What is all this stuff?

This page follows from Hello Multiverse

Okay, I gave a disclaimer about typing being outdated as an input method, but until we build the web we deserve, including the infrastructure to make it happen, we're stuck with what our rulers stuck us with. Or allow us to have. So we may as well get better at using it. In "Hello Multiverse" I mentioned the concepts of FOSS and HTML. Now I want to give those concepts some context.

The middle letters of FOSS refer to Open Source, meaning anyone can view the source code of the software in question - as I invited the reader to do. Much as "real" programmers and software engineers may hate to acknowledge it, HTML is code which (interpreted by browser software) instructs a device to display a text (or render a multimedia presentation). Similarly, "actual" software consists of files of text: "source code"."Open-source" means it's made available in human-readable (and hence, human-editable) form. The "Free" part of FOSS refers to licencing issues, a story for another day.

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language. Hypertext is simply text which can contain links. A markup language is one which is readable by humans and computers, which includes rendering instructions along with content. Beginners may find HTML only marginally readable - depending on how it's displayed. As visible in the previous post, the Nano editor in which I'm typing this helpfully uses various colours for tags (the instructions within angle-brackets) to differentiate them from the white text. But even so, tags reduce legibility, and are tedious to type. So, people came up with an easier markup language, called Markdown, usually signalled by an .md suffix on a file name.

As you may see in Wikipedia, Markdown is easily converted to HTML and rendered by web browsers. If all you want to display is text with basic formatting, that's all that's needed. Here on Control-C, a tool called Pandoc is provided for converting Markdown to HTML. Its syntax goes thus: pandoc -s input.md -o output.html (where you replace "input" and "output" with your desired file names).

A screenshot of Markdown code in the Nano editor

To test that functionality, I created a file by typing nano public_html/markdown.md (see above) and Pandoc'd it, which created a new file called output.html. If you inspect the source of that page you see that Pandoc helpfully put in stuff that I didn't bother to in my hand-rolled HTML files. I'll discuss that another day.

Web standards, like standards generally, are "set" by a regulating body, in this case the W3C. This is meant to be a neutral body where stakeholders reach consensus, but of course that's not possible all the time. The first big fight was over DRM; as I write, another is brewing. The first was won by corporate interests, with the hitherto-noble Sir Tim seeming to resign himself to "the inevitable." Things are not looking that good this time either; you may have noticed that the W3C home page prominently features a private authentication provider.

Because of the power of the corporations, some serfs are growing rebellious. The proliferation of javascript in particular not only slows the web and increases its energy consumption, but nudges netizens towards hardware upgrades. Big Browser doesn't mind this; it's part of the Surveillance Capitalism business model. So a nascent community wants to define its own new standard, variously called #weblite and HTML6.

As mentioned above, energy use is a factor to be considered, both globally (footprint) and locally (e.g. in low-resourced communities).

This page is followed by Blog 1

Treat of the day: Tilde Radio