Web Conversations With the Year 2000

Paul Ford
3 min readNov 28, 2020
Comic Insects, 1872

2000 me: Wow you still work on the web, that’s amazing. It must be so easy to publish really interesting web pages.

2020 me: Uhhhhh. [Very long pause.] Look, you can pay a low monthly fee and listen to any album anyone ever made.

’00: That must create some amazing opportunities for musicians!

’20: Well.

’00: There also must be some really good music discussion forums.

’20: Huh.

’00: Are there like a million new HTML tags?

’20: It’s complicated.

’00: I bet! Are we up to like XHTML 9 with two-way links? God I bet blogs are amazing now. How do people even know what to read?

’20: You could say we…solved that.

’00: See, that’s such a relief. People thought I was naive, but I always knew that, since the web was so open, people would find their voices there by writing and making things online. And then obviously they’d learn how the web really worked, and build their own systems and tools in order to empower themselves and their communities.

’20: They released more than 80 Christmas movies this year alone.

’00: Not sure what that has to do with the web, or with empowering people?

’20: It’s complicated.

’00: You keep saying that. How does HTML work now?

’20: It’s pretty simple, you define app logic as unidirectional dataflow, then fake up pseudo-HTML components that mirror state, and a controller mounts fake-page deltas onto the browser surface.

’00: How do you change the <title>?

’20: You can’t.

’00: I admit I find that confusing, but that’s okay, I’ll just read the web standard. Sounds like the W3C has been busy.

’20: Well…

’00: And speaking of big web things, did AOL win out over Yahoo? [Laughing.] Did they merge to compete with Microsoft? We used to joke about that.

’20: Maybe the better way to describe it is that they got thrown into the same grave.

’00: Interesting. And I bet the tools for building sites—

’20: Apps.

’00: Right. They must be amazing, yes? I mean in 2000 I have to use emacs on a Linux machine.

’20: Huh. [Looks at emacs running on a Linux machine.]

’00: Is Microsoft still around or did open source destroy them?

’20: [Thinks.] There’s an angle where you could say that open source destroyed Microsoft.

’00: I knew it! Good riddance. I knew the web would become the world’s operating system.

’20: That’s actually true. It really happened.

’00: And that it would empower so many people. I bet Perl 6 is huge as a result. How big is the CPAN library these days?

’20: Almost impossible to measure.

’00: No surprise there. And I almost hate to ask, but did Apple survive?

This started as a Twitter thread. I also wrote a followup in which I answer the questions more seriously.