A Malleable Web

Mar 2, 2023 11:17 PM

It's clear that prompting as the way to interact with AI models is here to stay. We wrote about it some months ago as something that might soon happen, and it became even more true than we thought.

Whether you are generating images or searching on Bing, it has brought a more human form of conversations with complex language models to the masses. Recently I used openAI's Codex, which is a chatGPT for coding, to help me create a component for a website. Despite my scepticism at first, the code did exactly what it should and even helped me go through the logic steps to implement it. I was impressed, to say the least. So language models are pretty good at code… but while I was altering the website with prompts and answers, I couldn't help feeling that it would be no sweat for Codex to change existing websites if it just had access to its source code. As in hijacking the way a website would appear locally.

Okay what I am saying is, websites are fucked. Imagine a future where your browser's AI can actively change your experience of the internet entirely. For example, you may prompt this browser to display every website in dark-mode (even those that don't support the option), remove news that is too negative or browse your bank history in the style of Spotify.

Re-imagine the internet again

Why is this exciting? Well, you might have noticed websites are starting to look a bit similar. Most of them are getting bootstrapped and optimised for the same search algorithms combined with interaction models that work for most, then yeah… you get an internet that looks kinda similar. And when you look at how some new tools are now 'magically' designing apps and websites with AI, by using existing websites as training data… well, things will look more and more the same.

It did not used to be that way. Before the web standards, people just built websites the way they thought the internet should look, and it was fun! Websites were ugly and insane, yes, but hyper personal and had their own ways of expressing themselves. Even back in 2015 thenextweb wrote about this issue. Ahhh… the wild west of the online 90's, we obviously don't want to go back there… but what would be great is the freedom to imagine the internet again!

For those who roamed the internet pre-Facebook, you may recall the net-art movement exploring this wonderful new medium “the internet”. Although some of the pioneering collectives like Jodi still are around, most of the experimental scene is part of the past. One of my favourite net-art pieces that comes to mind when thinking of altering the web, is Shredder (1998) by Mark Napier. An alternative web browser that turns web pages into digital confetti. It's wonderful and timely as html meets a Jackson Pollock painting.

Recently we find new examples that point at a future of a hyper personalised internet, from AddBlockers to css StyleBots. Mikk Martin posted a custom Chrome extension for removing distractions and here at oio we created a way for people to write on websites, mimicking a public space with World Wide Walls. They are all attempts to essentially alter the web in favour of the consumer and make it more of a democratic space. But AI and conversational prompting could take this to a whole other level. Let me show you…

Above I imagine a browser that lets you prompt changes to the websites you visit, to anything you want. Perhaps you are like me and find Microsoft's Bing utterly unappealing, so by simply prompting “make bing look more like google.com” the model will generate css code that can be used to overwrite and tweak the site. You might turn all your search bars into hot dogs like I did or make all the websites to be more brutalist, the possibilities are kind of endless. But while this might seem like another opportunity for personalization or 'skinning', I think it might fundamentally change what we consider valuable of a website. As the frontend will be completely malleable with the help of AI, a website will just be as valuable as the content or service it provides.

And this is where things might get really interesting. If a website is completely malleable to the point that the data it holds can be re-shaped into something else, then you can almost see a website as an application programming interface (API).

Introducing Meta Sites!

A future where websites are combined into local frankensteins, only pulling the data it needs and combines it on a new website that does not exist. For example, you might prompt your browser to create a shopping site combining Ebay, Amazon and Craigslist into one new site, in the style of Apple's app store. Now, of course this is getting a little speculative, but in theory it's possible, and who knows... maybe there is a market for designers and developers to string together meta sites for niche use cases.

So will websites start to block AI alterations before you can read the article, with an annoying pop-up? Probably not, in fact web developers might welcome this future as they would get valuable feedback and ideas on how people prefer using their service.

Bonus CSS

Free as in free CSS - if you like to change Bing in the style of Google, then try use our AI generated CSS block into a style bot extension.