Why We (Still) Love the Web

Stewart Butterfield, Flickr/Yahoo

Stewart ButterfieldPhoto by Kris Krug | Some Rights Reserved

Play Is Exploring the Possibilities

“Play is the exultation of the possible.” — Martin Buber

Children don’t yet know the constraints of life, so they play around with the possibilities. This allows them to find the boundaries of comfort and the edge of pain.

The Web is our playground.

Creativity Is Playing Within Constraints

Creativity happens within constraints, such as composing for a musical instrument, architecting materials, or writing within the structure of poetry. Creative competitions sometimes employ additional constraints: a 48-hour film making contest, a three-day novel writing competition, a two-ink print design award.

Starting in 2000, Stewart Butterfield created the 5K award for excellence, in which Web designers had to create a Web page with 5K bytes or less of code. The constraints were multiple: technical (ASCII/Uincode, HTML, CSS, JavaScript), verbal, functional, and aesthetic.

Creativity Within the Constraints of Flickr

“Design is the successive application of constraints until only a unique product is left.” — Richard Pew

Flickr provides a context (the photography), but it’s really just an opportunity to play. Flickr released an API for developers so others could play. What happened? Completely new creations.

One group contains only circles circumscribed in squares. Out of a constraint came a wide variety of beautiful images submitted by uncountable members of the Flickr community.

Then, using the API, a developer created an application that arranged all of those images into Fibonnaci swirls and other patterns [1 | 2 | 3], and is selling them as posters.

In April, another developer created a social network diagram called the “FlickrVerse” showing the universe of interconnected Flickr users. Another made an interactive interface to find people in FlickrVerse.

Another made a Flash application called the “Flickr Related Tag Browser” to show related tags.

These possibilities are only limited by the constraints of the API.