I was chatting with Rachel at work the other day about conversational forms, and I mentioned that I kicked that whole thing off with the mad libs style form on Huffduffer. Here’s the research that Luke later did on whether this style of form could increase conversion.
Saturday, August 3rd, 2019
Thursday, December 27th, 2018
Audio I listened to in 2018
I wrapped up last year with a list of some of the best audio I listened to in 2017. This year I huffduffed about 260 pieces of audio, so I could do a similar end-of-year list for 2018. But I thought I’d do something a little different this time.
It seems like podcasting is going from strength to strength with each passing year. Some friends of mine started new podcasts in 2018. Matt started Hobby Horse, where he talks to people about their tangential obsessions. Meanwhile Khoi started Wireframe, a jolly good podcast about design.
Apart from the trend of everyone having their own podcast these days, there’s also been a trend for quite short and manageable “seasons” of podcasts. See, for example, Horizon Line by Atlas Obscura, which is just four episodes long. Given the cherry-picking nature of my usual audio consumption (the very reason I made Huffduffer in the first place), this trend suits me quite well. There have been a few podcast runs in 2018 that I can recommend in their entirety.
The Secret History Of The Future is a collaboration between Seth Stevenson and Tom Standage, one of my favourite non-fiction authors. They look at modern technology stories through the lens of the past, much like Standage has done in books like The Victorian Internet. There are annoying sponsor blurbs to skip past, but apart from that, it’s a top-notch podcast.
I discovered Settling The Score this year. It’s a podcast all about film scores. The two hosts have spent the year counting down the top 25 scores in the American Film Institute’s list of (supposedly) greatest scores in American cinema history. It’s a pleasure to listen to them take a deep dive into each film and its score, analysing what works and what doesn’t. It will also make you want to rewatch the movie in question.
By far my favourite podcast listening experience this year was with Stephen Fry’s Great Leap Years. It’s just six episodes long, but it manages to tell the sweep of human history and technology in an entertaining and fascinating way. I’ll admit I’m biased because it dwells on many of my hobby horses: the printing press, the telegraph, Claude Shannon and information theory. There are no annoying sponsorship interruptions, and best of all, you’ve got the wonderful voice of Stephen Fry in your earholes the whole time. Highly recommended!
So there you have it: three podcasts from 2018 that are worth subscribing to in their entirety:
Wednesday, July 11th, 2018
Wednesday, January 10th, 2018
Saturday, December 30th, 2017
Audio I listened to in 2017
I huffduffed 290 pieces of audio in 2017. I’ve still got a bit of a backlog of items I haven’t listened to yet, but I thought I’d share some of my favourite items from the past year. Here are twelve pieces of audio, one for each month of 2017…
Donald Hoffman’s TED talk, Do we see reality as it really is?. TED talks are supposed to blow your mind, right? (22:15)
How to Become Batman on Invisibilia. Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller challenge you to think of blindness as social construct. Hear ‘em out. (58:02)
Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive on Public Radio International. I just love hearing Brewster Kahle’s enthusiasm and excitement. (42:43)
Every Tuesday At Nine on Irish Music Stories. I’ve been really enjoying Shannon Heaton’s podcast this year. This one digs into that certain something that happens at an Irish music session. (40:50)
Nick Cave and Warren Ellis on Kreative Kontrol. This was far more revealing than I expected: genuine and unpretentious. (57:07)
Paul Lloyd at Patterns Day. All the talks at Patterns Day were brilliant. Paul’s really stuck with me. (28:21)
Long Distance on Reply All. It all starts with a simple phone call. (47:27)
The King of Tears on Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell’s style suits podcasting very well. I liked this episode about country songwriter Bobby Braddock. Related: Jon’s Troika episode on tearjerkers. (42:14)
Feet on the Ground, Eyes on the Stars: The True Story of a Real Rocket Man with G.A. “Jim” Ogle. This was easily my favourite podcast episode of 2017. It’s on the User Defenders podcast but it’s not about UX. Instead, host Jason Ogle interviews his father, a rocket scientist who worked on everything from Apollo to every space shuttle mission. His story is fascinating. (2:38:21)
R.E.M. on Song Exploder. Breaking down the song Try Not To Breathe from Automatic For The People. (16:15)
I’ve gone back and added the tag “2017roundup” to each of these items. So if you’d like to subscribe to a podcast of just these episodes, here are the links:
Wednesday, July 26th, 2017
I was listening to some items in my Huffduffer feed when I noticed a little bit of synchronicity.
First of all, I was listening to Tom talking about Thington, and he mentioned seamful design—the idea that “seamlessness” is not necessarily a desirable quality. I think that’s certainly true in the world of connected devices.
Then I listened to Jeff interviewing Matt about hardware startups. They didn’t mention seamful design specifically (it was more all cricket and cables), but again, I think it’s a topic that’s lurking behind any discussion of the internet of things.
I’ve written about seams before. I really feel there’s value—and empowerment—in exposing the points of connection in a system. When designers attempt to airbrush those seams away, I worry that they are moving from “Don’t make me think” to “Don’t allow me to think”.
In many ways, aiming for seamlessness in design feels like the easy way out. It’s a surface-level approach that literally glosses over any deeper problems. I think it might be driven my an underlying assumption that seams are, by definition, ugly. Certainly there are plenty of daily experiences where the seams are noticeable and frustrating. But I don’t think it needs to be this way. The real design challenge is to make those seams beautiful.
Monday, May 1st, 2017
I love it when people explain Huffduffer better than I ever could.
Huffduffer is a free service that allows you to build a personalized audio feed. It’s kind of like a “read later” service but for audio.
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.
Sunday, June 12th, 2016
Thank you, jQuery
I also did a bit of spring cleaning, refactoring some CSS. The site dates to 2008 so there’s plenty in there that I would do very differently today. Still, considering the age of the code, I wasn’t cursing my past self too much.
querySelectorAll, and objects like
Of course, the reason why half of those handy helpers exist is because of jQuery. Certainly in the case of
jQuery turned ten years old this year, and jQuery version 3.0 was just released. Congratulations, jQuery! You have served the web well.
Monday, May 9th, 2016
I really enjoyed chatting to Ade on The Design Jones podcast. I rambled on about design, the web, and all that stuff.
Friday, March 18th, 2016
Someone at Clearleft asked me a question recently about making bookmarklets. I have a bit of experience in that department. As well as making a bookmarklet for adding links to my own site, there’s the Huffduffer bookmarklet that’s been chugging away since 2008.
I told them that there are basically two approaches:
- Have the bookmarklet pop open a new browser window at your service, passing in the URL of the current page. Then do all the heavy lifting on your server.
I favour the first approach. Partly that’s because it makes it easier to update the functionality. As you improve your server-side script, the bookmarklet functionality gets better automatically. But also, if your server-side script doesn’t do its magic, you can always fall back to letting the end user fill in the details.
Here’s an example…
When you click the Huffduffer bookmarklet, it pops open this URL:
page parameter filled in with whatever page you currently have open. Let’s say I’ve got this page currently open in my browser:
If I press the Huffduffer bookmarklet, that will spawn a new window with this URL:
And that’s all it does. Now it’s up to that page on Huffduffer to figure out what to do with the URL it has been given. In this case, it makes a CURL request to figure out what to use as a title, what to use as a description, what audio file to use, etc. If it can’t figure that out, I can always fill in those fields myself by hand.
Content Security Policies (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Content_Security_Policy) are great except that they prevent bookmarklets like @instapaper from loading. 😐— Jason Garber (@jgarber) March 16, 2016
But remember this only applies to some bookmarklets. If a bookmarklet just spawns a new window—like Huffduffer’s—then there’s no problem. That approach to bookmarklets was dismissed with this justification:
Citation needed. I submit that Huffduffer and Instapaper provide very similar services: “listen later” and “read later”. Both use cases could be described as “non-trivial”. But only one of the bookmarklets works on sites with strict CSPs.
Bookmarklets are not dead. They may, however, be pining for the fjords. Nobody has a figured out a way to get bookmarklets to work on mobile. Now that might well be a death sentence.
Tuesday, March 1st, 2016
Yes, I’m talking about SEO spammers.
Huffduffer tends to get it worse than The Session, but even then it’s fairly manageable—just a sign-up or two here or there. This weekend though, there was a veritable spam tsunami. I was up late on Friday night playing a constant game of whack-a-mole with thousands of spam postings by newly-created accounts. (I’m afraid I inadvertently may have deleted some genuine new accounts in the trawl; if you signed up for Huffduffer last Friday and can’t access your account now, I’m really, really sorry.)
Normally these spam SEO accounts would have some pattern to them—either they’d be from the same block of IP addresses or they’d have similar emails. But these all looked different enough to thwart any quick fixes. I knew I’d be spending my Saturday writing some spam-blocking code.
Most “social” websites have a similar sign-up flow: you fill in a form with your details (including your email address), and then you have to go to your email client to click a link to verify that you are indeed who you claim to be. The cynical side of me thinks that this is mostly to verify that you providing a genuine email address so that the site can send you marketing crap.
Neither Huffduffer nor The Session includes that second step of confirming your email address. The only reason for providing your email address is so that you can reset your password if you ever forget it.
I’ve always felt that making a new user break out of the sign-up flow to go check their email was a bit shit. It also strikes me as following the same logic as CAPTCHAs (which I hate): “Because of the bad actions of a minority, we’re going to punish the majority by making them prove to us that they’re human.” It’s such a machine-centric way of thinking.
But after the splurge of spam on Huffduffer, I figured I’d have no choice but to introduce that extra step. Just as I was about to start coding, I thought to myself “No, this is wrong. There must be another way.”
I thought a bit more about the problem. The issue wasn’t so much about spam sign-ups per se. Like I said, there’s always been a steady trickle and it isn’t too onerous to find them and delete them. The problem was the sheer volume of spam posts in a short space of time.
I ended up writing some different code with this logic:
- When someone posts to Huffduffer, check to see if they’ve posted at least ten items in the past;
- If they have, grab the timestamps for the last ten posts;
- Calculate the cumulative elapsed time between those ten posts;
- If it’s less than 100 seconds (i.e. an average of one post every ten seconds), delete the user …and delete everything they’ve ever posted.
It worked. I watched as new spam sign-ups began to hammer the site with spam postings …only to self-destruct when they hit the critical mass of posts over time.
I’m still getting SEO spammers signing up but now they’re back to manageable levels. I’m glad that I didn’t end up having to punish genuine new users of Huffduffer for the actions of a few SEO marketing bottom-feeders.
Sunday, February 28th, 2016
Well, this is nice…
Have you ever stumbled across a piece of audio online that you’d like to listen to later? Perhaps a friend messaged a podcast episode or news report to you, but you weren’t in a position to listen to it at the moment. You need Huffduffer.
Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
Huffduffing for podcasters
The logic behind Huffduffer’s bookmarklet goes something like this…
- Find any
aelements that have
hrefvalues ending in “.mp3” or “.m4a”.
- If there’s just one audio on the page, use that.
- If there are multiple audio, offer a list to the user and have them choose.
If that doesn’t work…
- Look for a
linkelement with a
relvalue of “enclosure”.
- Look for a
propertyvalue of “og:audio”.
- Look for
audioelements and grab either the
srcattribute of the element itself, or the
srcattribute of any
sourceelements within the
If that doesn’t work…
- Try to find a link to an RSS feed (a link that looks like “rss” or “feed” or “atom”).
- If there is a feed, parse that for
enclosureelements and present that list to the user.
If you have a podcast and you want your episodes to be sharable and huffduffable, you have a few options:
Have a link to the audio file for the episode somewhere on the page, something like:
That’s the simplest option. If you’re hosting with Soundcloud, this is pretty much impossible to accomplish: they deliberately obfuscate and time-limit the audio file, even if you want it to be downloadable (that “download” link literally only allows a user to download that file in that moment).
If you don’t want a visible link on the page, you could use metadata in the
head of your document. Either:
<link rel="enclosure" href="/path/to/file.mp3">
<meta property="og:audio" content="/path/to/file.mp3">
And if you want to encourage people to huffduff an episode of your podcast, you can also include a “huffduff it” link, like this:
<a href="https://huffduffer.com/add?page=referrer">huffduff it</a>
You can also use
?page=referer—that misspelling has become canonised thanks to HTTP.
There you go, my podcasting friends. However you decide to do it, I hope you’ll make your episodes sharable.
Thursday, November 19th, 2015
The audio is now up from all the talks at this year’s excellent Ampersand conference.
Tuesday, November 17th, 2015
I really enjoyed chatting with Jen on this episode of The Web Ahead—aimless rambling fun.
Monday, September 14th, 2015
Wednesday, August 26th, 2015
Sunday, July 5th, 2015
I recorded audio versions of some of my favourite blog posts.
Monday, June 22nd, 2015