As you may have noticed, today’s post is shorter and later than usual, and that’s partly because of some distractions related to that hurricane you’ve probably heard about. Over the weekend, I took a little time out of preparing for the oncoming storm to write a single-serving web application called powerup.
A single-serving site is a web site that’s focused on doing just one thing, to the exclusion of all others. One of my favorite examples is downforeveryoneorjustme.com, which does what it says on the tin: it tells you if a website is down for everyone, or just you. I made my single-serving site to answer a simple question: is the power on at home?
After July’s derecho, my home was without power for five days. So spending time in air-conditioned places became a top priority, but finding out whether the power had come back on at home became a chore. When Hurricane Sandy was likely to pass through my area, I expected to be without power again, so I whipped up this application which tells me just one thing: if the power is on. More technically, it tells me whether my router at home can connect to an outside server, but for my purposes they’re basically the same question.
Now, I didn’t actually lose power (a surprising development), so powerup didn’t turn out to as useful as I imagined it would. But finding an irreducible unit of information, below which is meaningless and above which is superfluous, is a satisfying and powerful exercise.
Conceptually, a single-serving site is the opposite of comprehensive. Rather than providing as much information as possible, a single serving-site provides as close to the minimum useful unit of information as possible. In the case of sites like mine or isitchristmas.com, the minimum useful unit of information is a solitary bit: on or off, yes or no. For a site like How Many People Are In Space Right Now?, it’s an integer.
Irreducibility shouldn’t be the only objective when trying to share information with people, but that irreducible unit of information is a thing worth having. It can be the nucleus at the center of a larger application, presentation, or document. While a single serving site may not be a practical approach in all or even most cases, thinking about what the single serving site of your topic would look like isn’t a bad place to begin.