Archive:
Web

The future of SEO has never been clearer (nor more ignored)

I don’t always pay attention to SEO stuff, but I found this analysis of trends in search interesting. It seems that search engines are sending less and less traffic to websites. It’s interesting to compare this trend to the original Google ethos, which was that wanting to keep people on your own site was crazy. But that’s where Google seem to be now.

Much like how today I’d take 10 email subscribers to my newsletter over 1,000 Facebook “likes,” I think in the future, we’d all much rather have 10 Google searches for our brand name than 1,000 Google searches for phrases on which we’re trying to both rank and compete for a click against Google themselves.

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Are we designers shamelessly good at self promotion?

An analysis of content about design — why people write it, how they look for it, and why it needs to be better.

Last year, we published and shared 4,302 articles and links with the community …

That’s a lot of links.

Most of them 5-minute Medium articles.

Not as thorough as we would like them to be.

Not deep at all.

Not as honest as our industry deserves.

This makes me wonder if my own approach — blogging daily with a link to and short remark about a 5 minute read — is wrong.

We definitely need to find more ways to write and think more deeply about design, and spend less time with superficial, self-promotional clickbait.

More on this from Khoi Vinh: Why designers don’t want to think when they read.

See also: Platforms, agile, trust, teams and werewolves — on why we need to see more stories about failure.

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How to set up a website: a guide for the alt-right

Are you a fascist? Have you been throwing your toys out the pram because some digital platforms have finally grown a pair and removed you? If so, Bruce Lawson has some advice for you on how the open web works.

Of course, it’s perfectly possible no-one will visit your website to read how Bin Laden faked the moon landings in order to draw attention from the fact that Marilyn Monroe was a CIA-funded muslim who invented income tax and fluoridated water in order to seize your guns and pollute your precious bodily fluids. But that’s freedom.

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“Google was not a normal place”: Brin, Page, and Mayer on the accidental birth of the company that changed everything

Fascinating article about the early days of Google. One eye-popping section recalls how they originally tried to sell their technology to other search engines, only to be knocked back.

I remember going to this one meeting at Excite, with George Bell, the C.E.O. He selects Excite and he types “Internet,” and then it pops up a page on the Excite side, and pretty much all of the results are in Chinese, and then on the Google side it basically had stuff all about N.S.C.A. Mosaic and a bunch of other pretty reasonable things. George Bell, he’s really upset about this, and it was funny, because he got very defensive. He was like, “We don’t want your search engine. We don’t want to make it easy for people to find stuff, because we want people to stay on our site.” It’s crazy, of course, but back then that was definitely the idea: keep people on your site, don’t let them leave. And I remember driving away afterward, and Larry and I were talking: “Users come to your Web site? To search? And you don’t want to be the best damn search engine there is? That’s insane! That’s a dead company, right?”

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Why Gov.uk content should be published in HTML and not PDF

How to give up PDFs and improve your higher education website’s user experience

The crusade against PDFs has been one of my constant hobby-horses over the years. It has also led to some of my toughest battles in my work.

Users hate PDFs, because it makes it harder to use content. But content owners love PDFs, because it makes it easier for them to create content. It is the ultimate in user-hostility. “Who cares about the users? PDFs make my job easier for me.”

So it was great to see two trusted sources reiterate the importance of getting rid of PDFs, within days of each other.

This has also reminded me of a small project I promised I would do, but never got around to — to publish my dissertation as an HTML webpage. The idea was to demonstrate how versatile HTML is, even for things like technical or academic writing. Maybe I’ll return to that this autumn.

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Scotsman screenshot

It’s no wonder newspaper websites are in trouble. Their latest scheme is to “lock” content by turning it into squiggles unless you watch at least 6 seconds of an advert. Needless to say, this is a horrible experience, and only makes it all the more likely that I’ll turn away from certain websites.

I’m afraid to say that I know I’m going to have a dreadful time any time I try to read anything on the Scotsman or any other Johnston Press website. Every time, I am bombarded with a cacophony of offensive adverts, which grind my computer to a halt. And when they deign to show me the content I came for, more often than not it’s badly written, and clearly a rush-job by a stressed-out writer being made to churn out any old crap in the name of volume.

Why would I bother following a link to the Scotsman website again?

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Four modes of seeking information and how to design for them

This is an old article, but some good brain food for those information architects out there. A good primer on some different ways people try to find content.

In my work on intranets and complex websites, I noticed a range of situations where people didn’t necessarily know what they needed to know. Additionally, when I opened my browser history to look for examples from recently-visited sites, I noticed that the majority of my own time was spent trying to find things that I had already discovered. These two modes didn’t fit into the concepts of known-item and exploratory information seeking. I call these “don’t know what you need to know” and re-finding.

I spent a while letting this rattle around my head, talking with IAs and designers, and realized that most only thought in terms of known-item searching. When discussing the other types of tasks, they’d ask with a horrified look, “So how do you design for that?”

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How come I end up where I started?

Adriaan Pels ran the popular Radiohead fan site At Ease for 20 years. The costs of running the website got out of control before his web host unexpectedly pulled the plug last year.

I used to be a very active participant on the At Ease forums, but that probably ended when I became a more active blogger / studies took over / I got a proper job / whatever. I stopped reading the website at some point as well. I still looked in occasionally, but I could tell that Adriaan didn’t seem to have as much time as he needed to look after it properly.

I didn’t even realise that At Ease had disappeared off the internet. It’s so long since I’ve tried to visit.

But it was good to see this update from Adriaan, although I’m sorry he’s lost the whole website.

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Stylish browser extension steals all your internet history

If you use the Stylish browser extension, you ought to have a read of this. It might make you want to uninstall it immediately, as I did.

It appears that last year Stylish began collecting users’ data, including their full browser history, and even the contents of Google search results.

The above blog post explains exactly what is going on, and why it is a problem.

This is a great shame because Stylish provided a brilliant function enabling you to improve bad or unsuitable web designs very easily. I even created a style that improved the user interface for live timing on Formula1.com — which I still used up to last weekend, and has been installed by almost 500 others.

Not any more — I have uninstalled Stylish from my browser.

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✨🎧 tenori-off

I really love this take on the Tenori-on synthesiser, built in Javascript and very webby. I especially like how you can simply share the URL to send your music to someone else. 5/5 would Tenori-off again.

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It’s time to rebuild the web

A reflection from Mike Loukides on Anil Dash’s recent piece on the missing building blocks of the web (which I also wrote about a few weeks ago).

His remarks on the state of RSS particularly resonate with me. Ever since Google killed off Google Reader, I have relied on Feedly. I have always had an uneasy relationship with Feedly. It seems somehow both bloated, and lacking in useful features.

It seems to be increasingly pitched at teams and businesses — the sort of audience Slack attracts. But RSS needs to be pitched at everyday individual users of the web who want to keep abreast of blogs and the like. That is the spirit of the web we have lost, and we need to return to.

Simplicity is a discipline, and not an easy one. However, by losing tons of bloat, we’d end up with a web that is much faster and more responsive than what we have now. And maybe we’d learn to prize that speed and that responsiveness.

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We are all trapped in the “Feed”

Om Malik summarises the problem with the big social media companies whose algorithms are causing us to drown in junk content.

Many have forgotten, but services like Digg helped popularize the idea of what I call intellectual spam. Headlines, followed by vapid content, meant to attract the likes. Against such a backdrop, a decade ago, we all assumed that the rise of the personal web, shaped by individual data would result in signals that will help us dampen the noise. We thought that our systems would get smarter, learning from our behavior, and we would be able to separate signal from noise. And this would allow us to focus our attention on the meaningful and essential.

Unfortunately, the reality of capitalism and turned that dream into a big giant popularity contest, shaped by crude tools – likes, hearts, retweets, and re-shares. We have created systems that boost noise and weaken signals. Every time I tune into news and all I see is noise rising to the top. Whether it is YouTube or Instagram — all you see are memes that are candy-colored candy, mean to keep us hooked.

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The cult of the complex

Jeffrey Zeldman becomes the latest voice to bemoan the increasing and unnecessary complexity of modern web development.

As a designer who used to love creating web experiences in code, I am baffled and numbed by the growing preference for complexity over simplicity. Complexity is good for convincing people they could not possibly do your job. Simplicity is good for everything else.

See also: Why the cruel culture of coding is damaging society

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The internet is going the wrong way

A short and snappy summary of why and how the internet has gone wrong.

The Internet is a place for the people, like parks, libraries, museums, historic places. It’s okay if corporations want to exploit the net, like DisneyLand or cruise lines, but not at the expense of the natural features of the net.

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More frequent posting

More on the idea of writing more regularly.

In the Marshmallow Challenge there are two groups of individuals that tend to produce the best results. (Un)surprisingly, structural engineers do well (as you would hope!) but the other highest scoring groups are actually 2nd graders. Yeah, 2nd graders. Not project management teams, or programmers, or MBAs. The reason they were so good is because they didn’t bother wasting time deciding who was going to do what – they just started playing around and building, figuring out what did and didn’t work as they went along. These kids significantly outperformed most adults, other than those who had formal training on how to build things.

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Good writing and analytics don’t mix

If you want to be a good writer then you can’t worry about the numbers. The stats, the dashboards, the faves, likes, hearts and yes, even the claps, they all lead to madness and, worst of all in my opinion, bad writing.

Recently I have been thinking a bit about what stats trackers I should be running on my blog, particularly in light of GDPR. I currently run three, and I wonder if I should cut this back.

Robin Rendle’s blog post has got me wondering further if it’s just a bad idea to worry about — or even be aware of — how many people are reading.

It’s always tempting to look at the stats. But I also know that the most-viewed posts are not the highest quality ones. So perhaps it’s better to focus on improving something other than the numbers.

See also: Escaping Twitter’s self-consciousness machine, on what happens when you remove all metrics from the Twitter interface.

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I don’t know how to waste time on the internet anymore

I did not know what to type into the address bar of my browser. I stared at the cursor. Eventually, I typed “nytimes.com” and hit enter. Like a freaking dad. The entire world of the internet, one that used to boast so many ways to waste time, and here I was, reading the news.

On the loss of the old culture of the internet, “made for dicking around”.

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Hand-coded digital artwork “Francine” is skewing your online reality

I never used to see the point in stunts like “I created Bart Simpson in pure HTML and CSS, look at me!” But I have to admit that the work of Diana Smith is seriously cool.

It is all the more awesome when you consider how viewing it on older browsers turns the work into wonderful, glitchy, accidental versions that look like they were inspired by De Stijl.

This is like a modern version of the Acid tests. I remember showing examples of the Acid II test during presentations some years ago to explain how different browsers could interpret the same code differently. But I think this example gets it across so much better.

It’s also a warning not to build our webpages for Chrome only.

In a cultural moment where reality distortion is rampant, and it’s hard to get a consistent version of facts from person to person, it’s critical to understand that something as basic as a browser update, or switching from one browser to another, can drastically change the way we perceive information.

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Design navigation for clarity and fidelity

There is nothing worse than a vague, meaningless link. Well, there is. It’s a link that promises much more than it can deliver. I call that sort of link a dirty magnet.

Left out of Gerry McGovern’s list of dirty magnets is my personal favourite — Further information.

Think about it. Everything on a website is further information (at least, it should be). There is nothing more useless or uninformative than a page called Further information.

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Google AMP for Email: What it is and why it’s a bad idea

I have been following the controversy around AMP fairly closely. A lot of people whose opinions I respect are against AMP generally, although I still cautiously think AMP is generally a good thing. At least, it is in my view clearly better than Facebook Instant Articles.

So if AMP is Google’s response to Facebook, I am in favour of it. Facebook’s interest is clearly to keep people in the Facebook ecosystem. AMP may give Google some a bit of control over content, but it still keeps it fundamentally of the web. At least you don’t have to use Google to use AMP.

However, AMP for Email seems far more obviously bad. Not least because, as this article points out, it appears to be a solution looking for a problem.

There may be cause to be wary of Google’s intentions after all.

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Dear developer, the web isn’t about you

A call to stop the madness and focus on making the web a better platform for people, and not the technologist’s playground it’s becoming. It’s lengthy, but well worth it.

There is so much good stuff here, but I particularly enjoyed this section on the obsession with JavaScript.

Instead of HTML being generated on, and delivered from, the server, a JS bundle is sent to the client, which is then decompressed and initialised and then requests data, which is then sent from the server (or another server, as now everything is a service) as JSON, where it is then converted on the fly into HTML.

Permit an old lady to rant here…

Because to me, this is rather akin to building a Boeing 747 to commute to work.

🙌

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Design for navigational momentum and unity

When trying to persuade people not to overload their navigation menus, I have often drawn an analogy with road signs. These must be a model of brevity, because drivers need to be able to digest them quickly.

Web users may not be travelling at 60mph, but they still want to get their stuff done quickly.

I enjoyed this Gerry McGovern article that draws a similar analogy:

The core purpose of navigation is to help you move forward. Designing digital navigation is not that different from designing navigation for a road. You always want to be able to help people maintain their momentum and get to their destination as quickly as possible. The essence of momentum is to help people move forward, and this is the essential purpose of navigation—to help people move forward.

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Why the web will win

A reminder of the web’s resilience.

The web is designed to be open-source, and therefore it is designed to last.

Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 proposal for the World Wide Web wasn’t the most technically sophisticated vision of the early internet, nor was it the most popular at the time. However, in 1993, Berners-Lee and CERN open-sourced all of the technology associated with the World Wide Web. The open nature of the World Wide Web meant it could be implemented by anyone, anywhere, on any computer.

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Facebook and the end of the world

When the world goes up in flames, the handful of people left in the burning ruins of civilization will shrug, look at their feet, and—from inside a deep black hole of unending ennui—mumble pathetically how ironic and silly it is that the thing that ultimately took us all down was Facebook.

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An ode to writing with a human voice

More on the apparent decline of blogs from the Government Digital Service (GDS).

This article makes the excellent counterpoint to a recent GDS post apparently attempting to address the debate around the quality of their recent blogging efforts.

The measures of success cited include levels of ‘engagement’, aligning posts with campaigns, and instances of very senior officials publishing posts. This, to me, fundamentally misunderstands the value of blogging compared with more ‘formal’ communications. Aligning blogs more closely with PR activity doesn’t strengthen blogs— it nullifies their distinct value.

Of course, it is not just GDS who have suffered.

In the early days, blogging and social media was so vital precisely because it wasn’t traditional communications. When the communications people caught wind of the popularity of social media, they took control (which, for some reason, comms people are obsessed with). The comms crowd and the marketing mob turned social media into yet another stifled channel, designed to control the message, thereby destroying actual valuable communication.

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Small b blogging

I love this idea of small b blogging — pursuing meaningful connections over mass pageviews. You might call it anti-clickbait.

Much of the content that is crammed down our throats through giant platforms like Facebook is designed to grab eyeballs, pageviews and clicks. This sort of content brings transient pleasure, but little real value.

This is similar to my reasons for starting blogging again. While I’m sure I won’t ever again get the same amount of pageviews I used to get in 2006–2007, there is something about regularly reaching a smaller number of people to share something worth writing home about.

It’s a virtuous cycle of making interesting connections while also being a way to clarify and strengthen my own ideas. I’m not reaching a big audience by any measure but the direct impact and benefit is material.

Small b blogging is learning to write and think with the network. Small b blogging is writing content designed for small deliberate audiences and showing it to them. Small b blogging is deliberately chasing interesting ideas over pageviews and scale. An attempt at genuine connection vs the gloss and polish and mass market of most “content marketing”.

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Strategic thinking with blog posts and stickers

There has been a lot of chat recently about the apparent decline in quality of Government Digital Service (GDS) blogs. That debate isn’t explicitly mentioned here by former GDS employee Giles Turnbull. But perhaps this is the blogging equivalent of a subtweet (a subblog?).

The idea is basically this: you think out loud, on your blog, over a long period of time. At least months. Probably years. Each new post is about one thing, and tells a single story of its own, but also adds to the longer narrative. Each new post helps you tell that longer, deeper story, and becomes another linkable part of the timeline.

This also feeds into the wider commentary surrounding the apparent (or perhaps merely hoped-for) resurgence in blogging this year.

I certainly find this a useful contribution in explaining the value of blogging. It must not be run through the traditional communcations department wringer. The whole point of blogging is that is by real people (not comms people), talking about their real experiences and even their mistakes.

If you only talk blandly about your successes, you’re not really talking.

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Unsexy fundamentals focus: User experiences that print money

An extraordinary example of someone trying to give a publisher a lot of money — and the publisher making that experience as difficult as possible.

I’ve said before that I don’t have much sympathy for most publishers who are struggling. This is one example of exactly why many of their struggles are largely their own fault.

It beggars belief that a publisher should make it so hard to buy their product online. Many of them have a long hill to climb.

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Underscores, optimisation and arms races

The story of how one character — the underscore (_) — provided an early glimpse of the problems we now face with dominant tech firms exerting their power over the web.

We found ourselves resistant to what felt like a coercive effect of Google’s rising domination, especially since Google’s own Blogger platform was a competitor of ours. Our expression of that frustration was expressed by a debate over a single character: We were using _ because we thought it looked nicer, so why should we change to – just because Google liked it better? Weren’t they supposed to adapt to what we published on the web?

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Reclaiming my blog as my thought space

Dries Buytaert on reclaiming his blog. It’s just the latest of many blog posts I have read recently from people keen to share more personal content on their own websites.

My blog is primarily read by technology professionals — from Drupal users and developers, to industry analysts and technology leaders — and in my mind, they do not read my blog to learn about a wider range of topics. I’m conflicted because I would like my l blog to reflect both my personal and professional interests.

This is a struggle I well recognise. When Twitter was born, those more personal snippets moved to social media. Bloggers felt the need to become more professional and write more polished, fully-fleshed articles.

But Twitter (and other social media services) no longer fill that gap the way they used to. The most viable answer is to go back to the good old days of more personal blogging.

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A few notes on daily blogging

A striking article, partly because I find it slightly eerie that the author chose to start blogging daily on 1 October, the same day I started blogging again.

I haven’t quite managed to blog on a daily basis. Although I do publish something at least once a day, I tend to write multiple posts at a time and schedule them for future publication.

(As an example, I’m writing this on Wednesday 28 February, in the expectation that I will publish it on Tuesday 6 March.)

As a result, I’m not sure I have benefited yet from resuming my regular blogging. Perhaps I will endeavour to carve out some time each day to write something.

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If Google wanted to get found in Google

If you ever have to say you’re simple, you’re not. Because if you were truly simple then you wouldn’t have to waste time telling people you are. You’d just be simple. Only those with complexity syndrome feel the need to explain that they are simple. The more you have to write about how to use your product or service, the more you have failed as a designer.

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Google memory loss

This is interesting. It appears as though Google is losing older documents (such as 10-year-old blog posts) from its index.

I’m in two minds about this.

On the one hand, Google has long been something other than a mere web search engine, and rightly so. They want to get you relevant answers to your query. And old blog posts will rarely be the answers to many people’s queries.

But on the other hand, someone ought to be indexing the web. And if Google can’t (or don’t want to), who can?

My men­tal mod­el of the Web is as a per­ma­nen­t, long-lived store of humanity’s in­tel­lec­tu­al her­itage. For this to be use­ful, it needs to be in­dexed, just like a li­brary. Google ap­par­ent­ly doesn’t share that view.

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​Mosaic’s birthday: 25 years of the modern web

It feels like the world wide web has had more 25th birthdays than I’ve had hot dinners.

This article marks the 25th anniversary of the Mosaic web browser. You may not have heard for it, and I certainly never used it — it was before my time.

But Mosaic was one of the first graphical browsers, and one of the first to enable people to view images within pages. The makers of Mosaic went on to create Netscape Navigator, which in turn became the basis for Firefox.

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Web trend map 2018

iA reflects on the spirit of the web that has been lost.

There seems to be a weak undercurrent of old and young bloggers like us that feel sentimental or curious and want to bring back blogging. Blogging won’t save the world. But, hell, after two weeks now, we can confirm: it feels great to be back on the blogging line.

If you are one of those old or young bloggers, please join in. Drop Facebook, drop Twitter and drop Medium for original thought. Own your traffic.

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Fears of the IndieWeb

I am toying with the idea of embracing the IndieWeb community and adding some IndieWeb features to this website.

This article from Michael Singletary pinpoints one of potential flaws of the IndieWeb, and a reason I have been reluctant to join it.

…I’m worried about the long-term survivability of this as a whole. With Known, specifically, I noticed that many of the plugins required for syndication and backfeeding are either maintained by extremely small groups of people that do not update them frequently (the Twitter plugin, for example), or others that require non-monetary motivation to keep up their service (like Brid.gy, for example). While it is great to see community-driven projects and services like these, I worry about waking up one morning to find that my content no longer syndicates or talks to other services.

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Legends of the ancient web

Maciej Cegłowski considers the parallels between the early decades of radio, and the web. He notes how radio became a crucial propaganda tool for the fascists of the 1930s.

In less than four decades, radio had completed the journey from fledgeling technology, to nerdy hobby, to big business, to potent political weapon.

It’s a great history lesson. Read on to find the silver lining in his talk.

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Accessibility according to actual people with disabilities

We often hear about the theory of accessibility in design. But we know that the reality can often be different.

So it’s great to see such a comprehensive run-down of actual digital accessibility complaints from people with disabilities.

The article ends with a sage point:

Basically everything that people with disabilities comment on are things that annoy everyone, so fixing these issues makes your interface better for all users!

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Faux grid tracks

Faux grid tracks Now that we have CSS grid, people apparently want to know how to style the divisions between the rows and the columns. Here, Eric Meyer explains one way to do it. At this stage, I can't help feeling that no matter how many features get added to CSS, it always results in…

Read full article — Faux grid tracks

The web began dying in 2014, here’s how

The web began dying in 2014, here's how - André Staltz Highly interesting article about how the dominance of Facebook, Google and Amazon is beginning to damage the web. Facebook and Google are silently conspiring to specialise in social and knowledge respectively, further increasing their dominance. Meanwhile, the weakening of net neutrality threatens to move…

Read full article — The web began dying in 2014, here’s how