Thursday, January 6th, 2022
Monday, September 20th, 2021
Here’s a nifty little service from Zach: pass in a URL and it returns an image of the site’s icon.
Think of it as the indie web alternative to showing Twitter avatars.
Tuesday, April 20th, 2021
The State of the Web — the links
I wrote about preparing this talk and you can see the outline on Kinopio. I thought it turned out well, but I never actually know until people see it. So I’m very gratified and relieved that it went down very well indeed. Phew!
Eric and the gang at An Event Apart asked for a round-up of links related to this talk and I was more than happy to oblige. I’ve separated them into some of the same categories that the talk covers.
I know that these look like a completely disconnected grab-bag of concepts—you’d have to see the talk to get the connections. But even without context, these are some rabbit holes you can dive down…
- Earthrise by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee on Vimeo, 2018.
- Earthrise by Amanda Gorman on YouTube, 2018.
- They Saw Earth From Space. Here’s How It Changed Them by Nadia Drake in National Geographic, 2018.
- Seeing the Whole Earth from Space Changed Everything by Ahmed Kabil for The Long Now Foundation, 2018.
- As We May Think by Vannevar Bush in The Atlantic Monthly, 1945.
- The Demo by Douglas Engelbart, 1968.
- Information Management: A Proposal by Tim Berners-Lee, 1989.
The World Wide Web
- proposed new tag: IMG by Marc Andreessen to www-talk, 1993.
- What is a Polyfill? by Remy Sharp, 2010.
- Stop solving problems you don’t yet have by Rachel Andrew, 2012.
- Re: More granularity for font-weight? by Håkon Wium Lie to www-style, 2015.
- Clean advertising on adactio.com, 2020.
- 2021 Predictions for UX and Front-End Experts (PDF) by Ire Aderinokun et al. for An Event Apart, 2021.
- Poppy Northcutt: The Woman Who Took Us to the Stars by Apriya Rai, 2020.
- Katherine Johnson Biography by Margot Lee Shetterly, 2020.
- Margaret Hamilton interview by Zoë Corbyn in The Guardian, 2019.
Wednesday, March 17th, 2021
I got a text this morning at 9:40am. It was from the National Health Service, NHS. It said:
You are now eligible for your free NHS coronavirus vaccination. Please book online at https://www.nhs.uk/covid-vaccination or by calling 119. You will need to provide your name, date of birth and postcode. Your phone number has been obtained from your GP records.
Well, it looks like I timed turning fifty just right!
I typed that URL in on my laptop. It redirected to a somewhat longer URL. There’s a very clear call-to-action to “Book or manage your coronavirus vaccination.” On that page there’s very clear copy about who qualifies for vaccination. I clicked on the “Book my appointments” button.
I consider myself relatively tech-savvy so I’m probably not the best judge of the complexity of the booking system, but it certainly seemed to be as simple as possible (but no simpler). It feels like the principle of least power in action.
SMS to HTML (with a URL as the connective tissue between the two). And if those technologies aren’t available, there’s still a telephone number, and finally, a letter by post.
This experience reminded me of where the web really excels. It felt a bit like the web-driven outdoor dining I enjoyed last summer:
Telling people “You have to go to this website” …that seems reasonable. But telling people “You have to download this app” …that’s too much friction.
A native app would’ve been complete overkill. That may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how often the overkill option is the default.
Give me a URL—either by SMS or QR code or written down—and make sure that when I arrive at that URL, the barrier to entry is as low as possible.
Maybe I’ll never need to visit that URL again. In the case of the NHS, I hope I won’t need to visit again. I just need to get in, accomplish my task, and get out again. This is where the World Wide Web shines.
In five days time, I will get my first vaccine jab. I’m very thankful. Thank you to the NHS. Thank you to everyone who helped build the booking process. It’s beautiful.
Monday, February 22nd, 2021
Ten down, one to go
The Long Now Foundation is dedicated to long-term thinking. I’ve been a member for quite a few years now …which, in the grand scheme of things, is not very long at all.
One of their projects is Long Bets. It sets out to tackle the problem that “there’s no tax on bullshit.” Here’s how it works: you make a prediction about something that will (or won’t happen) by a particular date. So far, so typical thought leadery. But then someone else can challenge your prediction. And here’s the crucial bit: you’ve both got to place your monies where your mouths are.
Ten years ago, I made a prediction on the Long Bets website. It’s kind of meta:
The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.
One year later I was on stage in Wellington, New Zealand, giving a talk called Of Time And The Network. I mentioned my prediction in the talk and said:
If anybody would like to take me up on that bet, you can put your money down.
Matt was also speaking at Webstock. When he gave his talk, he officially accepted my challenge.
So now it’s a bet. We both put $500 into the pot. If I win, the Bletchly Park Trust gets that money. If Matt wins, the money goes to The Internet Archive.
As I said in my original prediction:
I would love to be proven wrong.
That was ten years ago today. There’s just one more year to go until the pleasingly alliterative date of 2022-02-22 …or as the Long Now Foundation would write it, 02022-02-22 (gotta avoid that Y10K bug).
It is looking more and more likely that I will lose this bet. This pleases me.
Monday, August 17th, 2020
Design Principles For The Web—the links
I’m speaking today at an online edition of An Event Apart called Front-End Focus. I’ll be opening up the show with a talk called Design Principles For The Web, which ironically doesn’t have much of a front-end focus:
Designing and developing on the web can feel like a never-ending crusade against the unknown. Design principles are one way of unifying your team to better fight this battle. But as well as the design principles specific to your product or service, there are core principles underpinning the very fabric of the World Wide Web itself. Together, we’ll dive into applying these design principles to build websites that are resilient, performant, accessible, and beautiful.
To avoid technical difficulties, I’ve pre-recorded the talk. So while that’s playing, I’ll be spamming the accompanying chat window with related links. Then I’ll do a live Q&A.
Should you be interested in the links that I’ll be bombarding the attendees with, I’ve gathered them here in one place (and they’re also on the website of An Event Apart). The narrative structure of the talk might not be clear from scanning down a list of links, but there’s some good stuff here that you can dive into if you want to know what the inside of my head is like.
- Page Weight Matters by Chris Zacharias
- Systems, Mistakes, and the Sea by Robin Rendle
- Patterns Day videos on Vimeo
- Workplace Topology by Danielle Huntrods
- The Design Squiggle by Damien Newman
- The Double Diamond by Design Council
- Canvassing a project by Andy Thornton
- How to run a premortem workshop by Rachel McConnell
- 5 Steps To Better Research by Benjamin Parry
- Design Principles collection
- Design Principles collection by Ben Brignell
- What makes a good design principle? by Matthew Ström
- Priority of Constituencies from HTML Design Principles
- The Eponymous Laws of Tech by Dave Rupert
- Principles of Design by Sir Tim Berners-Lee
- CERN 2019 WorldWideWeb Rebuild
- Data attributes and progressive enhancement by Derek Featherstone
- Government Design Principles by Government Digital Service
- Over-engineering is under-engineering by Baldur Bjarnason
- This Web App Best Viewed By Someone Else presentation by Eric Meyer on YouTube
- The top four web performance challenges
- Ubiquity and consistency
- Principles and priorities
- Putting design principles into action
Thursday, August 13th, 2020
Back in February, I wrote about an excellent proposal by Jake for how browsers could display URLs in a safer way. Crucially, this involved highlighting the important part of the URL, but didn’t involve hiding any part. It’s a really elegant solution.
Turns out it was a Trojan horse. Chrome are now running an experiment where they will do the exact opposite: they will hide parts of the URL instead of highlighting the important part.
You can change this behaviour if you’re in the less than 1% of people who ever change default settings in browsers.
I’m really disappointed to see that Jake’s proposal isn’t going to be implemented. It was a much, much better solution.
No doubt I will hear rejoinders that the “solution” that Chrome is experimenting with is pretty similar to what Jake proposed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Jake’s solution empowered users with knowledge without taking anything away. What Chrome will be doing is the opposite of that, infantalising users and making decisions for them “for their own good.”
Seeing a complete URL is going to become a power-user feature, like View Source or user style sheets.
I’m really sad about that because, as Jake’s proposal demonstrates, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
Personal website owners – what do you think about collecting all of the feeds you are producing in one way or the other on a
Sounds like a good idea! I’ll get on that.
Monday, May 4th, 2020
Everything you ever wanted to know about
Wednesday, March 11th, 2020
This is a wonderful deep dive into all the parts of a URL:
There’s a lot of great DNS stuff about the
Root DNS servers operate in safes, inside locked cages. A clock sits on the safe to ensure the camera feed hasn’t been looped. Particularily given how slow DNSSEC implementation has been, an attack on one of those servers could allow an attacker to redirect all of the Internet traffic for a portion of Internet users. This, of course, makes for the most fantastic heist movie to have never been made.
Friday, February 7th, 2020
Last month I wrote some musings on default browser behaviours. When it comes to all the tasks that browsers do for us, the most fundamental is taking a URL, fetching its contents and giving us the results. As part of that process, browsers also show us the URL of the page currently loaded in a tab or window.
But even at this fundamental level, there are some differences from browser to browser.
Safari only shows you the domain name—and any subdomain names—by default. It looks like nice and tidy, but it obfuscates what page you’re on (until you click on the domain name). This is bad.
Chrome shows you the full URL, nice and straightforward. This is neutral.
Firefox, like Chrome, shows you the full URL, but with a subtle difference. The important part of the URL—usually the domain name—is subtly highlighted in a darker shade of grey. This is good.
The reason I say that what it highlights is usually the domain name is because what it actually highlights is eTLD+1.
The what now?
Well, if you’re looking at a page on
adactio.com, that’s the important bit. But what if you’re looking at a page on
adactio.github.io? The domain name is important, but so is the subdomain.
It turns out there’s a list out there of which sites and top level domains allow registrations like this. This is the list that Firefox is using for its shading behaviour in displaying URLs.
Safari, by the way, does not use this list. These URLs are displayed identically in Safari, the phisherman’s friend:
Whereas Firefox displays them as:
Jake acknowledges that what Apple is doing is
shi… , what Firefox is doing is good, and then puts forward an idea for what Chrome could do. (But please note that this is Jake’s personal opinion; not an official proposal from the Chrome team.)
There’s some prior art here. It used to be that, if your SSL certificate included extended validation, the name would be shown in green next to the padlock symbol. So while my website—which uses regular SSL from Let’s Encrypt—would just have a padlock, Medium—which uses EV SSL—would have a padlock and the text “A Medium Corporation”.
Extended validation wasn’t quite the bulletproof verification it was cracked up to be. So browsers don’t use that interface pattern any more.
Jake suggests repurposing this pattern for all URLs. Pull out the important bit—eTLD+1—and show it next to the padlock.
I like this. The full URL is still displayed. This proposal is more of an incremental change. An enhancement that is applied progressively, if you will.
I also like that it builds on existing interface patterns—Firefox’s URL treatment and the deprecated treatment of EV certs. In fact, I think the first step for Chrome should be to match Firefox’s current behaviour, and then go further with something like Jake’s proposal.
This kind of gradual change was exactly what Chrome did with displaying
Jake mentions this in the video
We’ve already seen that you have to take small steps here, like we did with the
I’m a great believer in the HTML design principle, Evolution Not Revolution:
It is better to evolve an existing design rather than throwing it away.
I’d love to see Chrome take the first steps to Jake’s proposal by following Firefox’s lead.
Then again, I’d love it if Chrome followed Firefox’s lead in implementing subgrid.
Thursday, January 23rd, 2020
I feel there is something beyond the technological that is the real trick to a site that lasts: you need to have some stake in the game. You don’t let your URLs die because you don’t want them to. They matter to you. You’ll tend to them if you have to. They benefit you in some way, so you’re incentivized to keep them around. That’s what makes a page last.
Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019
It looks (a more complex version of) fragmention might be coming to Chrome.
Friday, March 29th, 2019
This is my kind of URL nerdery. Remy ponders all the permutations of URLs ending with slashes, ending without slashes, ending with with a file extension…
Friday, January 11th, 2019
A fellow URL fetishest!
I love me a well-designed URL scheme—here’s four interesting approaches.
URLs are consumed by machines, but they should be designed for humans. If your URL thinking stops at “uniquely identifies a page” and “good for SEO”, you’re missing out.
Sunday, September 9th, 2018
URLs are the single greatest feature of the web.
Friday, September 7th, 2018
The latest version of Chrome is removing seams by messing with the display of the URL.
This is a bug.
Thursday, September 6th, 2018
The hiding of URLs fits perfectly with AMPs preferred method of making sites fast, which is to host them directly on Google’s servers, and to serve them from a Google domain. Hiding the URL from the user then makes a Google AMP site indistinguishable from an ordinary site.
As well as sharing Charlie’s concern, I also share her hope:
I really hope that the people who are part of Google can stop something awful like this from happening.
Wednesday, September 5th, 2018
Change will be controversial whatever form it takes. But it’s important we do something, because everyone is unsatisfied by URLs. They kind of suck.
Citation very fucking needed.
I’m trying very hard to give Google the benefit of the doubt here, but coming as it does on top of all the AMP shit they’re pulling, it sure seems like Google are trying to remake the web in their image.
Oh, and if you want to talk about URLs confusing people, AMP is a great example.
I know many people love Medium’s editing interface, but I just can’t believe that so many writers and publications have turned toward a single centralized commercial entity as a proposed solution to what ails the publishing industry. There is tremendous strength in independence and decentralization.