Welcome to Web Architecture

Hello RISD Web Architecture students! I am excited to get the opportunity to run this class again (I have run it ten times now and each time, through an interactive, student participation model, we improve the impact the material can have on your enthusiastic participation in working on Web design + interactivity projects). You will benefit from the wisdom gained from all the students who took the course previously as I will personally add their most insightful comments to our shared discussion Forums as we move through the material together.

Students have done a great job of helping me help you through the feedback process you will that find I always take seriously. The Web and the shared architecture facilities (documents) used to build it continue to depend on such a process (people continually building upon other people's ideas). There is no central designer involved in architecting how all Web technologies work together. Instead there are agreed-upon facilitation by committees practicing moderation processes like those you may be familiar within the Wide World Web Consortium (w3.org). Online courses require a commitment to participation and feedback in order to thrive and our online RISD CE Link Forums are the best place available for that in the context of our class together.

A personal bias disclaimer up front: I'm extremely fond of this course personally. I took this course in 1993 as part of a computer science masters degree I pursued at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute just as the Web was about to get hot and heavy (it is hotter and heavier now as we've since packaged new ideas through a hyped-up Web 2.0 marketing campaign and have HTML 5, CSS 3, SVG, XML, X3D and JavaScript evolving together towards a fuller vision of Web applications being shared ubiquitously — heading us deeper and deeper into what Web architecture suggests should remain great sources of creativity).

This course gave me a valuable context in which to write code, design websites and Web applications, or even just participate better with others in using Web applications collaboratively to pursue common good (I have demanded more of them upon realizing what they should be able to do). Better even than that, it gave me a new way to work creatively — to work within a flexible design (architecture) being designed by an open committee and reviewed by a wide range of interested parties.

I have felt liberated and successful working with that gift of newfound knowledge ever since finishing the course. I teach because I want to give that gift of context and work process to others (artists with a knack for symbolic processing included) if at all possible. You all give a gift with each post as I get a wide variety of perspectives from a diverse creative community.

We are all responsible for making our shared media a useful one for humanity (I cringe when I see where cable TV has gone on many, if not most, channels — many have complained of the common denominator attractor of the Web as well, but the difference is you are competent creators and you can create meaningful experiences on-line much easier than trying to do that on cable TV). I can adapt this class to your current place in life: You just need to communicate your current perspective to me and your peers so we can help you help yourself.

My responsibility to you, as I see it, is to get you to understand design and architecture as it relates to technology infrastructure generally while teaching you about how the Web evolves through an evolving architecture with an impressive history. Your responsibility is to try your best to participate in our class process so that you can become a better collaborator when developing anything on the Web (and given the fact you are taking this course through the Rhode Island School of Design, I trust you are mainly interested in interface and interactivity design — even if your main interest is just as basic as creating useful Web pages). I want you to understand how the Web has been built over time and how new ideas get implemented so that the Web can continue to evolve for the betterment of our human society (but not at the expense of one demographic over another or humans over other life forms on the planet). There is great abundance out there in this life — the Web is helping us become more aware of the abundance — and we're going to think about how design and architecture can help a group of people work towards mining the abundance to support all they do. An important skill for your sanity and joy of life is to keep abundance from becoming overwhelm. We all will learn this material at different depths — you will know how much information you can consume and still make it a valuable use of your time. Of course you can easly overwhelm yourself — that can happen to everyone who comes to try and understand the full Web architecture since the knowledge domains involved are so diverse and the information is so often full of jargon associated with precision of communication within disparate fields.

You might not like your responsibility in this class at first because you might not consider it "your way" of working (and, by the way, your way has likely been very successful for you to date — especially if you have been open to trial and error to iterate upon it). But, our focus in this class is on the process that has emerged over the years to be very successful for teams of people to improve the Web, one physical or algorithmic innovation at a time.

For you to be successful, you might have to adopt some new tricks and consider other points of view. You might have to struggle a bit more on your own to develop a mindful world view that you can describe more fully than you ever have before (to me, that invites a richness of thinking that improves quality of life). You might have to struggle a bit more in participating in a collaborative process of discovery — your peers in this class will depend on you to help them through the discussion Forums (explained in the first course video). If your journey is similar to mine, you'll be amazed at how the world falls into your lap when you participate in this successful development process that has emerged with the Web. And, you'll realize how much you feel you are fighting time and gravity if you don't learn to participate with the emergent processes available online.

At this point, I have a sense of a handful of students for which this material took their careers in new directions as I did back in 1995. They have all left Rhode Island or southern Massachusetts to get closer to the action, but they have all stayed in touch with a fond memory of living here. They often shoot me a message wishing to discuss some new Web-based innovation. Often I see a term or acronym for the first time. It doesn't help being ashamed to the point of not saying 'I have no idea what that is - tell me more'.

I have a deep empathy for anyone who thinks the material is overwhelming in this class. Friends can let you know the times I have jumped off the deep end into a stretch assignment of a new technical realm. Please read this next sentence closely and carefully:

I don't expect you to understand all or perhaps even most of this material within a six week class.

What I expect is for you to focus on what the class material could provide you, your quality of life, and your career as you find time to indulge. I would like you to engage in Web architecture material, or other design areas where the lessons are transferrable, for the rest of your life — as you find the time and focus.

It should be a very enjoyable journey if you like learning as I do. I give you license to learn however you can best — just share those resources you find super-helpful or inspirational. We need a certain percentage of society to be astute in understanding Web architecture, but we don't need everyone to be (although I have no doubt humanity can accomplish amazing, incredible things by pushing this medium with positive goals in mind). Some people just need to understand how their important yet small contribution works within the context of the whole — they need to be able to voice that piece loudly so others can make sure it continues to be available to them, and working as they use it, as the Web evolves. Apple pulled a past standard back after I had created lots of content using it — no longer able to share that content in a browser (not even with an available plug-in to use)! Of course, I never once contacted Apple to thank them or to assure them I was using it quietly yet competently for a year of busy work.

As for getting started, you see that I ask you to write a pre-test essay so you can voice your current understanding and put into words the goals you have for yourself in terms of understanding Web architecture. The pre-test is for you. I read it, hope you share it with other students, and respond to you only to help guide you better in your journey (help you judge what's valuable to know cold, debunk any myths you might be retaining, gain a sense of scope of some of your future work). Your journey will just be beginning here. The material in this class is special because it is documented everywhere online — many presentations, many points-of-view, many debates, and many churning activities in its evolution. It has continued to provide me perspective and thought-provoking detail for the twenty-five-plus years I've been paying attention.

I don't have sympathy for anyone who doesn't put the time in or ignores suggestions to try to being successful in this class. We pay tuition to improve ourselves and build a portfolio of skills in which to become skilled at the courses we add to our resume. To become skilled in a class like this one requires reading or listening to those who participate in the process and trying out their hard-earned process to incorporate the best of it into your own. So much of what defines our success versus failure comes down to our attempts to provide meaningful feedback. Our attempt depends on this process. Refine a successful process for yourself and you have a much better chance of success in all you do.

So what exactly is this process I refer to? Your process of participation in the global Web Architecture process suggests that you should:

    1. Read much about current Web architecture and actively pursue online documents that can solidify your understanding.

    2. Participate in debate and discussion with others who are attempting earnestly to develop a current understanding.

    3. Develop a mindful way of using the Web so as to always be thinking about what you are doing in the context of the architecture that supports it (yes, even when using Facebook, Skype, Firefox, Twitter, or whatever other useful application is enabled by the Web).

    4. Ask yourself what needs improvement in order to better meet your needs as a contributor or user of the Web.

    5. Communicate those needs to those who are designing on your behalf so that you can be more productive, motivated, and supportive of Web technologies (for example, the World Wide Web Consortium is always listening).

    6. Don't be afraid to draw the line based on your personal values and express where you think the Web is going overboard in providing services for humanity (do we really want to spend so much time in front of a computer screen).

    7. Find your niche as to where you can improve the Web experience for your fellow humans. Each website matters. Each application matters. Each interaction matters. Each information repository matters. Be a better participant and make it better for others by helping them become better participants.

Getting Started

Please dive in by read the Who Needs an Architect? document and provide your thoughts on it within the Forum named Thoughts of the Architect.

Then engage in this class by digesting the words above and writing a document in regards to what you understand about how the Web works. If you know nothing, you have that much more to gain in taking this class. So, don't be shy to admit it. Write about how you currently use the Web and how you think knowing more about how the Web works can help you in your use or with any goals you have with designing for use of others. Send me your essay when you complete it. Bravely incorporate your thoughts into the discussion Forum as well so others can get to know you in order to better collaborate with you. There are less than fifteen of us participating in the class so we'll need each other to communicate often to represent a community of Web communicators working on a goal. I want you to get a positive experience from that and realize how liberating asynchronous communications can be for your personal journey (overcoming typically time and distance barriers to collaboration).

Through your written words, you'll be able to compare your thoughts at the beginning of class to your thoughts at the end of class (which you won't have to share via essay because you will have made them clear in our shared online Forums).

I want you to dive into understanding the Open Systems Interconnection Reference Model (the model we'll refer to as OSI very often in this class). But, take it easy. Learn a little each day and even more each week as I help you through it. You don't need to get it all right away. Let it soak in slowly but surely. Do whatever you need to do to make that happen. There are lots of ways to be successful at learning technical information. Defiantly thinking you can't do it is not one of them.

If you do these three things, you'll be well on your way. Use the links from our syllabus to do your work every week (including this one). Students from previous classes have validated these tasks are very helpful when asked for feedback to help you new students go forward.

And, of course, e-mail me (bcampbel01 [at] risd.edu) or any of your fellow students with any questions. I reserve the right to post your questions in the Forum if you don't do so, but will do so anonymously unless you make it clear in your message you want credit for the question.

Now, get on to it and useful, fruitful learning for all!