A rather handsome looking free serif typeface based on Gargantua. Spectral is available under an Open Font License.
Friday, December 15th, 2017
Saturday, December 2nd, 2017
Sunday, November 5th, 2017
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.
Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
This is the clickbaitiest of titles, but the post has some good sobering analysis of how much traffic driven by a small handful players. It probably won’t make you feel very cheery about the future.
(For some reason, this article uses all-caps abbreviations for company names, as though a stock ticker started generating hot takes: GOOG, FB, AMZN, etc. It’s a very odd writing style for a human.)
Sunday, October 29th, 2017
The meaning of AMP
But when I hear AMP described as an open, community-led project, it strikes me as incredibly problematic, and more than a little troubling. AMP is, I think, best described as nominally open-source. It’s a corporate-led product initiative built with, and distributed on, open web technologies.
But so what, right? Tom-ay-to, tom-a-to. Well, here’s a pernicious example of where it matters: in a recent announcement of their intent to ship a new addition to HTML, the Google Chrome team cited the mood of the web development community thusly:
Web developers: Positive (AMP team indicated desire to start using the attribute)
If AMP were actually the product of working web developers, this justification would make sense. As it is, we’ve got one team at Google citing the preference of another team at Google but representing it as the will of the people.
This is just one example of AMP’s sneaky marketing where some finely-shaved semantics allows them to appear far more reasonable than they actually are.
At AMP Conf, the Google Search team were at pains to repeat over and over that AMP pages wouldn’t get any preferential treatment in search results …but they appear in a carousel above the search results. Now, if you were to ask any right-thinking person whether they think having their page appear right at the top of a list of search results would be considered preferential treatment, I think they would say hell, yes! This is the only reason why The Guardian, for instance, even have AMP versions of their content—it’s not for the performance benefits (their non-AMP pages are faster); it’s for that prime real estate in the carousel.
The same semantic nit-picking can be found in their defence of caching. See, they’ve even got me calling it caching! It’s hosting. If I click on a search result, and I am taken to page that has a URL beginning with
https://www.google.com/amp/s/... then that page is being hosted on the domain
google.com. That is literally what hosting means. Now, you might argue that the original version was hosted on a different domain, but the version that the user gets sent to is the Google copy. You can call it caching if you like, but you can’t tell me that Google aren’t hosting AMP pages.
That’s a particularly low blow, because it’s such a bait’n’switch. One of the reasons why AMP first appeared to be different to Facebook Instant Articles or Apple News was the promise that you could host your AMP pages yourself. That’s the very reason I first got interested in AMP. But if you actually want the benefits of AMP—appearing in the not-search-results carousel, pre-rendered performance, etc.—then your pages must be hosted by Google.
So, to summarise, here are three statements that Google’s AMP team are currently peddling as being true:
- AMP is a community project, not a Google project.
- AMP pages don’t receive preferential treatment in search results.
- AMP pages are hosted on your own domain.
I don’t think those statements are even truthy, much less true. In fact, if I were looking for the right term to semantically describe any one of those statements, the closest in meaning would be this:
A statement used intentionally for the purpose of deception.
That is the dictionary definition of a lie.
Update: That last part was a bit much. Sorry about that. I know it’s a bit much because The Register got all gloaty about it.
I don’t think the developers working on the AMP format are intentionally deceptive (although they are engaging in some impressive cognitive gymnastics). The AMP ecosystem, on the other hand, that’s another story—the preferential treatment of Google-hosted AMP pages in the carousel and in search results; that’s messed up.
Still, I would do well to remember that there are well-meaning people working on even the fishiest of projects.
Except for the people working at the shitrag that is The Register.
(The other strong signal that I overstepped the bounds of decency was that this post attracted the pond scum of Hacker News. That’s another place where the “well-meaning people work on even the fishiest of projects” rule definitely doesn’t apply.)
Monday, October 23rd, 2017
I love what Ben is doing with this single-serving site (similar to my design principles collection)—it’s a collection of handy links and resources around voice UI:
Designing a voice interface? Here’s a useful list of lists: as many guiding principles as we could find, all in one place. List compiled and edited by Ben Sauer @bensauer.
BONUS ITEM: Have him run a voice workshop for you!
Thursday, October 19th, 2017
It must be the day for documenting the history of CSS. Here’s an article by Aaron on the extraordinary success story of CSS Grid. A lot of the credit for that quite rightly goes to Rachel and Jen:
Starting with Rachel Andrew coming in and creating a ton of demos and excitement around CSS Grid with Grid by Example and starting to really champion it and show it to web developers and what it was capable of and the problems that it solves.
Then, a little bit later, Jen Simmons created something called Labs where she put a lot of demos that she created for CSS Grid up on the web and, again, continued that momentum and that wave of enthusiasm for CSS Grid with web developers in the community.
Thursday, September 21st, 2017
Well, I guess it’s time to change all my locally-hosted sites from
.dev domains to
.test. Thanks, Google.
Friday, September 8th, 2017
This article about a specific security flaw in voice-activated assistants raises a bigger issue:
User-friendliness is increasingly at odds with security.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a while. “Don’t make me think” is a great mantra for user experience, but a terrible mantra for security.
Our web browsers easily and invisibly collect cookies, allowing marketers to follow us across the web. Our phones back up our photos and contacts to the cloud, tempting any focused hacker with a complete repository of our private lives. It’s as if every tacit deal we’ve made with easy-to-use technology has come with a hidden cost: our own personal vulnerability. This new voice command exploit is just the latest in a growing list of security holes caused by design, but it is, perhaps, the best example of Silicon Valley’s widespread disregard for security in the face of the new and shiny.
Thursday, September 7th, 2017
This is the way the web ends
This is the way the web ends
This is the way the web ends
Not with a bang but a duopoly.
Tuesday, September 5th, 2017
I’ve had a few conversations with members of the Google AMP team, and I do believe they care about making the web better. But given how AMP pages are privileged in Google’s search results, the net effect of the team’s hard, earnest work comes across as a corporate-backed attempt to rewrite HTML in Google’s image. Now, I don’t know if these new permutations of AMP will gain traction among publishers. But I do know that no single company should be able to exert this much influence over the direction of the web.
Saturday, August 12th, 2017
Cynthia Lee didn’t write the clickbaity headline, but she did write the superb article that follows it, methodically taking the manifestbro apart:
Its quasi-professional tone is a big part of what makes it so beguiling (to some) and also so dangerous. Many defenders seem genuinely baffled that a document that works so hard to appear dispassionate and reasonable could provoke such an emotional response.
This is what I was trying to get at with my post, but here it is explained far more clearly, calmly, and rationally.
In the end, focusing the conversation on the minutiae of the scientific claims in the manifesto is a red herring. Regardless of whether biological differences exist, there is no shortage of glaring evidence, in individual stories and in scientific studies, that women in tech experience bias and a general lack of a welcoming environment, as do underrepresented minorities. Until these problems are resolved, our focus should be on remedying that injustice.
We men face shame and firing if we say the wrong thing. Women face the same plus rape threats, death threats, and all kinds of sustained harassment. So women can’t speak up safely and therefore they would have to watch their male colleagues discuss how a woman’s brain determines her interests. How impossibly maddening that would be.
Wednesday, August 9th, 2017
Oh, first of all, let me just get past any inevitable whinging that I’m not bothering to refute the bullshit contained therein. In the spirit of Brandolini’s law, here are some thorough debunkings:
- Faruk has written an excellent well-reasoned riposte that also includes a valuable history lesson.
- A former Googler wrote a three point rebuttal:
- Despite speaking very authoritatively, the author does not appear to understand gender.
- Perhaps more interestingly, the author does not appear to understand engineering.
- And most seriously, the author does not appear to understand the consequences of what he wrote, either for others or himself.
- Angela Saini—author of Inferior—wrote in The Guardian about the decidedly unscientific cherry-picking of data within a memo that claims to be all about the science.
- Ethar Alali published a three-part dissection of the
Okay, with that out of the way, let me get to what really grinds my gears about this.
First off, there’s the contents of the document itself. It is reprehensible. It sets out to prove a biological link between a person’s gender and their ability to work at Google. It fails miserably, as shown in the links above, but it is cleverly presented as though it were an impartial scientific evaluation (I’m sure it’s complete coincidence that the author just happens to be a man). It begins by categorically stating that the author is all for diversity. This turns out to be as accurate as when someone starts a sentence with “I’m not a racist, but…”
The whole thing is couched in scientism that gives it a veneer of respectability. That leads me to the second thing I’m upset about, and that’s the reaction to the document.
Y’know, it’s one thing when someone’s clearly a troll. It’s easy—and sensible—to dismiss their utterances and move on. But when you see seemingly-smart people linking to the manifestbro and saying “he kind of has a point”, it’s way more infuriating. If you are one of those people (and when I say people, I mean men), you should know that you have been played.
The memo is clearly not a screed. It is calm, clear, polite, and appears perfectly reasonable. “Look,” it says, “I’m just interested in the objective facts here. I’m being reasonable, and if you’re a reasonable person, then you will give this a fair hearing.”
That’s a very appealing position. What reasonable person would reject it? And so, plenty of men who consider themselves to be reasonable and objective are linking to the document and saying it deserves consideration. Strangely, those same men aren’t considering the equally reasonable rebuttals (linked to above). That’s confirmation bias.
See? I can use terms like that to try to make myself sound smart too. Mind you, confirmation bias is not the worst logical fallacy in the memo. That would the Texas sharpshooter fallacy (which, admittedly, is somewhat related to confirmation bias). And, yes, I know that by even pointing out the logical fallacies, I run the risk of committing the fallacy fallacy. The memo is reprehensible not for the fallacies it contains, but for the viewpoint it sets out to legitimise.
The author cleverly wraps a disgusting viewpoint in layers of reasonable-sounding arguments. “Can’t we have a reasonable discussion about this? Like reasonable people? Shouldn’t we tolerate other points of view?” Those are perfectly sensible questions to ask if the discussion is about tabs vs. spaces or Star Wars vs. Star Trek. But those questions cease to be neutral if the topic under discussion is whether some human beings are genetically unsuited to coding.
This is how we get to a situation where men who don’t consider themselves to be sexist in any way—who consider themselves to be good people—end up posting about the Google memo in their workplace Slack channels as though it were a topic worthy of debate. It. Is. Not.
“A-ha!” cry the oh-so-logical and thoroughly impartial men, “If a topic cannot even be debated, you must be threatened by the truth!”
That is one possible conclusion, yes. Or—and this is what Occam’s razor would suggest—it might just be that I’m fucking sick of this. Sick to my stomach. I am done. I am done with even trying to reason with people who think that they’re the victimised guardians of truth and reason when they’re actually just threatened by the thought of a world that doesn’t give them special treatment.
I refuse to debate this. Does that make me inflexible? Yep, sure does. But, y’know, not everything is worthy of debate. When the very premise of the discussion is harmful, all appeals to impartiality ring hollow.
If you read the ex-Googler’s memo and thought “seems reasonable to me”, I hope you can see how you have been played like a violin. Your most virtuous traits—being even-handed and open-minded—have been used against you. I hope that you will try to use those same traits to readdress what has been done. If you read through the rebuttals linked to above and still think that the original memo was reasonable, I fear the damage is quite deep.
It may seem odd that a document that appears to be so reasonable is proving to be so very divisive. But it’s that very appearance of impartiality that gives it its power. It is like an optical illusion for the mind. Some people—like me—read it and think, “this is clearly wrong and harmful.” Other people—who would never self-identify as sexist in any way—read it and think, “seems legit.”
I’m almost—almost—glad that it was written. It’s bringing a lot of buried biases into the light.
By the way, if you are one of those people who still thinks that the memo was “perfectly reasonable” or “made some good points”, and we know each other, please get in touch so that I can re-evaluate our relationship.
The saddest part about all of this is that there are men being incredibly hurtful and cruel to the women they work with, without even realising what they’re doing. They may even think think they are actively doing good.
Take this tweet to Jen which was no doubt intended as a confidence boost:
I disagree with you about the memo, but I always have and continue to admire your work and your giant contributions to CSS. Thank you! ♥️— Brandon Flynn (@btflynn) August 8, 2017
See how it is glibly passed off as though it were some slight disagreement, like which flavour of ice cream is best? “Well, we’ll agree to disagree about half the population being biologically unsuitable for this kind of work.” And then that’s followed by what is genuinely—in good faith—intended as a compliment. But the juxtaposition of the two results in the message “Hey, you’re really good …for a woman.”
That’s what I find so teeth-grindingly frustrating about all this. I don’t think that guy is a troll. If he were, I could just block and move on. He genuinely thinks he’s a good person who cares about objective truth. He has been played.
A nasty comment from a troll is bad. It’s hurtful in a blunt, shocking way. But there’s a different kind of hurt that comes from a casual, offhand, even well-meaning comment that’s cruel in a more deep-rooted way.
This casual cruelty. This insidious, creeping, never-ending miasma of sexism. It is well and truly intolerable.
This is not up for debate.
I’m a Google Manufacturing Robot and I Believe Humans Are Biologically Unfit to Have Jobs in Tech - McSweeney’s Internet Tendency
Normally a McSweeney’s piece elicits a wry chuckle, but this one had me in stitches.
Humans are also far more likely to “literally cannot right now.” I have never met an automaton that literally could not, though I have met some that theoretically would not and hypothetically might want to stop.
Friday, July 28th, 2017
Hadley points to the serious security concerns with AMP:
Fundamentally, we think that it’s crucial to the web ecosystem for you to understand where content comes from and for the browser to protect you from harm. We are seriously concerned about publication strategies that undermine them.
The anchor element is designed to allow one website to refer visitors to content on another website, whilst retaining all the features of the web platform. We encourage distribution platforms to use this mechanism where appropriate. We encourage the loading of pages from original source origins, rather than re-hosted, non-canonical locations.
That last sentence there? That’s what I’m talking about!
Wednesday, June 7th, 2017
As you might expect, lots of sites just don’t work, but there are plenty of sites that work just fine—Google search, Amazon, Wikipedia, BBC News, The New York Times. Not bad!
Tuesday, May 30th, 2017
If you are a publisher and your web pages don’t load fast, the sane solution is to fix your fucking website so that pages load fast, not to throw your hands up in the air and implement AMP.
Pretty strong meat there from Gruber.
(I’m not going to link through to the Register article though—that rag does not deserve our attention.)
Friday, May 19th, 2017
But real problems are messy. Tech culture prefers to solve harder, more abstract problems that haven’t been sullied by contact with reality. So they worry about how to give Mars an earth-like climate, rather than how to give Earth an earth-like climate. They debate how to make a morally benevolent God-like AI, rather than figuring out how to put ethical guard rails around the more pedestrian AI they are introducing into every area of people’s lives.
Wednesday, May 3rd, 2017
So what happens when these tools for maximizing clicks and engagement creep into the political sphere?
This is a delicate question! If you concede that they work just as well for politics as for commerce, you’re inviting government oversight. If you claim they don’t work well at all, you’re telling advertisers they’re wasting their money.
Facebook and Google have tied themselves into pretzels over this.