Twitter is a chatroom, and the problem that Twitter really solved was the discoverability problem. The internet is a big place, and it is shockingly hard to otherwise find people whose thoughts you want to read more of, whether those thoughts are tweets, articles, or research papers. The thing is, I’m not really sure that Twitter ever realized that this is the problem they solved, that this is where their core value lies. Twitter kept experimenting with algorithms and site layouts and Moments and other features to try to foist more discoverability onto the users without realizing that their users were discovering with the platform quite adeptly already. Twitter kept trying to amplify the signal without understanding that what users needed was better tools to cut down the noise.
Twitter, like many technology companies, fell into the classical trap by thinking that they, the technologists, were the innovators. Technologists today are almost never innovators, but rather plumbers who build pipelines to move ideas in the form of data back and forth with varying efficacy. Users are innovators, and its users that made Twitter unique.
Sunday, May 1st, 2022
Thursday, July 1st, 2021
Hosting online events
Back in 2014 Vitaly asked me if I’d be the host for Smashing Conference in Freiburg. I jumped at the chance. I thought it would be an easy gig. All of the advantages of speaking at a conference without the troublesome need to actually give a talk.
As it turned out, it was quite a bit of work:
It wasn’t just a matter of introducing each speaker—there was also a little chat with each speaker after their talk, so I had to make sure I was paying close attention to each and every talk, thinking of potential questions and conversation points. After two days of that, I was a bit knackered.
Last month, I hosted an other event, but this time it was online: UX Fest. Doing the post-talk interviews was definitely a little weirder online. It’s not quite the same as literally sitting down with someone. But the online nature of the event did provide one big advantage…
To minimise technical hitches on the day, and to ensure that the talks were properly captioned, all the speakers recorded their talks ahead of time. That meant I had an opportunity to get a sneak peek at the talks and prepare questions accordingly.
UX Fest had a day of talks every Thursday in June. There were four talks per Thursday. I started prepping on the Monday.
First of all, I just watched all the talks and let them wash me over. At this point, I’d often think “I’m not sure if I can come up with any questions for this one!” but I’d let the talks sit there in my subsconscious for a while. This was also a time to let connections between talks bubble up.
Then on the Tuesday and Wednesday, I went through the talks more methodically, pausing the video every time I thought of a possible question. After a few rounds of this, I inevitably ended up with plenty of questions, some better than others. So I then re-ordered them in descending levels of quality. That way if I didn’t get to the questions at the bottom of the list, it was no great loss.
In theory, I might not get to any of my questions. That’s because attendees could also ask questions on the day via a chat window. I prioritised those questions over my own. Because it’s not about me.
On some days there was a good mix of audience questions and my own pre-prepared questions. On other days it was mostly my own questions.
Either way, it was important that I didn’t treat the interview like a laundry list of questions to get through. It was meant to be a conversation. So the answer to one question might touch on something that I had made a note of further down the list, in which case I’d run with that. Or the conversation might go in a really interesting direction completely unrelated to the questions or indeed the talk.
Above all, these segments needed to be engaging and entertaining in a personable way, more like a chat show than a post-game press conference. So even though I had done lots of prep for interviewing each speaker, I didn’t want to show my homework. I wanted each interview to feel like a natural flow.
To quote the old saw, this kind of spontaneity takes years of practice.
There was an added complication when two speakers shared an interview slot for a joint Q&A. Not only did I have to think of questions for each speaker, I also had to think of questions that would work for both speakers. And I had to keep track of how much time each person was speaking so that the chat wasn’t dominated by one person more than the other. This was very much like moderating a panel, something that I enjoy very much.
In the end, all of the prep paid off. The conversations flowed smoothly and I was happy with some of the more thought-provoking questions that I had researched ahead of time. The speakers seemed happy too.
Y’know, there are not many things I’m really good at. I’m a mediocre developer, and an even worse designer. I’m okay at writing. But I’m really good at public speaking. And I think I’m pretty darn good at this hosting lark too.
Friday, May 7th, 2021
I enjoyed this conversation with Sophia (our chat starts around the 11 minute mark) prompted by Resilient Web Design.
Saturday, April 24th, 2021
Adversarial chatbots engaged in an endless back-and-forth:
This piece simulates scheduling hell by generating infinite & unique combinations of meeting conflicts between two friends.
Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
The upside to being a terrible procrastinator is that certain items on my to-do list, like, say, “build a chatbot”, will—given enough time—literally take care of themselves.
I ultimately feel like it has slowly turned into a fad. I got fooled by the trend, and as a by-product became part of the trend itself.
Monday, June 15th, 2020
Myself and Stuart had a chat with Brian about browser engine diversity.
Here’s the audio file if you’d like to huffduff it.
Thursday, April 16th, 2020
I’ve been on a few different podcasts recently.
Chris and Jeremy Keith discuss imbuing teams with a shared sense of ownership of their design system, creating design systems able to address unforeseen scenarios, design ops as an essential part of an effective design system, and more.
Welcome to World Wide Waste, a podcast about how digital is killing the planet, and what to do about it. In this session, I’m chatting with Jeremy Keith. Jeremy is a philosopher of the internet. Every time I see him speak, I’m struck by his calming presence, his brilliant mind and his deep humanity.
We talked about performance, energy consumption, and digital preservation. We agreed on a lot, but there were also points where we fundamentally disagreed. Good stuff!
If you like the sound of some Irishmen chatting on a podcast, then as well as listening to me and Gerry getting into it, you might also enjoy the episode of The Blarney Pilgrims podcast that I was on:
Jeremy Keith is the founder and keeper of thesession.org, probably the greatest irish music resource in the world. And this episode hopefully has something of the generous essence of that archive. We flow, from The North as a different planet to Galway as the centre of the ’90s slacker world. From the one-tune-a-week origin of thesession.org and managing an online community to the richness and value of constancy.
I’ve already written about how much this meant to me.
On the same topic—Irish music on the web—I made a brief appearance in the latest episode of Shannon Heaton’s Irish Music Stories, Irish Tunes in the Key of C-19:
How are traditional musicians and dancers continuing creative careers and group music events during the Covid-19 pandemic? How is social distancing affecting the jigs and reels? In this unexpected open of Season Four of Irish Music Stories, musicians from Ireland, England, Belgium, Sweden, and the U.S. address on and offline strategies… from a safe distance.
Thursday, April 2nd, 2020
I enjoyed talking with Chris about design systems (and more). The episode is now available for your huffduffing pleasure.
Tuesday, March 24th, 2020
Join your favorite authors on Zoom where you can have spirited discussions from the privacy of our own quarantined space!
Friday, December 13th, 2019
yap is an ephemeral, real-time chat room with up to six participants. your messages appear and disappear as quickly as you type them, which means unless you pay attention to what everyone says (for once), you’ll miss it.
Thursday, July 18th, 2019
A delightful dialogue …on the moon!
Wednesday, May 8th, 2019
A truly monstrous async web chat using no JS whatsoever on the frontend.
This is …I mean …yes, but …it …I …
Monday, March 18th, 2019
A handy browser extension for Chrome and Firefox:
“Hello, Goodbye” blocks every chat or helpdesk pop up in your browser.
Thursday, February 8th, 2018
I enjoyed chatting to Larry Botha on the Fixate On Code podcast—I hope you’ll enjoy hearing it.
Wednesday, July 19th, 2017
In which I have a conversation with a polar bear.
Very well-mannered species …I’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Sunday, February 19th, 2017
A podcast chat in which I ramble on about web stuff.
Friday, August 5th, 2016
Alex Langley’s Tech Chat Episode 14 - Has digital technology changed everything or has it changed nothing? on Huffduffer
Myself and Lizzie were on a local radio show, having a wide-ranging chat about technology, commenting on recent news stories. It was fun.
Thursday, December 13th, 2012
In a very mundane take on the cliché of a climactic showdown, I’ll be having a chat with Paul Boag at the top of Spinnaker Tower in February. Come on by if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Saturday, September 17th, 2011
IM conversations between a cat and its so-called owner.
Friday, May 7th, 2010
I had a lot of fun chatting with Dan Benjamin and Jeffrey Zeldman about HTML5 for Web Designers. Now you can watch the video or listen to the podcast.