Saturday, September 22nd, 2018
Monday, August 6th, 2018
This seventeen year old profile of Tim Berners-Lee is fascinating to read from today’s perspective.
Wednesday, July 11th, 2018
Links, tags, and feeds
A little while back, I switched from using Chrome as my day-to-day browser to using Firefox. I could feel myself getting a bit too comfortable with one particular browser, and that’s not good. I reckon it’s good to shake things up a little every now and then. Besides, there really isn’t that much difference once you’ve transferred over bookmarks and cookies.
Unfortunately I’m being bitten by this little bug in Firefox. It causes some of my bookmarklets to fail on certain sites with strict Content Security Policies (and CSPs shouldn’t affect bookmarklets). I might have to switch back to Chrome because of this.
I use bookmarklets throughout the day. There’s the Huffduffer bookmarklet, of course, for whenever I come across a podcast episode or other piece of audio that I want to listen to later. But there’s also my own home-rolled bookmarklet for posting links to my site. It doesn’t do anything clever—it grabs the title and URL of the currently open page and pre-populates a form in a new window, leaving me to add a short description and some tags.
If you’re reading this, then you’re familiar with the “journal” section of adactio.com, but the “links” section is where I post the most. Here, for example, are all the links I posted yesterday. It varies from day to day, but there’s generally a handful.
Should you wish to keep track of everything I’m linking to, there’s a twitterbot you can follow called @adactioLinks. It uses a simple IFTTT recipe to poll my RSS feed of links and send out a tweet whenever there’s a new entry.
Or you can drink straight from the source and subscribe to the RSS feed itself, if you’re still rocking it old-school. But if RSS is your bag, then you might appreciate a way to filter those links…
All my links are tagged. Heavily. This is because all my links are “notes to future self”, and all my future self has to do is ask “what would past me have tagged that link with?” when I’m trying to find something I previously linked to. I end up using my site’s URLs as an interface:
At the front-end gatherings at Clearleft, I usually wrap up with a quick tour of whatever I’ve added that week to:
Well, each one of those tags also has a corresponding RSS feed:
…and so on.
That means you can subscribe to just the links tagged with something you’re interested in. Here’s the full list of tags if you’re interested in seeing the inside of my head.
This also works for my journal entries. If you’re only interested in my blog posts about frontend development, you might want to subscribe to:
Here are all the tags from my journal.
You can even mix them up. For everything I’ve tagged with “typography”—whether it’s links, journal entries, or articles—the URL is:
The corresponding RSS feed is:
You get the idea. Basically, if something on my site is a list of items, chances are there’s a corresponding RSS feeds. Sometimes there might even be a JSON feed. Hack some URLs to see.
Meanwhile, I’ll be linking, linking, linking…
Wednesday, April 18th, 2018
This excerpt from Claire L. Evans’s new book Broad Band sounds like Halt and Catch Fire, but for real.
Many people saw the web for the ﬁrst time in Jaime’s loft, on a Mac II her hacker friend Phiber Optik set up with a 28.8K internet connection. As avant-garde guitarist Elliott Sharp performed live, and another friend, DJ Spooky, played house tracks, Jaime’s guests gathered around the Mac’s small screen. At the top of 1994, there were fewer than 1,000 websites in the world, mostly personal home pages. These converts would call themselves the “early true believers,” counting the year of their arrival online as a mark of status, the way the ﬁrst punks claimed 1977.
Tuesday, January 9th, 2018
The text of a fascinating talk given by Tim Berners-Lee back in 1995, at a gathering to mark the 50th anniversary of Vannevar Bush’s amazing article As We May Think. The event also drew together Ted Nelson, Alan Kay, Douglas Engelbart, and Bob Kahn!
Tuesday, December 5th, 2017
The fascinating history of interactive fiction from adventure game to hypertext.
The split between parsers and hyperlinks reminds me of different approaches to chatbots: free text entry vs. constrained input.
Wednesday, November 29th, 2017
Many, many years ago, Tim Berners-Lee wrote this page of answers to (genuinely) frequently asked questions he got from school kids working on reports. I absolutely love the clear straightforward language he uses to describe concepts like hypertext, packet switching, and HTTP.
Monday, November 20th, 2017
An associative trail
Every now and then, I like to revisit Vannevar Bush’s classic article from the July 1945 edition of the Atlantic Monthly called As We May Think in which he describes a theoretical machine called the memex.
A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.
It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.
1945! Apart from its analogue rather than digital nature, it’s a remarkably prescient vision. In particular, there’s the idea of “associative trails”:
Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. The lawyer has at his touch the associated opinions and decisions of his whole experience, and of the experience of friends and authorities.
Many decades later, Anne Washington ponders what a legal memex might look like:
My legal Memex builds a network of the people and laws available in the public records of politicians and organizations. The infrastructure for this vision relies on open data, free access to law, and instantaneously availability.
As John Sheridan from the UK’s National Archives points out, hypertext is the perfect medium for laws:
Despite the drafter’s best efforts to create a narrative structure that tells a story through the flow of provisions, legislation is intrinsically non-linear content. It positively lends itself to a hypertext based approach. The need for legislation to escape the confines of the printed form predates the all major innovators and innovations in hypertext, from Vannevar Bush’s vision in ” As We May Think“, to Ted Nelson’s coining of the term “hypertext”, through to and Berners-Lee’s breakthrough world wide web. I like to think that Nelson’s concept of transclusion was foreshadowed several decades earlier by the textual amendment (where one Act explicitly alters – inserts, omits or amends – the text of another Act, an approach introduced to UK legislation at the beginning of the 20th century).
That’s from a piece called Deeply Intertwingled Laws. The verb “to intertwingle” was another one of Ted Nelson’s neologisms.
There’s an associative trail from Vannevar Bush to Ted Nelson that takes some other interesting turns…
Picture a new American naval recruit in 1945, getting ready to ship out to the pacific to fight against the Japanese. Just as the ship as leaving the harbour, word comes through that the war is over. And so instead of fighting across the islands of the pacific, this young man finds himself in a hut on the Philippines, reading whatever is to hand. There’s a copy of The Atlantic Monthly, the one with an article called As We May Think. The sailor was Douglas Engelbart, and a few years later when he was deciding how he wanted to spend the rest of his life, that article led him to pursue the goal of augmenting human intellect. He gave the mother of all demos, featuring NLS, a working hypermedia system.
Later, thanks to Bill Atkinson, we’d get another system called Hypercard. It was advertised with the motto Freedom to Associate, in an advertising campaign that directly referenced Vannevar Bush.
And now I’m using the World Wide Web, a hypermedia system that takes in the whole planet, to create an associative trail. In this post, I’m linking (without asking anyone for permission) to six different sources, and in doing so, I’m creating a unique associative trail. And because this post has a URL (that won’t change), you are free to take it and make it part of your own associative trail on your digital memex.
Sunday, November 19th, 2017
A history of hypertext, from the memex to HyperCard.
Friday, September 22nd, 2017
A great bit of web history spelunking in search of the first websites that allowed users to interact with data on a server. Applications, if you will. It’s well written, but I take issue with this:
The world wide web wasn’t supposed to be this fun. Berners-Lee imagined the internet as a place to collaborate around text, somewhere to share research data and thesis papers.
This often gets trotted out (“the web was intended for scientists sharing documents”), but it’s simply not true that Tim Berners-Lee was only thinking of his immediate use-case; he deliberately made the WWW project broad enough to allow all sorts of thitherto unforeseen uses. If he hadn’t …well, the web wouldn’t have been able to accommodate all those later developments. It’s not an accident that the web was later used for all sorts of unexpected things—that was the whole idea.
Anyway, apart from that misstep, the rest of the article is a fun piece, well worth reading.
Tuesday, September 5th, 2017
Perhaps the blockchain is the technology equivalent of the panda. You hear an awful lot about it without ever being clear what exactly it’s for and why we should care if it disappears.
Russell Davies on the megafauna of technology.
The other big hitters are probably drones, robots, AI and self-driving cars. It used to be smartphones and 3D printing, but they’ve become too ubiquitous and banal. You can’t be charismatic if you’re everywhere.
Friday, July 7th, 2017
I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely surprised, delighted, and intrigued by an online story like this.
Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
Monday, March 20th, 2017
There’s something very endearing about this docudrama retelling of the story of the web.
Monday, February 20th, 2017
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Sunday, December 4th, 2016
Well, look at these fresh-faced lads presenting their little hypertext system in 1992. A fascinating time capsule.
Wednesday, July 13th, 2016
Did you know that Abby Covert’s book is available online in its gloriously hyperlinked entirety?
Thursday, June 30th, 2016
The video of my talk on hypertext at the HTML Special before CSS Day. I’m pretty pleased with my delivery here. There’s a bit of Q&A afterwards as well.
Tuesday, June 28th, 2016
Talking about hypertext
I’ve just published a transcript of the talk I gave at the HTML Special that preceded CSS Day a couple of weeks back. I’ve also recorded an audio version for your huffduffing pleasure.
It’s not like the usual talks I give. The subject matter was assigned to me, Mission Impossible style. PPK wanted each speaker to give an entire talk on just one HTML element. He offered me the best element of them all: the
There were a few different directions I could’ve taken it. I could’ve tried to make it practical, but I quickly dismissed that idea. Instead I went in the completely opposite direction, making it as pretentious as possible. I figured a talk about hypertext could afford to be winding and circuitous, building on some of the ideas I wrote about in my piece for The Manual a few years back. It’s quite self-indulgent of me, but I used it as an opportunity to geek out about some of my favourite things; from Borges, Babbage, and Bletchley to Leibniz, Lovelace, and Licklider.
I wouldn’t usually write out an entire talk word-for-word in advance, but somehow it felt right for this one. In fact, my talk preparation this time ‘round was very similar to the process Charlotte recently wrote about:
- Get everything out of my head and onto a mind map.
- Write chunks of content in short bursts—this was when I was buddying up with Paul.
- Put together a slide deck of visuals to support the narrative.
- Practice delivering the talk so I don’t look I’m just reading off a screen.
It takes me a long time to prepare talks. As the deadline for this one approached, I was getting quite panicked. It was touch and go there for a while, but I managed to get it done in time.
I’m pleased with how it turned out. On the day, I had fun delivering it. People seemed to like it too, which was gratifying.
Although with this kind of talk, it was inevitable that I wouldn’t be able to please everyone.
Great speaker, but I’m hoping the next session will be more useful. Things we can apply to projects at work. #cssday— Martijn van Turnhout (@MvanTurnhout) June 16, 2016
I guess this talk was a one-off affair. That said, if you’re putting on an event and you think this subject matter would be appropriate, let me know. I’d be more than happy to deliver it again.