He did it!

March 4th, 2012

Tristan Louis has a confession to make:

I killed the internet.

It wasn't some thing I had planned but it was the net result of my actions. And I'm going to explain how it happened. […]

[Via James Fallows]

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Graphic designers aren't ruining the web

February 19th, 2012

John Naughton's article charging that Graphic designers are ruining the web isn't entirely fair to graphic designers. In fact, to my mind it's a rare example of Naughton being almost completely wrong.

It's only occasionally a case of designers trying to design prettier pages and increasing the size and number of files required to produce their desired look; more often, the root of the problem is the desire of publishers to embed a couple of dozen separate objects on a page, many of them being links to social networking sites or pointers to other parts of the site you're on. And, of course, adverts. Lots of adverts.

As it happens, I was so tired of the Guardian's site cramming the articles I read into less than half of my browser's window and surrounding it with extraneous crap that I read Naughton's article using the wonderful Instapaper Text bookmarklet: much better. The Readability Bookmarklets do a similar job, and with the bonus that a share of your monthly subscription1 can be claimed by the publisher, providing them with at least some income to compensate them for the income they wouldn't have got from the ads you didn't see.2

  1. In proportion to the share of your reading via Readability that month.
  2. And probably wouldn't have clicked on anyway.

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Cyberflâneurs revisited

February 8th, 2012

Evgeny Morozov laments The Death of the Cyberflâneur:

THE other day, while I was rummaging through a stack of oldish articles on the future of the Internet, an obscure little essay from 1998 – published, of all places, on a Web site called Ceramics Today – caught my eye. Celebrating the rise of the "cyberflâneur," it painted a bright digital future, brimming with playfulness, intrigue and serendipity, that awaited this mysterious online type. This vision of tomorrow seemed all but inevitable at a time when "what the city and the street were to the Flâneur, the Internet and the Superhighway have become to the Cyberflâneur."

Intrigued, I set out to discover what happened to the cyberflâneur. While I quickly found other contemporaneous commentators who believed that flânerie would flourish online, the sad state of today's Internet suggests that they couldn't have been more wrong. Cyberflâneurs are few and far between, while the very practice of cyberflânerie seems at odds with the world of social media. What went wrong? And should we worry? […]

Morozov's argument is that most web users these days aren't going online to see if there's anything interesting out there today: they're shopping, or seeking out news headlines, or engaging with one another via walled gardens1 like Facebook.

He's not wrong that this is a description of how people choose to use the web, but I don't think that's necessarily a problem, any more than it's a problem that a lot of people who use public libraries will be engaging in a goal-oriented search for books that can improve their chances of passing an exam/finding a job/understanding what sort of optical aids they'll need if they want to see the Galilean moons of Jupiter, rather than browsing the New Fiction shelves for something to divert them from their daily routine. I suspect than most of the people walking the streets of late 19th century Paris weren't flâneurs, any more than most web users in 2001 wrote weblogs. The beauty of the web is that it lets us find and connect with other people who share our interests without letting that fact that 99.754% of web users aren't even slightly geeky about the same things as you and I get in our way, or theirs.

It's possible that one day Facebook's gravitational pull will cause us all to close down our vanity domains and start posting to our Facebook walls, but I'm sceptical that'll come to pass any time soon.

[Via Fimoculous.com]

  1. That's not the best metaphor, I suppose. Facebook isn't so much setting up walls as turnstiles – making it easy for information to come into Facebook from services that embrace Facebook's system of 'frictionless sharing', but hoping that their users will be so comfortable that they won't worry too much about what's going on outside.

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MegaUpload Reloaded

January 25th, 2012

Web designers all agree: the FBI's seizure of MegaUpload is a disgrace

Let's check out the source of the page:

<img src="banner.jpg"/>

No JavaScript. No AJAX. No CSS. Not even any tables. The image doesn't have ALT tags. Maybe you're not worried about Google indexing this page, or visually impaired people being able to read it, but I hope you realize you are just flushing the last 8 years of the Internet down the toilet. Interestingly, you went with the trailing slash that closes empty elements in XHTML but the DOCTYPE is…nothing. Whatever – this stuff is for nerds.

What we need to focus on is what a colossal missed opportunity this is for you. MegaUpload is down and the notice on the site is getting tons of exposure […]

You must plan these operations, right? I mean, it's not like you just randomly seize private property on a whim. This is a failure of project management. You can't just bring in a designer at the last minute and expect them to polish your design turd. This is your chance to shine. Go wild. […]

[Via Snarkmarket]

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444 is adorable

December 14th, 2011

HTTP Status Cats.1

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. To do: edit WordPress configuration to include local copies of the appropriate images in error pages.

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November 30th, 2011

Siri's apparent unwillingness to provide useful responses to search queries relating to birth control makes Apple look terrible. I wonder how much embarrassment it would take for Apple to cite the program's 'Beta' status and pull it for a while so they can work the bugs out?

For what it's worth, I'd be astounded if the behaviour people are reporting is the result of a deliberate strategy on Apple's part of trying to avoid giving information about contraception, rape and so on. If it is, it's clearly very poorly implemented, both because the iPhone will happily let you google for them1 and because it's such a hot button subject that there's no way it would have gone unnoticed for long.

I strongly suspect that Siri's anomalous behaviour will turn out to be some combination of the user's location, the quality and consistency of data in the databases and directories Siri is acting as a front end for, and some rough edges in Siri's code. Running natural language search queries against third party databases is hard: doing so when your data providers may themselves be erring on the side of caution when it comes to tagging and categorising the data you're accessing is never going to be close to completely accurate. Doing all that and having Siri respond in colloquial English rather than displaying less user-friendly but more informative error messages like "Connection refused" or "0 records found", and thus making every failed query look like the result of a conscious decision on Siri's part. isn't helping one little bit.

Whatever the reason, it'll be interesting to see how Apple respond.

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Thus shredding any argument Apple might make that they're attempting to shield young iPhone users from information that some jurisdictions might not want them to be able to access.

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November 27th, 2011

One for the Safari users among you: the ZoomBySite extension makes Safari remember the zoom level you applied last time you visited a site, then automatically applies it again for future visits. Marvelous for the many web sites that assume we all still have the eyes of our 21 year old selves.

The one feature ZoomBySite is missing is that it doesn't respect Safari's Zoom Text Only setting and always zooms both text and images. You can still use the default Safari zoom feature, so it's not a disaster, but it's mildly irritating to have to switch to the native Safari method for some sites when ZoomBySite otherwise does such a good job.

Apart from that quirk, ZoomBySite does one thing and does it really well: recommended.

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The shame is not ours

November 25th, 2011

Brent Simmons on The Readable Future:

No app built for reading starts with the premise that the publisher has done an acceptable job.

I wish I shared Simmons' optimism that the public's desire to read clean, easy to read web pages will push publishers towards tidying up their web sites. I think instead we'll see publishers trying really hard to push users to access their sites using custom apps where the publishers can control the user experience and perhaps even charge for access to their content beyond a certain minimal level, and putting as much of their web-based content as they can get away with behind a paywall.

I hope I'm wrong, but I reckon that we're in for at least another decade of news sites being festooned with all sorts of non-content in the hope that somehow the site will attract enough page impressions and thus advertising revenue to compensate for the decline in print circulation.

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35.9 million versus 73.5 million

November 23rd, 2011

Tom Morris on why WebFonts matter.1

  1. Clue: it's got nothing to do with how pretty they can make our web pages look.

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We're all nude and available

October 15th, 2011

Evgeny Morozov finds Jeff Jarvis' latest paean to the wonders of the internet deeply flawed, and rather unserious:

Why are we so obsessed with privacy? Jarvis blames rapacious privacy advocates – "there is money to be made in privacy" – who are paid to mislead the "netizens," that amorphous elite of cosmopolitan Internet users whom Jarvis regularly volunteers to represent in Davos. On Jarvis's scale of evil, privacy advocates fall between Qaddafi's African mercenaries and greedy investment bankers. All they do is "howl, cry foul, sharpen arrows, get angry, get rankled, are incredulous, are concerned, watch, and fret." Reading Jarvis, you would think that Privacy International (full-time staff: three) is a terrifying behemoth next to Google (lobbying expenses in 2010: $5.2 million).

"Privacy should not be our only concern," Jarvis declares. "Privacy has its advocates. So must publicness." He compiles a long and somewhat tedious list of the many benefits of "publicness": "builds relationships," "disarms strangers," "enables collaboration," "unleashes the wisdom (and generosity) of the crowd," "defuses the myth of perfection," "neutralizes stigmas," "grants immortality … or at least credit," "organizes us," and even "protects us." Much of this is self-evident. Do we really need to peek inside the world of Internet commerce to grasp that anyone entering into the simplest of human relationships surrenders a modicum of privacy? But Jarvis has mastered the art of transforming the most trivial observations into empty business maxims.

Contrary to Jarvis' protestations, Morozov's review doesn't read to me as a personal attack – more a clinical, brutal dismantling of a collection of shallow cliches in support of the argument that we shouldn't worry about the way pretty much every commercial entity we deal with online seeks to hoover up as much personal information about our use of the internet as it can because the (somewhat nebulous) benefits outweigh the potential problems. So long as you respect your cultural norms, you'll be fine.

[Via The Awl]

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