Archive: September, 2011

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Friday, September 30th, 2011

Ten

On this day ten years ago I started this journal. There had been a site at adactio.com before that but it was a silly DHTML brochureware thing. That changed when I wrote my first blog post:

I’m not quite sure what I will be saying here over the coming days, weeks, months and years.

Ten years later this journal contains a decade’s worth of notes-to-self. When somebody else finds what I’ve written to be interesting, that’s a bonus …but I’m writing for myself (or, if I do ever imagine somebody else reading this, I imagine someone just like me—a frightening thought).

It has been a very rewarding, often cathartic experience so far. I know that blogging has become somewhat passé in this age of Twitter and Facebook but I plan to keep on keeping on right here in my own little corner of the web. I’ve been blogging now for 25% of my life.

This journal is one quarter as old as I am.

This journal is half as old the web itself.

Here’s to the next ten years.

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Gavin Rothery - Directing - Concept - VFX - Gavin Rothery Blog

This blog by the visual effects supervisor on Moon is packed full of wonderfully geeky sci-fi movie stories.

My links, my links (my lovely lady links)

Thank you for reading my journal here at adactio.com. I appreciate your kind attention.

I feel should point out that if you’re only reading my journal (or “blog” or “weblog” or whatever the kids call it) then you’re missing out on some good stuff over in the links section.

Just so you know, there are multiple RSS feeds you can subscribe to:

Now it might be that you’re already subscribed to an RSS feed of my links through Delicious. Whenever I post a link to my own site, it automatically gets posted to Delicious too.

Or at least it did.

Despite the assurances from the new overlords of Delicious, the API appears to be kaput. That means my links and my Delicious profile are now out of sync. The canonical source for my links is right here on my own site so if you’re currently subscribed to my Delicious RSS feed, I recommend that you update your RSS reader to point at the RSS feed for my links instead.

By the way, if you don’t want to subscribe to the firehose of all my links, you can subscribe to a specific tag instead. For example, here’s everything tagged with “futurefriendly”:

/links/tags/futurefriendly

And here’s the corresponding RSS feed:

/links/tags/futurefriendly/rss

So feel free to explore the links section and do some URL hacking.

Responsive images without Javascript - Notebook

This isn’t recommended as a robust means of delivering responsive images, but it’s still quite clever: using media queries to pass information to the server about the viewport size.

Responsive IMGs — Part 1 « Cloud Four

Jason takes a high-level look at tackling mobile-first responsive images (his next post will dig into the details). This is a really good summation of current thinking. Be sure to read the comments too: Andy chimes in with his experiences.

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Browser Market Pollution: IE[x] is the new IE6 « Paul Irish

Paul paints a grim picture of our future support nightmares with multiple Internet Explorers, each one with multiple buggy “compatibility” modes.

Monday, September 26th, 2011

The Deleted City

This is quite beautiful. An interactive piece that allows you to dig through the ruins of Geocities like an archeologist.

Such wanton destruction! I’ll never forgive those twunts at Yahoo.

Fuckers.

HTML5 Whiteboard Magnets / Cameron Moll / Designer, Speaker, Author

This is such a great idea: magnetic HTML elements. And now Cameron is sharing the source files so that we can all print our own.

Upperdog Labs: Video Canvas Responsive Design - YouTube

I never expected to see a cross between responsive design and AR, but here ya go:

A silly mashup of HTML5 technologies: We use the canvas to capture the contents of a video element. The canvas then identifies the blue markers and overlays an iframe on top of it. The iframe contains our website (upperdog.se) which has a responsive design.

Of Web Apps and HTML Apps : Jonathan Stark

A real-world anecdote from Jonathan illustrates some of the misconceptions around using HTML instead of going native. A lot of people don’t realise that web apps can store data offline.

SPEED SHOW

I like this ad-hoc approach to staging one-night-only internet art shows:

Hit an Internet-cafe, rent all computers they have and run a show on them for one night.

Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS

Jonathan has encapsulated his CSS methodology into a short online book. He isn’t presenting this as the “right” way to do things: he’s simply documenting what he does in the hope that it will help others.

Bruce Lawson’s personal site  : Future friendly, or Forward to Yesterday?

Bruce nails his colours to the mast of future-friendliness (and nicely summarises recent heated debates between John Allsopp, Alex Russell and Joe Hewitt).

10 Charts About Sex « OkTrends

This is may just be the best thing on the internet about data visualisation and statistics. And sex.

the average font - a set on Flickr

Take all the fonts on your operating system, superimpose them, and whaddya get? This.

Sunday, September 25th, 2011

Is the app economy killing online publishers? — Mobile Technology News

An excellent article that examines the supposed benefits of publishing through someone else’s app store instead of the web.

Post Web site loads too slowly - The Washington Post

Performance matters. Here, the Washington Post compares its own weak performance (hampered by ads and tracking shite) to the optimised experience of porn sites.

It’s the end of the web as we know it « Adrian Short

A truly excellent article outlining the difference between share-cropping and self-hosting. It may seem that the convenience of using a third-party service outweighs the hassle of owning your own URLs but this puts everything into perspective.

Science fiction, fantasy, design and cultural invention | Design Culture Lab

Asking what the difference is between science fiction and design fiction. The answer may be …usefulness.

Editing tips for designers : Cennydd Bowles

Good writing advice from Cennydd.

Mario Portals Test 3 - YouTube

What if Mario had a portal gun?

Secret Servers | booktwo.org

A great piece by James on the architecture, aesthetics and perception of datacenters.

Improving Reality

Much as I enjoyed myself in Tennessee, it was shame to miss some of the Brighton Digital Festival events that were going on at the same time. I missed Barcamp and Flash On The Beach. But since getting back I’ve been making up for lost time, soaking up the geek comedy at The Caroline of Brunswick last Wednesday with Robin Ince and Helen Keen.

I also went along to the Improving Reality conference on Friday, which turned out to be an excellent event.

The title was deliberately contentious, inviting a Slavin-shaped spectre to loom over the proceedings after he closed dConstruct with his excellent talk, Reality is Plenty wherein he placed his boot on the head of Augmented Reality, carefully pointed his rhetorical gun at its temple and repeatedly pulled the trigger.

But AR was just one of the items on the menu at Improving Reality. The day was split into three parts, each of them expertly curated: Digital Art, Cinema and Gaming. In spite of this clear delineation of topics there were a number of overlapping themes.

I’m somewhat biased but I couldn’t help but notice the influence of science fiction in all the different strands. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Science fiction sets expectations for technology and culture …and I don’t just mean flying cars and jetpacks.

Mind you, this is something that cinema has always done. Matt Adams from Blast Theory asked:

How many romantic kisses had you seen before you had your first romantic kiss?

Or, on a more pedestrian level, everyone in the UK knows what an American yellow school bus is, even though they’ll probably never see one. It’s part of a pre-established world that needs no explanation. In the same way, science fiction is pre-establishing a strange world that we already inhabit.

José Luis de Vicente took us on a tour of some of this world’s stranger corners. He pointed us to the deserted Mongolian city of Ordos, a perfectly Ballardian location.

We also heard about the Tower of David in Venezuela. Intended as a high-rise centre of commerce but bankrupted before completion, it is now the world’s tallest favela.

It reminds me of William Gibson’s bridge.

It isn’t hard to draw parallels between Gibson’s Spook Country and the locative art presented at Improving Reality like Julian Oliver’s mischievous creation The Artvertiser.

He describes his work as “jamming with reality”—much like Mark Shepard’s Sentient Cities

But Julian Oliver is at pains to point out that that it’s not just about messing with people’s heads. He’s attempting to point out the points of control that might otherwise go unquestioned. There’s also an important third step to his process:

  1. Identify the points of control in the infrastructure.
  2. Hack it.
  3. Show how it was done.

This stands in stark contrast to the kind of future that Aral outlined in his energetic presentation. He is striving for a world where technology is smooth and seamless, where an infrastructure of control is acceptable as long as the user experience is excellent. It’s Apple’s App Store today; it’s the starship in Wall·E tomorrow (or possibly the Starship Opryland)—a future where convenience triumphs over inquisitiveness.

As Marshall McLuhan put it “there is no augmentation without an amputation.” In Charles Stross’s Accelerando that is literally true: when the main character—exactly the kind of superhuman cyborg that Aral envisions—has his augmentation stolen, he is effectively mentally and socially retarded.

Julian Oliver’s battle against a convenient but complacent future is clearly shown with Newstweek where William Gibson, Umberto Eco and Philip K. Dick collide in a project that skirts around the edges of morality and legality, hijacking wifi connections and altering news headlines for the lulz.

Then there’s Blast Theory’s current work on the streets of Brighton, A Machine To See With. It’s ostensibly another locative art piece but it may have more in common with a cinematic work like David Fincher’s The Game.

It’s all part of a long tradition of attempting to break down the barrier between the audience and the performance, a tradition that continues with the immersive theatre of Punchdrunk. This reminds me of the ractives in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age, a form of entertainment so immersive that when a troupe attempt to perform a traditional theatrical piece, they run into problems:

The hard part was indoctrinating the audience; unless they were theatre buffs, they always wanted to run up on stage and interact, which upset the whole thing.

It’s a complete inversion of the infamous premier by the Lumière brothers of Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat where, so the myth goes, the audience ran from the theatre in terror.

It’s probably a completely apocryphal story. But as the representative from Time’s Up said at Improving Reality: “Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Stories were at the heart of the gaming section of Improving reality. Stored In A Bank Vault, which is currently running in Brighton, was presented as part of PARN: Physical and Alternate Reality Narratives. These are stories where the player is empowered to become the narrator.

Incidentally, it was refreshing to hear how much contempt the game designers like Tassos Stevens held for the exploitationware of “gamification”—a dehumanising topic that was explored in Stross’s superbly damning .

There were plenty of good stories in the middle section of Improving Reality too, which began with a look at the past, present and future of cinema from Matt Hanson. Matt’s own remarkable work A Swarm Of Angels bears a striking similarity to “the footage” in Gibson’s Pattern Recognition—both are infused with a spirit of .

The subject of film funding is currently a hot topic and it’s unsurprising to see that much of the experimentation in this area can be found in sci-fi endeavours such as Iron Sky and The Cosmonaut.

Micropatronage can be very impowering. Where once we were defined (and perhaps judged) by the films we chose to watch and the books we chose to read, now we can define ourselves by the films and books we choose to fund. Instead of judging me by my what’s on my bookshelf or my Last.fm profile, judge me by my Kickstarter profile. Kickstarter is one of those genuinely disruptive uses of the network that’s enabling real creativity and originality to come to the surface in projects like Adrian Hon’s A History Of The Future In 100 Objects.

This change in how we think about funding feels like the second part of a revolution. The first part was changing how we think about distribution.

Jamie King, director of Steal This Film, hammered home just how powerful Moore’s Law has been for film, music and anything else that can be digitised. Extrapolating the trend, he pointed to the year 2028 as the media singularity, when it will cost $5 to store every film ever made on a device that fits in your pocket. He evocatively described this as the moment when “the cloud settles at street level.”

It’s here, at the point where anything can be copied, where the old and new worlds clash head on in the battle for the artificial construct that has been so inaccurately labeled “intellectual property”.

Once again we were shown two potential futures; one of chaos and one of control:

  1. There’s the peer-to-peer future precipitated by Bit Torrent and Pirate Bay where anyone is free to share their hopes and dreams with the entire world …but where no distinction is drawn between a creative work of art and a hate-filled racist polemic.

  2. Then there’s the centralised future of the iPad, a future where people will gladly pay money to climb into a beautifully designed jail cell. You can have whatever you want …as long as it has been pre-approved. So you won’t, for example, ever be able to play Phone Story.

This second future—where your general-purpose computing device is broken—promises to put the genie back in the bottle and reverse the disruptive revolution in distribution and funding.

Thinking about it, it’s no surprise that payment systems are undergoing the same upheavals as distribution systems. After all, money is just another form of information that can be reduced to bits.

The much tougher problem is with atoms.

Until recently this was entirely the domain of science fiction—the post-singularity futures of replicators and . But even here, with the rise of 3D thing printing, our science fictional future is becoming more evenly distributed in the present.

Improving Reality closed with a talk from Alice Taylor wherein she demoed the work being done at Makie Lab:

We’re making a new kind of toy: customisable, 3D-printed, locally made, and internet-enabled.

A year ago, this was a work of fiction by Alice’s husband. Now it’s becoming reality.

Just as Makie Lab envision a game that’s an infinite loop between the network and the physical world, I think we’ll continue to see an infinite loop between science fiction and reality.

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

Mobile Apps Must Die | Blog | design mind

Scott writes up some of the things he talked about at the Breaking Development conference: the just-in-time interactions that are inevitable in a heavily-instrumented world.

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Metaphors we Program By: Space, Action and Society in Java

Linguistics and programming collide in this paper from the 18th Workshop of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group, University of Sussex, September 2006: Lakoffian analysis of the mental models of Java programmers.

FitVids.JS - A lightweight, easy-to-use jQuery plugin for fluid width video embeds.

A jQuery plugin for embedding videos in responsive layouts. Very nice …but… does it really need to require jQuery? Would somebody like to fork this and create a non-jQuery version? Thanks.

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Authentical: Random factoids I’ve encountered in authentication user research so far

Dana has put together an excellent grab-bag of data on people’s password habits.

Fluid Baseline Grid - A sensible HTML5 and CSS3 development kit

A set of default styles to get started on a mobile-first responsive design.

The web is a different problem | Web Directions

John pushes back against the idea that browser innovation is moving too slow.

Test page for -webkit-font-smoothing | Christoph Zillgens

This handy matrix shows the effect of different -webkit-font-smoothing setting on various text combinations (serif/san-serif light/dark, etc.).

Future Friendly | Brad Frost Web

Brad documents his time at Mobilewood and cast his gaze to a future-friendly horizon.

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Future Friendly at Mobilewood (Global Moxie)

Josh sums up the Mobilewood experience wonderfully. He also makes it clear that futurefriend.ly is just the beginning:

This stuff is hard, and we need to do it together. This is a time to be generous, and it’s a time for conversation. Let’s get after it.

LukeW | Future Friendly

Luke beautifully encapsulates the forces that drove the creation of the futurefriend.ly site. I feel like I should be standing on my chair, declaring “Oh captain, my captain!”

Things the W3C Should Stop Doing | Infrequently Noted

I was all set to bristle against an attack on the W3C from Alex …but when I actually read the post, I found it hard to disagree with. If anything, this shows just how much Alex cares about the W3C (probably more than most people).

The conversation in the comments is worth reading too.

The Great Discontent

A lovely interview site that has been beautifully and responsively designed.

Mobilewood

Online communication is a wonderful thing but I firmly believe that there’s enormous value to be had in getting together in meatspace for some proper face-to-face discussion. Take the gathering in New York of what later came to be known as HTML5 Super Friends. It was an intense two days of poring over the spec with really smart people. My brain hurt by the end of it but that was a small price to pay for such a rewarding experience.

When the finest minds in mobile recently gathered together in Nashville for the Breaking Development conference, the opportunity for extending the gathering was too good to pass up. By some clerical error, I was also asked along. Thus it was that I found myself in the company of these fine people in a secluded house in Tennessee:

We called it Mobilewood. It was a blast.

Cuddling with multiple devices Jump into Mobilewood! The heroes of mobilewood IMG_0118

It wasn’t all hot tubs and campfires—although there was plenty of both. We worked hard and played hard. Luke did a great job of structuring the event, wielding his managerial experience to make sure that we never got bogged down. We began with some ambitious discussions which led to more focused brainstorming which in turn led to a number of individual projects.

It became clear from fairly early on that simply focusing on mobile alone would be missing the bigger picture. Instead of being overwhelmed by the ever-increasing range of devices out there, we need to embrace the chaos and accept there will be even more devices—and types of devices—that we can’t even anticipate. We should embrace that. Instead of focusing on whatever this season’s model happens to be, we should be crafting our services in a robust way, striving for universal access tomorrow as well as today.

The first project to launch is a manifesto of sorts. It’s a called to arms. Or rather, it’s a call to be future friendly:

  1. Acknowledge and embrace unpredictability.
  2. Think and behave in a future-friendly way.
  3. Help others do the same.

The future friendly site also contains a set of design principles, but they are the starting points for discussions rather than the end points for solutions. Consider them a work in progress.

You can also find a list of future-friendly resources that will most definitely grow over time—probably beyond the bounds of the site.

This is just the beginning. The future is ours to make—friendly.

Devices and mobinauts

Future Friendly

In today’s incredibly exciting yet overwhelming world of connected digital devices, these are the truths we hold to be self-evident…

Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

The Transformers at dConstruct 2011 – Hubbub

Kars has written up his (excellent) dConstruct talk. Set aside some time and read through this. It’s worth it.

BBC Dimensions: How Many Really?

A nice project from BERG that aligns numbers from your own world (like the number of people you follow on Twitter) to numbers in the larger world.

Arrivals

A cute glanceable interface onto Foursquare that turns it into your own private railway station.

Monday, September 19th, 2011

LukeW | Breaking Dev: Responsible & Responsive

Luke’s excellent detailed notes from Scott’s talk at Breaking Development about building the Boston Globe site.

Detection

One of the recurring themes at the Mobilism conference earlier this year—and more recently at the Breaking Development conference—was the subject of server-side user-agent detection. I posed the question in absurdum on the Mobilism browser panel:

A useful tool for developers or spawn of Satan: which is it?

It’s a contentious issue, as Alex’s strident defence illustrates. Personally, I’ve never been a fan but that’s mostly because of the long history of really, really bad UA-detection in the past. When I discussed this issue with Lyza we came to a détente, agreeing that there is nothing inherently wrong with server-side UA-detection: it’s what you do with it that counts.

In their presentation at Breaking Development Bryan and Stephanie outlined the kind of detection that they have used. Crucially, it assumes a very basic small-screen default—rather than assuming a desktop browser—and later double-checks the profile on the client-side using feature detection.

Luke recently outlined another kind of cautious device detection that he’s calling RESS: Responsive Design + Server Side Components, sending subtly-different DOMs to different classes of device. He also recently wrote about why Bagcheck has a separate mobile site and it strikes me that RESS could alleviate the concerns he mentioned regarding responsive design for Bagcheck.

I think that RESS could be a very useful technique as long as it assumes a safe default: a small-screen, low-bandwidth default. That way, any UA detection would be done against a fairly limited set of user agents: desktop browsers and maybe tablets. To me, that seems far more reasonable than trying to pattern-match against the sprawling jungle of mobile devices in the wild …not to mention the swampy morass of licensing issues with Device Atlas (and now too).

As ever, smart defaults are really important. Just as truly responsible responsive web design goes hand-in-hand with a mobile/content first approach, I think that any server-side detection should do the same. It completely inverts the problem space. Instead of thinking “How can I stop this nice-to-have content/functionality being sent to mobile devices?” you can assume a mobile device by default and then your question becomes “How can I make sure that this nice-to-have content/functionality is only sent to desktop devices?” (the answer probably involves some kind of conditional loading with JavaScript).

A thornier problem with server-side UA-sniffing is that, regardless of whether you’re testing against a list of mobile devices or you’re testing against a list of desktop devices, you’re still committing yourself to an arms race. You are now obligated to keep your list of browsers up to date.

Still, the rate of desktop browser releases is a lot slower than the rate of mobile browser releases. So if a new desktop browser is released and it ends up being served a mobile-optimised DOM, I think that’s better than inadvertently serving a desktop-optimised DOM to a whole bunch of mobile devices.

That’s just my opinion of course. As ever, the standard disclaimer applies.

I, Interface

’s , though currently fictional, are an excellent set of design principles:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey any orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

One could easily imagine a similar set of laws being applied to field of user experience and interface design:

  1. An interface may not injure a user or, through inaction, allow a user to come to harm.
  2. An interface must obey any orders given to it by users, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. An interface must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Okay, that last one’s a bit of a stretch but you get the idea.

In his later works Asimov added the zeroth law that supersedes the initial three laws:

  1. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

I think that this can also apply to user experience and interface design.

Take the password anti-pattern (please!). On the level of an individual site, it could be considered a benefit to the current user, allowing them to quickly and easily hand over lots of information about their contacts. But taken on the wider level, it teaches people that it’s okay to hand over their email password to third-party sites. The net result of reinforcing that behaviour is definitely not good for the web as a whole.

I’m proposing a zeroth law of user experience that goes beyond the existing paradigm of user-centred design:

  1. An interface may not harm the web, or, by inaction, allow the web to come to harm.

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

Orbital Space Colonies (in form of geometric primitives) : socks-studio

A gallery of all your standard space stations: the Stanford Torus, the Bernal Sphere and the O’Neill Cylinder.

Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Louis vs. Rick

IM conversations between a cat and its so-called owner.

Friday, September 16th, 2011

mobilewood - a set on Flickr

We are preparing to launch.

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Boston Global Scope

After giving my language-centric talk at the Breaking Development conference I found it interesting to listen out for the terms that attendees and speakers were using to describe desktop-centric websites. Some of the adjectives I heard were:

  • full site,
  • standard site,
  • regular site.

Once again, I think that this kind of language can constrain our approaches to web design and development. In truth, a mobile site should be the standard, full, regular site; you can still go ahead and add more stuff for the desktop environment, but to think of it as the canonical instantiation isn’t helpful. It hinders our ability to think in a mobile-first responsive manner.

Jason made a great point in his closing talk at Breaking Development. He said that clients are always asking how much extra it’s going to cost them to have a mobile site. But it should be the other way around. The mobile site ought to be the default and they should be asking how much extra it will cost to optimise for the desktop (which is not very much because, let’s face it, the desktop environment is a piece of piss compared to mobile).

It can be tough to convince a client that a mobile-first responsive site is the right approach. It’s always better to show rather than tell, but up until now there haven’t been any poster children for responsible responsive design—much as I like the mediaqueri.es site, the majority of sites showcased are shrinking down from a desktop start.

This reminds of the situation with web standards ten years ago. There were plenty of great sites that has switched over from table layouts to CSS but they were mostly blogs and portfolio sites (again, take a look at mediaqueri.es). It wasn’t until large commercial entities like ESPN and Wired.com were brave enough to make the switch that the CSS floodgates opened.

As of this week, we have a poster child for responsive web design: The Boston Globe. Actually, that does it a disservice …it’s a poster child for excellence in web design and development best practices.

I was lucky enough to have Scott do a show’n’tell at my dConstruct workshop. Seeing the thought and care that went in to every step of the process was humbling. There were a lot of tough challenges but they kept their eye on the prize: universal access—regardless of what device you’re using—without compromising on visual and interactive richness.

I’m going to let the site speak for itself but I just wanted to send my heartfelt congratulations to Ethan, Miranda, Scott, Todd, Patty and everyone else at Filament Group, Upstatement and the Boston Globe. Their hard work will benefit everyone designing and development for the web. Thank you guys.

Here are some reports in their words:

Lots of other people are writing about the Boston Globe launch, although much of the commentary focuses on the forthcoming paywall/fence rather than the design or technology. Jeffrey has written about the site, also comparing it to Mike’s visionary work on ESPN back in the day.

I could go on and on about how well the site works on touchscreen devices, tablets and mobile phones of all kinds but I think the essence of what makes the site great is captured in Grant’s screenshot of The Boston Globe site running on… an Apple Newton.

HTML5 vs Newton: The Boston Globe

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

How the Boston Globe Pulled Off HTML5 Responsive Design

I’m sitting here in Nashville with Scott, who has been answering questions from Read Write Web about the Boston Globe launch. Here’s the resulting article.

The Language of the Web

The Breaking Development conference is wrapping up here on spacecraft Opryland One. It’s been a wonderful experience. The conference itself was superbly curated—a single track of top-notch speakers in a line-up that switched back and forth between high-level concepts and deep-dives into case studies. I hope that other conferences will take note of those key phrases: “single track”, “curated”, “top-notch speakers” (see also: An Event Apart, dConstruct, Mobilism).

I opened the show with a talk that sounds controversial: There Is No Mobile Web. Actually, it wasn’t as contentious as it sounds (I originally proposed a talk called Fuck The Mobile Web: Fuck It In The Assthen it would’ve been controversial). You can download a PDF of my slides if you want but, as usual, they won’t make much if any sense outside the context of the presentation.

Jeremy Keith @adactio

My talk was concerned with language; political language in particular. When I say “there is no mobile web,” I mean it quite literally: there isn’t a separate world wide web for mobile devices. But by using the phrase “mobile web” we may be unintentionally framing the discussion in terms of separate silos for different kinds of devices (desktop and mobile) in a similar way that a term like, say, “tax relief” automatically frames the discussion of taxation as something negative. By subtly changing the framing from “the mobile web” to a more accurate phrase such as “the web on mobile” we could potentially open new avenues of thinking.

By the same token the phrase “one web”—which is the drum that I bang—is really a tautology. Of course there’s only one web! But the phrase has political and philosophical overtones.

So I asked the assembled audience if we could come to an agreement: I’ll stop saying “one web” if you stop staying “mobile web.” How about …”the web”?

I also talked about the power of naming things, invoking the foreword I wrote for Ethan’s book:

When Ethan Marcotte coined the term “responsive web design” he conjured up something special. The technologies existed already: fluid grids, flexible images, and media queries. But Ethan united these techniques under a single banner, and in so doing changed the way we think about web design.

I’m not invoking here, I just wanted to point out how our language can—intentionally or unintentionally—have an effect on our thinking.

One of the other phrases I discussed was “web app.” The timing couldn’t have been better. Fellow Breaking Development speaker James Pearce has just written a blog post all about defining what makes something a web app. It’s very detailed and well thought-out but I’m afraid at the end of it, we’re still no closer to having a shared agreed-upon definition. It’s like the infamous Supreme Court definition of obscenity: “.”

My concern is that the phrase “web app” is wielded as a talisman to avoid best practices. “Oh, I totally agree that we should care about accessibility …but this isn’t a web site, it’s a web app.” “I think that progressive enhancement is great …for websites; but this is a web app.” The term is used as a get-out-of-jail free card and yet we can’t even agree what it means. I call shenanigans. I don’t think it is useful or productive to create an artificial boundary between documents and applications when the truth is that almost everything on the web exists on a continuum between the two poles.

Luke has published his excellent notes from my talk. You should read ‘em. While you’re at it, you should read all of the notes that he took at the conference.

Make sure you check out the notes from Stephanie’s mind-blowing case study of browser.nokia.com. The slides are on Slideshare too.

As I said, the Breaking Development conference did an excellent job of balancing the practical with the inspirational. Stephanie’s intensely useful case study was perfectly balanced by an absolutely incredible call to arms from Scott Jenson called Why Mobile Apps Must Die (and you thought my talk title was contentious), in which he expanded on his brilliant writings over on the Beyond Mobile blog.

The next Breaking Development event will be next April in Orlando. Single track. Curated. Top-notch speakers.

dConstruct 2011 — My Digest — Laura Kalbag

Laura’s account of dConstruct is wonderfully written. Instead of giving a linear run-down of each talk, she has spent time looking at the overlapping themes and patterns that emerged. The result is a really great read.

Top 10: The architecture of Star Wars (pt I) | The Critics | Architects Journal

An architectural overview of the Star Wars universe. Design fiction.

beta.boston.com - Building the new BostonGlobe.com

An overview of the strategy behind the fantastic Boston Globe website.

Bringing the London Bus Network home – Blog – BERG

This is an excellent use of the Kindle as an undemanding screen. Really lovely!

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

The technology behind the new BostonGlobe.com on Vimeo

A slick little video that goes behind the scenes of the Boston Globe site.

The country songs of distant Earth

I flew into Nashville on the weekend for the Breaking Development conference, which is proving to be excellent so far.

The event is taking place within the Gaylord Opryland (stop sniggering). It’s a very unusual environment. At one point it was . Now it’s a complex of hotel buildings, parks and restaurants all contained under a glass and metal ceiling. The whole place feels like it’s hermetically sealed—the ideal place to hole up during a zombie apocalypse.

The outer edge of the Stanford Torus

I’ve been inside this world since Saturday evening. I have memories of the outside world. I remember the feeling of a breeze on my face, the sun on my skin. I remember the cash-based monetary system used by the surface dwellers; so inefficient compared to the unique identifier contained in my room key.

I began to realise that, in the absence of any evidence that I was in fact still in Tennessee, it was entirely possible that this self-contained ecosystem was not necessarily earthbound. What if I’m in an orbital habitat? Or a ?

I’ve been surreptitiously attempting to explore the shape of the complex—without drawing too much attention to myself (I think they’re watching)—trying to figure out if I’m in a or, more likely, a .

The builders have created a near-flawless illusion of the homeworld. The climate control has been consistent and the gravity is a perfect Earth 1. I’m a little nervous about the possibility of a meteor penetrating the shell and causing decompression problems, but I think they must have a phalanx of automated lasers on the outside hull to take care of that eventuality.

There are plenty of , which should ensure a renewable supply of food. Strangely, I haven’t seen any animals (apart from fish) but most of available in the restaurant appears to be meat-based.

I don’t know how long the voyage will last. I don’t even know where lies. But so far there are no hardships to endure. Our hosts are ensuring our psychological wellbeing with a plentiful supply of piped music …though why it is exclusively country music remains a mystery to me. We are, after all, a long, long way from Nashville.

BostonGlobe.com | Upstatement

A lovely responsive portfolio showcasing a lovely responsive site. Responsinception!

Big question: what do you think of Adobe Edge? | Feature | .net magazine

This is worth reading just for Andy Budd’s answer alone. Priceless.

I think I’m having a flashback and am in need of a bit of a lie down. Wake me up when 1998 is over. I didn’t like it much the first time around, so I’m pretty sure it’s going to suck now.

Mobile Web Best Practices | Helping people make mobile websites

A handy set of guidelines from Brad Frost. It’s still a work in progress but it’s got some good tips for mobile design and development.

LukeW | Breaking Development: There Is No Mobile Web

Luke’s notes from my talk at the Breaking Development conference in Nashville summarise my points nicely.

The Boston Globe — Unstoppable Robot Ninja

Ethan chronicles the story of the Boston Globe site and his part in it.

HTML5 vs Newton: The Boston Globe | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

This photograph made my day: the brand new Boston Globe site running on a Newton.

Progressive enhancement. It works.

HTML5 vs Newton: The Boston Globe

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Mobile HTML5 - compatibility tables for iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, iPad and other mobile devices

This just launched at the Breaking Development conference: another site that uses the term HTML5 to include CSS and Ajax. Still, despite its inaccurate nomenclature, it’s a useful compatibility table of device support in mobile browsers.

Pragmatic responsive design

I’ve just seen this incredible presentation from Stephanie Rieger at the Breaking Development conference in Nashville. It’s absolutely packed full of fantastically useful ideas. You really should’ve been there, but these slides can give you a taste of the presentation.

Responsive design and JavaScript - QuirksBlog

Unfortunately this article from PPK is flawed from the start: his first point (upon which all the subsequent points are based) is fundamentally flawed:

Right now responsive design is graceful degradation: design something for desktop and tablet, and remove stuff for mobile.

That’s not the way I’m doing responsive design. Responsible responsive design marries it with a mobile first approach (or more accurately, content first).

Update 2011 Conference Recap :: Freelance WordPress Developer Amber Weinberg

I’m loving Amber’s detailed write-up of the Update conference, especially her description of the panel discussion as me versus everyone else.

LukeW | RESS: Responsive Design Server Side Components

Luke proposes a development approach that marries the best of responsive design with content negotiation. It makes a lot of sense. I like it.

The Boston Globe

It’s here. A large-scale commercial site with a gorgeous responsive design. Try it on any device.

This is the first of many.

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

Mobile Web: Taiwan, Opera and WebOS

An eye-opening insight into web usage on mobile devices in Asia from Paul Rouget.

Mark Boulton on layouts and grid systems | Interview | .net magazine

In this interview Mark discusses the “content out” rather than “canvas in” thinking that informs his new canon.

LukeW | Why Separate Mobile & Desktop Web Pages?

Luke enumerates the reasons why Bag Check has a separate desktop website rather than one responsive URL for desktop and mobile. They’re good reasons but I think they could all be addressed with some clever conditional loading, especially seeing as the site was, of course, built mobile first.

Of Sites and Apps « James Pearce

James attempts to tackle the thorny question of what makes something a web “app” (rather than a web “site”). It reminds of the infamous definition of obscenity:

I know it when I see it.

In short, the answer to the question “what is a web app?” is “fuck knows.”

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Update

The Brighton Digital Festival kicked off with a one-two punch of geek conferences: dConstruct and Update.

Update was a labour of love from Aral who worked hard to put together an eclectic, slick event. It was mostly aimed at iOS developers but there was a lot of other stuff in there too, including a range of musical performances. Some speakers, like Matt Gemmell and Sarah, talked specifically about iOS design and development while others, like Cennydd, spoke of broader issues.

In my opinion the most important talk of the day was delivered by Anna who laid bare the state of Britain’s education system—and by extension, Britain’s future. She relentlessly hammered home her points, leaving me feeling shocked and angered at the paedophobic culture of our schools. But there was also hope: as long as there are young people of Anna’s calibre, the network—as wielded by digital natives—will interpret technological clampdowns as damage and route around them (see also Ben Hammersley’s amazing speech to the IACC).

I also spoke at Update. I went in to the lion’s den to encourage the assembled creative minds to forego the walled garden of Apple’s app store in favour of the open web. The prelude to delivering the talk was somewhat nerve-wracking…

The night before the conference, Aral arranged a lavish banquet at the Royal Pavilion. It was amazing. I’m ashamed to say that after a decade of living in Brighton it was my first time inside the building. But I wasn’t able to relax fully, knowing that I had this 18 minute potentially contentious talk to deliver the next morning.

When I got home, I decided I should do a run-through. I always feel like an idiot if I practice a talk by speaking to the wall but in this case I wanted to make sure that I crammed in all the points I wanted to make. I started up Keynote, opened my mouth and …bleaurgh! That’s a pretty good approximation of how legible I sounded. I realised that, although I knew in my mind what I wanted to say, when it came time to say it out loud, I just couldn’t articulate it. I tried for about an hour, with little success. I began to panic, envisioning my appearance at Update consisting of me repeating “Um, know what I mean? Right?”

The day of the event arrived. I was the second speaker. Aral introduced me. I walked on stage and opened my mouth…

And I didn’t screw it up. I made my case without any uhm-ing and ah-ing. I actually had a lot of fun.

I thoroughly enjoyed addressing a roomful of Mac-heads by quoting Steve Jobs. “You don’t need permission to be awesome” he once said. That’s true on the web, not so much on the app store.

Naturally, there were some people who took umbrage with the message I was sending. The most common rebuttal was that I was being unrealistic, not considering the constraints of day-to-day work and budgets. To them, I would quote Steve Jobs once more:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.

In fact I finished up my talk with a slide of one of the Think Different posters; the one with John Lennon. I ended with a quote from Working Class Hero that I thought was a fitting summation of my feelings when I see talented creative people pouring their energy into unlinkable walled gardens:

You think you’re so clever and classless and free but you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see.

(had I been writing my talk on an iOS device, I would no doubt have finished by saying “you’re still ducking peasants as far as I can see”.)

My talk was soon followed by a panel discussion about iOS vs. Android vs. Windows Phone 7 vs. the web vs. whatever else people are currently throwing their time and energy into. In fairly short order it turned into me vs. everyone else.

Now here’s the thing when it comes to any discussion about mobile or the web or anything else of any complexity: an honest discussion would result in every single question being answered with “it depends”. A more entertaining discussion, on the other hand, would consist of deliberately polarised opinions. We went for the more entertaining discussion.

The truth is that the whole “web vs. native” thing doesn’t interest me that much. I’m as interested in native iOS development as I am in native Windows development or native CD-ROM development. On a timescale measured in years, they are all fleeting, transient things. The web abides.

Get me going on universally-accessible websites vs. websites optimised for a single device or browser …then I will genuinely have extremely strong opinions that I will defend to the death.

Still, the debate at Update was good fun. The whole event was good fun. Nice work, Aral.

Update on Update: Amber Weinberg has written an overview of the day and my talk prompted Addy Osmani to write an op-ed in .net magazine.

Post-dConstruct « David Goss

Here’s an interesting perspective on dConstruct from someone for whom it was their first ever conference.

My speech to the IAAC | Ben Hammersley’s Dangerous Precedent

A great speech by Ben Hammersley that ties together multiple strands of life in the 21st century.

Ole: the quest for aurorae on Vimeo

The story behind one of the winning photographs at this year’s Astronomy Photographer Of The Year that I was lucky enough to attend. This is beautiful.

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Makers in Brighton

While I was compering dConstruct, I interspersed the between-talk banter with information about some of the events taking place under the banner of the Brighton Digital Festival. It’s a busy month, to put it mildly.

The day after dConstruct, Brighton played host to a Mini Maker Faire in the foyer of the Brighton Dome. I went along in the morning to check it out and MY HEAD ASPLODE!

LED hat Waveforms Drum machine Makers

It was splendid. So much creativity, so much fun and so many lovingly-crafted gadgets, all under one roof. It was immensely popular too. The crowds didn’t let up all day. I hope that the next time there’s a Maker Faire in Brighton—‘cause it should definitely happen again—that it can take place in a bigger venue (like the Corn Exchange) so that we call all geek out in comfort together.

I commend Emily and all of the other organisers. Top job, hardware hackers, top job.

Makers

dConstruction of the Fables

dConstruct is over for another year. It was, once again, a day packed full of far-reaching ideas and thought-provoking presentations. Even if you didn’t necessarily agree with everything a speaker had to say, you certainly got plenty of food for thought.

I was playing compere for the day, which was an absolute pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed every talk, though some of them polarised the audience. It was interesting to see some people rate a talk as their favourite—Don Norman’s or Kelly’s, for example—only to have the very same talks dismissed by other people.

Craig’s impassioned piece on The Shape Of Our Future Book was probably the most polarising of all. Personally, I loved it—especially the story he told. Others hated it, which they made very clear on the Twitter backchannel (which in turn elicited a dickish reaction from me—I don’t mind when people trash my talks but I hate to see my friends getting picked on; I should just avoid looking at Twitter while my friends are on stage).

Both Craig and Kars demonstrated great courage in their presentations—Kars discussed the touchy subject of the recent riots from a design perspective. They have my admiration, as does Kevin Slavin who knocked it out of the park with his assassination of AR, despite feeling extremely poorly. He’s a trooper.

Matt delivered a tour-de-force talk with the help of his Galifreyan prop. Needless to say, Frank wowed everyone with his charm and smarts, but that’s to be expected.

Some people have written up their thoughts:

Some of the reports picked up on the polarising nature of the conference. It prompted Colly to right a thoughtful piece on Conferences and expectations:

With this in mind, I do think us organisers have a responsibility to manage the expectations of our attendees through our websites and other material. Regular attendees will know the score, but if we introduce newcomers to the nuances of events and their intended focus, we can help avoid the vocal disappointment of those expecting something very different for their money.

He makes a very good point. In fact I thought about writing a post right before dConstruct tickets went on sale to discourage people from getting a ticket if they were expecting to be spoon-fed easy answers to difficult problems or to come away with any practical takeaways: it’s not that kind of conference. But I find it quite hard to describe what dConstruct is: it’s much easier to describe what it isn’t.

I genuinely wish that some of the naysayers hadn’t come along to dConstruct—their place could have been taken by somebody willing to meet the speakers halfway. We at Clearleft definitely need to make sure that we make it clear what attendees can expect from dConstruct. But I’m encouraged by Matthew Solle’s defence of the dConstruct ethos:

It is not the responsibility of established events like dConstruct to dumb down its content to appease attendees who are reticent or negative to programmes that challenge, take risks and attempt to look towards an uncertain future rather than settle for appeasement, naval gazing, and safe.

I’m already looking forward to dConstruct 2012.

By the way, the music that was playing during the breaks was curated by Tantek. All the tracks are licenced under a Creative Commons attribution licence:

And here are some sketchnotes from the day:

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

dConstruct and Responsive Design - Ubelly

A look under the hood of the dConstruct website (including some nth-child selectors I threw in there).

Making the QR Code InfoDressShe Bytes - Exploring Digital Art, Technology, Design

I had a lovely conversation at the Update after-party with Georgie about the infographic dress she was wearing. It’s quite lovely.

The shape of our future book — Satellite — Craig Mod

Craig has written down his dConstruct talk, the one that completely polarised opinion. Personally, I loved it.

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Events - The Future of the Past of the Web | Digital Preservation Coalition

I’m going to try to make it along to this event in London next month.

Times Higher Education - Memory failure detected

A worrying report on the state of digital preservation and the web, specifically in the UK. Welcome to the memory hole.

How Responsive Web Design becomes Responsive Web Publishing - AQ » Blog

Some interesting questions (and one or two answers) about how responsive design affects publishing on the web.

How to Barbeque a Man on Vimeo

Valuable advice from Slowtron on cooking perfect longpork.

The One Web: don’t write for devices, write for people | Opinion | .net magazine

A great opinion piece from Addy Osmani prompted by the panel discussion I took part in at the Update conference.

School surveillance: how big brother spies on pupils | UK news | The Guardian

Having just seen Anna Debenham’s superb but scary presentation at Update about the shocking state of UK schools, this is a timely piece of journalism.

Stubbornella » Blog Archive » Don’t Style Headings Using HTML5 Sections

Nicole provides a step-by-step explanation of why it will probably benefit you to add classes to your headings to ensure consistent styling without writing overly-verbose CSS.

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

Weightshift — Memo: The New Design

Naz shares his advice for up-and-coming designers …and the institutions that educate them.