Great advice on keeping your hyperlinks accessible.
Thursday, December 7th, 2017
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.
Wednesday, July 26th, 2017
Posting to my site
I was idly thinking about the different ways I can post to adactio.com. I decided to count the ways.
This is the classic CMS approach. In my case the CMS is a crufty hand-rolled affair using PHP and MySQL that I wrote years ago. I log in to an admin interface and fill in a form, putting the text of my posts into a
textarea. In truth, I usually write in a desktop text editor first, and then paste that into the
textarea. That’s what I’m doing now—copying and pasting Markdown from the Typed app.
Directly from my site
If I’m logged in, I get a stripped down posting interface in the notes section of my site.
This is how I post links. When I’m at a URL I want to bookmark, I hit the “Bookmark it” bookmarklet in my browser’s bookmarks bar. That pops open a version of the admin interface tailored specifically for links. I really, really like bookmarklets. The one big downside is that they don’t work on mobile.
This is something I knocked together at Indie Web Camp Brighton 2015 using the Twilio API. It’s handy for posting notes if I’m travelling somewhere and data is at a premium. But I don’t use it that often.
Thanks to Aaron’s OwnYourGram service—and the fact that my site has a micropub endpoint—I can post images from Instagram to my site. This used to happen instantaneously but Instagram changed their API rules for the worse. Between that and their shitty “algorithmic” timeline, I find myself using the service less and less. At this point I’m only on their for the doggos.
OwnYourGram and OwnYourSwarm are very similar and could probably be abstracted into a generic service for posting from third-party apps to micropub endpoints. I’d quite like to post my check-ins on Untappd to my site.
Other people’s admin interfaces
rel="me" and IndieAuth, I can log into other people’s posting interfaces using my own website as the log-in, and post to my micropub endpoint, like this. Quill is a good example of this. I don’t use it that much, but I really should—the editor interface is quite Medium-like in its design.
Anyway, those are the different ways I can update my website that I can think of right now.
In terms of output, I’ve got a few different ways of syndicating what I post here:
- RSS feeds for my journal, links, articles, and notes.
- JSON feeds for my journal, links, articles, and notes.
- Twitter accounts for my journal, links, articles, and notes (that one is my main Twitter account).
- I syndicate most of my my photos to my Flickr account.
- I syndicate most of my journal posts and articles to my Medium account.
- I used to syndicate my links to my Delicious account but at some point that became fairly pointless.
- Whenever I post a link, The Internet Archive gets pinged and makes a copy for the wayback machine. Here’s an example of a recent link.
- I syndicate just about everything to my Facebook account using If This, Then That recipes (RSS to Facebook posts). Facebook is a roach motel. I never post any original content there—everything starts here on my site.
Just so you know, if you comment on one of my posts on Facebook, I probably won’t see it. But if you reply to a copy of one of posts on Twitter or Instagram, it will show up over here on adactio.com thanks to the magic of Brid.gy and webmention.
Friday, June 2nd, 2017
…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.
Wednesday, May 24th, 2017
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.
Monday, March 20th, 2017
There’s something very endearing about this docudrama retelling of the story of the web.
Monday, October 24th, 2016
Research on evaluating technology
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…
- Design Principles
- The Extensible Web Manifesto
- Developer Fallacies
Progressive Web Apps
- Home Screen
- Regressive Web Apps
- The Progressive Web App Dev Summit
- The Imitation Game
- Progressive Web Apps: Escaping Tabs Without Losing Our Soul by Alex Russell
- The Building Blocks of Progressive Web Apps by Ada Rose Edwards
- Progressive Web Apps: The Long Game by Remy Sharp
- What, Exactly, Makes Something A Progressive Web App? by Alex Russell
- Reports and Working Notes on DNA by Rosalind Franklin
- I, Pencil by Leonard E. Read
- HTML Design Principles edited by Anne van Kesteren and Maciej Stachowiak
- Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by L. F. Menabrea with notes upon the memoir by the translator Ada Augusta, Countess of Lovelace
- The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era by Vernor Vinge
- The Real World of Technology by Ursula M. Franklin @ the CBC Massey Lectures, 1989
- The Triumph Of Technology by Lord Sir Alec Broers @ the BBC Reith Lectures, 2005
- How Technology Evolves by Kevin Kelly @ TED, 2005
- When Ideas Have Sex by Matt Ridley @ TED, 2010
- How I Built A Toaster—From Scratch by Thomas Thwaites @ TED, 2010
- Admiral Shovel and the Toilet Roll by James Burke @ dConstruct, 2012
- Unexpected Item In The Bagging Area by Dan Williams @ dConstruct, 2013
- Hypertext As An Agent Of Change by Mandy Brown @ dConstruct 2014
- The Humane Representation Of Thought by Bret Victor @ the UIST and SPLASH conferences, 2014
- Our Comrade The Electron by Maciej Cegłowski @ Webstock, 2014
- Step Off This Hurtling Machine by Alex Feyerke @ JSConf.au, 2014
- The Moral Economy of Tech by Maciej Cegłowski @ the Society For The Advancement Of Socio-Economics, 2016
- The Real World Of Technology by Ursula M. Franklin
- The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley
- What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly
- The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly
- Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson
- How We Got To Now: Six Innovations That Made The Modern World by Steven Johnson
- 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu by Kenji Kawakami
- The Toaster Project (Or A Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch) by Thomas Thwaites
- Connections by James Burke
Thursday, July 21st, 2016
Fight the scourge of performance-killing redirect-laden t.co links in Twitter’s web interface with this handy Chrome extension.
Tuesday, May 31st, 2016
Turbolinks intercepts all clicks on
a hreflinks 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.
During rendering, Turbolinks replaces the current
bodyelement outright and merges the contents of the
documentobjects, and the HTML
htmlelement, persist from one rendering to the next.
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.
Monday, February 1st, 2016
Use the right element for the job.
- Does the Control Take Me to Another Page? Use an Anchor.
- Does the Control Change Something on the Current Page? Use a Button.
- Does the Control Submit Form Fields? Use a Submit.
Thursday, January 28th, 2016
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.
Monday, January 25th, 2016
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.
Friday, December 11th, 2015
Written in 2001, this history of the web takes in CERN, hypertext, the ARPANET, SGML, and lots more.
Thursday, October 15th, 2015
Someone will read this
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.— Andy Baio (@waxpancake) July 30, 2015
Paul Thompson won the bounty:
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.
You should listen to all of them too. They deserve it.
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.
That was six years ago. I wonder how things turned out for her. I wonder if life got better for her when she left her teenage years behind. I wonder if she ever found peace.
I hope she’s okay.
Friday, October 9th, 2015
Links from a talk
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.
Like I said months before the event:
Everyone in the line up is one of my heroes.
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 Victorian Internet by Tom Standage, 01998
- Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner, 01996
- Weaving the Web by Tim Berners-Lee, 01999
- The Fountains of Paradise by Arthur C. Clarke, 01979
- On Distributed Communications by Paul Baran, 01964
- Transmission Control Protocol by Jon Postel, 01980
- WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project by Tim Berners-Lee, 01990
- The Rise of the Stupid Network by David S. Isenberg, 01997
- Delay-Tolerant Networking Architecture by Vint Cerf, et al, 02007
- There is a Horse in the Apple Store by Frank Chimero, 02010
- Submarine Cable Map by Telegeography
- Government Service Design Manual
- Introduction to Service Worker by Matt Gaunt
- The Offline Cookbook by Jake Archibald
Related posts on adactio.com
- 02014-02-26 Continuum
- 02014-10-23 Be progressive
- 02014-11-03 Just what is it that you want to do?
- 02015-07-02 Baseline
- 02015-09-06 Enhance!
Here’s a readlist of those links.
- Grade components, not browsers by Scott Jehl, 02013
- Building for the device agnostic web by Orde Saunders, 02013
- Device-Agnostic by Trent Walton, 02014
- Stop Breaking the Web by Nicolas Bevacqua, 02014
- The Practical Case for Progressive Enhancement by Jason Garber, 02015
- Let Links Be Links by Ross Penman, 02015
- Thriving in Unpredictability by Tim Kadlec, 02015
- Designing with Progressive Enhancement by Jason Garber, 02015
- A fictional conversation about progressive enhancement by Tom Morris, 02015
Here’s a readlist of those links.
Wednesday, August 12th, 2015
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.
Sunday, April 12th, 2015
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.”
The difference between a piece of writing being part of the web and a piece of writing being merely on the web is something I talked about a few years back in a presentation called Paranormal Interactivity at ‘round about the 15 minute mark:
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.
Like the one you’re accessing now.
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.
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.
A really great piece by Scott Rosenberg that uses the myopic thinking behind “deep linking” in native apps as a jumping-off point to delve into the history of hypertext and the web.
It’s kind of weird that he didn’t (also) publish this on his own site though.