Make Servers Dumb Again

After talking with Jon Udell and re-reading an old post of mine on storage-neutral web-infrastructure I realize I can make an old point much easier. So here goes:

Make Servers Dumb Again.

You’ve heard of the Dumb Terminal, right? The idea that a terminal wouldn’t do anything but display stuff composed on centralized servers?

Well, this is the opposite. I want dumb servers. I want smart front-ends hosted anywhere to make basic data queries to servers. I want those two things — data and display engines — to be run by separate folks, like in the original vision of the web. I store the HTML on my server under my rules. You display it in your browser under yours.

Why do this? Because the marriage of front-ends and data creates lock-in, lousy portability, surveillance models, and crappy incentives for a good user experience.

You can get around that by running your own server, sure. Now you’re still locked into something, but the thing you’re locked into is running your own server forever, which is frankly almost as horrifying as being tracked.

I am 100% sure this post will be misunderstood. So I’ll just end with Klint Finley’s list of the freedoms people actually want.

  • Freedom to run software that I’ve paid for on any device I want without hardware dongles or persistent online verification schemes.
  • Freedom from the prying eyes of government and corporations.
  • Freedom to move my data from one application to another.
  • Freedom to move an application from one hosting provider to another.
  • Freedom from contracts that lock me in to expensive monthly or annual plans.
  • Freedom from terms and conditions that offer a binary “my way or the highway” decision.

You’ll notice that the minute the data provider becomes unhitched from the display and interaction provider all this happens automatically. That makes for a more difficult time programming, but it ultimately gets the people what they want.

Make Servers Dumb Again. There, I said it.

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