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Monday, December 5th, 2022

Jamie

Jamie Freeman passed away yesterday.

I first met Jamie as a fellow web-nerd way back in the early 2000s when I was freelancing here in Brighton. I did a lot of work with him and his design studio, Message. Andy was working there too. It’s kind of where the seeds of Clearleft were planted.

I remember one day telling them about a development with Salter Cane. Our drummer, Catherine, was moving to Australia so we were going to have to start searching for someone new.

“I play drums”, said Jamie.

I remember thinking, “No, you don’t; you play guitar.” But I thought “What the heck”, and invited him along to a band practice.

Well, it turns that not only could he play drums, he was really good! Jamie was in the band.

It’s funny, I kept referring to Jamie as “our new drummer”, but he actually ended up being the drummer that was with Salter Cane the longest.

Band practices. Concerts. Studio recordings. We were a team for years. You can hear Jamie’s excellent drumming on our album Sorrow. You can also his drumming (and brilliant backing vocals) on an album of covers we recorded. He was such a solid drummer—he made the whole band sound tighter.

But as brilliant as Jamie was behind a drumkit, his heart was at the front of the stage. He left Salter Cane to front The Jamie Freeman Agreement full-time. I loved going to see that band and watching them get better and better. Jonathan has written lovingly about his time with the band.

After that, Jamie continued to follow his dreams as a solo performer, travelling to Nashville, and collaborating with loads of other talented people. Everyone loved Jamie.

This year started with the shocking news that he had inoperable cancer—a brain tumor. Everyone sent him all their love (we recorded a little video from the Salter Cane practice room—as his condition worsened, video worked better than writing). But somehow I didn’t quite believe that this day would come when Jamie was no longer with us. I mean, the thought was ridiculous: Jamie, the vegetarian tea-totaller …with cancer? Nah.

I think I’m still in denial.

The last time I had the joy of playing music with Jamie was also the last time that Salter Cane played a gig. Jamie came back for a one-off gig at the start of 2020 (before the world shut down). It was joyous. It felt so good to rock out with him.

Jamie was always so full of enthusiasm for other people, whether that was his fellow musicians or his family members. He had great stories from his time on tour with his brother Tim’s band, Frazier Chorus. And he was so, so proud of everything his brother Martin has done. It was so horrible when their sister died. I can’t imagine what they must be going through now, losing another sibling.

Like I said, I still can’t quite believe that Jamie has gone. I know that I’m really going to miss him.

I’m sending all my love and my deepest sympathies to Jamie’s family.

Fuck cancer.

Saturday, December 3rd, 2022

Transient Frameworks · Matthias Ott – User Experience Designer

Frameworks come and go. They are transient. Web standards, on the other hand, are the reason the Web is good now and it will become even better in the future.

Sunday, November 27th, 2022

ongoing by Tim Bray · Bye, Twitter

I don’t like making unpaid contributions to a for-profit publisher whose proprietor is an alt-right troll.

Same.

I can see no good arguments for redirecting my voice into anyone else’s for-profit venture-funded algorithm-driven engagement-maximizing wet dream.

Mastodon is a gateway | Andy Bell

I’ve been very guilty of putting all my eggs in the Twitter basket over the last couple of years, especially, and all of that has been destroyed by one bellend billionaire. I’m determined not to make that mistake again and even more determined to make my little home on the internet—this website—as lovely and sustainable as I can make it.

Saturday, November 26th, 2022

How to Weave the Artisan Web | Whatever

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a site that’s not run by an amoral billionaire chaos engine, or algorithmically designed to keep you doomscrolling in a state of fear and anger, or is essentially spyware for governments and/or corporations? Wouldn’t it be nice not to have ads shoved in your face every time you open an app to see what your friends are up to? Wouldn’t it be nice to know that when your friends post something, you’ll actually see it without a social media platform deciding whether to shove it down your feed and pump that feed full of stuff you didn’t ask for?

Wouldn’t that be great?

Friday, November 25th, 2022

Tweaking navigation sizing

Gerry talks about “top tasks” a lot. He literally wrote the book on it:

Top tasks are what matter most to your customers.

Seems pretty obvious, right? But it’s actually pretty rare to see top tasks presented any differently than other options.

Look at the global navigation on most websites. Typically all the options are given equal prominence. Even the semantics under the hood often reflect this egalitarian ideal, with each list in an unordered list. All the navigation options are equal, but I bet that the reality for most websites is that some navigation options are more equal than others.

I’ve been guilty of this on The Session. The site-wide navigation shows a number of options: tunes, events, discussions, etc. Each one is given equal prominence, but I can tell you without even looking at my server logs that 90% of the traffic goes to the tunes section—that’s the beating heart of The Session. That’s why the home page has a search form that defaults to searching for tunes.

I wanted the navigation to reflect the reality of what people are coming to the site for. I decided to make the link to the tunes section more prominent by bumping up the font size a bit.

I was worried about how weird this might look; we’re so used to seeing all navigation items presented equally. But I think it worked out okay (though it might take a bit of getting used to if you’re accustomed to the previous styling). It helps that “tunes” is a nice short word, so bumping up the font size on that word doesn’t jostle everything else around.

I think this adjustment is working well for this situation where there’s one very clear tippy-top task. I wouldn’t want to apply it across the board, making every item in the navigation proportionally bigger or smaller depending on how often it’s used. That would end up looking like a ransom note.

But giving one single item prominence like this tweaks the visual hierarchy just enough to favour the option that’s most likely to be what a visitor wants.

That last bit is crucial. The visual adjustment reflects what visitors want, not what I want. You could adjust the size of a navigation option that you want to drive traffic to, but in the long run, all you’re going to do is train people to trust your design less.

You don’t get to decide what your top task is. The visitors to your website do. Trying to foist an arbitrary option on them would be the tail wagging the dog.

Anway, I’m feeling a lot better about the site-wide navigation on The Session now that it reflects reality a little bit more. Heck, I may even bump that font size up a little more.

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2022

ooh.directory

A directory of blogs, all nicely categorised:

ooh.directory is a place to find good blogs that interest you.

Phil gave me a sneak peek at this when he was putting it together and asked me what I thought of it. My response was basically “This is great!”

And of course you can suggest a site to add to the directory.

“You can be a carpenter this time around.” – Lucy Bellwood

A personal website is a lovely thing. Nobody will buy this platform and use it as their personal plaything. No advertisers will boycott and send me scrambling to produce different content. No seed funding will run out overnight.

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

It takes one person to knock down a silo - daverupert.com

Pour a foundation for your own silo or home.

Saturday, November 19th, 2022

Octavia Butler’s Science Fiction Predicted the World We Live In - The New York Times

A profile of the life and work of the brilliant Octavia E. Butler.

Friday, November 18th, 2022

Remix and the Alternate Timeline of Web Development - Jim Nielsen’s Blog

It sounds like Remix takes a sensible approach to progressive enhancement.

That fediverse feeling

Right now, Twitter feels like Dunkirk beach in May 1940. And look, here comes a plucky armada of web servers running Mastodon instances!

Others have written some guides to getting started on Mastodon:

There are also tools like Twitodon to help you migrate from Twitter to Mastodon.

Getting on board isn’t completely frictionless. Understanding how Mastodon works can be confusing. But then again, so was Twitter fifteen years ago.

Right now, many Mastodon instances are struggling with the influx of new sign-ups. But this is temporary. And actually, it’s also very reminiscent of the early unreliable days of Twitter.

I don’t want to go into the technical details of Mastodon and the fediverse—even though those details are fascinating and impressive. What I’m really struck by is the vibe.

In a nutshell, I’m loving it! It feels …nice.

I was fully expecting Mastodon to be full of meta-discussions about Mastodon, but in the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed people posting about stone circles, astronomy, and—obviously—cats and dogs.

The process of finding people to follow has been slow, but in a good way. I’ve enjoyed seeking people out. It’s been easier to find the techy folks, but I’ve also been finding scientists, journalists, and artists.

On the one hand, the niceness of the experience isn’t down to technical architecture; it’s all about the social norms. On the other hand, those social norms are very much directed by technical decisions. The folks working on the fediverse for the past few years have made very thoughtful design decisions to amplify niceness and discourage nastiness. It’s all very gratifying to experience!

Personally, I’m posting to Mastodon via my own website. As much as I’m really enjoying Mastodon, I still firmly believe that nothing beats having control of your own content on your domain.

But I also totally get that not everyone has the same set of priorities as me. And frankly, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to have their own domain name.

It’s like there’s a spectrum of ownership. On one end, there’s publishing on your own website. On the other end, there’s publishing on silos like Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Instagram, and MySpace.

Publishing on Mastodon feels much closer to the website end of the spectrum than it does to the silo end of the spectrum. If something bad happens to the Mastodon instance you’re on, you can up and move to a different instance, taking your social graph with you.

In a way, it’s like delegating domain ownership to someone you trust. If you don’t have the time, energy, resources, or interest in having your own domain, but you trust someone who’s running a Mastodon instance, it’s the next best thing to publishing on your own website.

Simon described it well when he said Mastodon is just blogs:

A Mastodon server (often called an instance) is just a shared blog host. Kind of like putting your personal blog in a folder on a domain on shared hosting with some of your friends.

Want to go it alone? You can do that: run your own dedicated Mastodon instance on your own domain.

And rather than compare Mastodon to Twitter, Simon makes a comparison with RSS:

Do you still miss Google Reader, almost a decade after it was shut down? It’s back!

A Mastodon server is a feed reader, shared by everyone who uses that server.

Lots of other folks are feeling the same excitement in the air that I’m getting:

Bastian wrote:

Real conversations. Real people. Interesting content. A feeling of a warm welcoming group. No algorithm to mess around with our timelines. No troll army to destory every tiny bit of peace. Yes, Mastodon is rough around the edges. Many parts are not intuitive. But this roughness somehow added to the positive experience for me.

This could really work!

Brent Simmons wrote:

The web is wide open again, for the first time in what feels like forever.

I concur! Though, like Paul, I love not being beholden to either Twitter or Mastodon:

I love not feeling bound to any particular social network. This website, my website, is the one true home for all the stuff I’ve felt compelled to write down or point a camera at over the years. When a social network disappears, goes out of fashion or becomes inhospitable, I can happily move on with little anguish.

But like I said, I don’t expect everyone to have the time, means, or inclination to do that. Mastodon definitely feels like it shares the same indie web spirit though.

Personally, I recommend experiencing Mastodon through the website rather than a native app. Mastodon instances are progressive web apps so you can add them to your phone’s home screen.

You can find me on Mastodon as @adactio@mastodon.social

I’m not too bothered about what instance I’m on. It really only makes a difference to my local timeline. And if I do end up finding an instance I prefer, then I know that migrating will be quite straightforward, by design. Perhaps I should be on an instance with a focus on front-end development or the indie web. I still haven’t found much of an Irish traditional music community on the fediverse. I’m wondering if maybe I should start a Mastodon instance for that.

While I’m a citizen of mastodon.social, I’m doing my bit by chipping in some money to support it: sponsorship levels on Patreon start at just $1 a month. And while I can’t offer much technical assistance, I opened my first Mastodon pull request with a suggested improvement for the documentation.

I’m really impressed with the quality of the software. It isn’t perfect but considering that it’s an open source project, it’s better than most VC-backed services with more and better-paid staff. As Giles said, comparing it to Twitter:

I’m using Mastodon now and it’s not the same, but it’s not shit either. It’s different. It takes a bit of adjustment. And I’m enjoying it.

Most of all, I love, love, love that Mastodon demonstrates that things can be different. For too long we’ve been told that behavioural advertising was an intrinsic part of being online, that social networks must inevitably be monolithic centralised beasts, that we have to relinquish control to corporations in order to be online. The fediverse is showing us a better way. And this isn’t just a proof of concept either. It’s here now. It’s here to stay, if you want it.

Thursday, November 17th, 2022

Syndicating to Mastodon

I’ve been contemplating a checkbox. The label for this checkbox reads:

This is a bot account

Let me back up…

In what seems like decades ago, but was in fact just a few weeks, Elon Musk bought Twitter and began burning it to the ground. His admirers insist he’s playing some form of four-dimensional chess, but to the rest of us, his actions are indistinguishable from a spoilt rich kid not understanding what a social network is.

It wasn’t giving me much cause for anguish personally. For the past eight years, I’ve only used Twitter as a syndication endpoint for my own notes. But I understand that’s a very privileged position to be in. Most people on Twitter don’t have the same luxury of independence. It’s genuinely maddening and saddening to see their years of sharing destroyed by one cruel idiot.

Lots of people started moving to Mastodon. I figured I should do the same for my syndicated notes.

At first, I signed up for an account on mastodon.cloud. No particular reason. But that’s where I saw this very insightful post from Anil Dash:

When it came time to reckon with social media’s failings, nobody ran to the “web3” platforms. Nobody asked “can I get paid per message”? Nobody asked about the blockchain. The community of people who’ve been quietly doing this work for years (decades!) ended up being the ones who welcomed everyone over, as always.

I was getting my account all set up and beginning to follow some other folks, when I realised that I actually already had an exisiting account over on mastodon.social. Doh! Turns out that I signed up back in 2017 to kick the tyres, but never did much else because there weren’t many other people around back then. Oh, how times have changed!

Anyway, I thought I had really screwed up by having two accounts but this turned out to be an opportunity to experience some of the thoughtfulness in Mastodon’s design. The process of migrating from one Mastodon account to another—on a completely different instance—was very smooth! It was clear that this wasn’t an afterthought. This is an essential part of the fediverse and the design of the migration flow reflects that.

This gives me enormous peace of mind. If I ever want to switch to a different instance and still keep my network intact, I know it won’t be a problem. Mastodon is like the opposite of the roach-motel mentality that permeates most VC-backed so-called social networks.

As I played around some more—reading, following, exploring—my feelings of fondness only grew stronger. I like this place a lot!

I definitely wanted to syndicate my notes to Mastodon. At first, I implemented a straightforward RSS-to-Mastodon syndication using IFTTT (IF This, Then That), thanks to Matthias’s excellent tutorial.

But that didn’t feel quite right. When I syndicate to Twitter, I make a conscious choice each time. There’s a “Twitter” toggle that I can enable or disable in my posting interface. Mastodon deserved the same level of thoughtfulness.

So I switched off the IFTTT recipe and started exploring the Mastodon API. It’s going to sound like a humblebrag when I tell you that I got cross-posting working in almost no time at all, but that’s not a testament to my coding prowess (I’m really not very good), but rather a testament to the Mastodon API, which was a joy to work with.

  1. On your Mastodon instance, go to /settings/applications.
  2. Click on New Application.
  3. Fill in the details about your website and select write:statuses (and probably write:media) from the Scopes list.
  4. Copy Your access token to use in API calls.
  5. Write some sloppy code (in my case, PHP that uses CURL).

I did hit a wall when it came to posting images. That took me a while to get working, and I couldn’t figure out why. Was it something at Mastodon’s end while it was struggling under the influx of new users? As it turns out, no. It was entirely down to me being an idiot. (You know that situation where you’re working on a problem for ages and you’ve become convinced it’s an extremely gnarly rocket-science problem, but then turns out to be something stupid like a typo? Yeah. That.)

Then there’s the whole question of how to receive replies, likes, and reboosts from Mastodon here on my own site. Luckily, that was super easy, thanks to Brid.gy. One click and I was done. I love Brid.gy!

Take this note, for example. There’s a version on Twitter and a version on Mastodon. The original version on my own site gets responses from both places.

If I’m replying to a response on Twitter, I do not syndicate that to Mastodon.

Likewise, if I’m replying to a response on Mastodon, I do not syndicate that to Twitter.

Oh, one thing worth mentioning: if you’re sending a reply to something on Mastodon using the API, there’s an in_reply_to_id field for you to provide. But you should also include the full @username@instance of the person you’re replying to at the beginning of the message to ensure that it’s displayed as a reply rather than showing up as a regular post. Note the difference between this note on my site and its syndicated version on Mastodon.

Anyway, now I’m posting to Mastodon, but I’m doing it through the the interface of my own website. Which brings me to that checkbox in Mastodon’s profile settings:

This is a bot account

The help text reads:

Signal to others that the account mainly performs automated actions and might not be monitored

If I were doing the automatic cross-posting from RSS, I’d definitely tick that box. But as I’m making a conscious decision whenever I syndicate to Mastodon, I think I’m going to leave that checkbox unticked.

My cross-posting is not automated and I’m very much monitoring my Mastodon account …because I’m enjoying my Mastodon experience more than I’ve enjoyed anything online for quite some time. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

BBC World TV News interview of Ariel Waldman for the NASA Artemis I launch! - YouTube

This is so cool—Ariel was on BBC World TV News live during the Artemis launch!

BBC World TV News interview of Ariel Waldman for the NASA Artemis I launch!

The Bledwel Test

  1. A film acknowledges that some people menstruate
  2. without any characters being ashamed of it
  3. or being shamed by someone else (without resolution)

Bird’s-eye View · Paul Robert Lloyd

I love not feeling bound to any particular social network. This website, my website, is the one true home for all the stuff I’ve felt compelled to write down or point a camera at over the years. When a social network disappears, goes out of fashion or becomes inhospitable, I can happily move on with little anguish.

Tuesday, November 15th, 2022

Craft — PaulStamatiou.com

I often use the word quality when referring to apps, products and services I hold in a high regard but another word that often comes up in this context is craft. Craft, as in something that is handcrafted where something someone spent a lot of time on and maybe even embedded their own personal touches and personality in it. Often something handcrafted feels more premium.

Mastodon is just blogs

Do you still miss Google Reader, almost a decade after it was shut down? It’s back!

A Mastodon server is a feed reader, shared by everyone who uses that server.

I really like Simon’s description of the fediverse:

A Mastodon server (often called an instance) is just a shared blog host. Kind of like putting your personal blog in a folder on a domain on shared hosting with some of your friends.

Want to go it alone? You can do that: run your own dedicated Mastodon instance on your own domain.

This is spot-on:

Mastodon is just blogs and Google Reader, skinned to look like Twitter.

Monday, November 14th, 2022

The IndieWeb for Everyone | Max Böck

Spot-on analysis by Max:

Generally speaking: The more independence a technology gives you, the higher its barrier for adoption.

I really hope that this when smart folks start putting their skills towards making the ideas of the indie web more widely available:

I think we’re at a special moment right now. People have been fed up with social media and its various problems (surveillance capitalism, erosion of mental health, active destruction of democracy, bla bla bla) for quite a while now. But it needs a special bang to get a critical mass of users to actually pack up their stuff and move.