Archive: November 14th, 2012

Building Matter

When I was preparing my Responsive Enhancement workshop for last year’s dConstruct, I thought I should create an example site to demonstrate the various techniques I would be talking about to demonstrate how responsive design could be combined with progressive enhancement to make something works great on any device.

Round about that time, while I was scratching my head trying to figure out what the fake example site should be, I got an email from Bobbie asking if I wanted to meet up for a coffee and a chat. We met up and he told me about a project he wanted to do with his colleague Jim Giles. They wanted to create a place for really good long-form journalism on science and technology.

“The thing is,” said Bobbie, “we want to make sure it’s readable on phones, on tablets, on Kindles, everything really. But we don’t know the best approach to take for that.”

“Well, Bobbie, it’s funny you should mention that,” I said. “I’m currently putting together a workshop all about responsive design, which sounds perfect for what you want to do. And I need to create an example site to showcase the ideas.”

It was a perfect match. Bobbie gave me his design principles, personas, and—most importantly—content. In return, he would get a prototype that would demonstrate how that content could be readable on any device; perfect for drumming up interest and investment.

The workshop went really well, and some great ideas came out of the brainstorming the attendees were doing.

A few months later, Bobbie and Jim put the project—now called Matter—up on Kickstarter. They met their target, and then some. Clearly there was a lot of interest in well-written original journalism on the web. Now they had to build it.

They got hold of Phil to do the backend so that was sorted but Bobbie asked me if I knew any kick-ass designers and front-end developers.

“Well, I would love to work on it,” I said. “So how about working with Clearleft?”

“I didn’t think you guys would be available,” he said. “I’d love to work with you!”

And so we began a very fun collaboration. Paul moved his desk next to mine and we started playing around with the visual design and front-end development. Phil and Bobbie came by and we hammered out design principles, user journeys, and all that fun stuff.

Finishing up a great day of project planning with Bobbie and Phil

It was really nice to work on a project where readability took centre stage. “Privilege the reading experience” was our motto.

Paul did some fantastic work, not just on creating a typographic system, but also creating a brand identity including what I think is a really great logo.

Wearing my @ReadMatter T-shirt

I started putting together a system of markup and CSS patterns, using the device lab to test them. Phil started implementing those patterns using Django. It all went very smoothly indeed.

Testing Placekittening

Today is launch day. Matter is live. If you backed the project on Kickstarter, you’ve got mail. If not, you can buy the first issue for a mere 99 cents.

The first piece is a doozy. It’s called Do No Harm:

Why do some people want to amputate a perfectly healthy limb? And why would any doctor help them?

If this is indicative of the kind of work that Matter will be publishing, it will definitely live up to its ambitious promise:

MATTER commissions, crafts and publishes unmissable journalism about science, technology and the ideas shaping our future.

Matter: A Look At A New Way To Read About Science - Download The Universe

Just a few hours after launch, here’s the first review of Matter complete with some speculation on where it might go.

Full fathom frontal

It’s been a busy time in Brighton. Last Wednesday’s Skillswap was an excellent affair, with terrific talks about making physical things from Chris Thorpe, Dan Williams, and the lovely young chaps from Mint Digital’s Foundry who were showing their lovely dough globe.

Two days later, it was time for this year’s Full Frontal conference, a highlight of the web-dev calendar. It was really, really good. The general consensus at the after-party was that this was the best year yet. That’s quite something when you consider that in 2009 I said:

it’ll be hard to match the standard set by this year’s conference.

I love it when there are events on in Brighton—dConstruct, Reasons To Be Creative, UX Brighton. It’s great to have geeks come to visit. I always feel like an ambassador and I want the town to be on its best behaviour.

The line-up for Full Frontal was really well curated by Remy. It started with a one-two punch of big-picture thinking, dived into the practicalities of working on the cutting-edge of today’s technologies and then wrapped up with a long-zoom trip down memory lane with Chris.

The one-two punch came from James and John. Like an Oxford debate, they were arguing from opposite ends of a spectrum of opinion. James argued that was perfectly reasonable, even desirable, to make a web app entirely in JavaScript with no HTML in the body element whatsoever. John cautioned against throwing the markup baby out with the web app bathwater, pointing to the robustness of the web stack’s architecture.

The whole point of this opening to the conference was to spark debate and discussion, which it certainly did. Witness this post by Mike Davies in response to James’s arguments.

I’ve seen James present before and, while I certainly don’t agree with what he’s saying, he is a very good presenter. He used a particularly sneaky technique this time. This technical term for this technique is “being reasonable.” Half way through his talk he pointed out that he was taking a deliberately extremist approach and that the truth is that every website sits somewhere on a continuum between document and app (and that websites have had app-like capabilities since the dawn of the submit button). Talking with Mark in the break, we decided we should just get T-shirts with “It Depends” emblazoned on them.

Side note: I’m afraid I must deduct one or two points from James for employing a rhetorical device that really annoys me. At one point (and admittedly just one point) he referred to the “other side” as being dogmatic. Whenever someone labels those they disagree with as “dogmatic” or “purist”, it’s a lazy meaningless barb (like calling someone a hipster). “I’m passionate; you’re dogmatic. I sweat the details; you’re a purist.” Even when I agree completely with the argument being made—as was the case with Andy’s superb talk at South by Southwest this year—I cringe to hear the “dogma” attack employed: especially when the argument is strong enough to stand up on its own without resorting to Croftian epithets.

Anyway, the debate between James and John was a great start to a great day of talks. In some ways, Anna’s excellent talk on the diversity of web browsers on gaming devices was the ultimate rebuttal to James’s argument. “I don’t care about browsers that can’t run this JavaScript,” said James. “This browser basically can’t handle JavaScript,” said Anna. “And here’s the number of young people in the UK accessing the web on this device…”

The Ubelly blog post described Anna’s talk as “One of the best talks of the conference and one of the best talks I have seen this year.”

All in all, a great day which was followed by a whole day of hacking on drones. Clearleft sponsored the event, which means we now have our own flying robot. This could be dangerous.

We’ll be sure to take the drone with us when we head into deepest darkest Dorset next week for this year’s hack farm. But before that I’m in Belfast for the week of Build “don’t-call-it-a-conference” Conf. And you know what I really like? I’m seeing some of the same faces that I saw in Brighton at Full Frontal. Now that’s what I call a balanced conference diet.

Projecteo - The tiny instagram projector - Projecteo

We got a sneak peak of this lovely little Instagram-powered projector from the guys at Mint Digital at last week’s Skillswap. “It’s not a wheel. It’s a carousel.”

Now you can back it on Kickstarter.

The Vanilla Web Diet | Smashing Coding

I wholeheartedly agree with Christian’s diagnosis of the average web page: it’s overweight to the point of obesity. Fortunately Dr. Heilmann has some remedies.

Fear and Coding in Brighton : Full Frontal 2012

A terrific write-up of this year’s Full Frontal conference, with a descriptive rundown of each talk.

Was the Internet just an accident? | Scott Jenson

Man, I just love Scott Jenson.

Our brains have collectively gone startup-crazy, seeing the world through stock option colored glasses, assuming that if there is no money, there is clearly no value. This is madness. I’m so desperately worried that the internet will turn out to be a happy accident.

Turning his focus on “the internet of things” he makes the very good point that what we need isn’t one company or one proprietary service; we need an ecosystem of open standards that will enable companies to build services.

We all have to appreciate how we need a deep, open solution to solve this problem. If we don’t understand, demand even, that hardware devices need to be just as discoverable an open as web servers are today, we’ll never see the internet of things come to pass.