A handy browser-based tool for examining font files to see which features they support.
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018
Friday, March 2nd, 2018
Just change it
Amber and I often have meta conversations about the nature of learning and teaching. We swap books and share ideas and experiences whenever we’re trying to learn something or trying to teach something. A topic that comes up again and again is the idea of “the curse of knowledge“—it’s the focus of Steven Pinker’s book The Sense Of Style. That’s when the author/teacher can’t remember what it’s like not to know something, which makes for a frustrating reading/learning experience.
This is one of the reasons why I encourage people to blog about stuff as they’re learning it; not when they’ve internalised it. The perspective that comes with being in the moment of figuring something out is invaluable to others. I honestly think that most explanatory books shouldn’t be written by experts—the “curse of knowledge” can become almost insurmountable.
I often think about this when I’m reading through the installation instructions for frameworks, libraries, and other web technologies. I find myself put off by documentation that assumes I’ve got a certain level of pre-existing knowledge. But now instead of letting it get me down, I use it as an opportunity to try and bridge that gap.
The brilliant Safia Abdalla wrote a post a while back called How do I get started contributing to open source?. I definitely don’t have the programming chops to contribute much to a codebase, but I thoroughly agree with Safia’s observation:
If you’re interested in contributing to open source to improve your communication and empathy skills, you’re definitely making the right call. A lot of open source tools could definitely benefit from improvements in the documentation, accessibility, and evangelism departments.
What really jumps out at me is when instructions use words like “simply” or “just”. I’m with Brad:
“Just” makes me feel like an idiot. “Just” presumes I come from a specific background, studied certain courses in university, am fluent in certain technologies, and have read all the right books, articles, and resources. “Just” is a dangerous word.
But rather than letting that feeling overwhelm me, I now try to fix the text. Here are a few examples of changes I’ve suggested, usually via pull requests on Github repos:
- The instructions on the AMP validator page.
- The documentation for Composer, the PHP dependency manager.
They all have different codebases in different programming languages, but they’re all intended for humans, so having clear and kind documentation is a shared goal.
I like suggesting these kinds of changes. That initial feeling of frustration I get from reading the documentation gets turned into a warm fuzzy feeling from lending a helping hand.
Saturday, February 24th, 2018
Luke Stevens is trying to get untangle the very mixed signals being sent from different parts of Google around AMP’s goals. The response he got—before getting shut down—is very telling in its hubris and arrogance.
I believe the people working on the AMP format are well-intentioned, but I also believe they have conflated the best interests of Google with the best interests of the web.
Wednesday, February 14th, 2018
So, to recap, the web community has stated over and over again that we’re not comfortable with Google incentivizing the use of AMP with search engine carrots. In response, Google has provided yet another search engine carrot for AMP.
This wouldn’t bother me if AMP was open about what it is: a tool for folks to optimize their search engine placement. But of course, that’s not the claim. The claim is that AMP is “for the open web.”
Spot on, Tim. Spot on.
If AMP is truly for the open web, de-couple it from Google search entirely. It has no business there.
Look, AMP, you’re either a tool for the open web, or you’re a tool for Google search. I don’t mind if you’re the latter, but please stop pretending you’re something else.
Tuesday, January 9th, 2018
I signed this open letter.
We are a community of individuals who have a significant interest in the development and health of the World Wide Web (“the Web”), and we are deeply concerned about Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”), a Google project that purportedly seeks to improve the user experience of the Web.
Friday, December 15th, 2017
A rather handsome looking free serif typeface based on Gargantua. Spectral is available under an Open Font License.
Sunday, November 5th, 2017
With echoes of Anil Dash’s The Web We Lost, this essay is a timely reminder—with practical advice—for we designers and developers who are making the web …and betraying its users.
You see, the web wasn’t meant to be a gated community. It’s actually pretty simple.
A web server, a public address and an HTML file are all that you need to share your thoughts (or indeed, art, sound or software) with anyone in the world. No authority from which to seek approval, no editorial board, no publisher. No content policy, no dependence on a third party startup that might fold in three years to begin a new adventure.
That’s what the web makes possible. It’s friendship over hyperlink, knowledge over the network, romance over HTTP.
Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
A nice free and open source font designed for digital interfaces:
Inter UI is a font for highly legible text on computer screens.
JP Rangaswami also examines the rise of the platforms but he’s got some ideas for a more sustainable future:
A part of me wants to evoke Jane Jacobs and Christopher Alexander when it comes to building sustainable platforms. The platform “community” needs to be cared for and looked after, the living spaces they inhabit need to be designed to last. Multipurpose rather than monoculture, diverse rather than homogeneous . Prior industrial models where entire communities would rely on a single industry need to be learnt from and avoided. We shouldn’t be building the rust belts of the future. We should be looking for the death and life of great platforms, for a pattern language for sustainable platforms.
This is the clickbaitiest of titles, but the post has some good sobering analysis of how much traffic driven by a small handful players. It probably won’t make you feel very cheery about the future.
(For some reason, this article uses all-caps abbreviations for company names, as though a stock ticker started generating hot takes: GOOG, FB, AMZN, etc. It’s a very odd writing style for a human.)
Sunday, October 29th, 2017
The meaning of AMP
But when I hear AMP described as an open, community-led project, it strikes me as incredibly problematic, and more than a little troubling. AMP is, I think, best described as nominally open-source. It’s a corporate-led product initiative built with, and distributed on, open web technologies.
But so what, right? Tom-ay-to, tom-a-to. Well, here’s a pernicious example of where it matters: in a recent announcement of their intent to ship a new addition to HTML, the Google Chrome team cited the mood of the web development community thusly:
Web developers: Positive (AMP team indicated desire to start using the attribute)
If AMP were actually the product of working web developers, this justification would make sense. As it is, we’ve got one team at Google citing the preference of another team at Google but representing it as the will of the people.
This is just one example of AMP’s sneaky marketing where some finely-shaved semantics allows them to appear far more reasonable than they actually are.
At AMP Conf, the Google Search team were at pains to repeat over and over that AMP pages wouldn’t get any preferential treatment in search results …but they appear in a carousel above the search results. Now, if you were to ask any right-thinking person whether they think having their page appear right at the top of a list of search results would be considered preferential treatment, I think they would say hell, yes! This is the only reason why The Guardian, for instance, even have AMP versions of their content—it’s not for the performance benefits (their non-AMP pages are faster); it’s for that prime real estate in the carousel.
The same semantic nit-picking can be found in their defence of caching. See, they’ve even got me calling it caching! It’s hosting. If I click on a search result, and I am taken to page that has a URL beginning with
https://www.google.com/amp/s/... then that page is being hosted on the domain
google.com. That is literally what hosting means. Now, you might argue that the original version was hosted on a different domain, but the version that the user gets sent to is the Google copy. You can call it caching if you like, but you can’t tell me that Google aren’t hosting AMP pages.
That’s a particularly low blow, because it’s such a bait’n’switch. One of the reasons why AMP first appeared to be different to Facebook Instant Articles or Apple News was the promise that you could host your AMP pages yourself. That’s the very reason I first got interested in AMP. But if you actually want the benefits of AMP—appearing in the not-search-results carousel, pre-rendered performance, etc.—then your pages must be hosted by Google.
So, to summarise, here are three statements that Google’s AMP team are currently peddling as being true:
- AMP is a community project, not a Google project.
- AMP pages don’t receive preferential treatment in search results.
- AMP pages are hosted on your own domain.
I don’t think those statements are even truthy, much less true. In fact, if I were looking for the right term to semantically describe any one of those statements, the closest in meaning would be this:
A statement used intentionally for the purpose of deception.
That is the dictionary definition of a lie.
Update: That last part was a bit much. Sorry about that. I know it’s a bit much because The Register got all gloaty about it.
I don’t think the developers working on the AMP format are intentionally deceptive (although they are engaging in some impressive cognitive gymnastics). The AMP ecosystem, on the other hand, that’s another story—the preferential treatment of Google-hosted AMP pages in the carousel and in search results; that’s messed up.
Still, I would do well to remember that there are well-meaning people working on even the fishiest of projects.
Except for the people working at the shitrag that is The Register.
(The other strong signal that I overstepped the bounds of decency was that this post attracted the pond scum of Hacker News. That’s another place where the “well-meaning people work on even the fishiest of projects” rule definitely doesn’t apply.)
Tuesday, July 11th, 2017
You can help support the indie web community with their fairly modest costs: about $200 each month for hosting, domain names, and the like. Also:
We want IndieWeb events to be as accessible as possible, regardless of personal barriers. Because of this, we have offered a travel scholarship fund in the past to underrepresented groups thanks to our generous sponsors. Your support will allow us to continue to offer and expand this scholarship fund, helping make sure that IndieWebCamps represent everyone.
Thursday, June 22nd, 2017
Analysing what the web is. It’s not the technology stack.
To count as being part of the web, your app or page must:
- Be linkable, and
- Allow any client to access it.
I think that’s a pretty good definition.
Mind you, I think this is a bit rich in an article published on The Verge:
The HTML web may be slow and annoying and processor intensive, but before we rush too fast into replacing it, let’s not lose what’s good about it.
Still, we can agree on this:
Preserving the web, or more specifically the open principles behind it, means protecting one of the few paths for innovation left in the modern tech world that doesn’t have a giant company acting as a gatekeeper.
Tuesday, March 28th, 2017
Building and maintaining an open-source project is hard work. That observation is about as insightful as noting the religious affiliation of the pope or the scatological habits of woodland bears.
Nolan Lawson wrote a lengthy post describing what it feels like to be an open-source maintainer.
Outside your door stands a line of a few hundred people. They are patiently waiting for you to answer their questions, complaints, pull requests, and feature requests.
You want to help all of them, but for now you’re putting it off. Maybe you had a hard day at work, or you’re tired, or you’re just trying to enjoy a weekend with your family and friends.
But if you go to github.com/notifications, there’s a constant reminder of how many people are waiting
Most of the comments on the post are from people saying “Yup, I hear ya!”
Jan wrote a follow-up post called Sustainable Open Source: The Maintainers Perspective or: How I Learned to Stop Caring and Love Open Source:
Just because there are people with problems in front of your door, that doesn’t mean they are your problems. You can choose to make them yours, but you want to be very careful about what to care about.
A collection of resources for individuals, communities, and companies who want to learn how to run and contribute to an open source project.
Fractal isn’t really a Clearleft project, at least not in the same way that something like Silverback or UX London is. We’re sponsoring Fractal as much as we can, but an open-source project doesn’t really belong to anyone; everyone is free to fork it and take it. But I still want to make sure that Mark and Danielle have time at work to contribute to Fractal. It’s hard to balance that with the bill-paying client work though.
I invited Remy around to chat with them last week. It was really valuable. Mind you, Remy was echoing many of the same observations made in Nolan’s post about how draining this can be.
So nobody here is under any illusions that this open-source lark is to be entered into lightly. It can be a gruelling exercise. But then it can also be very, very rewarding. One kind word from somebody using your software can make your day. I was genuinely pleased as punch when Danish agency Shift sent Mark a gift to thank him for all his hard work on Fractal.
People can be pretty darn great (which I guess is an underlying principle of open source).
Monday, March 20th, 2017
We’ve gone through the invention step. The infrastructure came out of DARPA and the World Wide Web itself came out of CERN.
We’ve gone through the hobbyist step. Everyone now knows what the internet is, and some of the amazing things it’s capable of.
We’ve gone through the commercialization step. Monopolies have emerged, refined, and scaled the internet.
But the question remains: can we break with the tragic history that has befallen all prior information empires? Can this time be different?
The first part of this article is a great history lesson in the style of Tim Wu’s The Master Switch. The second part is a great explanation of net neutrality, why it matters, and how we can fight for it.
If you do nothing, we will lose the war for the open internet. The greatest tool for communication and creativity in human history will fall into the hands of a few powerful corporations and governments.
Thursday, March 2nd, 2017
Tuesday, February 21st, 2017
Images, videos, sounds, and 3D models are now available from the European Space Agency under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license.
Friday, February 3rd, 2017
The largest complaint by far is that the URLs for AMP links differ from the canonical URLs for the same content, making sharing difficult. The current URLs are a mess.
This is something that the Google gang are aware of, and they say they’re working on a fix. But this post points out some other misgivings with AMP, like its governance policy:
This keeps the AMP HTML specification squarely in the hands of Google, who will be able to take it in any direction that they see fit without input from the community at large. This guise of openness is perhaps even worse than the Apple News Format, which at the very least does not pretend to be an open standard.
Tuesday, January 31st, 2017
Joschi is documenting his commitment to “contribute at least one meaningful commit a day to a public Open Source project or a similar community effort.” So far it’s a really nice mix of coding and face-to-face activities.
Thursday, January 19th, 2017