Archive: March, 2018

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Saturday, March 31st, 2018

Friday, March 30th, 2018

Back to the Blog – Dan Cohen

On moving from silos to your own website:

Over the last year, especially, it has seemed much more like “blog to write, tweet to fight.” Moreover, the way that our writing and personal data has been used by social media companies has become more obviously problematic—not that it wasn’t problematic to begin with.

Which is why it’s once again a good time to blog, especially on one’s own domain.

But on the other hand…

It is psychological gravity, not technical inertia, however, that is the greater force against the open web. Human beings are social animals and centralized social media like Twitter and Facebook provide a powerful sense of ambient humanity—the feeling that “others are here”—that is often missing when one writes on one’s own site.

That’s true …which is why brid.gy is such an incredibly powerful service for, well, bridging the gap between your own personal site and the silos, allowing for that feeling of ambient humanity.

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

UX In Contact Forms: Essentials To Turn Leads Into Conversions — Smashing Magazine

The answers to these questions about forms are useful for just about any website:

  1. Is It OK To Place A Form In Two Columns?
  2. Where Should Labels Be Placed?
  3. Can We Use Placeholder Text Instead Of A Label?
  4. How To Lessen The Cognitive Load Of A Form?
  5. Are Buttons Considered Part Of A Form’s UX?
  6. Is It Possible To Ease The Process Of Filling A Form?
  7. Does The User’s Location Influence A Form’s UX?

Wednesday, March 28th, 2018

Who Does She Think She Is?

The internet does not hate women. The internet doesn’t hate anyone, because the internet, being an inanimate network, lacks the capacity to hold any opinion whatsoever. People hate women, and the internet allows them to do it faster, harder, and with impunity. It’s developed into a form of relaxation after a hard day of being ground on the wheel of late-stage capitalism. Melvin Kranzberg’s statement that “technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral” holds true here: The internet lets us be whoever we were before, more efficiently, with fewer consequences.

Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Design Doesn’t Care What You Think Information Looks Like | Rob Weychert

A terrific piece by Rob that is simultaneously a case study of Pro Publica work and a concrete reminder of the power of separating structure and presentation (something that I worry developers don’t appreciate enough).

Don’t get stuck on what different types of information are “supposed” to look like. They can take whatever shape you need them to.

The Missing Building Blocks of the Web – Anil Dash – Medium

Anil documents the steady decline of empowering features from web browsers: view source; in-situ authoring; transclusion, but finishes with the greatest loss of all: your own website at your own address.

There are no technical barriers for why we couldn’t share our photos to our own sites instead of to Instagram, or why we couldn’t post stupid memes to our own web address instead of on Facebook or Reddit. There are social barriers, of course — if we stubbornly used our own websites right now, none of our family or friends would see our stuff. Yet there’s been a dogged community of web nerds working on that problem for a decade or two, trying to see if they can get the ease or convenience of sharing on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram to work across a distributed network where everyone has their own websites.

(Although it’s a bit of shame that Anil posted this on Ev’s blog instead of his own.)

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Sunday, March 25th, 2018

Saturday, March 24th, 2018

Wednesday, March 21st, 2018

Empty half the Earth of its humans. It’s the only way to save the planet | Kim Stanley Robinson | Cities | The Guardian

Kim Stanley Robinson explores the practicalities of E.O. Wilson’s Half Earth proposal.

There is no alternative way; there is no planet B. We have only this planet, and have to fit our species into the energy flows of its biosphere. That’s our project now. That’s the meaning of life, in case you were looking for a meaning.

Write it down

Such a great piece of advice from Mark:

Whenever someone asks me to do something that I think seems ill-conceived in some way, I ask them to write it down. That’s it. Because writing is high effort. Making sentences is the easy bit, it’s the thinking I want them to do. By considering their request it slows them down. Maybe 30% of the time or something, they come back and say ‘oh, that thing I asked you to do, I’ve had a think and it’s fine, we don’t need to do it’.

Like Mark, I think I enjoy being on the receiving end of this too:

These days, I welcome being asked to ‘write it down’. It gives me permission to take a breath. To pause and reflect on what I’m asking. I’m convinced my heart rate drops a little. You see, in some environments this would be called ‘process’, or ‘red tape’. ‘Being asked to write something down is a blocker to my flow’. Those kinds of responses miss the mark. When being asked to ‘write something down’ it’s really shorthand for ‘take some time and think about what you’re asking’.

Writing is thinking.

Vox Product Accessibility Guidelines

Accessibility isn’t a checklist …but this checklist is a pretty damn good starting point. I really like that it’s organised by audience: designers, engineers, project managers, QA, and editorial. You can use this list as a starting point for creating your own—tick whichever items you want to include, and a handy copy/paste-able version will be generated for you.

Elephant - WordRidden

We went on a safari after the Pixel Up conference in South Africa. It was an amazing experience …but there was also The Elephant Incident.

And now I don’t need to write about it because I could never come close to recounting it as brilliantly as Jessica has done here.

The darkness closed in quickly as we rattled along the trail, the flashbulb lightning not doing much to supplement the juddering glow of the headlights. We were, by all appearances, a happy and relaxed little group, pleased with the day’s sightings, mellowed out by the evening’s drinks, looking forward to a nice dinner with wine and then a good night’s sleep. But I kept thinking about the elephant encounter from the night before—and so, apparently, did young Tas, who was bundled up next to his dad and eventually said quietly: “I don’t want to see another elephant.” We all comforted him with false bravado: no, don’t worry, there won’t be any elephants, we’re fine, it’s all fine, everything is totally fine. And all the while I was peering into the trees, and attempting to gauge the relative freshness of the huge piles of elephant dung on the road, and really, really not wanting to see an elephant either.

Facebook and the end of the world

I’d love to see some change, and some introspection. A culture of first, do no harm. A recognition that there are huge dangers if you just do what’s possible, or build a macho “fail fast” culture that promotes endangerment. It’s about building teams that know they’ll make mistakes but also recognize the difference between great businesses opportunities and gigantic, universe-sized fuck ups.

90 Minutes | Type Supply

Tal Leming’s thoroughly delightful (and obsessive) account of designing the 90 Minutes typeface for U.S. Soccer.

FIFA has strict regulations that govern the size and stroke weight of numbers and letters used on official match uniforms. This made me unbelievably paranoid. I had a nightmare that one of the national teams would be set for kickoff of an important match and the referee would suddenly blow the whistle and say, “Hey, hey, hey! The bottom stroke of that 2 is 1 mm too light. The United States must forfeit this match!”

Tuesday, March 20th, 2018

How Fast Is Amp Really? - TimKadlec.com

An excellent, thorough, even-handed analysis of AMP’s performance from Tim. The AMP format doesn’t make that much of a difference, the AMP cache does speed things up (as would any CDN), but it’s the pre-rendering that really delivers the performance boost …as long as you give up your URLs.

But right now, the incentives being placed on AMP content seem to be accomplishing exactly what you would think: they’re incentivizing AMP, not performance.

Announcing Windows 10 Insider Preview Build 17623 for Skip Ahead - Windows Experience BlogWindows Experience Blog

Well, Microsoft really buried the lede in this announcement:

…we will begin testing a change where links clicked on within the Windows Mail app will open in Microsoft Edge…

Yup, no matter which browser you’ve chosen to set as your default, hyperlinks will be hijacked to open with Edge. This is disgusting. It feels like a return to the shitty old days of Microsoft’s strong-arm tactics, just when Microsoft were gaining trust and respect.

Monday, March 19th, 2018

Sunday, March 18th, 2018

Hack for the craic: David McKeown on making hackathons fun for everyone

A great write-up of Science Hack Day Dublin—the 6th iteration is coming up next month.

What struck me about this hackathon is that the only end goal is for people to have a bit of fun and make stuff. There’s no flashy big-ticket prize and no commercial agenda. They’re not looking for start-up pitches or scalable business plans, and there’s no Dragons’ Den interrogation. Just good old-fashioned, high-tech making and mingling.

Monday, March 12th, 2018

The web is under threat. Join us and fight for it. – World Wide Web Foundation

What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.

Tim Berners-Lee on the 29th anniversary of Information Management: A Proposal.

Two myths currently limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points, we need to be a little more creative.

While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people — and can be fixed by people.

Saturday, March 10th, 2018

Bitcoin Is Ridiculous. Blockchain Is Dangerous: Paul Ford - Bloomberg

An astoundingly great piece of writing from Paul Ford, comparing the dot-com bubble and the current blockchain bubble. This resonates so hard:

I knew I was supposed to have an opinion on how the web and the capital markets interacted, but I just wanted to write stuff and put it online. Or to talk about web standards—those documents, crafted by committees at the World Wide Web consortium, that defined the contract between a web browser and a web server, outlining how HTML would work. These standards didn’t define just software, but also culture; this was the raw material of human interaction.

And, damn, if this isn’t the best description the post-bubble web:

Heat and light returned. And bit by bit, the software industry insinuated itself into every aspect of global enterprise. Mobile happened, social networks exploded, jobs returned, and coding schools popped up to convert humans into programmers and feed them to the champing maw of commerce. The abstractions I loved became industries.

Oof! That isn’t even the final gut punch. This is:

Here’s what I finally figured out, 25 years in: What Silicon Valley loves most isn’t the products, or the platforms underneath them, but markets.

Technologist Hippocratic Oath | An optional oath for building ethically considered experiences

Everyone draws their lines in different ways and perhaps there is a spectrum of what is reasonable when implementing influential products. That’s exactly why technologists must seek to educate themselves on the patterns they are implementing in order to understand their psychological influence and other outcomes where intended use is not always the same as the reality of the user experience. Not only that, but we should feel empowered to speak up to authority when something crosses a line.

Campaign. — Ethan Marcotte

Ethan is understandably dubious about Google’s recent announcement regarding the relaxation of the AMP’s iron fist.

Because it’s great to hear the AMP team make some overtures toward a more open web—and personally, I’d like to thank them sincerely for doing so. But if we’re swapping one set of Google-owned criteria for another set of slightly more permissive Google-owned criteria, I’m not sure how much will have changed.

Friday, March 9th, 2018

The Technium: Protopia

I think our destination is neither utopia nor dystopia nor status quo, but protopia. Protopia is a state that is better than today than yesterday, although it might be only a little better. Protopia is much much harder to visualize. Because a protopia contains as many new problems as new benefits, this complex interaction of working and broken is very hard to predict.

Kevin Kelly’s thoughts at the time of coining of this term seven years ago:

No one wants to move to the future today. We are avoiding it. We don’t have much desire for life one hundred years from now. Many dread it. That makes it hard to take the future seriously. So we don’t take a generational perspective. We’re stuck in the short now. We also adopt the Singularity perspective: that imagining the future in 100 years is technically impossible. So there is no protopia we are reaching for.

How To Become A Centaur

We hoped for a bicycle for the mind; we got a Lazy Boy recliner for the mind.

Nicky Case on how Douglas Engelbart’s vision for human-computer augmentation has taken a turn from creation to consumption.

When you create a Human+AI team, the hard part isn’t the “AI”. It isn’t even the “Human”.

It’s the “+”.

Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Standardizing lessons learned from AMP – Accelerated Mobile Pages Project

This is very good news indeed—Google are going to allow non-AMP pages to get the same prioritised treatment as AMP pages …if they comply with the kind of performance criteria that Tim outlined.

It’ll take time to get there, but I’m so, so glad to see that Google aren’t going to try to force everyone to use their own proprietary format.

We are taking what we learned from AMP, and are working on web standards that will allow instant loading for non-AMP web content. We hope this work will also unlock AMP-like embeddability that powers Google Search features like the Top Stories carousel.

I just hope that this alternate route to the carousel won’t get lumped under the banner of “AMP”—that term has been pretty much poisoned at this point.

New Dark Age: Technology, Knowledge and the End of the Future by James Bridle

James is writing a book. It sounds like a barrel of laughs.

In his brilliant new work, leading artist and writer James Bridle offers us a warning against the future in which the contemporary promise of a new technologically assisted Enlightenment may just deliver its opposite: an age of complex uncertainty, predictive algorithms, surveillance, and the hollowing out of empathy.

Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Parallax scrolling with CSS variables | basicScroll

Don’t let the title fool you—this isn’t just for parallax scrolling (thank goodness!)—it’s for triggering any CSS updates based on scroll position. Using CSS custom properties makes a lot of sense. The JavaScript/CSS bridge enabled by custom properties is kind of their superpower. (That’s one of the reasons why I don’t like calling them “CSS variables” which makes them sound like Sass variables—they’re so much more than that!)

How we’ve made GOV.UK Elements even more accessible

A nice run-down of incremental accessibility improvements made to Gov.uk (I particularly like the technique of updating the title element to use the word “error” if the page is displaying a form that has issues).

Crucially, if any of the problems turned out to be with the browser or screen reader, they submitted bug reports—that’s the way to do it!

Measuring the Hard-to-Measure – CSS Wizardry

Everything old is new again—sometimes the age-old technique of using a 1x1 pixel image to log requests is still the only way to get certain metrics.

While tracking pixels are far from a new idea, there are creative ways in which we can use them to collect data useful to developers. Once the data is gathered, we can begin to make much more informed decisions about how we work.

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Monday, March 5th, 2018

“Please keep politics out of your talk.” – The future is like pie.

I recently received this very instruction about speaking at an upcoming event. I honestly don’t know how I could talk about universality, progressive enhancement, and user experience without it being political. So I interpreted the request to be about partisanship rather than politics:

Sometimes when people hear the term “political,” they understand it as “partisan.” To be political is to acknowledge the lived experiences of people outside of yourself. To be partisan is to advocate for the beliefs or propaganda of a specific party affiliation.

Offscreen Magazine Interview — by Craig Mod

Craig talks about reading, writing, books, publishing, and Amazon:

Kindle and non-Kindle book sales account for less than two percent of Amazon’s market cap. The Kindle could disappear tomorrow, and Amazon would not be materially affected. Even from a branding perspective, I don’t think AMAZON = BOOKS anymore, certainly not to younger consumers. AMAZON = PRIME. PRIME = A 3D PRINTER on a one-day time-delay that deposits anything you can imagine on your doorstep.

There’s also this about the double-edged sword of working at scale:

Does affecting one hundred lives turn you on? A thousand? A million? A billion? Why? What does it mean to have a positive impact on a life? How intimate does that connection need to be? Understanding your scale — the scale that moves you — is critical to understanding with whom and how you should work, how you should live.

Winning on Mobile

This looks like a handy tool for doing some quick’n’dirty competitor analysis when it comes to performance: create a scoreboard of sites to rank by speed (and calculate the potential revenue impact).

Many factors contribute to an engaging mobile experience. And speed is chief among them. Most people will abandon a mobile site visit if the page takes more than a few seconds to load. Use our Speed Scorecard to see how your site stacks up to the competition.

Sunday, March 4th, 2018

The People Part of Design Systems – Related Works – Medium

I like the idea of “design bugs”:

Every two weeks or so, a group of designers would get together for a couple of hours to fix what we called “design bugs.” These were things that didn’t hinder functionality and wouldn’t have been filed as an engineering bug, but were places where we were using an old component, an existing one incorrectly, or a one-off alteration.

AMP News | CSS-Tricks

Chris is trying to give a balanced view on AMP, but it’s hard to find any positive viewpoints from anyone who isn’t actually on the Google AMP team.

I know I’ve covered a lot of negative news here, but that’s mostly what I’ve been seeing.

Futurists & realists – The Man in Blue

Cameron contrasts Syd Mead with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Mastery of materials is a valuable thing to have. It will help you build what’s needed now and forge ahead into the near future. But vision is also valuable – it helps inspire and drive teams, and lays out a longer term future that can alter the path of humanity. What I take from the futurists and the realists is that there’s a place for every person and every process; what you need to do is find your own place, get comfortable, and own it.

The Voyage of Captain DaCosta – A Digital Narrative

What a beautiful and fascinating website!

This is a layered interactive narrative that traces the life of Captain Antonio DaCosta, a Black Portuguese sailor who visited Japan in 1597. From his early life as a slave in Lisbon to his voyage to Japan, this site weaves together his personal diary and drawings, along with artwork and historical notes from 1500-1700, the Age of Exploration.

Saturday, March 3rd, 2018

Battleship Solitaire: Mindless Podcast Companion

Once I got the hang of this game, I found it incredibly addictive. I would describe it as mindless fun, but I think it’s more like mindful fun: it has the same zen contemplative peacefulness as Sudoku. I can certainly see how it makes for a good activity while listening to podcasts.

Note: click once for water; double-click for ships. And don’t blame me if you lose hours of time to this game.

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

My Smart Home’s Not That Smart | Corey Vilhauer, Writer

There’s this idea that our homes — and our lives, and our workflows, and everything, really — should be micromanaged and accessed through technology, but, like many new experiments, this kind of technological advance has little actual real-world benefit. Like many new experiments, smart home technology is a perceived convenience masked as a wild hair — it’s advancement because we can, not because we need to.

A lyrical assessment of the current state of home automation.

Things are getting really smart on their own, but they’re still struggling to interact as a community — the promise of a smart home falling short because our appliances can’t draft a cohesive constitution. What’s more, we ourselves are struggling to modulate our reaction to these gadgets. We’re getting excited about automated lights and pretending the future has already come.

Questions To Ask Before Building a Component Library | Chromatic

  • What problems will a component library solve?
  • Is everyone on the project behind the component library?
  • How will the component library be used?
  • What tool(s) will be used to build the component library?
  • Where should the component library live?
  • How granular should the library be? How should it be organized?
  • How will component code be scoped? What about page layout?
  • What data will the library use? What else should it have?

Thursday, March 1st, 2018

Your Interactive Makes Me Sick - Features - Source: An OpenNews project

Browsers have had consistent scrolling behavior for years, even across vendors and platforms. There’s an established set of physics, and if you muck with the physics, you can assume you’re making some people sick.

Guidelines to consider before adding swooshy parallax effects:

  1. Respect the Physics
  2. Remember that We Call Them “Readers”
  3. Ask for Consent

Given all the work that goes into a powerful piece of journalism—research, interviews, writing, fact-checking, editing, design, coding, testing—is it really in our best interests to end up with a finished product that some people literally can’t bear to scroll through?

Be Kind, Design – Nat Dudley – Medium

The transcript of Nat’s superb Webstock talk.

We need to start thinking about inclusivity the same way as we think about mobile design. We realised with mobile, that we have to put that experience at the centre of what we do, otherwise it won’t be successful and we’ll fail mobile users. We realised we have to design mobile-first.

The same is true for inclusivity. Instead of it being an afterthought if it’s thought about at all, it needs to be our first thought. It needs to be central to our strategy, embedded in how we analyse and solve the problems we encounter. Designing inclusive-first is the only way we’ll manage to serve and protect all of the people who use what we build.

Fair Is Not the Default - Library - Google Design

Why building inclusive tech takes more than good intentions.

When we run focus groups, we joke that it’s only a matter of seconds before someone mentions Skynet or The Terminator in the context of artificial intelligence. As if we’ll go to sleep one day and wake up the next with robots marching to take over. Few things could be further from the truth. Instead, it’ll be human decisions that we made yesterday, or make today and tomorrow that will shape the future. So let’s make them together, with other people in mind.

I, for one. — Ethan Marcotte

Ethan adds his thoughts to my post about corporations using their power to influence the direction of the web.

Heck, one could even argue the creation of AMP isn’t just Google’s failure, but our failure. More specifically, perhaps it’s pointing to a failure of governance of our little industry. Absent a shared, collective vision for what we want the web to be—and with decent regulatory mechanisms to defend that vision—it’s unsurprising that corporate actors would step into that vacuum, and address the issues they find. And once they do, the solutions they design will inevitably benefit themselves first—and then, after that, the rest of us.

If at all.