Stop giving away your work to people who don’t care about it. Host it yourself. Distribute it via methods you control. Build your audience deliberately and on your own terms.
Sunday, March 24th, 2019
Saturday, February 9th, 2019
After musing on newsletters, Craig shares how he’s feeling about Instagram and its ilk:
Instagram will only get more complex, less knowable, more algorithmic, more engagement-hungry in 2019.
I’ve found this cycle has fomented another emotion beyond distrust, one I’ve felt most acutely in 2018: Disdain? (Feels too loaded.) Disappointment? (Too moralistic.) Wariness? (Yes!) Yes — wariness over the way social networks and the publishing platforms they provide shift and shimmy beneath our feet, how the algorithms now show posts of X quality first, or then Y quality first, or how, for example, Instagram seems to randomly show you the first image of a multi-image sequence or, no wait, the second.8
I try to be deliberate, and social networks seem more and more to say: You don’t know what you want, but we do. Which, to someone who, you know, gives a shit, is pretty dang insulting.
Wariness is insidious because it breeds weariness. A person can get tired just opening an app these days. Unpredictable is the last thing a publishing platform should be but is exactly what these social networks become. Which can make them great marketing tools, but perhaps less-than-ideal for publishing.
Wednesday, January 16th, 2019
Traditional blogs might have swung out of favor, as we all discovered the benefits of social media and aggregating platforms, but we think they’re about to swing back in style, as we all discover the real costs and problems brought by such centralization.
Thursday, April 5th, 2018
The first 22 years of the web platform were revolutionary. The open, accessible, and feature-rich applications that exist on the platform continue to drive the global economy. The next 5 years look like they’ll be filled with more innovation and growth than ever.
The web will be the platform of the Next Big Thing. Not just as the distribution network many see it as today; the web platform will deliver the most innovative experiences. They’ll be innovative not just for how they use new technology, but also because of how easy it will be for new users to experience.
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018
I’d love to see some change, and some introspection. A culture of first, do no harm. A recognition that there are huge dangers if you just do what’s possible, or build a macho “fail fast” culture that promotes endangerment. It’s about building teams that know they’ll make mistakes but also recognize the difference between great businesses opportunities and gigantic, universe-sized fuck ups.
Monday, March 12th, 2018
What was once a rich selection of blogs and websites has been compressed under the powerful weight of a few dominant platforms. This concentration of power creates a new set of gatekeepers, allowing a handful of platforms to control which ideas and opinions are seen and shared.
Tim Berners-Lee on the 29th anniversary of Information Management: A Proposal.
Two myths currently limit our collective imagination: the myth that advertising is the only possible business model for online companies, and the myth that it’s too late to change the way platforms operate. On both points, we need to be a little more creative.
While the problems facing the web are complex and large, I think we should see them as bugs: problems with existing code and software systems that have been created by people — and can be fixed by people.
Tuesday, February 27th, 2018
A catalogue of design decisions that have had harmful effects on users. This is a call for more inclusive design, but also a warning on the fetishisation of seamlessness:
The focus on details and delight can be traced to manifestos like Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think, which propose a dogmatic adherence to cognitive obviousness and celebrates frictionless interaction as the ultimate design accomplishment.
Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
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, June 18th, 2017
Wednesday, December 7th, 2016
There’s a whole category of native apps that could just as easily be described as “artisanal web browsers” (and if someone wants to write a browser extension that replaces every mention of “native app” with “artisanal web browser” that would be just peachy).
Here’s some more thoughts along the same lines:
We’re spending increasing amounts of time inside messaging apps and social networks, themselves wrappers for the mobile web. They’re actually browsers.
There’s an important take-away to this:
The web is and will always be the most popular mobile operating system in the world – not iOS or Android. It’s important that the next generation of software companies don’t focus exclusively on building native iOS or Android versions of existing web apps.
Just make sure those web apps render and work well in the new wave of mobile browsers – messengers. Don’t build for iOS or Android just for an imaginary distribution opportunity. Distribution exists where people spend most of their time today – social and messaging apps, the new mobile browser for a bot-enabled world.
Sunday, October 23rd, 2016
Mandy is fighting the good fight for the open web from within Vox Media. Her publishing tools have been built with a secret weapon…
This practice — which I refer to unoriginally as progressively enhanced storytelling — also has the added benefit of helping us make our content more accessible to more kinds of users, especially those with disabilities.
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.
Wednesday, October 7th, 2015
Paul compares publishing on the web to publish on proprietary platforms, and concludes that things aren’t looking great right now.
Performance is the number one selling point for each of these new content platforms.
Wednesday, April 29th, 2015
I completely understand Peter’s fears here, and to a certain extent, I share them. But I think there’s a danger in only looking to what native platforms can do that the web doesn’t (yet). Perhaps instead we should be looking to strengthen what only the web can offer: ubiquity, access, and oh yeah, URLs.
Monday, February 9th, 2015
Simon St. Laurent on uncertainty as a feature, not a bug.
Thursday, March 27th, 2014
I completely agree with his assessment that far too many developers are ignoring or dismissing Android for two distasteful reasons:
- Android is difficult
- User behaviours are different:
Put uncharitably, the root issue is “Android users are poor”.
But before that, Cennydd compares the future trajectories of other platforms and finds them wanting in comparison to Android: Windows, iOS, …the web.
On that last comparison, I (unsurprisingly) disagree. But it’s not because I think the web is a superior platform; it’s because I don’t think the web is a platform at all.
The web is not a platform. It’s a continuum.
I think it’s a category error to compare the web to Android or Windows or iOS. It’s like comparing Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and liquid. The web is something that permeates the platforms. From one point of view, this appears to make the web less than the operating system that someone happens to be using to access it. But in the same way that a chicken is an egg’s way of reproducing and a scientist is the universe’s way of observing itself, an operating system is the web’s way of providing access to itself.
Wait a minute, though …Cennydd didn’t actually compare Android to the web. He compared Android to the web browser. Like I’ve said before:
We talk about “the browser” when we should be talking about the browsers. I’m guilty of this. I’ll use phrases like “designing in the browser” or talk about “what we can do in the browser”, when really I should be talking about designing in the browsers and what we can do in the browsers.
But Cennydd’s comparison does raise an interesting question: what is a web browser exactly? Answering that question probably requires an answer to the question: what is the web?
(At this point you might be thinking, “Ah, this is just semantics!” and you’d be right. Abandon ship here if you feel that way. But to describe something as “just semantics” is like pointing at all the written works in every library and saying “but they’re just words”, or taking in the entire trajectory of human civilisation and saying “but those are just ideas”. So yeah, this is “just” semantics.)
But to be honest, I don’t think that the Hypertext Transfer Protocol is the important part of the web; it’s the URLs that really matter. It’s the addressability of the files that’s the killer app of the web in my opinion.
I was re-reading Weaving The Web and in that book, Tim Berners-Lee describes his surprise when people started using HTML to mark up their content. He expected HTML to be used for indices that would point to the URLs of the actual content, which could be in any file format (PDF, word processessing documents, or whatever). It turned out that HTML had just enough expressiveness and grokability to be used instead of those other formats.
Perhaps then, a web browser is something that can access URLs. Certainly in pretty much every example of a web browser throughout the web’s history, the URL has been front and centre: if the web were a platform, the URL bar would be its command line.
But, like the rise of HTML, the visibility of the URL in a web browser is an accident of history. It was added almost as an afterthought as a power-user feature: why would most people care what the URL of the content happens to be? It’s the content itself that matters, and you’d get to that content not by typing URLs, but by following hyperlinks.
There’s an argument to be made that, with the rise of search engines, the visibility of URLs has become less important. See, for example, the way that every advertisement for a website on the Tokyo subway doesn’t show a URL; it shows what to type into a search engine instead (and I’ve started seeing this in some TV adverts here in the UK too).
So a web browser that doesn’t expose the URLs of what it’s rendering is still a web browser.
Instagram’s native app is a web browser.
Facebook’s native app is a web browser.
Twitter’s native app is a web browser.
Like Paul said:
Monolithic browsers are not the only User Agent.
I was initially confused when Anna tweeted:
Reading the responses to @Cennydd’s tweet about designers needing to pay attention to Android. The web is fragmented. That’s our job.
I understood Cennydd’s point to be about native apps, not the web. But if, as I’ve just said, many native apps are in fact web browsers, does that mean that making native apps is a form of web development?
I don’t think so. I think making a native app has much more in common with making a web browser than it does with making a web site/app/thang. Certainly the work that Clearleft has done in this area felt that way: the Channel 4 News app is a browser for Channel 4 News; the Evo iPad app is a browser for Evo.
So if your job involves making browsers like those, then yes, you absolutely should be paying more attention to Android, for all the reasons that Cennydd suggests.
But if, like me, you have zero interest in making browsers—whether it’s a browser for Android, iOS, OS X, Windows, Blackberry, Linux, or NeXT—you should still be paying attention to Android because it’s just one of the many ways that people will be accessing the web.
It’s all too easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking that people will only be using traditional monolithic web browsers to access what we build. The truth is that our work will be accessed on the desktop, on mobile, and on tablets, but also on watches, on televisions, and sure, even fridges, but also on platforms that may not even have screens.
It’s certainly worth remembering that what you make will be viewed in the context of an artisanal browser. Like Jen says:
The “native apps are better” argument ignores the fact one of the most popular things to do in apps is read the web.
But just because we know that our work will be accessed on a whole range of devices and platforms doesn’t mean that we should optimise for those specific devices and platforms. That just won’t scale. The only sane future-friendly approach is to take a device-agnostic, platform-agnostic approach and deliver something that’s robust enough to work in this stunningly-wide range of browsers and user-agents (hint: progressive enhancement is your friend).
I completely agree with Cennydd: I think that ignoring Android is narrow-minded, blinkered and foolish …but I feel the same way about ignoring Windows, Blackberry, Nokia, or the Playstation. I also think it would be foolish to focus on any one of those platforms at the expense of others.
I love the fact that the web can be accessed on so many platforms and devices by so many different kinds of browsers. I only wish there more: more operating systems, more kinds of devices, more browsers. Any platform that allows more people to access the web is good with me. That’s why I, like Cennydd, welcome the rise of Android.
Stop seeing fragmentation. Start seeing diversity.
Wednesday, February 26th, 2014
That attitude infuriates and depresses me. It seems to me that it demonstrates a fundamental mismatch between how that person views the job of web development and the way the web actually works.
It is entirely possible—nay, desirable—to use features long before they are supported in every browser. That’s how we move the web forward. If we waited until there was universal support for a feature before we used it, we’d still be using CSS 1.0 and HTML 2.0.
If you use a CSS feature that isn’t supported in a particular browser—like, say, an older version of Internet Explorer—that browser will simply ignore that CSS rule. So you don’t get that rounded corner, or text shadow, or whatever it was. Browsers have the same error-handling mechanism for HTML: if they see something they don’t understand, they just ignore it. The browser will not throw an error. The browser will not stop rendering the page. Browsers are very liberal in what they accept.
Anyway, my point is—and I can’t believe I still have to repeat this after all these years—websites do not need to look exactly the same in every browser.
“But my client!”, cries the Smashing Magazine commenter, “But my boss!”
If your client or boss expects that a website will look and behave the same in every browser on every device, then where did they get those expectations from? And rather than spending your time trying to meet those impossible expectations, I think your time would be better spent explaining why those expectations don’t match the reality of the web.
It’s like Mike Monteiro says about clients: if they just don’t get something about your design, that’s not their fault; it’s yours. Explaining your design work is part of your design work. It’s the same with web development. It’s our job to explain how the web works …and how the unevenly-distributed nature of browser capabilities is not a bug, it’s a feature.
That was true fourteen years ago when John Allsopp wrote A Dao Of Web Design, and it’s still true today. Back then, designers and developers were comparing the web to print and finding it wanting. These days, designers and developers are comparing the web to native and finding it wanting. In both cases, I feel like they’re missing the fundamental point of the web: you can provide universal access to content and tasks without providing exactly the same experience for every single browser or device. That’s not a failing of the web—that’s its killer app.
Paul Kinlan published a post called This Is the Web Platform where he tabulates the current state of browser support for various features. “Pretty damning” he says:
the feature support that is ubiquitous across the web is actually pretty small especially if you are supporting IE8.
That’s true …from a certain point of view. But it depends on your definition of “support”. If your definition of “support” is “must look and work identically to the latest version of Chrome”, then yes, you’re going to have a smaller set of features you can use (you’re also going to live a miserable existence). But if your definition of “support” is “must be able to access the content and accomplish the task”, then as long as you’re using progressive enhancement, you can use all the features you want and support Internet Explorer 8, 7, 6, 5 …you can support every browser capable of connecting to the internet.
There is a difference between support and optimization.
I think part of the problem may be with the language we use. We talk about “the browser” when we should be talking about the browsers. I’m guilty of this. I’ll use phrases like “designing in the browser” or talk about “what we can do in the browser”, when really I should be talking about designing in the browsers and what we can do in the browsers.
It’s a subtle Lakoffian thing, but when we talk about “the browser” as if it were a single entity we might be unconsiously reinforcing the expectation that there is one Platonic ideal of browser rendering and that’s what we’re designing for.
There’s another phrase that bothers me, and it’s the phrase that Paul used in the title of his article: “the web platform”. This is something I talked about back in November in my presentation The Power of Simplicity:
But this idea of the web as a platform, I get why from a marketing perspective, we’d want to use that phrase, because it puts the web on equal footing with genuine platforms.
I would say Flash is a platform, and native: iOS and Android and these things. They are platforms, in that it’s all one bundle. And the web isn’t like that.
What I mean is, if you use the Flash platform, then anyone with the Flash plug-in can get your content. It’s on or off. It’s one or zero; it’s binary. Either they have the platform or they don’t. Either they get all your content, or none of your content.
And it’s similar with native apps. If you’ve got the right phone, you can get my app. All of my app. You don’t get bits of my app, you get all my app. Or you get none of it because you don’t have that particular phone that I’m supporting.
And the web is not like that. The web is not binary, one or zero, on or off. It’s not a platform where you get one hundred per cent or zero per cent. It’s this continuum.
The web is not a platform. It’s a continuum.
Friday, November 4th, 2011
A fun platform game with a twist.
Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
An entire platform game in 1024 bytes. Impressive. Most impressive.