Monday, February 28th, 2022
A Long Bet on Link Rot is Resolved, but Questions About the Durability of the Web Still Remain - Long Now
The Long Now foundation has a write-up on my recently-lost long bet:
On February 22, 02011, Jeremy Keith made a prediction that he hoped would be proven wrong.
Replying to a tweet from @palladiummag
Well, this aged pretty fucking terribly.
Saturday, February 26th, 2022
Friday, February 25th, 2022
Going to Galway. brb
Thursday, February 24th, 2022
Blogging isn’t dead. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re about to enter a golden age of personal blogs.
Make it easy for people to find you. Buy a domain name and use it to create your own website, even if it’s very simple at first. Your website is your resume, your business card, your store, your directory, and your personal magazine. It’s the one place online that you completely own and control – your Online Home.
Good advice. Also:
Don’t write on Medium.
Look, I get it. Writing on Medium is an easy way to pick up readers and increases your chances of going viral. But the costs exceed the benefits. Medium is terrible for SEO. You don’t own your content and the platform makes it difficult to turn one-time readers into loyal ones.
The more you can use platforms you own, the better. Rather than writing on Medium, do the work to build a personal blog. That way, you can have a central place to point people to.
The headline is a little misleading because if you follow this advice, your multi-page apps will be much much faster than single page apps, especially when you include that initial page load of a single page app.
Here’s a quick high-level summary of what I do…
That’s an excellent recipe for success right there!
The technical challenge in blocking modern pop-ups is bigger than the pop-ups of the past decades. However, it’s long overdue that web browsers step up and act to protect their users’ interests. Pop-ups, pop-overs, interstitials, modal dialogs, whatever you want to call them! It’s time to ban them from the web again! At least immediately after a page load.
Wednesday, February 23rd, 2022
Curating UX London 2022
Putting together the line-up of a three-day event is quite challenging, but kind of fun too. On the one hand, each day should be able to stand alone. After all, there are one-day tickets available. On the other hand, it should feel like one cohesive conference, not three separate events.
I’ve decided to structure the three days to somewhat mimic the design process…
The first day is all about planning and preparation. This is like the first diamond in the double-diamond process: building the right thing. That means plenty of emphasis on research.
The second day is about creation and execution. It’s like that second diamond: building the thing right. This could cover potentially everything but this year the focus will be on content design.
The third day is like the third diamond in the double dia— no, wait. The third day is about growing, scaling, and maintaining design. That means there’ll be quite an emphasis on topics like design systems and design engineering, maybe design ops.
But none of the days will be exclusively about a single topic. There are evergreen topics that apply throughout the process: product design, design ethics, inclusive design.
It’s a lot to juggle! But I’m managing to overcome choice paralysis and assemble a very exciting line-up indeed. Trust me—you won’t want to miss this!
Early bird tickets are available until February 28th. That’s just a few days away. I recommend getting your tickets now—you won’t regret it!
Quite a few people are bringing their entire teams, which is perfect. UX London can be both an educational experience and a team-bonding exercise. Let’s face it, it’s been too long since any of us have had a good off-site.
If you’re one of those lucky people who’s coming along (or if you’re planning to), I’m curious: given the themes mentioned above, are there specific topics that you’d hope to see covered? Drop me a line and let me know.
Also, if you read the description of the event and think “Oh, I know the perfect speaker!” then I’d love to hear from you. Maybe that speaker is you. (Although, cards on the table; if you look like me—another middle-age white man—I may take some convincing.)
Right. Time to get back to my crazy wall of conference curation.
Replying to a tweet from @genmon
Tuesday, February 22nd, 2022
I found this to be thoroughly engrossing. An articulate composition, you might say.
I couldn’t help thinking of J.G. Ballard’s short story, The Drowned Giant.
Replying to a tweet from @AmeliasBrain
Regular people, this morning: “Oh hey, today’s date is an interesting format!”
Me, eleven years ago: “Now if I time this just right…”
Reading About Time: A History of Civilization in Twelve Clocks by David Rooney.
The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.
We’re playing for $1000. If I win, that money goes to the Bletchley Park Trust. If Matt wins, it goes to The Internet Archive.
I’m very happy to lose this bet.
When I made the original prediction eleven years ago that a URL on the longbets.org site would no longer be available, I did so in a spirit of mischief—it was a deliberately meta move. But it was also informed by a genuine feeling of pessimism around the longevity of links on the web. While that pessimism was misplaced in this case, it was informed by data.
The lifetime of a URL on the web remains shockingly short. What I think has changed in the intervening years is that people may have become more accustomed to the situation. People used to say “once something is online it’s there forever!”, which infuriated me because the real problem is the exact opposite: if you put something online, you have to put in real effort to keep it online. After all, we don’t really buy domain names; we just rent them. And if you publish on somebody else’s domain, you’re at their mercy: Geocities, MySpace, Facebook, Medium, Twitter.
These days my view towards the longevity of online content has landed somewhere in the middle of the two dangers. There’s a kind of Murphy’s Law around data online: anything that you hope will stick around will probably disappear and anything that you hope will disappear will probably stick around.
One huge change in the last eleven years that I didn’t anticipate is the migration of websites to HTTPS. The original URL of the prediction used HTTP. I’m glad to see that original URL now redirects to a more secure protocol. Just like most of the World Wide Web. I think we can thank Let’s Encrypt for that. But I think we can also thank Edward Snowden. We are no longer as innocent as we were eleven years ago.
I think if I could tell my past self that most of the web would using HTTPS by 2022, my past self would be very surprised …’though not as surprised at discovering that time travel had also apparently been invented.
The Internet Archive has also been a game-changer for digital preservation. While it’s less than ideal that something isn’t reachable at its original URL, knowing that there’s probably a copy of the content at archive.org lessens the sting considerably. I couldn’t be happier that this fine institution is the recipient of the stakes of this bet.
Saturday, February 19th, 2022
Not only was fire always dangerous as well as beneficial, so was the wheel. A spear could injure or kill your friends, not only your dinner. With clothes came not only protection but also body lice. With farming came not only a more reliable food supply but also hard, repetitive work – and plunder by hungry bandits.
Every solution creates new problems. But they can be better problems. Lesser evils. More and greater delights.
That’s what progress is. That is what is most visible today. And that is what cynicism must therefore besmirch, obfuscate and argue away if it is to make itself, and pessimism, superficially plausible.
Replying to a tweet from @dburka
Yup, I’ve got both Twitter and Instagram icons on my phone’s home screen that are bookmarks for the websites (Instagram is “missing” advertisements in its web version …keep it to yourself 🤫).
This forthcoming podcast about design engineering sounds like my cup of tea!
A fascinating four-part series by Lisa Charlotte Muth on colour in data visualisations:
Spotify is trying to do to podcasting what Facebook did to “having your own website”.
— John Gruber
Wednesday, February 16th, 2022
This is a great talk from Laura that clearly explains what web3 actually is. It pairs nicely with Molly White’s wb3 is going just great (speaking of which, Casey Newton interviewed Molly White about the site recently).
Tuesday, February 15th, 2022
Despite their name, most design systems aren’t all that much like systems. Granted, they are designed according to a system, and there’s a logical consistency to how their components and tokens are defined, but really, most design systems work like a dictionary: look up a component, get the instructions for using that component.
Mathew goes on to advocate moving towards a more function-centred approach to systematic design. It makes a lot of sense.
By the way, this isn’t directly related—other than metaphor being used—but I wrote about web standards, dictionaries, and design systems a while back.
Our mental model for how we build for the web is too reliant on canned solutions to unique problems.
This is very perceptive indeed.
Monday, February 14th, 2022
What, then, is a personal website? It is precisely that, personal. It is a new kind of self-portraiture done not with pencils, charcoal, ink, or paint. Instead it is self-portraiture done in markup language, code, prose, images, audio, and video.
There’s a sort of joy in getting to manually create the site of your own where you have the freedom to add anything you want onto it, much like a homemade meal has that special touch to it.
Sunday, February 13th, 2022
- You’re the curator
- You decide what’s interesting
- You have more control over what you read and how
- It’s a fast and efficient way of reading a lot of web
- It’s just better than the endless scroll of a social media feed
To me, using RSS feeds to keep track of stuff I’m interested in is a good use of my time. It doesn’t feel like a burden, it doesn’t feel like I’m being tracked or spied on, and it doesn’t feel like I’m just another number in the ads game.
To me, it feels good. It’s a way of reading the web that better respects my time, is more likely to appeal to my interests, and isn’t trying to constantly sell me things.
That’s what using RSS feeds feels like.
Friday, February 11th, 2022
Replying to a tweet from @brad_frost
Nothing will ever top my magnum opus:
To mark the start of the Dark Skies Festival today, here are some fantastic photographics taken not that far from Brighton.
Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept.
— Jon Postel, 1943 – 1998
Be tolerant with others and strict with yourself.
— Marcus Aurelius, 121 – 180
Thursday, February 10th, 2022
But a machine for writing isn’t the same as a machine that writes for you. A machine for viewing photos isn’t the same thing as a machine that travels in your stead. A machine for sketching isn’t the same thing as a machine that designs. I love doing these things and doing them more efficiently. But I have no desire to have them done for me. It’s a key distinction: Do not automate the work you are engaged in, only the materials.
This is how a web component should be designed! Zach has made a custom element that wraps around an existing HTML element, turbocharging its powers. That’s the way to think about web components—as a progressive enhancement.
Safari is very opinionated about which features they will support and which they won’t. And that is fine for their browser. But I don’t want the Safari team to choose for all browsers on the iOS platform.
A terrific piece from Niels pushing back on the ridiculous assertion that Apple’s ban on rival rendering engines in iOS is somehow a noble battle against a monopoly (rather than the abuse of monopoly power it actually is). If there were any truth to the idea that Apple’s browser ban is the only thing stopping everyone from switching to Chrome, then nobody would be using Safari on MacOS where users are free to choose whichever rendering engine they want.
The Safari team is capable enough not to let their browser become irrelevant. And Apple has enough money to support the Safari team to take on other browsers. It does not need some artificial App Store rule to protect it from the competition.
WebKit-only proponents are worried about losing control and Google becoming too powerful. And they feel preventing Google from controlling the web is more important than giving more power to users. They believe they are protecting users against themselves. But that is misguided.
Users need to be in control because if you take power away from users, you are creating the future you want to prevent, where one company sets the rules for everybody else. It is just somebody else who is pulling the strings.
Replying to a tweet from @hankchizljaw
Wednesday, February 9th, 2022
I wonder what kinds of conditions would need to be true for another platform to be built in a similar way? Lots of people have tried, but none of them have the purity of participation for the love of it that the web has.
Tuesday, February 8th, 2022
Farewell, Douglas Trumbull.
Replying to a tweet from @slightlylate
That’s clearly A Bad Thing.
But it doesn’t give you carte blanche to behave like a dick.
Replying to a tweet from @markboulton
I’m just going to leave this here…
Announcing UX London 2022
For the past two years, all of Clearleft’s events have been online. Like everyone else running conferences, we had to pivot in the face of The Situation.
In hindsight, it’s remarkable how well those online events went. This was new territory for everyone—speakers, attendees, and organisers.
Still, it’s not quite the same as gathering together with your peers in one place for a shared collective experience. I’ve really been missing in-person events (and from what I’ve seen in people’s end-of-year blog posts, I’m not alone).
This is going to be a summertime festival of design. It’ll be thought-provoking, practical, fun, and above all, safe.
It feels kind of weird to be planning an in-person event now, when we’re just emerging from The Omicron Variant, but putting on UX London 2022 isn’t just an act of optimism. It’s a calculated move. While nothing is certain, late June 2022 should be the perfect time to safely gather the UX community again.
It’s a particularly exciting event for me. Not only will I be hosting it, this time I’m also curating the line-up.
It’s a lot of pressure, but I’m already extremely excited about the line-up. If my plan comes together, this is going to be an unmissable collection of mindbombs. I’ve already got some speakers confirmed so keep an eye on the website, Twitter or sign up for the newsletter to get the announcements as when they happen.
The format of UX London has been honed over the years. I think it’s got just the right balance.
Each day has a morning of inspiring talks—a mixture of big-picture keynotes and punchy shorter case studies. The talks are all on a single track; everyone shares that experience. Then, after lunch, there’s an afternoon of half-day workshops. Those happen in parallel, so you choose which workshop you want to attend.
I think this mixture of the inspirational and the practical is the perfect blend. Your boss can send you to UX London knowing that you’re going to learn valuable new skills, but you’ll also leave with your mind expanded by new ideas.
Like I said, I’m excited!
Naturally, I’m nervous too. Putting on an event is a risky endeavour at the best times. Putting an event after a two-year pandemic is even more uncertain. What if no one comes? Maybe people aren’t ready to return to in-person events. But I can equally imagine the opposite situation. Maybe people are craving a community gathering after two years of sitting in front of screens. That’s definitely how I’m feeling.
If you’re feeling the same, then join me in London in June. Tickets are on sale now. You can get three-day early-bird pass, or you can buy a ticket for an individual day. But I hope you’ll join me for the whole event—I can’t wait to see you there!
Monday, February 7th, 2022
Replying to a tweet from @sarahalsherif
Congratulations! Sounds like a terrific dissertation!
Sunday, February 6th, 2022
Like Wordle, but for geography instead of words.
Every day, there is a new Mystery Country. Your goal is to guess the mystery country using the fewest number of guesses. Each incorrect guess will appear on the globe with a colour indicating how close it is to the Mystery Country.
I remember Lara telling me a great quote from the Clarity conference a few years back: “A design system needs to be correct before it’s complete.” In other words, it’s better to have one realistic component that’s actually in production than to have a pattern library full of beautiful but unimplemented components. I feel like Robin is getting at much the same point here, but he frames it in terms of correctness and usefulness:
If we want to be correct, okay, let’s have components of everything and an enormous Figma library of stuff we need to maintain. But if we want to be useful to designers who want to get an understanding of the system, let’s be brief.
A lovely font based on the Bulmer typeface.
Saturday, February 5th, 2022
I really hope that Betteridge’s Law doesn’t apply to this headline.
Fonts or food?
At the end of every Thursday afternoon at Clearleft, we wrap up the working week with an all-hands (video) meeting. Yes, I know that the week finishes on Friday, but Fridays have been declared the no-meetings day at Clearleft: a chance to concentrate on heads-down work without interruption. Besides, some of us don’t work on Fridays. So Thursday really is the new Friday.
At this Thursday afternoon meeting we give and get updates on what’s been happening with project work, new business, events, marketing. We also highlighted any shout-outs that have posted in the
#beingsplendid Slack channel during the week. Once that’s all taken care of, the Thursday afternoon meeting often finishes with a fun activity.
The hosting of the Thursday afternoon meeting is decided by fate. Two weeks ago, Rebecca and Chris hosted an excellent end-of-week meeting that finished with an activity around food—everyone had submitted their dream meal and we had to match up the meal to the person. Lorenzo, however, couldn’t help commenting on the typography in the slide deck. “Lorenzo”, I said, “What are you more judgmental about—fonts or food?”
The words were barely out of my mouth when I realised I had the perfect activity for the next Thursday afternoon meeting, which fate had decreed I was to host. I put together a quiz called …fonts or food!
It’s quite straightforward. There are 25 words. All you have to do is say whether it’s the name of a font or the name of a food.
It was good fun! So I thought I’d share it with you if you fancy a go.
Here we go…
Running up against a paper cut bug feels a little bit like getting a physical one: not the end of the world, but certainly unpleasant. These types of tiny annoyances accrete over time, especially when no one is paying attention to them. In a single day of using my phone, I encounter dozens of these minor bugs that each annoy me just a little bit, making the task I’m trying to accomplish just a little bit more complicated.
A lot of folks assume that progressive enhancement means having to write the same code twice, but often, it can be as simple as extending the pattern you already have once the JS loads.
Thursday, February 3rd, 2022
Simply put, the popups asking people for consent whenever they land on a site are illegal.
This is a great combination of rigorous research and great data visualisation.
Remember when I said you should avoid third-party dependencies?
I can’t see why any other browser would consider supporting Topics. Google wants to keep tracking users across the entire web in a world where users realize they don’t want to be tracked. Why help Google?
Google sees Chrome as a way to embed the entire web into an iframe on Google.com.
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022
Fourteen years ago, Social Graph Foo Camp was just kicking off:
That was fun!
(I later heard that my session on the password anti-pattern instigated changes in some places.)
Smart advice on future-proofing and backward-compatibility:
There isn’t a single, specific device, browser, and person we cater to when creating a web experience. Websites and web apps need to adapt to a near-infinite combination of these circumstances to be effective. This adaptability is a large part of what makes the web such a successful medium.
Consider doing the hard work to make it easy and never remove feature queries and @supports statements. This creates a robust approach that can gracefully adapt to the past, as well as the future.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently published an interim report on their mobile ecosystems market study. It’s well worth reading, especially the section on competition in the supply of mobile browsers:
On iOS devices, Apple bans the use of alternative browser engines – this means that Apple has a monopoly over the supply of browser engines on iOS. It also chooses not to implement – or substantially delays – a wide range of features in its browser engine. This restriction has 2 main effects:
- limiting rival browsers’ ability to differentiate themselves from Safari on factors such as speed and functionality, meaning that Safari faces less competition from other browsers than it otherwise could do; and
- limiting the functionality of web apps – which could be an alternative to native apps as a means for mobile device users to access online content – and thereby limits the constraint from web apps on native apps. We have not seen compelling evidence that suggests Apple’s ban on alternative browser engines is justified on security grounds.
That last sentence is a wonderful example of British understatement. Far from protecting end users from security exploits, Apple have exposed everyone on iOS to all of the security issues of Apple’s Safari browser (regardless of what brower the user thinks they are using).
The CMA are soliciting responses to their interim report:
To respond to this consultation, please email or post your submission to:
Post:Mobile Ecosystems Market Study
Competition and Markets Authority
25 Cabot Square
Please respond by no later than 5pm GMT on 7 February 2022.
I encourage you to send a response before this coming Monday. This is the email I’ve sent.
This response is regarding competition in the supply of mobile browsers and contains no confidential information.
I read your interim report with great interest.
As a web developer and the co-founder of a digital design agency, I could cite many reasons why Apple’s moratorium on rival browser engines is bad for business. But the main reason I am writing to you is as a consumer and a user of Apple’s products.
I own two Apple computing devices: a laptop and a phone. On both devices, I can install apps from Apple’s App Store. But on my laptop I also have the option to download and install an application from elsewhere. I can’t do this on my phone. That would be fine if my needs were met by what’s available in the app store. But clause 2.5.6 of Apple’s app store policy restricts what is available to me as a consumer.
On my laptop I can download and install Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome browsers. On my phone, I can install something called Firefox and something called Chrome. But under the hood, they are little more than skinned versions of Safari. I’m only aware of this because I’m au fait with the situation. Most of my fellow consumers have no idea that when they install the app called Firefox or the app called Chrome from the app store on their phone, they are being deceived.
It is this deception that bothers me most.
To be fair to Apple, this deception requires collusion from Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, and other browser makers. Nobody’s putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to ship skinned versions of Safari that bear only cosmetic resemblance to their actual products.
But of course it would be commercially unwise to forego the app store as a distrubution channel, even if the only features they can ship are superficial ones like bookmark syncing.
Still, imagine what would happen if Mozilla, Google, and Microsoft put their monies where their mouths are. Instead of just complaining about the unjust situation, what if they actually took the financial hit and pulled their faux-browsers from the iOS app store?
If this unjustice is as important as representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla claim it is, then righteous indignation isn’t enough. Principles without sacrifice are easy.
If nothing else, it would throw the real situation into light and clear up the misconception that there is any browser choice on iOS.
I know it’s not going to happen. I also know I’m being a hypocrite by continuing to use Apple products in spite of the blatant misuse of monopoly power on display. But still, I wanted to plant that seed. What if Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla were the ones who walk away from Omelas.