The story that “artificial intelligence” tells is a smoke screen. But smoke offers only temporary cover. It fades if it isn’t replenished.
Thursday, March 23rd, 2023
Sunday, July 31st, 2022
Though I didn’t make the connection until much later, the philosophy of progressive enhancement in web design, which I’ve been advocating for nearly two decades now, is very much the embodiment of equity. It’s concerned with building interfaces that adapt to a wide range of circumstances, both tied to an individual user’s capabilities as well as those of the devices, networks, and environment in which they are accessing our creations.
Friday, March 12th, 2021
Developers, particularly in Silicon Valley firms, are definitionally wealthy and enfranchised by world-historical standards. Like upper classes of yore, comfort (“DX”) comes with courtiers happy to declare how important comfort must surely be. It’s bunk, or at least most of it is.
As frontenders, our task is to make services that work well for all, not just the wealthy. If improvements in our tools or our comfort actually deliver improvements in that direction, so much the better. But we must never forget that measurable improvement for users is the yardstick.
Monday, September 7th, 2020
The problem is that most websites will adapt to the ever faster connections, which makes them gradually inaccessible for people with slower connections. Today, most websites are impossible to download with a dial-up connection, because they have become too corpulent.
This speaks to me:
Everything we do to make it harder to create a website or edit a web page, and harder to learn to code by viewing source, promotes that consumerist vision of the web.
Pretending that one needs a team of professionals to put simple articles online will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Overcomplicating the web means lifting up the ladder that used to make it possible for people to teach themselves and surprise everyone with unexpected new ideas.
There’s a list of links at the end of this piece to help you reach this goal:
It is vital that the web stay participatory. That means not just making sites small enough so the whole world can visit them, but small enough so that people can learn to build their own, by example. Bloat makes the web inaccessible.
Sunday, June 16th, 2019
Although this piece is ostensibly about why we should be using web workers more, there’s a much, much bigger point about the growing power gap between the devices we developers use and the typical device used by the rest of the planet.
While we are getting faster flagship phones every cycle, the vast majority of people can’t afford these. The more affordable phones are stuck in the past and have highly fluctuating performance metrics. These low-end phones will mostly likely be used by the massive number of people coming online in the next couple of years. The gap between the fastest and the slowest phone is getting wider, and the median is going down.
Sunday, February 24th, 2019
The Ballad Of Halo Jones is 35 years old this year.
Where did she go? Out.
What did she do? Everything.
Friday, January 18th, 2019
Raw data is both an oxymoron and a bad idea; to the contrary, data should be cooked with care.
Wednesday, November 21st, 2018
The terrific Hugo-winning short story about inequality, urban planning, and automation, written by Hao Jinfang and translated by Ken Liu (who translated The Three Body Problem series).
Hao Jinfang also wrote this essay about the story:
I’ve been troubled by inequality for a long time. When I majored in physics as an undergraduate, I once stared at the distribution curve for American household income that showed profound inequality, and tried to fit the data against black-body distribution or Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution. I wanted to know how such a curve came about, and whether it implied some kind of universality: something as natural as particle energy distribution functions, so natural it led to despair.
Friday, November 2nd, 2018
This instance of collective action from inside a tech company is important, not just for the specifics of Google, but in acting as an example to workers in other companies.
And of all the demands, this is the one that could have the biggest effect in the US tech world:
An end to Forced Arbitration.
Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
Friday, September 14th, 2018
As a community, we love to talk about meritocracy while perpetuating privilege.
This is playing out in full force in the front-end development community today.
Front-end development is a part of the field that has historically been at least slightly more accessible to women.
Shockingly, (not!) this also led to a salary and prestige gap, with back-end developers making on average almost $30,000 more than front-end.
(Don’t read the comments.)
Sunday, January 21st, 2018
Coming to a bookshelf near you in March 2018: the untold story of the women who made the internet.
Tuesday, July 11th, 2017
We’re building on a web littered with too-heavy sites, on an internet that’s unevenly, unequally distributed. That’s why designing a lightweight, inexpensive digital experience is a form of kindness. And while that kindness might seem like a small thing these days, it’s a critical one.
Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
An excellent potted history from Cassie on women in computing.
NASA’s “Keypunch girls” would work in cramped rows translating programming instructions onto paper pads, whilst the machine operators would sit in comfort, feeding the code decks through card readers and enjoying the esteem of the end result (I imagine it a bit like Mad Men, but with more sexism and astronauts).
Saturday, May 23rd, 2015
100 words 062
Yesterday Ireland held a referendum to amend its constitution in order to provide equal rights to gay couples who want to get married. Today it’s clear that the “yes” vote is going to carry the day.
This is amazing.
I left Ireland in the early ’90s. When I told people abroad about the medieval legal situation in Ireland on contraception, divorce, and homosexuality …well, people just wouldn’t believe me. Combined with the nationalistic political situation, I got used to a sort of permanent miasma of embarrassment towards the country I came from.
But today I feel a swell of pride.
Sunday, January 4th, 2015
Like an Enid Blyton adventure for the 21st century, James goes out into the country and explores the networks of microwave transmitters enabling high-frequency trading.
If you think that London’s skyscraper boom is impressive – the Shard, the Walkie-Talkie, the Cheesegrater, the Gherkin – go to Slough. It is not height that matters, but bandwidth.
Tuesday, May 7th, 2013
In a piece for Medium commissioned by Matter, Jon Norris describes a little-known aspect of the UK’s information technology history:
Gender equality is still a major issue in the technology industry, but 50 years ago one British company was blazing trails.
Monday, July 7th, 2008
Mike Davis makes some conservative predictions about the near future.
Saturday, February 24th, 2007
The diversity division
After the Future of Web Apps 2006 conference in San Francisco, a post by Chris Messina lamenting the lack of women in the line-up prompted heated debate and high emotions.
Tempers are still getting frayed and the discourse is generally pretty unhelpful.
Let me say from the start that I do think there is a problem with having so many conferences with such unbalanced line-ups and I firmly believe that a lot of the responsibility lies with the organisers to change things. That said, I also understand just how hard it is to put on any kind of conference at all.
To the people accusing conference organisers of being some kind of cabalistic old boy’s network: you’re really not helping. You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
To the people organising conferences who throw up their hands and say “it’s not our job, we’re just reflecting the sad reality”: you’re being equally unhelpful.
So, all of you: try walking a mile in the other person’s shoes. That way, if you still don’t agree, you’ll be a mile away from the other person and you’ve made off with their shoes.
Eric came out with a provacative post that’s just aching to be quoted out of context:
So, here it is: as a conference organizer, I don’t care about diversity.
I admire and respect Eric but I think in this instance that he is wrong. We’ll just have to agree to disagree.
Eric makes the very persuasive argument that to put on a successful conference, the line-up needs to be filled with well-known, established speakers. (This prompted the obvious question from a few people in the comments; just how does one become well-known or established? As Jen says,
Eric, it is becoming a circle jerk.)
Success doesn’t just mean financial success, though I readily admit that the economics of organising a conference are fiendish. A successful conference is about more than just getting bums on seats.
Yes, if you fill a line-up with “A-listers” then you’ll sell all your tickets and the attendees will learn from the best and everyone will be happy… in the short term. In the long term, it’s unsustainable. It leads to a closed loop, a neverending cycle of the same names talking about the same subjects. Diversity isn’t just a means to an end (that end being a better conference), it is in and of itself, A Good Thing.
Conferences, especially well-established conferences (and I would put An Event Apart into that category) can and should take some chances. Yes, it’s risky. No, you can’t guarantee ticket sales. But it will be a better conference if the line-up has some wild cards.
I firmly believe that conferences shouldn’t simply be mirrors for the Web business, reflecting whatever is current and accepted. A good conference can act as a force on the industry. Conference organisers have a great opportunity here and I think it’s a shame to see it wasted.
Alright… enough talking about conference organisers as if they were some kind of separate caste of people. It’s time to point the finger at myself.
My company, Clearleft, organises the dConstruct conference in Brighton every year. It’s really Andy’s baby but he very kindly asks for my opinions in putting the conference together. I personally feel very strongly that this year’s dConstruct needs to change from last year’s homogenous line-up (I’m pretty sure Andy agrees).
Even if we sell every ticket, even if everybody blogs about having a great time, if the line-up consists of a bunch of white male speakers (“A-list” or otherwise), I will consider the conference a failure.
But what to do? The perceived wisdom is that there are simply far more kick-ass men speakers than women. I don’t believe that’s true. I think there are far more visible men in our industry, but with just a bit effort it’s entirely possible to find a wealth of women speakers who can truthfully be described as well and truly kick-ass.
I’m not sure if I’m supposed to blog about this, but for months now, we at Clearleft have had a BaseCamp project set up with the specific intention of finding new blood for dConstruct. We’ve invited people from outside our circle of expertise and interests and asked them to suggest speakers. The idea is to deliberately introduce diversity, to stir things up a bit and ultimately, to put together the most kick-ass line-up of speakers we can.
Is this tokenism? Absolutely not. I fully concur with Eric when he says:
What’s important is technical expertise, speaking skills, professional stature, brand appropriateness, and marketability.
But I don’t believe that this attitude conflicts in any way with the desire to increase diversity. It’s entirely possible to put together a superb line-up of diverse speakers.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at Web Directions North (or South for that matter), one of the best, most stimulating conferences I’ve ever attended. They didn’t make a big deal about the mixture of topics and presenters, they just put together the best line-up they could.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I know for a fact that it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s achievable; Web Directions is a testament to that.
I’m also going to have to agree to disagree with Tantek, another person I admire and respect greatly. He is of the opinion the kind of thing I’m suggesting would indeed fall under the category of tokenism:
Why is it that gender (and less often race, nay, skin-color, see below) are the only physical characteristics that lots of otherwise smart people appear to chime in support for diversity of?
Where are all the green-eyed folks? Where are all the folks with facial tattoos? Where are all the redheads? Where are the speakers with non-ear facial piercings?
Actually, I would agree with Tantek if I were talking about diversity of sexes, but I’m not. I’m talking about diversity of gender. There’s a difference. Sex means male or female. Gender means masculine or feminine.
I fully agree that a speaker’s sex makes about as much difference as their eye-colour or hairstyle but a speaker’s gender can and does affect their outlook and experience. As someone who has a (primarily) masculine gender, I know that I can learn a lot more from being in a mixed masculine/feminine environment. That’s one of the reasons why I’m glad my band isn’t an all-male affair.
I’m not just arguing semantics here. I’m trying to point out why I think Tantek’s argument is reducto ad absurdum. Gender isn’t like eye-colour. Introducing more gender diversity into a conference is productive in the same way as introducing someone with a background in product design or some other non-Web field that can offer a new perspective on our industry (this isn’t just an off-hand comparison).
I hope I’ve made my point clear. Let me reiterate that I can see both sides of this debate but I do come down firmly on the side of increasing diversity. I just hope that I can work towards this goal in a constructive way.
Frankly, I find Jason Kottke’s reductionist statistical approach to be counter-productive. It’s not just about numbers, Jason. I’m also not so sure that Anil’s abrasive style is particularly constructive but his clever riposte to the Future of Web Apps line-up is illuminating.
I do feel bad for Ryan. He always seems to bear the brunt of the blame even though plenty of other conferences are equally lacking in diversity.
However… I do take issue with Ryan’s attempt to wash his hands by pointing out just how many of the speaker slots were bought by sponsors. I’m sorry, but selling time slots to the highest bidder is no way to put a conference together. I’m well aware of the economic realities of putting on a conference and I know that selling slots to sponsors is established practice in certain circles but it won’t cut it with the geek crowd.
Again, Web Directions North managed to get this just right by allowing companies to sponsor speakers. So the speakers were all chosen for their expertise, knowledge and perhaps even diversity, and then Adobe or Microsoft were given the opportunity to introduce the speakers. It sure beats product pitches.
I want to finish with an observation on this whole issue of gender diversity at Web conferences.
This debate isn’t going to go away. It looks like it’s going to flare up every few months. Clearly, plenty of bloggers—who are also probably the target audience for a lot of these conferences—really care about this issue and want to see some changes. Yet every time the issue is raised, conference organisers fall back on the argument that they need to fill the auditorium and that the best way of doing that is to give people the same “A-list” speakers that have always worked in the past. In other words, give the people what they want.
Well, we want diversity.
It’s kind of like the whole brouhaha with Adobe and their crappy new icons. The majority of Adobe’s potential customers disliked the icons and wrote good, well-reasoned blog posts explaining why. As Aral so excellently noted, Adobe deliberately chose to ignore this wealth of valuable feedback. I see conferences falling into the same trap. The very fact that this debate is taking place (and continues to take place ever more frequently) should be sending a message that this is an important issue that needs to be addressed.
It reminds me of the old joke. A guy walks into a shop and asks for some product or other. The shopkeeper says, “We don’t stock that. There’s no demand for it.” The shopkeeper then adds, “It’s funny: you’re the tenth person to ask for that today.”
Friday, February 23rd, 2007
Jason Kottke on the still-ludicrous imbalance at most tech conferences. This issue isn't going to go away. Conference organisers need to stop being part of the problem and become part of the solution.