…a full one-third of my window is covered by a pop-over trying to get me to sign in or sign up for Facebook. I will go out of my way to avoid linking to websites that are hostile to users with pop-overs. (For example, I’ve largely stopped linking to anything from Wired, because they have such an aggressive anti-ad-block detection scheme. Fuck them.)
Facebook forbids search engines from indexing Facebook posts. Content that isn’t indexable by search engines is not part of the open web.
And then there’s this:
And in the same way they block indexing by search engines, Facebook forbids The Internet Archive from saving copies of posts.
To navigate the web is to beat a path through a labyrinth of links left by others, and to thereby create associative links yourself, unspooling them like a guiding thread onto a floor already carpeted with such connections. Each thread of connection is unique, individualized: everyone draws their own map of the network as they navigate it.
I’ve spent the past few months preparing a new talk for An Event Apart San Francisco (and hopefully some more AEAs after that). As always happens, I spent the whole time vacillating between thinking “this is good!” and thinking “this is awful!” I’m still bouncing between those poles. I won’t really know whether the talk is up to snuff until I actually give it to a live audience.
Over the past few years, my presentations have built upon one another. Two years ago, my talk was called Enhance! and it set the groundwork for using a layered approach to web design and development. My 2016 talk, Resilience, follows on with a process and examples for that approach (I also set myself the challenge of delivering a talk about progressive enhancement without ever using the phrase “progressive enhancement”).
My new talk goes a bit meta, but in my mind, it’s very much building on the previous talks. The talk is all about evaluating technology. I haven’t settled on a final title, but I was thinking about something obtuse, like …Evaluating Technology.
Here’s my hastily scribbled description:
As ever, I’ll begin and end with a long-zoom pretentious arc of history, but I’ll dive into practical stuff in the middle. That’s become a bit of a cliché for my presentations, but the formula works as a sort of microcosm of a good conference—a mixture of the inspirational and the practical, trying to keep a good balance of both.
For this new talk, the practical focus will be on some web technologies that are riding high on the hype cycle right now: service workers, web components, progressive web apps. I’ll use them as a lens for applying broader questions about how we make decisions about the technologies we embrace, and the technologies we reject.
Technology. Now there’s a big subject. It’s literally the entirety of human history. I had to be careful not to go down too many rabbit holes. I’m still not sure if I’ve succeeded, but I’ve already had to ruthlessly cull some darlings.
One of the nice things that the An Event Apart crew started doing was to provide link lists for each talk to attendees. That gives me an opportunity to touch briefly on a topic in the talk itself, but allow any interested attendees to dive deeper at their leisure.
For this talk on evaluating technology, I’ve put together this list of hyperlinks for further reading, watching, listening, and researching…
Turbolinks intercepts all clicks on a href links to the same domain. When you click an eligible link, Turbolinks prevents the browser from following it. Instead, Turbolinks changes the browser’s URL using the History API, requests the new page using XMLHttpRequest, and then renders the HTML response.
Here’s the mustard it’s cutting:
It depends on the HTML5 History API and Window.requestAnimationFrame. In unsupported browsers, Turbolinks gracefully degrades to standard navigation.
This approach matches my own mental model for building on the web—I might try playing around with this on some of my projects.
This is intriguing—a Pinboard-like service that will create local copies of pages you link to from your site. There are plug-ins for WordPress and Drupal, and modules for Apache and Nginx.
Amber is an open source tool for websites to provide their visitors persistent routes to information. It automatically preserves a snapshot of every page linked to on a website, giving visitors a fallback option if links become inaccessible.
The ability to follow links down and around and through an idea, landing hours later on some random Wikipedia page about fungi you cannot recall how you discovered, is one of the great modes of the web. It is, I’ll go so far to propose, one of the great modes of human thinking.
Over an artisanal, hand-crafted, free-range lunch one day, I took a moment to thank Andy B. I thanked him for a link. Links are very much his stock-in-trade, but there was one in particular that he had shared which stuck in my soul.
It started when he offered a bribe for a good link:
Nidhogg is one of the best local multiplayer games ever. Free Steam code to whoever can show me the best website I’ve never seen before.
The link was to a page on Tilde Town, one of the many old-school web rings set up in the spirit of Paul Ford’s Tilde Club. The owner of this page had taken it upon himself to perform a really interesting—and surprisingly moving—experiment:
Find blog posts where people have written “no one will ever read this”, and
Read them aloud.
I’ve written before about how powerful the sound of a human voice can be. There was something about hearing these posts—which were written with a resigned acceptance of indifference—being given the time and respect to be read aloud. I listened to every single one, sometimes bemused, sometimes horrified, always fascinated.
One in particular haunted me. It was written in 2008. After listening to it, I had to know more. I felt creepy and voyeuristic, but I transcribed a sentence from the audio file and pasted it in to Google.
I’m coming to a rest after a busy period of travelling and speaking. In the last five or six weeks I’ve been to Copenhagen, Freiburg, Prague, Portland, Seattle, and Austin.
The trip to Austin was lovely. It was so nice to be there when it wasn’t South by Southwest (the infrastructure of the whole town creaks under the sheer weight of the event). I wasn’t just there to eat tacos and drink beer in the sunshine. I was there to talk at An Event Apart.
It was, as always, a great event. A personal highlight for me was getting to meet Lara Hogan for the first time. She was kind enough to sign my copy of her fantastic book. She gave an equally fantastic talk at the conference, featuring some of the most deftly-handled Q&A I’ve ever seen.
I spoke at the end of the conference (no pressure!), giving a brand new talk called Resilience—I gave a shortened version at Coldfront and Smashing Conference but this was my first chance to go all out with an hour long talk. It was my chance to go full James Burke.
I assembled some related links for the attendees. Here they are…
The web – by its very nature – foregrounds the connections between different clusters of knowledge. Links link. One article leads to another. As you make the journey from destination to destination, all inevitably connected by that trail of links, you begin to tease out understanding.
It’s this drawing together, this weaving together of knowledge, that is the important part. Your journey is unique. The chances of another pursuing the same path, link by link (or book by book), is – statistically – impossible. Your journey leads you to discovery and, through reflection, comprehension. You see the connections others haven’t, because your journey is your own.
Writers and artists have long been fascinated by the idea of an English eerie – ‘the skull beneath the skin of the countryside’. But for a new generation this has nothing to do with hokey supernaturalism – it’s a cultural and political response to contemporary crises and fears
I liked it a lot. One of the reasons I liked it was not just for the text of the writing, but the hypertext of the writing. Throughout the piece there are links off to other articles, books, and blogs. For me, this enriches the piece and it set me off down some rabbit holes of hyperlinks with fascinating follow-ups waiting at the other end.
Back in 2010, Scott Rosenberg wrote a series of three articles over the course of two months called In Defense of Hyperlinks:
They’re all well worth reading. The whole thing was kicked off with a well-rounded debunking of Nicholas Carr’s claim that hyperlinks harm text. Instead, Rosenberg finds that hyperlinks within a text embiggen the writing …providing they’re done well:
I see links as primarily additive and creative. Even if it took me a little longer to read the text-with-links, even if I had to work a bit harder to get through it, I’d come out the other side with more meat and more juice.
Links, you see, do so much more than just whisk us from one Web page to another. They are not just textual tunnel-hops or narrative chutes-and-ladders. Links, properly used, don’t just pile one “And now this!” upon another. They tell us, “This relates to this, which relates to that.”
Imagine if you were to take away all the regular text and only left the hyperlinks on Wikipedia, you could still get the gist, right? Every single link there is like a wormhole to another part of this “choose your own adventure” game that we’re playing every day on the web. I love that. I love the way that Wikipedia uses links.
That ability of the humble hyperlink to join concepts together lies at the heart of Tim Berners Lee’s World Wide Web …and Ted Nelson’s Project Xanudu, and Douglas Engelbart’s Dynamic Knowledge Environments, and Vannevar Bush’s idea of the Memex. All of those previous visions of a hyperlinked world were—in many ways—superior to the web. But the web shipped. It shipped with brittle, one-way linking, but it shipped. And now today anyone can create a connection between two ideas by linking to resources that represent those ideas. All you need is an HTML document that contains some A elements with href attributes, and a URL to act as that document’s address.
Inventing the next twenty years, strategic foresight, fictional futurism and English rural magic: Warren Ellis attempts to convince you that they are all pretty much the same thing, and why it was very important that some people used to stalk around village hedgerows at night wearing iron goggles.
There is definitely the same feeling of “the eeriness of the English countryside” in Warren’s talk. If you haven’t listened to it yet, set aside some time. It is enticing and disquieting in equal measure …like many of the works linked to from the piece on the Guardian.
There’s another link I’d like to make, and it happens to be to another dConstruct speaker.
From that Guardian piece:
Yet state surveillance is no longer testified to in the landscape by giant edifices. Instead it is mostly carried out in by software programs running on computers housed in ordinary-looking government buildings, its sources and effects – like all eerie phenomena – glimpsed but never confronted.
James Bridle has been confronting just that. His recent series The Nor took him on a tour of a parallel, obfuscated English countryside. He returned with three pieces of hypertext:
I love being able to do this. I love being able to add strands to this world-wide web of ours. Not only can I say “this idea reminds me of another idea”, but I can point to both ideas. It’s up to you whether you follow those links.
Remember Aaron’s dConstruct talk? Well, the Atlantic has more details of his work at the Cooper Hewitt museum in this wide-ranging piece that investigates the role of museums, the value of APIs, and the importance of permanent URLs.
As I was leaving, Cope recounted how, early on, a curator had asked him why the collections website and API existed. Why are you doing this?
His retrospective answer wasn’t about scholarship or data-mining or huge interactive exhibits. It was about the web.
I’m always surprised to find that working web developers often don’t know (or care) about basic protocol-level stuff like when to use GET and when to use POST.
My point is that a lot of web developers today are completely ignorant of the protocol that is the basis for their job. A core understanding of HTTP should be a base requirement for working in this business.
But as people spend more time on their mobile devices and in their apps, their Internet has taken a step backward, becoming more isolated, more disorganized and ultimately harder to use — more like the web before search engines.