Moving away from paper monitors

Thinking about the old web again, and how different web pages looked back then, compared to now. In a word, tiny.

A short history of body copy sizes on the WebFlorens Verschelde
Ten and 11 pixels may seem puny today, but in the early 2000s that was deemed readable for two reasons:

  1. the 800×600 and 1024×768 screens of the late 1990s and early 2000s had biggish pixels, so the result was on the small side but not as small as it might look today;
  2. designers and their clients were accustomed to 9, 10 and 11 point sizes for body copy in print (books, magazines, leaflets…), and the prospect of using bigger values felt like shouting at readers.

It took quite an effort to pull web designers away from this assumption that screens should be treated the same way as print.

moving-away-from-paper-monitors

In November 2006, iA’s Oliver Reichenstein ran a simple experiment: he compared a magazine’s body copy at arms’ length and a typical site’s body copy at a common, eye-to-desktop-screen distance. The website’s text looked much smaller. Oliver argued for setting the body copy to the browser’s default, or 100%, which by convention is 16px in common browsers. In 2006, and even a few years later, it was a revolutionary proposition. Web designers and clients thought it was extreme. Five years later, we still had to fight for the death of 11px body copy (example, in French).

It’s been interesting to see how text has been treated over the years, not only on the various default WordPress themes but on blogs like Jason Kottke’s, and my own when it was on Blogger. Layouts like Swiss Miss’s look anachronistic now.

Verschelde’s exploration into this aspect of web design is full of links to examples and other articles about typography and layout, including Jeremy Keith’s Resilient web design, a online book that uses CSS to smoothly vary the font size depending on the width of the screen. It’s a great read, especially the opening chapter’s review of the intertwined history of interfaces.

Resilient Web Design – Chapter 1
The hands on a clock face move in a clockwise direction only because that’s the direction that the shadow cast by a sundial moves over the course of a day in the northern hemisphere. Had history turned out differently, with the civilisation of the southern hemisphere in the ascendent, then the hands on our clocks would today move in the opposite direction. […]

These echoes of the past reverberate in the present even when their usefulness has been outlived. You’ll still sometimes see a user interface that displays an icon of a Compact Disc or vinyl record to represent music. That same interface might use the image of a 3½ inch floppy disk to represent the concept of saving data. The reason why floppy disks wound up being 3½ inches in size is because the disk was designed to fit into a shirt pocket. The icons in our software interfaces are whispering stories to us from the history of clothing and fashion.

The quote used in the introduction to that online book seems appropriate here.

We look at the present through a rear‐view mirror. We march backwards into the future.
Marshall McLuhan

So much to read, so little time

Somhow Robert Cottrell, the man behind the Browser newsletter, manages to read almost the entire web every day, in order to find and share the best with his thousands of subscribers, including me.

The man who reads 1,000 articles a daySuperorganizers
But the verb ‘to read’ isn’t exactly right to describe what he does. Ingest is a little bit closer. But it doesn’t quite hit it on the nose, either. Ingestion implies that what he’s doing is a mechanical, rote activity. No, Robert Cottrell eats articles. With gusto and verve.

It’s encouraging to learn he uses some of the same tools I use for this blog—Feedly and Pinboard.

Feedly is an RSS reader for the iPad that aggregates all of the articles I want to read from publications I’ve selected. Currently, I’ve got about 700 RSS feeds in my Feedly — meaning it’s aggregating about 700 publications for me every day. …

I follow quite a lot of people on Pinboard, and so between MetaFilter and Pinboard that adds about another 360 posts a day to the feed.

I have a similar, albeit much reduced, system here, though I can only snatch a few moments each day on it.

Something I worry about with all these feeds and newsletters and blogs that I look through to find things to share here is FOMS, Fear Of Missing Something. When there’s so much to read you have to skip through a lot, and leave many articles unread. But what if you missed something really interesting, something worth highlighting and sharing?

You just have to let it go, I guess, and move on. It’s ok.

Kottke.org turns twenty

I’ve been a huge fan of Jason Kottke and his blog for as long as I’ve been on the web, I guess. We marked the web turning 30 earlier. It turns out kottke.org turns 20 this week. Time flies. Here he is, reminiscing over those early posts.

Twenty.
But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person vectoring towards a better version of himself. What the site has become in its best moments — a slightly highfalutin description from the about page: “[kottke.org] covers the essential people, inventions, performances, and ideas that increase the collective adjacent possible of humanity” — has given me a chance to “try on” hundreds of thousands of ideas, put myself into the shoes of all kinds of different thinkers & creators, meet some wonderful people (some of whom I’m lucky enough to call my friends), and engage with some of the best readers on the web (that’s you!), who regularly challenge me on and improve my understanding of countless topics and viewpoints.

Here he is in conversation with Richard MacManus, who knows a thing or two about blogging himself, about this strange platform some of us insist on continuing with.

Jason Kottke, OG blogger
CI: But what about the cultural significance of blogs now? I mean there are some people like yourself who are still known as bloggers, but I very rarely hear the word ‘blog’ used these days. The younger generation, it seems to me, are not so concerned about having a home online – they’ll just gravitate to whatever tool happens to be popular at the time. So I feel like there’s some sort of a cultural shift that’s happened, that the blog is almost archaic these days.

Jason: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think in the beginning when blogs first came came around, you would tell somebody you had a blog and it would be like…a what? They didn’t know what it was. And then, blogs had their cultural moment and then everybody knew what they were. And like you said, you had a blog and people would be like, oh cool. But now, people are like… oh, that’s kind of quaint, you still have a blog.

Hmm.

So, farewell then, GeoCities. Again

Ten years after it shut down for the rest of us, Yahoo Japan has finally pulled the plug on its GeoCities service.

Yahoo Japan is shutting down its website hosting service GeoCities
The company said in a statement that it was hard to encapsulate in one word the reason for the shut down, but that profitability and technological issues were primary factors. It added that it was full of “regret” for the fate of the immense amount of information that would be lost as a result of the service’s closure. […]

The fact that GeoCities survived in Japan for so long speaks to the country’s idiosyncratic nature online. Despite the fact that Yahoo—which purchased GeoCities in 1999 for almost $4 billion at the peak of the dot.com boom—has fallen into irrelevance in much of the world, the company continues to be the dominant news portal in Japan. It still commands a sizeable market share in search, though it has steadily ceded its position to Google over the years.

So it goes.

It’s ok to just be ok

Here’s a piece from the New York Times on what might be putting people off taking up hobbies — we might be a bit naff at them.

In praise of mediocrityNew York Times
If you’re a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you’re training for the next marathon. If you’re a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby — you’re a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber — you’d better be good at it, or else who are you? […]

Especially when it comes to physical pursuits, but also with many other endeavors, most of us will be truly excellent only at whatever we started doing in our teens. What if you decide in your 40s, as I have, that you want to learn to surf? What if you decide in your 60s that you want to learn to speak Italian? The expectation of excellence can be stultifying.

I enjoyed reading this, and found it quite encouraging. Photography is a hobby of mine, and I’ve enjoyed documenting family life for many years now. I like taking photos much more than I like looking at the photos I’ve taken, however. I’m often disappointed that they never quite match the ideas in my head. But that’s fine.

And I guess this blog is another hobby of mine that I enjoy doing but aren’t really that good at, judging by my blog stats. But you know what, that’s fine too.

ok-to-be-ok-2

Whose side is WordPress on?

I’ve never met a flat-Earther in my life. I don’t know any fans of David Icke or Alex Jones. Granted, I don’t have too many Facebook friends, but I’m pretty confident they are all quite normal.

In short, I’d have to go a long way to meet anyone who believes in any of those crazy conspiracy theories. But on the web, these people are just around the corner — in just a couple of clicks I can be in the thick of it. This ease of access makes it all feel much more widespread and conventional and mainstream than it really is.

And WordPress and other companies that are part of the internet infrastructure seemed quite relaxed about that.

This company keeps lies about Sandy Hook on the web
Mr. Pozner said he was tired of hearing technology companies say that they do not want to be “arbiters of truth,” an oft-repeated refrain, particularly as concerns around misinformation on social media grow.

“Technology platforms have had this misguided, futuristic vision of freedom of speech and everything was built around that, but it doesn’t really fit into the day-to-day use of it,” Mr. Pozner said. “By not taking action, they have made a choice. They are the arbiters of truth by doing nothing.”

Shortly after that New York Times article, WordPress tried to sort itself out.

New WordPress policy allows it to shut down blogs of Sandy Hook deniers
The update to WordPress’s policy follows a damning report from The NYT this week that explained on how the world’s largest blogging service has allowed Sandy Hook conspiracy theorists to remain online. […]

If the booted bloggers now move to their own self-hosted sites, the responsibility of shutting them down will fall on the web hosting companies. Of course, don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.

It beggars belief that we’ve got to this position.

Instead of all these privacy policy pop-ups and cookie notices, why isn’t there a pop-up on these websites that clearly labels them as “Obviously Ridiculous and Vexatious“?

(I think I need to re-read this post about facts and beliefs.)

Blogger’s still here?

TechCrunch has news of an update to Blogger. Nothing newsworthy about the update, really. What’s catching our eye is that Blogger still exists at all.

Blogger gets a spring cleaning
It’s surprising that Blogger is still around. I can’t remember the last time I saw a Blogger site in my searches, and it sure doesn’t have a lot of mindshare. Google also has let the platform linger and hasn’t integrated it with any of its newer services. The same thing could be said for Google+, too, of course. Google cuts some services because they have no users and no traction. That could surely be said for Blogger and Google+, but here they are, still getting periodic updates.

I used to have a blog on Blogger, and prompted by this article I’ve just had a very strange stroll down memory lane to visit it, via the Internet Archive’s marvellous Wayback Machine.

more-coffee-less-dukkha-585

I really liked the look of that old blog. Very mid-2000s. Are there no blogs that look like this anymore?

'Hello World', right?

This is a blog post that was written via the Fargo website onto a Dropbox file that’s been pushed from Fargo to WordPress.

But wait, where’s my WordPress icon?

Oh, I see. It’s right down at the bottom of my screen. I hadn’t maximised Chrome and the WordPress icon had fallen out of view. I shall try again.

  • Everything seems to be working fine. This laptop’s running v slowly though, but that’s got to be a coincidence, right?

The web we lost – and how to rebuild it

We all know the web’s certainly a different place now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, but Anil Dash points out exactly how — and to what extent — things have changed.

The tech industry and its press have treated the rise of billion-scale social networks and ubiquitous smartphone apps as an unadulterated win for regular people, a triumph of usability and empowerment. They seldom talk about what we’ve lost along the way in this transition, and I find that younger folks may not even know how the web used to be. So here’s a few glimpses of a web that’s mostly faded away:

And then a few days later he writes an update on how to rebuild the web we lost.

Digital HE

Scholars Compile Academic Book From Twitter and Blogs
Two academics put out an online call for material. In one week, they had a book’s worth. Hacking the Academy, an edited volume about academe in the digital age, was compiled from blog posts and Twitter messages posted during a single week. The project was organized by Dan Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, of George Mason University’s Center for History and New Media, as an experiment meant to challenge the conventional university-press system.

Meditation, 2009 blogs

Stepping towards enlightenment
The mind can do wonderful and unexpected things. Meditators who are having a difficult time achieving a peaceful state of mind sometimes start thinking, “Here we go again, another hour of frustration.” But often something strange happens; although they are anticipating failure, they reach a very peaceful meditative state. My first meditation teacher told me that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. He was right. During the difficult meditations you build up your strength, which creates meditation for peace. We may want to spend much time—months or even years—developing just these first two preliminary stages, because if we can reach this point, we have come a long way indeed in our meditation. In that silent awareness of “just now,” we experience much peace, joy, and consequent wisdom.

Best new blogs of 2009
Editors Kevin Nguyen and Nick Martens and fellow bloggers talk about the latest and greatest additions to their RSS readers.