Tuesday, May 15th, 2018
Monday, April 23rd, 2018
There’s a veritable smörgåsbord of great workshops on the horizon…
Clearleft presents a workshop with Jan Chipchase on field research in London on May 29th, and again on May 30th. The first day is sold out, but there are still tickets available for the second workshop (tickets are £654). If you’ve read Jan’s beautiful Field Study Handbook, then you’ll know what a great opportunity it is to spend a day in his company. But don’t dilly-dally—that second day is likely to sell out too.
This event is for product teams, designers, researchers, insights teams, in agencies, in-house, local and central government. People who are curious about human interaction, and their place in the world.
I’m really excited that Sarah and Val are finally bringing their web animation workshop to Brighton (I’ve been not-so-subtly suggesting that they do this for a while now). It’s a two day workshop on July 9th and 10th. There are still some tickets available, but probably not for much longer (tickets are £639). The workshop is happening at 68 Middle Street, the home of Clearleft.
A bit before that, though, there’s a one-off workshop on responsive web typography from Rich on Thursday, June 29th, also at 68 Middle Street. You can expect the same kind of brilliance that he demonstrated in his insta-classic Web Typography book, but delivered by the man himself.
You will learn how to combine centuries-old craft with cutting edge technology, including variable fonts, to design and develop for screens of all shapes and sizes, and provide the best reading experiences for your modern readers.
Whether you’re a designer or a developer, just starting out or seasoned pro, there will be plenty in this workshop to get your teeth stuck into.
Tickets are just £435, and best of all, that includes a ticket to the Ampersand conference the next day (standalone conference tickets are £235 so the workshop/conference combo is a real bargain). This year’s Ampersand is shaping up to be an unmissable event (isn’t it always?), so the workshop is like an added bonus.
See you there!
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018
Links from a talk
In two weeks time, I’ll be in Seattle for An Event Apart. I’ll be giving a brand new talk. The title is The Way Of The Web (although perhaps a more accurate title would be The Layers Of The Web).
Here’s the description:
There’s a direct evolution line from my previous talks—Resilence and Evaluating Technology—to this new one. (Spoiler: everything I talk about is in some way related to progressive enhancement …even if I never use the words “progressive" or “enhancement" in the talks.)
I’ve been preparing this new talk for months. It started with a mind map—an A3 sheet of paper with disconnected thoughts, like something from the scene in the crime movie where they enter the lair of the serial killer and find a crazy wall.
Then I set it aside and began procrastinating. But it was the good kind of procrastinating, right? I mean, I had made a start and all those thoughts were now bubbling around in my head.
Eventually I forced myself to put things in some sort of order and started creating slides. That’s the beginning of the horrible process bouncing between thinking “this is pretty good!” and “this is absolute crap!” To be honest, I never actually know if a talk is any good until I give it in front of an audience (practice runs at work are great for getting feedback but they’re not the same as doing the talk for real).
Anyway, I think the talk is ready to roll. If you see me giving this talk and you’re interested in diving deeper into the topics raised, I’ve gathered together some of sources I used.
- Pace Layering: How Complex Systems Learn and Keep Learning by Stewart Brand
- The Human Computer’s Dreams Of The Future (PDF) by Ida Rhodes
- 3D Glasses On Reality by Kim Stanley Robinson
- The Rule of Least Power by Tim Berners-Lee and Noah Mendelsohn
- Everything Easy Is Hard Again by Frank Chimero
- Over-engineering is under-engineering by Baldur Bjarnason
- The Burden of Precision by Daniel Eden
- The work I like by Ethan Marcotte
- A Sound Of Thunder (PDF) by Ray Bradbury
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Progressive Web Apps
- Make It So by Nathan Shedroff and Christopher Noessel
- How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand
- Time Travel by James Gleick
Tuesday, March 20th, 2018
An excellent, thorough, even-handed analysis of AMP’s performance from Tim. The AMP format doesn’t make that much of a difference, the AMP cache does speed things up (as would any CDN), but it’s the pre-rendering that really delivers the performance boost …as long as you give up your URLs.
But right now, the incentives being placed on AMP content seem to be accomplishing exactly what you would think: they’re incentivizing AMP, not performance.
Sunday, March 18th, 2018
Google’s weight and power come because most of the world use it without knowing there’s an alternative. Perhaps it is time we started voicing our concerns through actions and start using alternative search platforms.
Saturday, March 10th, 2018
Ethan is understandably dubious about Google’s recent announcement regarding the relaxation of the AMP’s iron fist.
Because it’s great to hear the AMP team make some overtures toward a more open web—and personally, I’d like to thank them sincerely for doing so. But if we’re swapping one set of Google-owned criteria for another set of slightly more permissive Google-owned criteria, I’m not sure how much will have changed.
Thursday, March 8th, 2018
This is very good news indeed—Google are going to allow non-AMP pages to get the same prioritised treatment as AMP pages …if they comply with the kind of performance criteria that Tim outlined.
It’ll take time to get there, but I’m so, so glad to see that Google aren’t going to try to force everyone to use their own proprietary format.
We are taking what we learned from AMP, and are working on web standards that will allow instant loading for non-AMP web content. We hope this work will also unlock AMP-like embeddability that powers Google Search features like the Top Stories carousel.
I just hope that this alternate route to the carousel won’t get lumped under the banner of “AMP”—that term has been pretty much poisoned at this point.
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
AMP pages aren’t fast because of the AMP format. AMP pages are fast when you visit one via Google search …because of Google’s monopoly on preloading:
Technically, a clever trick. It’s hard to argue with that. Yet I consider it cheating and anti competitive behavior.
Preloading is exclusive to AMP. Google does not preload non-AMP pages. If Google would have a genuine interest in speeding up the whole web on mobile, it could simply preload resources of non-AMP pages as well. Not doing this is a strong hint that another agenda is at work, to say the least.
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.
Good news! Google will graciously allow non-Google-hosted AMP pages to get the AMP blessing in search results.
Bad news! It requires publishers to package up their AMP pages in a new packaging format that browsers don’t support yet.
Tuesday, October 31st, 2017
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, September 5th, 2017
I’ve had a few conversations with members of the Google AMP team, and I do believe they care about making the web better. But given how AMP pages are privileged in Google’s search results, the net effect of the team’s hard, earnest work comes across as a corporate-backed attempt to rewrite HTML in Google’s image. Now, I don’t know if these new permutations of AMP will gain traction among publishers. But I do know that no single company should be able to exert this much influence over the direction of the web.
Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017
If research on biases has told us anything, it is that humans make better decisions when we learn to recognize and correct for bias.
Wednesday, April 19th, 2017
Sunday, April 2nd, 2017
This year’s Render conference just wrapped up in Oxford. It was a well-run, well-curated event, right up my alley: two days of a single track of design and development talks (see also: An Event Apart and Smashing Conference for other events in this mold that get it right).
One of my favourite talks was from Frances Ng. She gave a thoroughly entertaining account of her journey from aerospace engineer to front-end engineer, filled with ideas about how to get started, and keep from getting overwhelmed in the world of the web.
She recommended taking the time to occasionally dive deep into a foundational topic, pointing to another talk as a perfect example; Ana Balica gave a great presentation all about HTTP. The second half of the talk was about HTTP 2 and was filled with practical advice, but the first part was a thoroughly geeky history of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, which I really loved.
While I’m mentoring Amber, we’ve been trying to find a good balance between those deep dives into the foundational topics and the hands-on day-to-day skills needed for web development. So far, I think we’ve found a good balance.
But between those visits—which happen every one or two weeks—I’ve been giving Amber homework of sorts. That’s where the foundational building blocks come in. Here are the questions I’ve asked so far:
- What is the difference between the internet and the web?
- What is the difference between GET and POST?
- What are cookies?
The first question is a way of understanding the primacy of URLs on the web. Amber wrote about her research. The second question was getting at an understanding of HTTP. Amber wrote about that too. The third and current question is about state on the web. I’m looking forward to reading a write-up of that soon.
We’re still figuring out this whole mentorship thing but I think this balance of research and exercises is working out well.
Thursday, March 23rd, 2017
Monday, March 20th, 2017
🎵 If there’s something strange, in your neighbourhood’s architectural renders, who you gonna call? 🎵
(I ain’t ‘fraid of no render ghost.)