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Friday, May 6th, 2022
Saturday, April 30th, 2022
I’m not usually that keen on lists of pithy aphorisms but some of these really resonated…
- If you stop to listen to a musician or street performer for more than a minute, you owe them a dollar.
- Efficiency is highly overrated; Goofing off is highly underrated. Regularly scheduled sabbaths, sabbaticals, vacations, breaks, aimless walks and time off are essential for top performance of any kind. The best work ethic requires a good rest ethic.
- The biggest lie we tell ourselves is “I dont need to write this down because I will remember it.”
- Buy used books. They have the same words as the new ones. Also libraries.
- You can be whatever you want, so be the person who ends meetings early.
- It’s thrilling to be extremely polite to rude strangers.
This is a great succinct definition of progressive enhancement:
Progressive enhancement is a web development strategy by which we ensure that the essential content and functionality of a website is accessible to as many users as possible, while providing an improved experience using newer features for users whose devices are capable of supporting them.
Wednesday, April 27th, 2022
I’ve noticed a strange mindset amongst front-end/full-stack developers. At least it seems strange to me. But maybe I’m the one with the strange mindset and everyone else knows something I don’t.
It’s to do with trust and suspicion.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m suspicious of third-party code and dependencies in general. Every dependency you add to a project is one more potential single point of failure. You have to trust that the strangers who wrote that code knew what they were doing. I’m still somewhat flabbergasted that developers regularly add dependencies—via npm or yarn or whatever—that then pull in even more dependencies, all while assuming good faith and competence on the part of every person involved.
It’s a touching expression of faith in your fellow humans, but I’m not keen on the idea of faith-based development.
And yet, the mindset I’ve noticed is that many developers are suspicious of browser features but trusting of third-party libraries.
When I write and talk about using service workers, I often come across scepticism from developers about writing the service worker code. “Is there a library I can use?” they ask. “Well, yes” I reply, “but then you’ve got to understand the library, and the time it takes you to do that could be spent understanding the native code.” So even though a library might not offer any new functionality—just a different idion—many developers are more likely to trust the third-party library than they are to trust the underlying code that the third-party library is abstracting!
Developers are more likely to trust, say, Bootstrap than they are to trust CSS grid or custom properties. Developers are more likely to trust React than they are to trust web components.
On the one hand, I get it. Bootstrap and React are very popular. That popularity speaks volumes. If lots of people use a technology, it must be a safe bet, right?
But if we’re talking about popularity, every single browser today ships with support for features like grid, custom properties, service workers and web components. No third-party framework can even come close to that install base.
And the fact that these technologies have shipped in stable browsers means they’re vetted. They’ve been through a rigourous testing phase. They’ve effectively got a seal of approval from each individual browser maker. To me, that seems like a much bigger signal of trustworthiness than the popularity of a third-party library or framework.
So I’m kind of confused by this prevalent mindset of trusting third-party code more than built-in browser features.
Is it because of the job market? When recruiters are looking for developers, their laundry list is usually third-party technologies: React, Vue, Bootstrap, etc. It’s rare to find a job ad that lists native browser technologies: flexbox, grid, service workers, web components.
I would love it if someone could explain why they avoid native browser features but use third-party code.
Until then, I shall remain perplexed.
Wednesday, April 20th, 2022
This is a really excellent four-part series on web performance that really dives into the technical details and asks all the right questions:
Wednesday, April 13th, 2022
This is going to make me sound like an old man in his rocking chair on the front porch, but let me tell you about the early days of Twitter…
The first time I mentioned Twitter on here was back in November 2006:
I’ve been playing around with Twitter, a neat little service from the people who brought you Odeo. You send it little text updates via SMS, the website, or Jabber.
A few weeks later, I wrote about some of its emergent properties:
Overall, Twitter is full of trivial little messages that sometimes merge into a coherent conversation before disintegrating again. I like it. Instant messaging is too intrusive. Email takes too much effort. Twittering feels just right for the little things: where I am, what I’m doing, what I’m thinking.
That’s right; back then we didn’t have the verb “tweeting” yet.
In those early days, some of the now-ubiquitous interactions had yet to emerge. Chris hadn’t yet proposed hashtags. And if you wanted to address a message to a specific person—or reply to a tweet of theirs—the @ symbol hadn’t been repurposed for that. There were still few enough people on Twitter that you could just address someone by name and they’d probably see your message.
That’s what I was doing when I posted:
I’m assuming Simon Willison got a haircut or something.
In any case, it’s an innocuous and fairly pointless tweet. And yet, in the intervening years, that tweet has received many replies. Weirdly, most of the replies consisted of one word:
Then a little while back, I realised what was happening. This is the URL for my tweet:
Pesky kids with their stoner sexual-innuendo numerology!
Tuesday, April 12th, 2022
Starting and finishing
Someone was asking recently about advice for public speaking. This was specifically for in-person events now that we’re returning to actual live conferences.
Everyone’s speaking style is different so there’s no universal advice. That said, just about everyone recommends practicing. Practice your talk. Then practice it again and again.
That’s good advice but it’s also quite time-consuming. Something I’ve recommended in the past is to really concentrate on the start and the end of the talk.
You should be able to deliver the first five minutes of your talk in your sleep. If something is going to throw you, it’s likely to happen at the beginning of your talk. Whether it’s a technical hitch or just the weirdness and nerves of standing on stage, you want to be able to cruise through that part of the talk on auto-pilot. After five minutes or so, your nerves will have calmed and any audio or visual oddities should be sorted.
Likewise you want to really nail the last few minutes of your talk. Have a good strong ending that you can deliver convincingly.
Make it very clear when you’re done—usually through a decisive “thank you!”—to let the audience know that they may now burst into rapturous applause. Beware the false ending. “Thank you …and this is my Twitter handle. I always like hearing from people. So. Yeah.” Remember, the audience is on your side and they want to show their appreciation for your talk but you have to let them know without any doubt when the talk is done.
At band practice we sometimes joke “Hey, as long as we all start together and finish together, that’s what matters.” It’s funny because there’s a kernel of truth to it. If you start a song with a great intro and you finish the song with a tight rock’n’roll ending, nobody’s going to remember if somebody flubbed a note halfway through.
So, yes, practice your talk. But really practice the start and the end of your talk.
Thursday, February 24th, 2022
Blogging isn’t dead. In fact, the opposite is true. We’re about to enter a golden age of personal blogs.
Make it easy for people to find you. Buy a domain name and use it to create your own website, even if it’s very simple at first. Your website is your resume, your business card, your store, your directory, and your personal magazine. It’s the one place online that you completely own and control – your Online Home.
Good advice. Also:
Don’t write on Medium.
Look, I get it. Writing on Medium is an easy way to pick up readers and increases your chances of going viral. But the costs exceed the benefits. Medium is terrible for SEO. You don’t own your content and the platform makes it difficult to turn one-time readers into loyal ones.
The more you can use platforms you own, the better. Rather than writing on Medium, do the work to build a personal blog. That way, you can have a central place to point people to.
The headline is a little misleading because if you follow this advice, your multi-page apps will be much much faster than single page apps, especially when you include that initial page load of a single page app.
Here’s a quick high-level summary of what I do…
That’s an excellent recipe for success right there!
Thursday, February 10th, 2022
Safari is very opinionated about which features they will support and which they won’t. And that is fine for their browser. But I don’t want the Safari team to choose for all browsers on the iOS platform.
A terrific piece from Niels pushing back on the ridiculous assertion that Apple’s ban on rival rendering engines in iOS is somehow a noble battle against a monopoly (rather than the abuse of monopoly power it actually is). If there were any truth to the idea that Apple’s browser ban is the only thing stopping everyone from switching to Chrome, then nobody would be using Safari on MacOS where users are free to choose whichever rendering engine they want.
The Safari team is capable enough not to let their browser become irrelevant. And Apple has enough money to support the Safari team to take on other browsers. It does not need some artificial App Store rule to protect it from the competition.
WebKit-only proponents are worried about losing control and Google becoming too powerful. And they feel preventing Google from controlling the web is more important than giving more power to users. They believe they are protecting users against themselves. But that is misguided.
Users need to be in control because if you take power away from users, you are creating the future you want to prevent, where one company sets the rules for everybody else. It is just somebody else who is pulling the strings.
Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recently published an interim report on their mobile ecosystems market study. It’s well worth reading, especially the section on competition in the supply of mobile browsers:
On iOS devices, Apple bans the use of alternative browser engines – this means that Apple has a monopoly over the supply of browser engines on iOS. It also chooses not to implement – or substantially delays – a wide range of features in its browser engine. This restriction has 2 main effects:
- limiting rival browsers’ ability to differentiate themselves from Safari on factors such as speed and functionality, meaning that Safari faces less competition from other browsers than it otherwise could do; and
- limiting the functionality of web apps – which could be an alternative to native apps as a means for mobile device users to access online content – and thereby limits the constraint from web apps on native apps. We have not seen compelling evidence that suggests Apple’s ban on alternative browser engines is justified on security grounds.
That last sentence is a wonderful example of British understatement. Far from protecting end users from security exploits, Apple have exposed everyone on iOS to all of the security issues of Apple’s Safari browser (regardless of what brower the user thinks they are using).
The CMA are soliciting responses to their interim report:
To respond to this consultation, please email or post your submission to:
Post:Mobile Ecosystems Market Study
Competition and Markets Authority
25 Cabot Square
Please respond by no later than 5pm GMT on 7 February 2022.
I encourage you to send a response before this coming Monday. This is the email I’ve sent.
This response is regarding competition in the supply of mobile browsers and contains no confidential information.
I read your interim report with great interest.
As a web developer and the co-founder of a digital design agency, I could cite many reasons why Apple’s moratorium on rival browser engines is bad for business. But the main reason I am writing to you is as a consumer and a user of Apple’s products.
I own two Apple computing devices: a laptop and a phone. On both devices, I can install apps from Apple’s App Store. But on my laptop I also have the option to download and install an application from elsewhere. I can’t do this on my phone. That would be fine if my needs were met by what’s available in the app store. But clause 2.5.6 of Apple’s app store policy restricts what is available to me as a consumer.
On my laptop I can download and install Mozilla’s Firefox or Google’s Chrome browsers. On my phone, I can install something called Firefox and something called Chrome. But under the hood, they are little more than skinned versions of Safari. I’m only aware of this because I’m au fait with the situation. Most of my fellow consumers have no idea that when they install the app called Firefox or the app called Chrome from the app store on their phone, they are being deceived.
It is this deception that bothers me most.
To be fair to Apple, this deception requires collusion from Mozilla, Google, Microsoft, and other browser makers. Nobody’s putting a gun to their heads and forcing them to ship skinned versions of Safari that bear only cosmetic resemblance to their actual products.
But of course it would be commercially unwise to forego the app store as a distrubution channel, even if the only features they can ship are superficial ones like bookmark syncing.
Still, imagine what would happen if Mozilla, Google, and Microsoft put their monies where their mouths are. Instead of just complaining about the unjust situation, what if they actually took the financial hit and pulled their faux-browsers from the iOS app store?
If this unjustice is as important as representatives from Google, Microsoft, and Mozilla claim it is, then righteous indignation isn’t enough. Principles without sacrifice are easy.
If nothing else, it would throw the real situation into light and clear up the misconception that there is any browser choice on iOS.
I know it’s not going to happen. I also know I’m being a hypocrite by continuing to use Apple products in spite of the blatant misuse of monopoly power on display. But still, I wanted to plant that seed. What if Microsoft, Google, and Mozilla were the ones who walk away from Omelas.
Wednesday, December 29th, 2021
Damn, I wish I had thought of giving this answer to the prompt, “What is one thing people can do to make their website better?”
If you do nothing else, this will be a huge boost to your site in 2022.
Chris’s piece is a self-contained tutorial!
Monday, December 13th, 2021
This is a very nifty use of a service worker—choose a local folder that you want to navigate using HTTP rather than the file system.
Monday, November 8th, 2021
Ten episodes of the Web History podcast
For over a year now I’ve been recording the audio versions of Jay Hoffman’s excellent Web History series on CSS Tricks.
We’re up to ten chapters now. The audio version of each chapter is between 30 and 40 minutes long. That’s around 400 minutes of my voice: a good six and a half hours of me narrating the history of the web. That’s like an audio book!
The story so far covers:
…with more to come.
That’ll give you plenty to listen to while you wait for the next season of the Clearleft podcast.
Thursday, October 7th, 2021
Monday, September 20th, 2021
Here’s a nifty little service from Zach: pass in a URL and it returns an image of the site’s icon.
Think of it as the indie web alternative to showing Twitter avatars.
Thursday, September 16th, 2021
This is a fascinating deep dive by Léonie on the inner workings of speech synthesis. She has quite a conundrum: she wants fast playback, but she also wants a voice that doesn’t sound robotic. Unfortunately it’s the robotic-sounding voices that work best at speed.
If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend listening to (or reading) the accessibility episode of the Clearleft podcast which featured Léonie as a guest giving demos and explanations.
Writing the Clearleft newsletter
I think it’s a really good newsletter, but then again, I’m the one who writes it. It just kind of worked out that way. In theory, anyone at Clearleft could write an edition of the newsletter.
To make that prospect less intimidating, I put together a document for my colleagues describing how I go about creating a new edition of the newsletter. Then I thought it might be interesting for other people outside of Clearleft to get a peek at how the sausage is made.
So here’s what I wrote…
The description of the newsletter is:
A round-up of handpicked hyperlinks from Clearleft, covering design, technology, and culture.
It usually has three links (maybe four, tops) on a single topic.
The topic can be anything that’s interesting, especially if it’s related to design or technology. Every now and then the topic can be something that incorporates an item that’s specifically Clearleft-related (a case study, an event, a job opening). In general it’s not very salesy at all so people will tolerate the occasional plug.
You can use the “iiiinteresting” Slack channel to find potential topics of interest. I’ve gotten in the habit of popping potential newsletter fodder in there, and then adding related links in a thread.
Imagine you’re telling a friend about something cool you’ve just discovered. You can sound excited. Don’t worry about this looking unprofessional—it’s better to come across as enthusiastic than too robotic. You can put real feelings on display: anger, disappointment, happiness.
That said, you can also just stick to the facts and describe each link in turn, letting the content speak for itself.
If you’re expressing a feeling or an opinion, use the personal pronoun “I”. Don’t use “we” unless you’re specifically referring to Clearleft.
But most of the time, you won’t be using any pronouns at all:
So-and-so has written an article in such-and-such magazine on this-particular-topic.
You might find it useful to have connecting phrases as you move from link to link:
Speaking of some-specific-thing, this-other-person has a different viewpoint.
On the subject of this-particular-topic, so-and-so wrote something about this a while back.
The format of the newsletter is:
- An introductory sentence or short paragraph.
- A sentence describing the first link, ending with the title of the item in bold.
- A link to the item on its own separate line.
- An excerpt from the link, usually a sentence or two, styled as a quote.
- Repeat steps 2 to 4 another two times.
Take a look through the archive of previous newsletters to get a feel for it.
Currently the newsletter is called dConstruct from Clearleft. The subject line of every edition is in the format:
dConstruct from Clearleft — Title of the edition
(Note that’s an em dash with a space on either side of it separating the name of the newsletter and the title of the edition)
I often try to come up with a pun-based title (often a punny portmanteau) but that’s not necessary. It should be nice and short though: just one or two words.
Tuesday, August 10th, 2021
A superb piece of writing by Debbie Chachra on infrastructure, fairness, and the future.
Alone in my apartment, when I reach out my hand to flip a switch or turn on a tap, I am a continent-spanning colossus, tapping into vast systems that span thousands of miles to bring energy, atoms, and information to my household. But I’m only the slenderest tranche of these collective systems, constituting the whole with all the other members of our federated infrastructural cyborg bodies.
Wednesday, July 7th, 2021
We’ve enjoyed a relatively long period when we didn’t have to think about which browser to use. Alas, that period is ending: I must now keep Chrome running all the time, much like I needed that PC in the early 2000s.