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Thursday, January 18th, 2018

Finding Dead CSS – CSS Wizardry

Here’s a clever idea from Harry if you’re willing to play the long game in tracking down redundant CSS—add a transparent background image to the rule block and then sit back and watch your server logs for any sign of that sleeper agent ever getting activated.

If you do find entries for that particular image, you know that, somehow, the legacy feature is potentially still accessible—the number of entries should give you a clue as to how severe the problem might be.

Analysing analytics

Hell is other people’s JavaScript.

There’s nothing quite so crushing as building a beautifully performant website only to have it infested with a plague of third-party scripts that add to the weight of each page and reduce the responsiveness, making a mockery of your well-considered performance budget.

Trent has been writing about this:

My latest realization is that delivering a performant, accessible, responsive, scalable website isn’t enough: I also need to consider the impact of third-party scripts.

He’s started the process by itemising third-party scripts. Frustratingly though, there’s rarely one single culprit that you can point to—it’s the cumulative effect of “just one more beacon” and “just one more analytics script” and “just one more A/B testing tool” that adds up to a crappy experience that warms your user’s hands by ensuring your site is constantly draining their battery.

Actually, having just said that there’s rarely one single culprit, Adobe Tag Manager is often at the root of third-party problems. That and adverts. It’s like opening the door of your beautifully curated dream home, and inviting a pack of diarrhetic elephants in: “Please, crap wherever you like.”

But even the more well-behaved third-party scripts can get out of hand. Google Analytics is so ubiquitous that it’s hardly even considered in the list of potentially harmful third-party scripts. On the whole, it’s a fairly well-behaved citizen of your site’s population of third-party scripts (y’know, leaving aside the whole surveillance capitalism business model that allows you to use such a useful tool for free in exchange for Google tracking your site’s visitors across the web and selling the insights from that data to advertisers).

The initial analytics script that you—asynchronously—load into your page isn’t very big. But depending on how you’ve configured your Google Analytics account, that might just be the start of a longer chain of downloads and event handlers.

Ed recently gave a lunchtime presentation at Clearleft on using Google Analytics—he professes modesty but he really knows his stuff. He was making sure that everyone knew how to set up goals’n’stuff.

As I understand it, there are two main categories of goals: events and destinations (there are also durations and pages, but they feel similar to destinations). You use events to answer questions like “Did the user click on this button?” or “Did the user click on that search field?”. You use destinations to answer questions like “Did the user arrive at this page?” or “Did the user come from that page?”

You can add as many goals to your site’s analytics as you want. That’s an intoxicating offer. The problem is that there is potentially a cost for each goal you create. It’s an invisible cost. It’s paid by the user in the currency of JavaScript sent down the wire (I wish that the Google Analytics admin interface were more like the old interface for Google Fonts, where each extra file you added literally pushed a needle higher on a dial).

It strikes me that the event-based goals would necessarily require more JavaScript in order to listen out for those clicks and fire off that information. The destination-based goals should be able to get all the information needed from regular page navigations.

So I have a hypothesis. I think that destination-based goals are less harmful to performance than event-based goals. I might well be wrong about that, and if I am, please let me know.

With that hypothesis in mind, and until I learn otherwise, I’ve got two rules of thumb to offer when it comes to using Google Analytics:

  1. Try to keep the number of goals to a minimum.
  2. If you must create a goal, favour destinations over events.

Friday, January 12th, 2018

Third-Party Scripts | CSS-Tricks

Hell is other people’s JavaScript.

Third-party scripts are probably the #1 cause of poor performance and bad UX on the web.

Tuesday, January 9th, 2018

AMP letter

I signed this open letter.

We are a community of individuals who have a significant interest in the development and health of the World Wide Web (“the Web”), and we are deeply concerned about Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”), a Google project that purportedly seeks to improve the user experience of the Web.

Improving URLs for AMP pages – Accelerated Mobile Pages Project

Good news! Google will graciously allow non-Google-hosted AMP pages to get the AMP blessing in search results.

Bad news! It requires publishers to package up their AMP pages in a new packaging format that browsers don’t support yet.

Saturday, January 6th, 2018

A Sliding Nightmare: Understanding the Range Input | CSS-Tricks

Ana goes into exhaustive detail on all the differences in the shadow DOM and styling of input type="range" across browsers.

I’m totally fine with browsers providing different styling for complex UI elements like this, but I wish they’d at least provide a consistent internal structure and therefore a consistent way of over-riding the default styles. Maybe then people wouldn’t be so quick to abandon native elements like this in favour building their own UI components from scratch—the kind of over-engineering that inevitably ends up being under-engineered.

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

A Browser You’ve Never Heard of Is Dethroning Google in Asia - WSJ

I’m always happy to see a thriving market of competition amongst browsers—we had a browser monopoly once before and it was a bad situation.

(That said, UC Browser has its own issues.)

Monday, January 1st, 2018

Why Web Developers Need to Care about Interactivity — Philip Walton

Just to be clear, this isn’t about interaction design, it’s about how browsers and become unresponsive to interaction when they’re trying to parse the truckloads of Javascript web developers throw at them.

Top tip: lay off the JavaScript. HTML is interactive instantly.

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

Cognitive Overload - daverupert.com

From Scott McCloud to responsive design, Dave is pondering our assumptions about screen real estate:

As the amount of information increases, removing details reduces information density and thereby increasing comprehension.

It reminds me of Edward Tufte’s data-ink ratio.

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

News | Voyager 1 Fires Up Thrusters After 37 Years

I want to build websites that perform this well.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017, Voyager engineers fired up the four TCM thrusters for the first time in 37 years and tested their ability to orient the spacecraft using 10-millisecond pulses. The team waited eagerly as the test results traveled through space, taking 19 hours and 35 minutes to reach an antenna in Goldstone, California, that is part of NASA’s Deep Space Network.

Lo and behold, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, they learned the TCM thrusters worked perfectly — and just as well as the attitude control thrusters.

Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

edent/SuperTinyIcons: Under 1KB each! Super Tiny Icons are miniscule SVG versions of your favourite website and app logos

These are lovely little SVGs of website logos that are yours for the taking. And if you want to contribute an icon to the collection, go for it …as long as it’s less than 1024 bytes (most of these are waaay less).

Accessible custom styled form elements - Rian Rietveld

An excellent level-headed evaluation of styling and scripting form controls, weighing up the benefits and trade-offs. The more tightly you control the appearance, the less you get to benefit from the functionality (and accessibility) that the browser gives you for free …meaning you’ve now to got to work harder to replace it.

HTML elements like check buttons, radio buttons or select options can be hard to style with CSS in a custom design. There are many workarounds for this, but are they accessible?

Monday, November 27th, 2017

Network based image loading using the Network Information API in Service Worker | justmarkup

This is clever—you can use the navigator.connection API from a service worker (because it’s asynchronous) which means you can have a service worker script that serves differently sized images based on bandwidth.

The Fallacies of Distributed Computing (Applied to Front-End Performance) – CSS Wizardry – CSS Architecture, Web Performance Optimisation, and more, by Harry Roberts

Harry cautions against making assumptions about the network when it comes to front-end development:

Yet time and time again I see developers falling into the same old traps—making assumptions or overly-optimistic predictions about the conditions in which their apps will run.

Planning for the worst-case scenario is never a wasted effort:

If you build and structure applications such that they survive adverse conditions, then they will thrive in favourable ones.

Monday, November 20th, 2017

Happier HTML5 Form Validation - daverupert.com

Dave uses just a smidgen of JavaScript to whip HTML5’s native form validation into shape.

Instead of being prescriptive about error messaging, we use what the browser natively gives us.

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

Using SVG as placeholders — More Image Loading Techniques - JMPerez Blog

Here’s a clever to technique to improve the perceived performance of image loading with a polygonal SVG placeholder.

Saturday, November 11th, 2017

Foreword to Hello Web Design by Tracy Osborn

The foreword to the self-published short book about design for non-designers.

Whenever I dipped my toe in the waters of the semantic web, I noticed there were two fundamentally different approaches. One approach was driven by the philosophy that absolutely everything in the universe should be theoretically describable. The other approach was far more lax, concentrating only on the popular use-cases: people, places, events, and that was pretty much it. These few common items, so the theory went, accounted for about 80% of actual usage in the real world. Trying to codify the remaining 20% would result in a disproportionate amount of effort.

I always liked that approach. I think it applies to a lot of endeavours. Coding, sketching, cooking—you can get up to speed on the bare essentials pretty quickly, and then spend a lifetime attaining mastery. But we don’t need to achieve mastery at every single thing we do. I’m quite happy to be just good enough at plenty of skills so that I can prioritise the things I really want to spend my time doing.

Perhaps web design isn’t a priority for you. Perhaps you’ve decided to double-down on programming. That doesn’t mean foregoing design completely. You can still design something pretty good …thanks to this book.

Tracy understands the fundamentals of web design so you don’t have to. She spent years learning, absorbing, and designing, and now she has very kindly distilled down the 80% of that knowledge that’s going to be the most useful to you.

Think of Hello Web Design as a book of cheat codes. It’s short, to the point, and tells you everything you need to know to be a perfectly competent web designer.

Say hello to your little friend.

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

The Contrast Swap Technique: Improved Image Performance with CSS Filters | CSS-Tricks

A clever performance trick for images:

  1. Reduce image contrast using a linear transform function (Photoshop can do this)
  2. Apply a contrast filter in CSS to the image to make up for the contrast removal

Sunday, November 5th, 2017

Against an Increasingly User-Hostile Web - Neustadt.fr

With echoes of Anil Dash’s The Web We Lost, this essay is a timely reminder—with practical advice—for we designers and developers who are making the web …and betraying its users.

You see, the web wasn’t meant to be a gated community. It’s actually pretty simple.

A web server, a public address and an HTML file are all that you need to share your thoughts (or indeed, art, sound or software) with anyone in the world. No authority from which to seek approval, no editorial board, no publisher. No content policy, no dependence on a third party startup that might fold in three years to begin a new adventure.

That’s what the web makes possible. It’s friendship over hyperlink, knowledge over the network, romance over HTTP.