Joel Spolsky on Structuring the Web with Block Protocol – The New Stack


In the battle between the open web and the proprietary walled gardens created by Facebook, Joel Spolsky and his CHOP co-founder David Wilkinson come out resolutely on the side of the open web. Their team at HASH recently introduced the initial version of Block Protocola proposed specification that aims to combine data commonly displayed on the web with its structure and type – making it not only easier to create and share data across platforms, but also to make that value more readily available to be abstract and used in different ways.

“I’m a big believer in the web, which is the real web where people create websites, as opposed to some sort of fake proprietary walled garden like Facebook, which kind of destroys the web,” he said. Spolsky said in an interview. . “When you look at the web, the next thing it really needs is a bit of structure.”

According to a blog post per Spolsky, the Block Protocol is “just a protocol that integration applications can use to integrate blocks”, in which “any block can be used in any integration application if they all follow the protocol”.

An example of blocks.

Already, tools like WordPress, Medium, Notion or other content management systems and web editing tools offer users the ability to create blocks of content with the quick press of a button and choosing from a list of types. of blocks. The problem, says Spolsky, is that there is no unifying schema shared between these systems. A to-do list in one doesn’t easily translate to a to-do list in another; and that’s something Block Protocol seeks to address.

“When the folks at WordPress add a block with the Project Gutenberg editor, it’s no use to someone at Atlassian Confluence, who pretty much [have] to reimplement this blocking themselves,” Spolsky said. “And when they reimplement it, it might be incompatible. It will not use the same data types. It’s just rewriting the same code over and over and over again.

How is this different from previous attempts at structure?

The Block Protocol, however, is not the first attempt to structure the data presented on the web. The problem, says Spolsky, is that previous attempts – such as Where Dublin Core – included this structure after the fact, as a duty that could be left without consequence for the creator. At the same time, the primary benefit of doing this homework was often to game search engine optimization (SEO) algorithms, rather than providing structured data to the web as a whole. Search engines quickly caught on to this and started ignoring content altogether, leading web content creators to abandon such attempts at structuring it.

Spolsky said this led them to ask a simple question: “How can we make the web better structured, in a way that is actually easier for a web developer to write than if [had] left out the structure in the first place? »

“No one will bother creating blocks if they aren’t usable in many places, but Gutenberg in the WordPress environment is a very large number of places.”

-Joel Spolsky, HASH

The basic building blocks of the web – HTML and CSS – describe content and how it should be displayed in a human-readable format, “but it doesn’t describe anything about what type of data or what the data is or what they do,” Spolsky said. “The next thing missing is adding that structure. The big downside to not having that structure there is that the web is not machine readable in a sense. If I have a web page for an event and it mentions a time, date and place, the only way for a computer to understand this stuff is to try to guess where it is, and maybe be using machine learning or something and probably getting it wrong.”

For web authoring tools using the Block protocol, the content created will follow a specified format that can be understood by machines as well as people. In this way, content created on a site – an event or a to-do list, for example – would be portable between any site that adopted the Block protocol, and would also be readable by any application seeking to understand it.

Who Adopts Block Protocol

For any protocol, one of the first problems is gaining wide enough adoption to make it worthwhile. But already, Block Protocol has shown interest in working with Project Gutenberg, which provides the block editor used by WordPress, the content management system that powers much of the web. Once Block Protocol makes its way into Gutenberg, other web content editors and publishing tools would quickly be incentivized to adopt it as well, Spolsky said.

“No one is going to bother creating blocks if they’re not usable in many places, but Gutenberg in the WordPress environment is a very large number of places,” Spolsky said. “So once these blocks start appearing, if you’re the creator of some kind of tool that lets you write [on] the web, that would be a very, very easy way to make your tool much more powerful if you support that protocol.

Currently, the Block Protocol is in a very early version. HASH co-founder David Wilkinson, who also spoke to The New Stack, said the current goal is not just to increase the number of blocks available in the Block Protocol Hubbut also to work on issues such as style and safety.

“We believe that the approaches currently described may be sufficient for a v1 implementation of the protocol, but we expect these to totally change over time,” Wilkinson said. “We have open RFCs on these, and we are working with users to develop the blocks and potential integration applications, as well as to support the protocol.”


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