It's Time to Make Code More Tinker-friendly

  • 17/07/2017

BACK IN THE old days of the information superhighway, curious newbies had an easy way to see how websites worked: View Source.

If they clicked that option in the browser, presto! It would display the HTML and bits of Javascript that created the page. Cut and paste that code into their own domain and they could produce their own version of the site, altering and morphing it to their taste and learning along the way. That’s how many of today’s midcareer coders learned: They peeked behind the Wizard of Oz curtain.

But the world they enjoyed has nearly vanished. Websites have evolved into complex, full-featured apps; click View Source on and behold the slurry of incomprehensible Javascript. This increasingly worries old-guard coders. If the web no longer has a simple on-ramp, it could easily discourage curious amateurs. The field shouldn't de-­democratize and become the province solely of those who can slog through a computer science degree.

So new tools that let everyone see, understand, and remix today’s web are needed. In other words, to reboot the culture of View Source.

The good news? A renaissance is approaching. This spring, New York’s Fog Creek Software launched Glitch, a site that hosts hundreds of simple web apps—everything from Tetris clones to databases and to-do lists—written using Javascript. The code for each is visible and usually helpfully studded with creator comments, so noobs can grok it. You can easily spin off your own copy of the app, tweak it, and publish it.

“As programmers, we’ve become a priesthood, and I wanted to smash down the walls,” says Daniel Moore, Glitch’s lead developer. The goal, he notes, was to make it as easy to publish a web app as a blog post—no need to wrestle with backend server code.

Glitch joins several View Source efforts that help people recombine code in useful ways. In Milwaukee, Chris Coyier has amassed roughly 1.1 million users for his CodePen service, which features about 12 million reusable front­end demos. “I’ve been in plenty of rooms with Girl Scouts learning to code, and when they can see they can take a project, change a few bits of code, and see those changes immediately, it’s powerful,” he says.

Hands-on tinkering works—as educators and hackers have long known. And as tech gets increasingly complex, we have to make sure tinkering is not only possible, but also encouraged. Let people twiddle the knobs and you demystify the world.

Source: Wired