and haven’t made and add private notes to the recipes.

At first, it seemed that the app would be preferable to the website because users could receive more personalized suggestions based on their app usage. However, since users login before accessing the cooking site, their interactions with the site can easily be recorded. In fact, the site could even do this without the login by using cookies to identify users (Karp in Code.org, 2015). For this reason, the ability to receive personalized content or view previously saved recipes on the app isn’t different from the website.

But, one feature that exists on the app that is not on the website is the “Start Cooking” feature. This makes it easier to view the recipe while you’re cooking from your phone. The first page displays the ingredients needed with an interactive checkbox feature next to each ingredient. The next page has each step of the recipe with the current step that the user is on bolded so that it is easier to access. As a person who often uses their phone as a resource while cooking, this feature made me very excited because it did all the work of zooming into the recipe and preventing the screen from sleeping ­– eliminating the need to touch the screen with messy hands.

An external link opened within the NYT Cooking app for iOS.

A linked page accessed in the NYT Cooking app. When accessing this page, there is no search bar and the interface always provides a back arrow (top-left) so the user can return to the recipe.

Since the app had only one feature that the website was missing, this led me to question why NYT had even made a cooking app. However, it soon became clear that the app exploits the principles of the web by containing the user in a much smaller section of the web. As Carrie Anne points out in the Crash Course video (2017) on The World Wide Web, hyperlinks allow users to link to other pages of content by clicking on material that is highlighted in the page a user is accessing. When a user does clicks on a link in the app, they are taken to the page but a back arrow exists to bring them back to the recipe. Even if they click on more links on the second page, they always have the back button to return them to the recipe. The modified browser in the app exploits the ‘web-like’ design of The World Wide Web by keeping it encased in an interface that easily allows the user to return to the Times’ recipe they were previously viewing. However, on the website, when a user clicks on an external link, they are taken away from the recipe to the linked page (why didn’t they choose to have this page open in a new tab? It’s so easy to do!). The user is then shown more content on the new page and is likely to get distracted or find relevant information somewhere else! Unless the user clicks the back button in the browser, their place in the site is lost and they will have to jump through a number of hoops to find that recipe again. By doing this, the app creates a “bounded browser” that limits a users’ ability to freely jump from link to link by encouraging them to return to the content on the app. As Irvine (2018) states, “[a]pps thus de-Web the Web on many levels by simultaneously exploiting modularity and the open architecture of the Web and Internet for bundling specific functions and services that work only on the device-branded app” (p. 5).

Further, the bounded browser that appears in the Cooking app does not have a search feature. So, if the user finds a piece of information that sparks them to try a new search query, they completely have to exit the app or search from the app’s repository of recipes. For these reason, NYT’s cooking app has the economic benefit of retaining users for longer periods of time and getting them to access their recipes, as opposed to competitor’s sites. This action is contrary to that of the web because it keeps the user coming back to the Times’ recipes instead of freely browsing.


References

Code.org. (2015, Sep 28). The Internet: HTTP & HTML [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/kBXQZMmiA4s.

CrashCourse. (2017, Oct 4). The World Wide Web: Crash Course Computer Science #30 [Video]. YouTube. https://youtu.be/guvsH5OFizE.

Irvine, M. (2018, Nov 12). The World Wide Web: From Open Extensible Design to Fragmented “Appification.” Unpublished Manuscript.