"The Web Behind the Medium" – An article for the Idea Engineers Blog

Over the past few months I’ve been amazed at how simple it can be to reuse the same code and structures on quite different devices. When I was asked to write an article for Sapient’s Idea Engineer blog I straight away knew that was what I wanted to talk about.

The purpose of the article is to highlight the idea that using the technology of the web (APIs, JavaScript, CSS) can save us time and effort when developing for multiple, disparate platforms.

The Web Behind the Medium

With the rise of smartphones, tablet computers and the influence of the Internet on daily life, Marshall McLuhan’s famous line “the medium is the message” is enjoying a renaissance. The idea was ahead of its time, and it’s relevant to the work we do. Digital is hugely important to our clients. In 2010, there were 12.5 billion devices connected to the Internet. That is predicted to increase to 25 billion by 2015. If we are to continue to serve our clients’ interests, we have to focus on the media that we use to deliver their messages.

The key issue to using these different platforms is how to retain responsiveness and consistency, yet also personalise services for each platform and the situation the user is in. Fortunately, the Internet didn’t appear overnight. The tools we use to create experiences for our clients have matured in the harsh and unpredictable nature of the Web. Facebook has more than 750 million active users, with 50% of them logging in each day; 250 million of those people also use Facebook’s mobile platform. That’s an incredible amount of activity, and it’s a great example of how Web technologies can be robust and scalable, enabling solutions to problems that couldn’t have existed 10 years ago.

JavaScript is key in the modern Web; it blurs the line between the client and the server allowing our applications to be highly responsive to user actions and with features like local storage an application might never need to communicate with the server again. HTML provides us with semantic markup, expandable with microdata, for any purpose. Cloud computing services allow our services to automatically scale based upon the traffic they receive.

We can use Web technologies and techniques to save time and money. For example, mashups are Web applications in which content and functionality are combined from varied locations to create a new experience. They are powered by open APIs (application programming interfaces). To enable code sharing, we can use that same principle between our own applications. As systems are expanded, the API expands with it, and as new systems come online, new APIs are made available. Sharing those APIs can save effort invested on the actual interfaces that will make a difference to the user’s experience.

Web technologies provide connectivity and flexibility classic platforms don’t have, and the shift has already started. Google’s suite of Internet applications demonstrates the huge potential in a modern browser. Platforms such as Adobe Air enable us to use Web technologies to power desktop apps. The next version of Windows will natively support HTML5 desktop applications. Windows 8 may be in the future, but tech from the Web is already happening. Your iPhone or Android device can already run an HTML app in such a way that you don’t even realise it’s not a native app.

Companies with existing APIs and Web expertise are taking advantage of these opportunities right now. The Financial Times application bypasses Apple’s App Store completely, allowing a registered user to access the content without requiring download and install. Facebook CTO Bret Taylor previously spoken about how HTML5 will allow them greater consistency across platforms. Their iPad application, based on the technology, is close to release and will be able to utilize the same APIs as their website.

Maximising code reuse has always been the computer scientist’s dream. With Web technologies, we can make it come true and make a huge difference to how we deliver for clients.

Read The Web Behind the Medium (Idea Engineers)

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