Some excellent practical advice on progressive enhancement.
Saturday, November 30th, 2013
I agree completely with the sentiment of this article (although the title is perhaps a bit overblown): you shouldn’t need a separate API—that’s what you’re existing URL structure should be.
I’m not entirely sure that content negotiation is the best way to go when it comes to serving up different representations: there’s a real value in being able to paste a URL into a browser window to get back a JSON or XML representation of a resource.
But this is spot-on about the ludicrous over-engineered complexity of most APIs. It’s ridiculous that I can enter a URL into a browser window to get an HTML representation of my latest tweets, but I have to sign up for an API key and jump through OAuth hoops, and agree to display the results in a specific way if I want to get a JSON representation of the same content. Ludicrous!
Friday, November 29th, 2013
The Power Of Simplicity
The closing keynote from the border:none event held in Nuremberg in October 2013.
Tuesday, November 26th, 2013
Usually I find these kinds of name-and-shame collections to be unnecessarily mean-spirited. In this case, the sites being named and shamed are themselves guilty of far worse rudeness.
Monday, November 25th, 2013
Some excellent research for web developers: find out which unicode characters have the widest support—release useful for choosing icons.
This is handy: a version of my pattern primer that can be run with Grunt.
A nice bit of markup archeology, tracing the early development of HTML from its unspecced roots to the first drafts.
I recognise some of the extinct elements from the line-mode browser hack days at CERN e.g. HP1, HP2, ISINDEX, etc.
I like this CSS solution to sideways-scrolling tables for small viewports. It’s not going to be right for every situation but it’s a handy trick to keep up your sleeve.
A fascinating snapshot from 1995, arguing for the growing power of HTML instead of the siren song of proprietary formats.
I’m very happy that this is still available to read online 18 years later.
Saturday, November 23rd, 2013
This is the talk I gave at the border:none event in Nuremberg last month. I really enjoyed it. This was a chance to gather together some thoughts I’ve been mulling over for a while about how we approach front-end development today …and tomorrow.
Warning: it does get quite ranty towards the end.
Also: it is only now that the video is released that I see I spent the entire talk looking like a dork with a loop of wire sticking out of the back of my head.
The title is a bit sensationalist but I agree completely with what Karen is saying:
It’s time we acknowledged that every responsive web design project is also a content strategy project.
Thursday, November 21st, 2013
Frank’s fantastic closing talk from this year’s Build. There’s a lot of great stuff in here about interaction design, and even more great stuff about what’s been happening to the web:
We used to have a map of a frontier that could be anything. The web isn’t young anymore, though. It’s settled. It’s been prospected and picked through. Increasingly, it feels like we decided to pave the wilderness, turn it into a suburb, and build a mall. And I hate this map of the web, because it only describes a fraction of what it is and what’s possible. We’ve taken an opportunity for connection and distorted it to commodify attention. That’s one of the sleaziest things you can do.
Friday, November 15th, 2013
A map to build by
The fifth and final Build has just wrapped up in Belfast. As always, it delivered an excellent day of thought-provoking talks.
It felt like some themes emerged, not just from this year, but from the arc of the last five years. More than one speaker tapped into a feeling that I’ve had for a while that the web has changed. The web has grown up. Unfortunately, it has grown up to be kind of a dickhead.
There were many times during the day’s talks at Build that I was reminded of Anil Dash’s The Web We Lost. Both Jason and Frank pointed to the imbalance of power on the web, where the bottom line has become more important than the user. It’s a landscape dominated by The Stacks—Google, Facebook, et al.—and by fly-by-night companies who have no interest in being good web citizens, and even less interest in the data that they’re sucking from their users.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that companies shouldn’t be interested in making money—that’s what companies do. But prioritising profit above all else is not going to result in a stable society. And the web is very much part of the fabric of society now. Still, the web is young enough to have escaped the kind of regulation that “real world” companies would be subjected to. Again, don’t get me wrong: I don’t want top-down regulation. What I want is some common standards of decency amongst web companies. If the web ends up getting regulated because of repeated acts of abuse, it will be a tragedy of the commons on an unprecedented scale.
I realise that sounds very gloomy and doomy, and I don’t want to give the impression that Build was a downer—it really wasn’t. As the last ever speaker at Build, Frank ended on a note of optimism. Sure, the way we think about the web now is filled with negative connotations: it appears money-grabbing, shallow, and locked down. But that doesn’t mean that the web is inherently like that.
Harking back to Ethan’s fantastic talk at last year’s Build, Frank made the point that our map of the web makes it seem a grim place, but the territory of the web isn’t necessarily a lost cause. What we need is a better map. A map of openness, civility, and—something that’s gone missing from the web’s younger days—a touch of wildness.
I take comfort from that. I take comfort from that because we are the map makers. The worst thing that could happen would be for us to fatalistically accept the negative turn that the web has taken as inevitable, as “just the way things are.” If the web has grown up to be a dickhead, it’s because we shaped it that way, either through our own actions or inactions. But the web hasn’t finished growing. We can still shape it. We can make it less of a dickhead. At the very least, we can acknowledge that things can and should be better.
I’m not sure exactly how we go about making a better map for the web. I have a vague feeling that it involves tapping into the kind of spirit that informs places like CERN—the kind of spirit that motivated the creation of the web itself. I have a feeling that making a better map for the web doesn’t involve forming startups and taking venture capital. Neither do I think that a map for a better web will emerge from working at Google, Facebook, Twitter, or any of the current incumbents.
So where do we start? How do we begin to attempt to make a better web without getting overwehlmed by the enormity of the task?
How do we, as an industry of creative professionals, reconcile the fact that so much of what we make is used to perpetuate the demands of a bloated marketplace? A monoculture?
He spoke about resisting the intangible nature of digital work with “thingness”, and resisting the breakneck speed of the network with slowness. Perhaps we need our own acts of resistance if we want to change the map of the web.
I don’t know what those acts of resistance are. Perhaps publishing on your own website is an act of resistance—one that’s more threatening to the big players than they’d like to admit. Perhaps engaging in civil discourse online is an act of resistance.
Like I said, I don’t know. But I really appreciate the way that this year’s Build has pushed me into asking these uncomfortable questions. Like the web, Build has grown up over the years. Unlike the web, Build turned out just fine.
Thursday, November 14th, 2013
I really like Scott’s approach to defining what “support” means in terms of browsers—it makes a lot sense to break things down to the component level.
The authors of the Extensible Web Manifesto explain the thinking behind their …uh… thinking.
A beautiful exploration of the Star Axis sculpture—an artwork of the Long Now.
The ancients had pyramids to tame the sky’s mystery. We have Star Axis, a masterpiece forty years in the making.
Thursday, November 7th, 2013
Alex starts with a bit of a rant about the phrase “semantic HTML”, which should really just be “well-written HTML, but there then follows some excellent thoughts on the emergence of meaning and the process of standardising on vocabularies.
I despair sometimes.
Here’s a ridiculous Heath-Robinsonesque convoluted way of getting the mighty all-powerful Googlebot to read the web thangs you’ve built using the new shiny client-side frameworks like Angular, Ember, Backbone…
Here’s another idea: output your HTML in HTML.
Good luck getting that script updated for the thousands of sites and applications, you say to yourself, where it’s laying dormant just waiting to send devices the wrong content based on a UA substring.
This is a great idea from A Book Apart—the more different books you buy at the same time, the more of a discount you get.
Got to get ‘em all!
Hot on the heels of the Mailchimp styleguide, here’s the collection of patterns used by Mapbox. I’m not keen on some of their markup choices, but again, it’s great to see organisations publicly documenting this stuff.
Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
Icon fonts, unicode ranges, and IE8’s compatibility mode
While doing some browser testing this week, Mark come across a particularly wicked front-end problem. Something was triggering compatibility mode in Internet Explorer 8 and he couldn’t figure out what it was.
Compatibility mode was something introduced in IE8 to try not to “break the web”, as Microsoft kept putting it. Effectively it makes IE8 behave like IE7. Why would you ever want to do that? Well, if you make websites exactly the wrong way and code for a specific browser (like, say, IE7), then better, improved browsers are something to be feared and battled against. For the rest of us, better, improved browsers are something to be welcomed.
Shockingly, Microsoft originally planned to have compatibility mode enabled by default in Internet Explorer 8. It was bad enough that they were going to ship a browser with a built-in thermal exhaust port, they also contemplated bundling a proton torpedo with it too. Needless to say, right-minded people were upset at that possibility. I wrote about my concerns back in 2008.
Microsoft changed their mind about the default behaviour, but they still shipped IE8 with the compatibility mode “feature”, which Mark was very much experiencing as a bug. Something in the CSS was triggering compatibility mode, but frustratingly, there was no easy way of figuring out what was doing it. So he began removing chunks of CSS, reducing until he could focus in on the exact piece of CSS that was triggering IE8’s errant behaviour.
Finally, he found it. He was using an icon font. Now, that in itself isn’t enough to give IE8 its conniptions—an icon font is just a web font like any other. The only difference is that this font was using the private use area of the unicode range. That’s the default setting if you’re creating an icon font using the excellent icomoon service. There’s a good reason for that:
Using Latin letters is not recommended for icon fonts. Using the Private Use Area of Unicode is the best option for icon fonts. By using PUA characters, your icon font will be compatible with screen readers. But if you use Latin characters, the screen reader might read single, meaningless letters, which would be confusing.
Well, it turns out that using assigning glyphs to this private use area was causing IE8 to flip into compatibility mode. Once Mark assigned the glyphs to different characters, IE8 started behaving itself.
Now, we haven’t tested to see if this is triggered by all of the 6400 available slots in the UTF-8 private use range. If someone wants to run that test (presumably using some kind of automation), ’twould be much appreciated.
Meantime, just be careful if you’re using the private use area for your icon fonts—you may just inadvertently wake the slumbering beast of compatibility mode.
The markup for the patterns that Mailchimp use on their products. I love getting a glimpse of how companies handle this kind of stuff internally.
Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
The definition of the cite element (and the blockquote element) has been changed for the better in HTML5 …at least in the W3C version anyway.
Brightonians, get yourselves along to the Corn Exchange on Monday evening for some fun with Seb’s digital fireworks.
This Is For Everyone
The patent that never was.
Monday, November 4th, 2013
This looks like something that Clearleft would use. A lot.
I don’t think they deliver to Brighton though.
I hate carousels, but if you’re going to have one, this progressively enhanced approach looks pretty good.
Saturday, November 2nd, 2013
A wonderful piece by Ethan taking issue what the criticism that responsive design is over-reliant on screen size. Instead, he says, it begins with screen size, but there’s no limit to where we can go from there.
Responsive design might begin with the screen, but it doesn’t end there.
Smashing Conference closing keynote
The final talk at the Smashing Conference held in Freiburg in September 2013.
Friday, November 1st, 2013
A superb piece of hypertext from The Guardian.
Wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff
I met up with Remy a few months back to try to help him finalise the line-up for this year’s Full Frontal conference. Remy puts a lot of thought into crafting a really solid line-up. He was in a good position too: the conference was already sold out so he didn’t have to worry about having a big-name speaker to put bums on seats—he could concentrate entirely on finding just the right speaker for the final talk.
He described the kind of “big picture” talk he was looking for, and I started naming some names and giving him some ideas of people to contact.
Imagine my surprise then, when—while we were both in New York for Brooklyn Beta—I received a lengthy email from Remy (pecked out on his phone), saying that he had decided who wanted to do the closing talk at Full Frontal. He wanted me to do it.
Now, this was just a couple of weeks ago so my first thought was “No way! I don’t have enough time to prepare a talk.” It takes me quite a while to prepare a new presentation.
But then he described—in quite some detail—what he wanted me to talk about …and it’s exactly the kind of stuff that I really enjoy geeking out about: long-term thinking, digital preservation, and all that jazz. So I said yes.
That’s why I’ve spent the last couple of weeks quietly freaking out, attempting to marshall my thoughts and squeeze them into Keynote. The title of my talk is Time. Pretentious? Moi?
I’m trying to pack a lot into this presentation. I’ve already had to kill some of my darlings and drop some of the more esoteric stuff, but damn it, it’s hard to still squeeze everything in.
The trouble with researching this @FullFrontalConf talk is that I keep going down rabbit holes of Cherenkov radiation and Harrington events.— Jeremy Keith (@adactio) October 30, 2013
I’ve been immersed in research and link-making, reading and huffduffing all things time-related. In the course of my hypertravels, I discovered that there’s an entire event devoted to “the origins, evolution, and future of public time.” It’s called Time For Everyone and it’s taking place in California …at exactly the same time as Full Frontal.
Here’s the funny thing: the description for the event is exactly the same as the description I gave Remy for my talk:
This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.
If you’re coming along to Full Frontal next Friday, I hope you’ll be in a receptive mood. I also hope that Remy won’t mind that what I’m going to present isn’t exactly what he asked for …but I think it’s interesting stuff.
I just wish I had more time.