Thursday, June 26th, 2014

The telescope in the woods

I met Sandijs of Froont fame when I was in Austin for Artifact back in May. He mentioned how he’d like to put on an event in his home city of Riga, and I said I’d be up for that. So last weekend I popped over to Latvia to speak at an event he organised at a newly-opened co-working space in the heart of Riga.

That was on Friday, so Jessica I had the rest of the weekend to be tourists. Sandijs rented a car and took us out into the woods. There, in the middle of a forest, was an observatory: the Baldone Schmidt telescope.

Baldone Schmidt Telescope Baldone Schmidt Telescope

The day we visited was the Summer soltice and we were inside the observatory getting a tour of the telescope at the precise moment that the astronomical summer began.

It’s a beautiful piece of machinery. It has been cataloging and analysing carbon stars since the ’60s.

Controls Controls

Nowadays, the images captured by the telescope go straight into a computer, but they used to be stored on glass plates. Those glass plates are now getting digitised too. There’s one person doing all the digitising. It takes about forty minutes to digitise one glass plate. There are approximately 22,000 glass plates in the archive.

Archives Glass plates

It’s going to be a long process. But once all that data is available in a machine-readable format, there will inevitably be some interesting discoveries to made from mining that treasure trove.

The telescope has already been used to discover a dwarf planet in the asteroid belt. It’s about 1.5 kilometers wide. Its name is Baldone.

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Responsive Day Out 2: The Scheduling

Responsive Day Out 2 is just ten days away. If you’ve got a ticket, I’ll see you there. If you haven’t got a ticket, sorry; they’re all sold out. But despair not—some people who have tickets can’t make it and they’re looking to transfer theirs:

Matt Hill, Ali Springall, Marta Armada, and Matt Smith.

Either way, if you can make it to Brighton on Friday, June 27th, you’re in for a treat.

The location is the Corn Exchange at the Brighton Dome, a short walk from the train station. We’ll be using the main Dome entrance on Church Street. Just follow the geeks.

Bring along your ticket (either on paper or on a screen) or some form of ID. If you have a ticket and you can’t make it after all, feel free to transfer it to someone else: there’s a link in the email you got when you registered that will allow you to update the attendee details.

As with last year, the event will be a fast-paced affair, with each section chunked into groups of three back-to-back fast talks followed by a joint discussion with all three speakers.

I’ve grouped the talks into sections that are roughly thematically-related. The day will kick off with a section grouped around planning and process. Then there’ll be a more technology-focused section. After lunch, there’ll be a more big-picture, strategic section. At least one of the talks in each section will be based around a case study.

The one exception to the format is the final section of the day. That’s all Ethan, all the time. It will be Ethantastic.

The order might end up changing, but here’s what I’ve got planned:

Registration
Stephen
Sally
Ida
Chat with Stephen, Sally, and Ida.
Break
Rachel
Dan
Yaili
Chat with Rachel, Dan, and Yaili.
Lunch
Oliver
Kirsty
Stephanie
Chat with Oliver, Kirsty, and Stephanie.
Break
Ethan!
Chat with Ethan.
– ??:??Pub

Now, just to make sure that your expectations are in check, remember that this is a very rough’n’ready spit’n’sawdust kind of event. You won’t be getting a conference programme. You won’t even be getting a lanyard. Lunch is not provided (but Street Diner will be on that day—yay!). There is no pre-party. There is no after-party. And if you want a cup of tea or a coffee, it’ll cost ya.

Basically, every expense has been spared for this. There’s only aspect where we haven’t cut any corners, and that’s with the speakers. I can guarantee you a day of excellent talks.

See you next Friday!

Sunday, June 15th, 2014

Normal

Here in the UK, there’s a “newspaper”—and I use the term advisedly—called The Sun. In longstanding tradition, page 3 of The Sun always features a photograph of a topless woman.

To anyone outside the UK, this is absolutely bizarre. Frankly, it’s pretty bizarre to most people in the UK as well. Hence the No More Page 3 campaign which seeks to put pressure on the editor of The Sun to ditch their vestigal ’70s sexism and get with the 21st Century.

Note that the campaign is not attempting to make the publication of topless models in a daily newspaper illegal. Note that the campaign is not calling for top-down censorship from press regulators. Instead the campaign asks only that the people responsible reassess their thinking and recognise the effects of having topless women displayed in what is supposedly a family newspaper.

Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project has gathered together just some examples of the destructive effects of The Sun’s page 3. And sure, in this age of instant access to porn via the internet, an image of a pair of breasts might seem harmless and innocuous, but it’s the setting for that image that wreaks the damage:

Being in a national newspaper lends these images public presence and, more harmfully for young people, the perception of mainstream cultural approval. Our society, through Page 3, tells both girls and boys ‘that’s what women are’.

Simply put, having this kind of objectification in a freely-available national newspaper normalises it. When it’s socially acceptable to have a publication like The Sun in a workplace, then it’s socially acceptable for that same workplace to have the accompanying air of sexism.

That same kind of normalisation happens in online communities. When bad behaviour is tolerated, bad behaviour is normalised.

There are obvious examples of online communities where bad behaviour is tolerated, or even encouraged: 4Chan, Something Awful. But as long as I can remember, there have also been online communites that normalise abhorrent attitudes, and yet still get a free pass (usually because the site in question would deliver bucketloads of traffic …as though that were the only metric that mattered).

It used to be Slashdot. Then it was Digg. Now it’s Reddit and Hacker News.

In each case, the defence of the bad behaviour was always explained by the sheer size of the community. “Hey, that’s just the way it is. There’s nothing can be done about it.” To put it another way …it’s normal.

But normality isn’t an external phenomenon that exists in isolation. Normality is created. If something is perceived as normal—whether that’s topless women in a national newspaper or threatening remarks in an online forum—that perception is fueled by what we collectively accept to be “normal”.

Last year, Relly wrote about her experience at a conference:

Then there was the one comment I saw in a live irc style backchannel at an event, just after I came off stage. I wish I’d had the forethought to screenshot it or something but I was so shocked, I dropped my laptop on the table and immediately went and called home, to check on my kids.

Why?

Because the comment said (paraphrasing) “This talk was so pointless. After she mentioned her kids at the beginning I started thinking of ways to hunt them down and punish her for wasting my time here.”

That’s a horrible thing for anyone to say. But I can understand how someone would think nothing of making a remark like that …if they began their day by reading Reddit or Hacker News. If you make a remark like that there, nobody bats an eyelid. It’s normal.

So what do we do about that? Do we simply accept it? Do we shrug our shoulders and say “Oh, well”? Do we treat it like some kind of unchangeable immovable force of nature; that once you have a large online community, bad behaviour should be accepted as the default mode of discourse?

No.

It’s hard work. I get that. Heck, I run an online community myself and I know just how hard it is to maintain civility (and I’ve done a pretty terrible job of it in the past). But it’s not impossible. Metafilter is a testament to that.

The other defence of sites like Reddit and Hacker News is that it’s unfair to judge the whole entity based purely on their worst episodes. I don’t buy that. The economic well-being of a country shouldn’t be based on the wealth of its richest citizens—or even the wealth of its average citizens—but its poorest.

That was precisely how Rebecca Watson was shouted down when she tried to address Reddit’s problems when she was on a panel at South by Southwest last year:

Does the good, no matter if it’s a fundraiser for a kid with cancer or a Secret Santa gift exchange, negate the bigotry?

Like I said, running an online community is hardDerek’s book was waaaay ahead of its time—but it’s not impossible. If we treat awful behaviour as some kind of unstoppable force that can’t be dealt with, then what’s the point in trying to have any kind of community at all?

Just as with the No More Page 3 campaign, I’m not advocating legal action or legislative control. Instead, I just want some awareness that what we think of as normal is what we collectively decide is normal.

I try not to be a judgemental person. But if I see someone in public with a copy of The Sun, I’m going to judge them. And no, it’s not a class thing: I just don’t consider misogyny to be socially acceptable. And if you participate in Reddit or Hacker News …well, I’m afraid I’m going to judge you too. I don’t consider it socially acceptable.

Of course my judgemental opinion of someone doesn’t make a blind bit of difference to anybody. But if enough of us made our feelings clear, then maybe slowly but surely, there might be a shift in feeling. There might just be a small movement of the needle that calibrates what we think of normal in our online communities.

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

Notes from a small website

A week ago, I tweeted:

After a long weekend of coding, I’ve got a brand new section on my website.

http://adactio.com/notes/

But that tweet did not originate on Twitter. That tweet is a copy. The original is here.

To be honest, I’ve never been that pushed about having my own bite-sized updates hosted on my own site and syndicated out to Twitter. I’m much more concerned about my photos. Still, I thought it was pretty cool the way that Chloe, Aaron, Amber, and Barnaby have a “notes” section on their sites hosting the canonical URLs of their updates, so I thought I’d give it a shot too.

Michael Bester has written about his online homesteading process. You can also read—or listen toChloe’s process.

Creating a new section on my own site is pretty straightforward. My home-rolled CMS is really creaky and ropey but it gets the job done. The notes section is just another kind of post, same as journal, links, and articles. The tricky bit (for me) was figuring out how to post a copy to Twitter.

It was pretty clear which API method I needed to use. The hard part was all the OAuth stuff. I’ve never meddled with that kind of voodoo before.

I signed into dev.twitter.com and created an application called adactio.com. I’m given an API key and an API secret. This application will only never need to post as me, so I was able to take advantage of single-user OAuth to generate my access token and access token secret:

By using a single access token, you don’t need to implement the entire OAuth token acquisition dance.

Now I had the four pieces I needed to send with a status update:

  1. my consumer key,
  2. my consumer secret,
  3. my access token, and
  4. my access token secret.

I found a small PHP library that uses Andy’s OAuth code. Looking at the source code, I was able to figure out what I needed to send to Twitter. The OAuth class is doing all the hard work—my PHP code is fairly basic.

Imagine my surprise when it actually worked.

I fiddled around with my site’s crude templating system so that if I’m logged into my little CMS, I’m presented with a simple update form on the front page of adactio.com.

Speak your brains on Dribbble

When I type a note into that form and hit “post”, here’s what happens:

  1. I store the note in my own database.
  2. I send a copy to Twitter as a status update.
  3. Twitter returns a JSON object with info about the tweet I just created.
  4. I take the ID of that tweet and store it in my database along with the original note.

Having the ID of the copy on Twitter allows me to provide some Twitter-specific actions from my own site: reply, retweet, fave, etc.

Note on Dribbble

Okay, so now I’m posting to Twitter from my own site. Nifty! But what about receiving notifications from Twitter? If someone replies to, or likes, or favourites the copy of my note on Twitter, it would be nice to get notified about it on adactio.com.

This would be a really complex problem to attempt to solve for myself, but fortunately I don’t have to. Brid.gy is a magical tool written by Ryan Barrett that you can authorise to watch your Twitter profile. It will send a webmention back to the canonical URL on your own site whenever anyone replies to, or retweets or favourites a post.

Because I’ve already got webmentions on my site, Brid.gy worked straight out of the gate—a lovely demonstration of some small pieces, loosely joined.

Responses on Dribbble

Like I said, I wasn’t all that pushed about hosting my own short updates but now that I’m doing it, I’m really, really enjoying it. It feels good.

It feels good to be using my own website for “microblogging”. I know that’s a distasteful phrase but it’s a fairly accurate way of describing how I tend to use Twitter. My earliest tweets definitely feel like short blog posts.

Conversely, looking back on how I was blogging very early on, a lot of those short posts feel like tweets. So it feels good to bring those notes back to adactio.com.

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

The more the merrier at Responsive Day Out 2

It’s just a little over four weeks until Responsive Day Out 2: Revenge Of The Width.

The final piece of the line-up has just dropped into place. Dan Donald will be joining us to talk about pushing the browser to achieve what the standards bodies are dragging their heels on. I’m very much looking forward to hearing what he has to share, just as I’m looking forward to hearing all the talks.

I’ve been liaising with each of the speakers to figure out the best way to craft a structured flow for the day. I’m positively giddy with anticipation now. Every one of the talks sounds like a valuable nugget of winningness.

I have some more Responsive Day Out news…

If you already have your ticket, great! I’ll see you on June 27th.

If you don’t already have your ticket, despair not! I’ve been working with the people at the venue to figure out a way of getting some more seats into the venue and I’m happy to report that we’ve been able to expand the capacity.

So grab your ticket now for the bargain price of just £80 plus VAT. They’re aren’t many extra tickets and they probably won’t last too long so get in there.

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Ten years of dConstruct

Tickets for dConstruct 2014 have been on sale for just over a week now. If you haven’t nabbed yours yet, here’s the URL:

ti.to/clearleft/dconstruct-2014

This will be the tenth dConstruct. Ten years! It’s pretty crazy to look back through the archive and see how the event has evolved from its humble beginnings in 2005 to last year’s magnificent tour-de-force.

If you missed out last year, the videos are all online. You can watch the talks by Sarah Angliss, Maciej Cegłowski, Dan Williams and all the other terrific presenters.

And after you’ve done that, book your place in the Brighton Dome for Friday, September 5th, 2014. Believe me, you don’t want to miss out on this year’s event.

Ten years! Crazy.

It’s kind of fun to look back at the themes for each year:

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Selfish publishing

I was in Düsseldorf last week, alas just a little too late to catch any of the talks at Beyond Tellarrand …which is a shame, because it looks like Maciej’s talk was terrific. Fortunately, I did get to see a lot of people who were in town for the event, and myself and Maciej were both participating in Decentralize Camp the day after Beyond Tellerrand.

Decentralize Camp had a surprisingly broad scope. As Maciej pointed out during his presentation, there are many different kinds of decentralization.

For my part, I was focusing specifically on the ideas of the indie web. I made it very clear from the outset that was my own personal take. A lot of it was, unsurprisingly, rooted in my relentless obsession with digital preservation and personal publishing. I recapped some of what I talked about at last year’s Beyond Tellerrand before showing some specific examples of the indie web at work: IndieAuth, webmentions, etc.

I realised that my motivations were not only personal, but downright selfish. For me, it’s all about publishing to my own site. That attitude was quite different to many of the other technologies being discussed; technologies that explicitly set out to empower other people and make the world a better place.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I must admit that one of the reasons why I write and talk about the indie web is that in the back of my mind, I’m hoping others will be encouraged to publish on their own websites instead of (or as well as) giving their creative work to third-party sites. As I’ve said before:

…on today’s web of monolithic roach-motel silos like Facebook and Twitter, I can’t imagine a more disruptive act than choosing to publish on your own website.

That said, I’m under no illusions that my actions will have any far-reaching consequences. This isn’t going to change the world. This isn’t going to empower other people (except maybe people who already tech-savvy enough to empower themselves). I’m okay with that.

At Decentralize Camp, I helped Michiel B. de Jong to run a session on IndieMark, a kind of tongue-in-cheek gamification of indie web progress. It was fun. And that’s an important factor to remember in all this. In fact, it’s one of the indie web design principles:

Have fun. Remember that GeoCities page you built back in the mid-90s? The one with the Java applets, garish green background and seventeen animated GIFs? It may have been ugly, badly coded and sucky, but it was fun, damnit. Keep the web weird and interesting.

During the session, someone asked why they hadn’t heard of all this indie web stuff before. After all, if the first indie web camp happened in 2011, shouldn’t it be bigger by now?

That’s when I realised that I honestly didn’t care. I didn’t care how big (or small) this group is. For me, it’s just a bunch of like-minded people helping each other out. Even if nobody else ever turns up, it still has value.

I have to admit, I really don’t care that much about the specific technologies being discussed at indie web camps: formats, protocols, bits of code …they are less important than the ideas. And the ideas are less important than the actions. As long as I’m publishing to my website, I’m pretty happy. That said, I’m very grateful that the other indie web folks are there to help me out.

Mostly though, my motivations echo Mandy’s:

No one owns this domain but me, and no one but me can take it down. I will not wake up one morning to discover that my service has been “sunsetted” and I have some days or weeks to export my data (if I have that at all). These URLs will never break.

Friday, May 16th, 2014

dConstruct tickets

Tickets for dConstruct 2014 go on sale on Monday morning at 11am.

I expect there’ll be quite a rush for tickets initially, but don’t worry—if you aren’t able to get to an internet-enabled device to secure your place the moment that tickets go on sale, rest assured that there’ll be tickets available for quite a while. For the past few years, there have been tickets still available right up until a month before the event itself.

That said, you might as well grab your ticket straight away. You definitely don’t want to miss this year’s event. Just look at that amazing line-up.

Oh, and that line-up just got a little bit more amazing. I’m pleased as punch to announce that Jen Lowe will be joining us for dConstruct. Just one more brilliant and talented person to add to the roster of brilliant and talented people who are going to make this year’s dConstruct something else.

If you’re travelling from outside Brighton, then the first thing you might want to do after securing your dConstruct ticket is to find some accommodation. Here’s a dConstruct page on AirBnB listing plenty of available lodgings.

I recommend sticking around for the weekend after dConstruct too. As well as the annual Maker Faire and the Brighton and Hove Food Festival, there’s going to be plenty of other events happening under the banner of the Brighton Digital Festival.

Brighton is definitely the place to be in the first week of September.

And the dConstruct ticket page is definitely the place to be on Monday morning.

(One thing to note: if you’re buying a whole bunch of tickets for your workmates, please make sure to add a name for each ticket. Don’t worry; you’ll be able to update the names on the tickets at any time up ‘till a couple of weeks before the event itself. So even if you’re not sure now who the final attendees will turn out to be, you can adjust the tickets once you figure it out. But you can’t leave the names blank—if you do, I’m afraid the whole order will be cancelled.)

Monday, May 12th, 2014

Seams

“The function of science fiction,” said Ray Bradbury, “is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.”

Dystopias are the default setting for science fiction. It’s rare to find utopian sci-fi, and when you do—as in the post-singularity Culture novels of Iain M.Banks—there’s always more than a germ of dystopia; the dystutopias that Margaret Atwood speaks of.

You’ve got your political dystopias—1984 and all its imitators. Then there’s alien invasion dystopias, machine-intelligence dystopias, and a whole slew of post-apocalyptic dystopias: nuclear war, pandemic disease, environmental collapse, genetic engineering …take your pick. From the cosy catastrophes of John Wyndham to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, this is the stock and trade of speculative fiction.

Of all these undesirable futures, one that troubles more than any other is the Wall·E dystopia. I’m not talking about the environmental wasteland depicted on Earth. I mean the dystutopia depicted aboard the generation starship The Axiom. Here, humanity’s every need is catered to without requiring any thought. And so humanity atrophies, becoming physically obese and intellectually lazy.

It’s not a new idea. H. G. Wells had already shown us a distant future like this in his classic novel The Time Machine. In the far future of that book’s timeline, humanity splits into two. The savagery of the canabalistic Morlocks is contrasted with the docile passive stupidity of the Eloi, but as Jaron Lanier points out, both endpoints are equally horrific.

In Wall·E, the Eloi have advanced technology. Their technology has been designed according to a design principle enshrined in the title of a Dead Kennedys album: Give Me Convenience Or Give Me Death.

That’s the reason why the Wall·E dystopia disturbs me so much. It’s all-too believable. For many years now, the rallying cry of digital designers has been epitomised by the title of Steve Krug’s terrific book, Don’t Make Me Think. But what happens when that rallying cry is taken too far? What happens when it stops being “don’t make think while I’m trying to complete a task” to simply “don’t make me think” full stop?

Convenience. Ease of use. Seamlessness.

On the face of it, these all seem like desirable traits in digital and physical products alike. But they come at a price. When we design, we try to do the work so that the user doesn’t have to. We do the thinking so the user doesn’t have to. Don’t make the user think. But taken too far, that mindset becomes dangerous.

Marshall McLuhan said that every extension is also an amputution. As we augment the abilities of people to accomplish their tasks, we should be careful not to needlessly curtail what they can do:

Here we are, a society hell bent on extending our reach through phones, through computers, through “seamless integration” and yet all along the way we’re unwittingly losing perhaps as much as we gain. The mediums we create are built to carry out specific tasks efficiently, but by doing so they have a tendency to restrict our options for accomplishing that task by other means. We begin to learn the “One” way to do it, when in fact there are infinite ways. The medium begins to restrict our thinking, our imagination, our potential.

The idea of “seamlessness” as a desirable trait in what we design is one that bothers me. Technology has seams. By hiding those seams, we may think we are helping the end user, but we are also making a conscience choice to deceive them (or at least restrict what they can do).

I see this a lot in the world of web devlopment. We’re constantly faced with challenges like dealing with users on slow networks or small screens. So we try to come up with solutions (bandwidth media queries, responsive images) that have at their heart an assumption that we know better than the end user what they should get.

I’m not saying that everything should be an option in a menu for the user to figure out—picking smart defaults is very much part of our job. But I do think there’s real value in giving the user the final choice.

I remember Jake giving a good example of this. If he’s travelling and he’s on a 3G network on his phone, or using shitty hotel WiFi on his laptop, and someone sends him a link to a video of some cats, he doesn’t mind if he gets the low-quality version as long as he gets to see the feline shenanigans in short order. But if he’s in the same situation and someone sends him a link to the just-released trailer for the new Star Trek movie, he’s willing to wait for hours so that he can watch in high-definition.

That’s a choice. All too often, these kind of choices are pre-made by designers and developers instead of being offered to the end user. We probably mean well, but there’s a real danger in assuming that just because someone is using a particular device that we can infer what their context is:

Mind reading is no way to base fundamental content decisions.

My point is that while we don’t want to overwhelm the user with choice overload, we also need to be careful not to unintentionally remove valuable choices that can empower people. In our quest to make experiences seamless, we run the risk of also making those experiences rigid and inflexible.

The drive for a “seamless experience” has been used to justify some harsh amputations. When Twitter declared war on the very developers it used to champion, and changed its API and terms of service so that tweets had to be displayed the same way everywhere, it was done in the name of “a consistent user experience.” Twitter knows best.

The web is made up of parts and there are seams between those parts: HTML, HTTP, and URLs. The software that can expose or hide those seams is the web browser. Web browsers are made by human beings and it’s the mindset and assumptions of those human beings that determines whether web browsers are enabling or disabling users to make use of those seams.

“View source” is a seam that exposes the HTML lying beneath every web page. That kind of X-ray vision can be quite powerful. Clearly it’s not an important feature for most users, but it is directly responsible for showing people how web pages are made …and intimating that anyone can do it. In the introduction to my first book I thanked “view source” along with my other teachers like Jeff Veen, Steve Champeon, and Jeffrey Zeldman.

These days, browsers don’t like to expose “view source” as easily as they once did. It’s hidden amongst the developer tools. There’s an assumption there that it’s not intended for regular users. The browser makers know best.

There are seams between the technologies that make up a web page: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The ability to enable or disable those layers can be empowering. It has become harder and harder to disable JavaScript in the browser. Another little amputation. The browser makers know best.

The CSS that styles web pages can be over-ridden by the end user. This is not a bug. It is a very powerful feature. That feature is being removed:

I understand that vendors can do whatever they want to control how you experience the web, because it is their software, their product, but removing user stylesheets feels sooo un-web to me, which is irony. A browser’s largest responsibility is to give people access to the web. It’s like the web is this open hand, but software is this closed fist.

Then there’s the URL. The ultimate seam.

Historically, browsers have exposed this seam, but now—just as with “view source” and user stylesheets—the visibility of the URL is being relegated to being a power-user tool.

The ultimate amputation.

The irony here is that the justification for this change is not the usual mantra of providing “a more seamless user experience.” Instead, the justification is supposedly security.

This strike me as really strange. Security is the one area where seamlessness is definitely not a desirable characteristic. A secure system requires people to be mindful and aware of their situation. This is certainly true on the web, as Tom points out:

Hiding information away makes me less able to make decisions: it makes me a less informed user.

The whole reason that phishing is a problem is because users don’t pay any bloody attention to what they see in their location bar. Putting less information in the location bar makes the location bar less useful and thus there’s less point paying any attention to it.

Tom has hit on the fundamental mismatch here. Chrome is a piece of software that wants to provide a good user experience—“don’t make me think!”—while at the same trying to make users mindful of their surroundings:

Security requires educated, pro-active, informed thinking users.

Usability is about making the whole process of using the web seamless and thoughtless: a child should be able to do it.

So from the security standpoint, obfuscating the URL is exactly the wrong thing to do.

In order to actually stay safe online, you need to see the “seams” of the web, you need to pay attention, use your brain.

Chrome knows best.

Making it harder to “view source” might seem like an inconsequentail decision. Removing the ability to apply user stylesheets might seem like an inconsequential decision. Heck, even hiding the URL might seem like an inconsequential decision. But each one of those decisions has repercussions. And each one of those decisions reflects an underlying viewpoint.

Make no mistake, all software is political. We talk about opinionated software but really, all software is opinionated, whether we like it or not. Seemingly inconsequential interface decisions are actually reflections of assumptions, biases and beliefs.

As Nat points out, like all political decisions, this is about power:

There’s been much debate about whether the URLs are ‘ugly’ or ‘beautiful’ and whether people really understand them. This debate misses the point.

The URLs are the cornerstone of the interconnected, decentralised web. Removing the URLs from the browser is an attempt to expand and consolidate centralised power.

If that’s the case, then it really doesn’t matter what we think about Chrome removing visible URLs. What appears to be a design decision about the user interface is in fact a manifestation of a much deeper vision. It’s a vision of a future where people can have everything their heart desires without having to expend needless thought. It’s a bright future filled with seamless experiences.

Welcome aboard The Axiom.

Buy n Large knows best.

Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Talking and travelling

I’m in America. This is a three-week trip and in those three weeks, I’m speaking at four conferences.

That might sound like a fairly hectic schedule but it’s really not that bad at all. In each place I’m travelling to, travel takes up a day, the conference portion takes up a couple of days, but I still get a day or two to just hang out and be a tourist, which is jolly nice.

This sojourn began in Boston where I was speaking at An Event Apart. It was—as ever—an excellent event and even though I was just speaking at An Event Apart in Seattle just a few weeks ago, there were still plenty of fresh talks for me to enjoy in Boston: Paul talking about performance, Lea talking about colour in CSS, Dan talking about process, and a barnstorming talk from Bruce on everything that makes the web great (although I respectfully disagree with his stance on DRM/EME).

My own talk was called The Long Web and An Event Apart Boston was its final outing. I first gave it at An Event Apart DC back in August—it’s had a good nine-month run.

My next appearance at An Event Apart will be at the end of this American trip in San Diego. I’ll be presenting a new talk there. Whereas my previous talk was a rambling affair about progressive enhancement, responsive design, and long-term thinking, my new talk will be a rambling affair about progressive enhancement, responsive design, and long-term thinking.

Sooner or later people are going to realise that I keep hammering home the same message in all my talks and this whole speaking-at-conferences gig will dry up. Until then, I’ll keep hammering home that same old message.

I have two opportunities to road-test this new talk before An Event Apart San Diego (for which, by the way, tickets still remain: use the code AEAKEITH when you’re booking to get $100 off).

I’ll be speaking at Bmoresponsive in Baltimore at the end of this week. Before that, I have the great pleasure (and pressure) of opening the show tomorrow at the Artifact conference here in good ol’ Austin, Texas (and believe it or not, you can still get a ticket: this time use the code ADACTIO100 when you’re booking to get $100 off).

Until then, I have some time to wander around and be a tourist. It is so nice to be here in Austin when it’s not South by Southwest. I should probably fretting over this talk but instead I’m spending my time sampling tacos and beers in the sunshine.