Tags: media

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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

The Freedom to Associate » The Digital Antiquarian

A history of hypertext, from the memex to HyperCard.

Saturday, October 7th, 2017

Virginia Heffernan on Learning to Read the Internet, Not Live in It | WIRED

A beautiful piece of writing from Virginia Heffernan on how to cope with navigating the overwhelming tsunami of the network.

The trick is to read technology instead of being captured by it—to maintain the whip hand.

Friday, July 7th, 2017

What football will look like in the future

I can’t remember the last time I was genuinely surprised, delighted, and intrigued by an online story like this.

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Responsive Design for Motion | WebKit

A really great overview of using prefers-reduced-motion to tone down CSS animations.

This post was written by James Craig, and I’m going to take this opportunity to say a big “thank you!” to James for all the amazing accessibility work he has been doing at Apple through the years. The guy’s a goddamn hero!

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

1968 Demo Interactive - Doug Engelbart Institute

A new way to enjoy the mother of all demos, organised into sections that you can jump between. This was put together by Douglas Engelbart’s daughter Christina, and Bret Victor.

Sunday, February 12th, 2017

An Introduction to the Reduced Motion Media Query | CSS-Tricks

A new media query that will help prevent you making your users hurl.

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

“Is This Helpful?” » Mike Industries

I like Mike’s “long zoom” view here where the glass is half full and half empty:

Several years from now, I want to be able to look back on this time the same way people look at other natural disasters. Without that terrible earthquake, we would have never improved our building codes. Without that terrible flood, we would have never built those levees. Without that terrible hurricane, we would have never rebuilt this amazing city. Without that terrible disease, we would have never developed antibodies against it.

It doesn’t require giving any credit to the disaster. The disaster will always be a complete fucking disaster. But it does involve using the disaster as an opportunity to take a hard look at what got us here and rededicate our energy towards things that will get us out.

Tuesday, January 31st, 2017

The Schedule and the Stream

Matt takes a look at the history of scheduled broadcast media—which all began in Hungary in 1887 via telephone—and compares it to the emerging media context of the 21st century; the stream.

If the organizing principle of the broadcast schedule was synchronization — millions seeing the same thing at the same time — then the organizing principle of the stream is de-contextualization — stories stripped of their original context, and organized into millions of individual, highly personalized streams.

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Rafaël Rozendaal - Formal characteristics of the browser

I really like this list of observations (Vasilis pointed it my way). I feel like it encapsulates some of what I was talking about in chapter two of Resilient Web Design. The only point I’d take issue with now is the very last one.

Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

A decade on Twitter

I wrote my first tweet ten years ago.

That’s the tweetiest of tweets, isn’t it? (and just look at the status ID—only five digits!)

Of course, back then we didn’t call them tweets. We didn’t know what to call them. We didn’t know what to make of this thing at all.

I say “we”, but when I signed up, there weren’t that many people on Twitter that I knew. Because of that, I didn’t treat it as a chat or communication tool. It was more like speaking into the void, like blogging is now. The word “microblogging” was one of the terms floating around, grasped by those of trying to get to grips with what this odd little service was all about.

Twenty days after I started posting to Twitter, I wrote about how more and more people that I knew were joining :

The usage of Twitter is, um, let’s call it… emergent. Whenever I tell anyone about it, their first question is “what’s it for?”

Fair question. But their isn’t really an answer. You send messages either from the website, your mobile phone, or chat. What you post and why you’d want to do it is entirely up to you.

I was quite the cheerleader for Twitter:

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.

“Twittering.” Don’t laugh. “Tweeting” sounded really silly at first too.

Now at this point, I could start reminiscing about how much better things were back then. I won’t, but it’s interesting to note just how different it was.

  • The user base was small enough that there was a public timeline of all activity.
  • The characters in your username counted towards your 140 characters. That’s why Tantek changed his handle to be simply “t”. I tried it for a day. I think I changed my handle to “jk”. But it was too confusing so I changed it back.
  • We weren’t always sure how to write our updates either—your username would appear at the start of the message, so lots of us wrote our updates in the third person present (Brian still does). I’m partial to using the present continuous. That was how I wrote my reaction to Chris’s weird idea for tagging updates.

I think about that whenever I see a hashtag on a billboard or a poster or a TV screen …which is pretty much every day.

At some point, Twitter updated their onboarding process to include suggestions of people to follow, subdivided into different categories. I ended up in the list of designers to follow. Anil Dash wrote about the results of being listed and it reflects my experience too. I got a lot of followers—it’s up to around 160,000 now—but I’m pretty sure most of them are bots.

There have been a lot of changes to Twitter over the years. In the early days, those changes were driven by how people used the service. That’s where the @-reply convention (and hashtags) came from.

Then something changed. The most obvious sign of change was the way that Twitter started treating third-party developers. Where they previously used to encourage and even promote third-party apps, the company began to crack down on anything that didn’t originate from Twitter itself. That change reflected the results of an internal struggle between the people at Twitter who wanted it to become an open protocol (like email), and those who wanted it to become a media company (like Yahoo). The media camp won.

Of course Twitter couldn’t possibly stay the same given its incredible growth (and I really mean incredible—when it started to appear in the mainstream, in films and on TV, it felt so weird: this funny little service that nerds were using was getting popular with everyone). Change isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different. Your favourite band changed when they got bigger. South by Southwest changed when it got bigger—it’s not worse now, it’s just very different.

Frank described the changing the nature of Twitter perfectly in his post From the Porch to the Street:

Christopher Alexander made a great diagram, a spectrum of privacy: street to sidewalk to porch to living room to bedroom. I think for many of us Twitter started as the porch—our space, our friends, with the occasional neighborhood passer-by. As the service grew and we gained followers, we slid across the spectrum of privacy into the street.

I stopped posting directly to Twitter in May, 2014. Instead I now write posts on my site and then send a copy to Twitter. And thanks to the brilliant Brid.gy, I get replies, favourites and retweets sent back to my own site—all thanks to Webmention, which just become a W3C proposed recommendation.

It’s hard to put into words how good this feels. There’s a psychological comfort blanket that comes with owning your own data. I see my friends getting frustrated and angry as they put up with an increasingly alienating experience on Twitter, and I wish I could explain how much better it feels to treat Twitter as nothing more than a syndication service.

When Twitter rolls out changes these days, they certainly don’t feel like they’re driven by user behaviour. Quite the opposite. I’m currently in the bucket of users being treated to new @-reply behaviour. Tressie McMillan Cottom has written about just how terrible the new changes are. You don’t get to see any usernames when you’re writing a reply, so you don’t know exactly how many people are going to be included. And if you mention a URL, the username associated with that website may get added to the tweet. The end result is that you write something, you publish it, and then you think “that’s not what I wrote.” It feels wrong. It robs you of agency. Twitter have made lots of changes over the years, but this feels like the first time that they’re going to actively edit what you write, without your permission.

Maybe this is the final straw. Maybe this is the change that will result in long-time Twitter users abandoning the service. Maybe.

Me? Well, Twitter could disappear tomorrow and I wouldn’t mind that much. I’d miss seeing updates from friends who don’t have their own websites, but I’d carry on posting my short notes here on adactio.com. When I started posting to Twitter ten years ago, I was speaking (or microblogging) into the void. I’m still doing that ten years on, but under my terms. It feels good.

I’m not sure if my Twitter account will still exist ten years from now. But I’m pretty certain that my website will still be around.

And now, if you don’t mind…

I’m off to grab some lunch.

Tuesday, November 1st, 2016

The Digital Transition: How the Presidential Transition Works in the Social Media Age | whitehouse.gov

Kori Schulman describes the archiving of social media and other online artefacts of the outgoing US president. It’s a shame that a lot of URLs will break, but I’m glad there’s going to be a public backup available.

Best of all, you can get involved:

In the interim, we’re inviting the American public – from students and data engineers, to artists and researchers – to come up with creative ways to archive this content and make it both useful and available for years to come. From Twitter bots and art projects to printed books and query tools, we’re open to it all.

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Sticky headers

I made a little tweak to The Session today. The navigation bar across the top is “sticky” now—it doesn’t scroll with the rest of the content.

I made sure that the stickiness only kicks in if the screen is both wide and tall enough to warrant it. Vertical media queries are your friend!

But it’s not enough to just put some position: fixed CSS inside a media query. There are some knock-on effects that I needed to mitigate.

I use the space bar to paginate through long pages. It drives me nuts when sites with sticky headers don’t accommodate this. I made use of Tim Murtaugh’s sticky pagination fixer. It makes sure that page-jumping with the keyboard (using the space bar or page down) still works. I remember when I linked to this script two years ago, thinking “I bet this will come in handy one day.” Past me was right!

The other “gotcha!” with having a sticky header is making sure that in-page anchors still work. Nicolas Gallagher covers the options for this in a post called Jump links and viewport positioning. Here’s the CSS I ended up using:

:target:before {
    content: '';
    display: block;
    height: 3em;
    margin: -3em 0 0;
}

I also needed to check any of my existing JavaScript to see if I was using scrollTo anywhere, and adjust the calculations to account for the newly-sticky header.

Anyway, just a few things to consider if you’re going to make a navigational element “sticky”:

  1. Use min-height in your media query,
  2. Take care of keyboard-initiated page scrolling,
  3. Adjust the positioning of in-page links.

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

RFC 7763 - The text/markdown Media Type

Markdown gets its own media type: text/markdown.

Friday, March 18th, 2016

PX, EM or REM Media Queries? by Zell Liew

Just recently on a Clearleft project, some of us were discussing whether there was a reason not to use rems instead of ems for media queries. Apart from one older browser implementation difference, we couldn’t come up with much.

Some in-depth research here supports the use of em values for media queries. Very good to know.

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

100 words 080

This year marks quite a few decadal anniversaries. In 2005 I published my first book. I went to South by Southwest for the first time and, together with Andy, gave my first talk.

A few months later, the first ever UK web conference took place in London: @media. Most of the talks were about CSS, but I gave the token JavaScript talk, trying to convince people that they should try this much-maligned JavaScript stuff.

Here we are, ten years later and I’m still giving talks. Except now I’m trying to convince people to take it easy with the JavaScript.

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Mobile-first and IE8 Solution – Introducing grunt-legacssy (Updated) | Robin Plus

A handy way of automating the creation of old-IE stylesheets using Grunt. This follows on from Jake’s work in using preprocessors and conditional comments to send a different stylesheet to IE8 and below—one that doesn’t contain media queries. It’s a clever way of creating mobile-first responsive sites that still provide large-screen styles to older versions of IE.

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Jonathan T. Neal | Thoughts on Media Queries for Elements

Some good ideas on the idea of element-level media queries, a feature that developers are crying out for and browser makers are saying is too hard. This post has some thoughts on how to deal with the potential issues.

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Create a responsive ad unit - AdSense Help

Looks like Google are offering responsive (or at least adaptive) ad sizes.