Tom Standage—author of the brilliant book The Victorian Internet—relates a tale of how the Chappe optical telegraph was hacked in 19th century France, thereby making it one of the earliest recorded instances of a cyber attack.
Monday, June 18th, 2018
Thursday, March 8th, 2018
James is writing a book. It sounds like a barrel of laughs.
In his brilliant new work, leading artist and writer James Bridle offers us a warning against the future in which the contemporary promise of a new technologically assisted Enlightenment may just deliver its opposite: an age of complex uncertainty, predictive algorithms, surveillance, and the hollowing out of empathy.
Thursday, December 7th, 2017
From Scott McCloud to responsive design, Dave is pondering our assumptions about screen real estate:
As the amount of information increases, removing details reduces information density and thereby increasing comprehension.
It reminds me of Edward Tufte’s data-ink ratio.
Tuesday, September 5th, 2017
Of course, information existed before Shannon, just as objects had inertia before Newton. But before Shannon, there was precious little sense of information as an idea, a measurable quantity, an object fitted out for hard science. Before Shannon, information was a telegram, a photograph, a paragraph, a song. After Shannon, information was entirely abstracted into bits. The sender no longer mattered, the intent no longer mattered, the medium no longer mattered, not even the meaning mattered: A phone conversation, a snatch of Morse telegraphy, a page from a detective novel were all brought under a common code. Just as geometers subjected a circle in the sand and the disk of the sun to the same laws, and as physicists subjected the sway of a pendulum and the orbits of the planets to the same laws, Claude Shannon made our world possible by getting at the essence of information.
Friday, September 1st, 2017
This article makes a good point about client-rendered pages:
Asynchronously loaded page elements shift click targets, resulting in a usability nightmare.
…but this has nothing, absolutely nothing to do with progressive web apps.
More fuel for the fire of evidence that far too many people think that progressive web apps and single page apps are one and the same.
Monday, February 20th, 2017
Saturday, February 4th, 2017
Philip Ball certainly has a way with words.
Monday, December 19th, 2016
Some great thoughts here from Francis on how crafting solid HTML is information architecture.
Sunday, December 4th, 2016
Well, look at these fresh-faced lads presenting their little hypertext system in 1992. A fascinating time capsule.
Monday, November 21st, 2016
Russell wrote an article for Wired magazine all about PowerPoint, but this extended director’s cut on his own site is the real deal.
Who knew that the creator of PowerPoint was such an enthusiast for the concertina?
Saturday, October 29th, 2016
It’s still many years away from being a viable storage option, but here’s the latest on using DNA to back up our collective data.
Magnetic tape may survive a few decades, and DVDs even longer, but they are by no means immortal. Data stored in DNA, provided it’s kept cold and dry, could last for thousands of years.
Sunday, October 9th, 2016
A fascinating look at an attempt to redefine the taxonomy of online porn.
Porn is part of the ecosystem that tells us what sex and sexuality are. Porn terms are, to use Foucault’s language, part of a network of technologies creating truths about our sexuality.
Reminds of the heady days of 2005, when it was all about tagging and folksonomies.
The project, at its most ambitious, seeks to create a new feedback loop of porn watched and made, unmoored from the vagaries of old, bad, lazy categories.
Wednesday, July 13th, 2016
Did you know that Abby Covert’s book is available online in its gloriously hyperlinked entirety?
Saturday, April 30th, 2016
A lovely profile of Claude Shannon (concluding with an unexpected Brighton connection).
Thursday, February 11th, 2016
Friday, July 24th, 2015
It is a sad and beautiful world.
Thanks to their work, there was a moment in history when neuroscience, psychiatry, computer science, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence were all one thing, following an idea first glimpsed by Leibniz—that man, machine, number, and mind all use information as a universal currency. What appeared on the surface to be very different ingredients of the world—hunks of metal, lumps of gray matter, scratches of ink on a page—were profoundly interchangeable.
Monday, July 14th, 2014
A profile of Norbert Wiener, and how his star was eclipsed by Claude Shannon.
Sunday, June 29th, 2014
Guardian beta · The container model and blended content – a new approach to how we present content on the Guardian
This is what Oliver was talking about Responsive Day Out 2 — a new approach to information architecture.
Cast off your sidebars! You have nothing to lose but your grids!
A short film about Claude Shannon and Information Theory — not exactly as in-depth as James Gleick’s The Information, but it does a nice job of encapsulating the fundamental idea.
Sunday, December 15th, 2013
Defining the damn thang
Chris recently documented the results from his survey which asked:
Is it useful to distinguish between “web apps” and “web sites”?
There is just nothing but questions, exemptions, and gray area.
This is something I wrote about a while back:
Like obscenity and brunch, web apps can be described but not defined.
The results of Chris’s poll are telling. The majority of people believe there is a difference between sites and apps …but nobody can agree on what it is. The comments make for interesting reading too. The more people chime in an attempt to define exactly what a “web app” is, the more it proves the point that the the term “web app” isn’t a useful word (in the sense that useful words should have an agreed-upon meaning).
Tyler Sticka makes a good point:
By this definition, web apps are just a subset of websites.
I like that. It avoids the false dichotomy that a product is either a site or an app.
But although it seems that the term “web app” can’t be defined, there are a lot of really smart people who still think it has some value.
Having spent years working on both apps & sites, I think there’s a significant difference. Hard to explain doesn’t mean non-existent.— Cennydd Bowles (@Cennydd) December 6, 2013
I think Cennydd is right. I think the differences exist …but I also think we’re looking for those differences at the wrong scale. Rather than describing an entire product as either a website or an web app, I think it makes much more sense to distinguish between patterns.
Ok, I’ll try. An app’s primary material is behaviour. A website’s primary material is information.— Cennydd Bowles (@Cennydd) December 6, 2013
Let’s take those two modifiers—behavioural and informational. But let’s apply them at the pattern level.
The “get stuff” sites that Jake describes will have a lot of informational patterns: how best to present a flow of text for reading, for example. Typography, contrast, whitespace; all of those attributes are important for an informational pattern.
The “do stuff” sites will probably have a lot of behavioural patterns: entering information or performing an action. Feedback, animation, speed; these are some of the possible attributes of a behavioural pattern.
But just about every product out there on the web contains a combination of both types of pattern. Like I said:
Is Wikipedia a website up until the point that I start editing an article? Are Twitter and Pinterest websites while I’m browsing through them but then flip into being web apps the moment that I post something?
Now you could make an arbitrary decision that any product with more than 50% informational patterns is a website, and any product with more than 50% behavioural patterns is a web app, but I don’t think that’s very useful.
Take a look at Brad’s collection of responsive patterns. Some of them are clearly informational (tables, images, etc.), while some of them are much more behavioural (carousels, notifications, etc.). But Brad doesn’t divide his collection into two, saying “Here are the patterns for websites” and “Here are the patterns for web apps.” That would be a dumb way to divide up his patterns, and I think it’s an equally dumb way to divide up the whole web.
What I’m getting at here is that, rather than trying to answer the question “what is a web app, anyway?”, I think it’s far more important to answer the other question I posed:
Why do you want to make that distinction? What benefit do you gain by arbitrarily dividing the entire web into two classes?
I think by making the distinction at the pattern level, that question starts to become a bit easier to answer. One possible answer is to do with the different skills involved.
For example, I know plenty of designers who are really, really good at informational patterns—they can lay out content in a beautiful, clear way. But they are less skilled when it comes to thinking through all the permutations involved in behavioural patterns—the “arrow of time” that’s part of so much interaction design. And vice-versa: a skilled interaction designer isn’t necessarily the best at old-skill knowledge of type, margins, and hierarchy. But both skillsets will be required on an almost every project on the web.
So I do believe there is value in distinguishing between behaviour and information …but I don’t believe there is value in trying to shoehorn entire products into just one of those categories. Making the distinction at the pattern level, though? That I can get behind.
Incidentally, some of the respondents to Chris’s poll shared my feeling that the term “web app” was often used from a marketing perspective to make something sound more important and superior:
Perhaps it’s simply fashion. Perhaps “website” just sounds old-fashioned, and “web app” lends your product a more up-to-date, zingy feeling on par with the native apps available from the carefully-curated walled gardens of app stores.
Approaching things from the patterns perspective, I wonder if those same feelings of inferiority and superiority are driving the recent crop of behavioural patterns for informational content: parallaxy, snowfally, animation patterns are being applied on top of traditional informational patterns like hierarchy, measure, and art direction. I’m not sure that the juxtaposition is working that well. Taking the single interaction involved in long-form informational patterns (that interaction would be scrolling) and then using it as a trigger for all kinds of behavioural patterns feels …uncanny.