Are Web Apps the new BASIC?

I often wonder how kids today get into programming. When I was a kid, and got my first computer, I spent a lot of time typing in the programs from David Ahl's BASIC Computer Games. After typing in the code for the games and playing them a bit, I'd start changing them. Eventually, I got into 6502 assembly language and higher-level programming languages, but that early exposure to a bunch of simple BASIC programs is what got me started as a coder.

Today, kids are surrounded by programmable computers, but few of them learn how to write code. Most kids are no more interested in programming a computer than they would be in rebuilding a car's engine. I don't see a lot of simple projects like those in Ahl's book that they can play with and start hacking on. How does a kid get started?

There are programming environments that are intended to teach kids programming (Scratch, Alice, etc.). But use of those is not widespread, and I question their usefulness. All the good programmers I know started with something primitive, like BASIC, Fortran, Perl, or I wonder if somebody can really learn how computers work by working with fancy 3D "authoring environments" like Alice and Squeak.

It's occurred to me that web applications might be one way to get into programming. Web browsers are as ubiquitous as BASIC was in the 80's. It's relatively easy for a kid to set up a web site with Drupal or some other off-the-shelf CMS, and then start customizing it. All they need is Notepad and an Internet connection. They learn a little CSS here, a little JavaScript there, and pretty soon they'd rather be coding than playing games.

Is there a web-app equivalent to BASIC Computer Games? If not, there should be.

© 2003-2023 Kristopher Johnson