Designing for the web ought to mean making HTML and CSS

During the dotcom boom back in the late 90s, I did a bunch of Photoshop-cut jobs. You know, where a designer throws a PSD file over the wall to an HTML monkey to slice and dice. It was miserable.

These mock designs almost always focused on pixel perfectness, which meant trying to bend and twist the web to make it so. Spacer pixels, remember those? We were trying to make the raw materials of the web, particularly HTML, then latter CSS, do things they didn’t want to do. Things they weren’t meant to do.

Then I got the pleasure of working with designers who actually knew HTML and CSS. It was a revelation. Not only would the designs feel like they were of the web, not merely put on the web, but they’d always be better. Less about what it looked like, more about what it worked like.

I attribute this in no small part to the fact that it was real. The feedback loop of working with the actual HTML/CSS, as it was destined to be deployed, gave designers the feedback from the real world to make it better. And the fact that designers had the power to do the work themselves meant that the feedback loop was shorter. It wasn’t make a change, ask someone else to implement the change, ponder its effectiveness, and then repeat. It was change, check, change, repeat.

For a while that felt like it was almost the norm. That web designers confined to the illusions of Photoshop mocks were becoming more rare. And that web designers were getting better at working with their materials.

But as The Great Divide points out, regression is lurking, because the industry is making it too hard to work directly with the web. The towering demands inherent in certain ways of working with JavaScript are rightfully scaring some designers off from implementing their ideas at all. That’s a travesty.

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The books I read in 2018

Now a tradition in its third year (see 2016 and 2017). Here are all my extracted answers to our monthly Basecamp check-in question of What are you reading?

Notes from Underground
Fyodor Dostoyevsky was one of those authors I had heard about in school but never really contemplated reading directly. He lived 1821-1881 and wrote such classics as Crime and Punishment that I never considered myself invited to read. What a mistake. This isn’t exactly the first classic that I’ve given myself permission to read that rendered the inhibition to do so silly, but it really nailed home the point.

It’s such a lovely weird book. Partly, it’s Dostoyevsky giving us an account, through the fictional narrator, of his view on the human condition. Just one quote: “But man has such a predilection for systems and abstract deductions that he is ready to distort the truth intentionally, he is ready to deny the evidence of his senses only to justify his logic”. The idea of humans being suckered into living only according to “logic”, and not only the vanity of such a pursuit, but the impossibility of it, is a wonderful antidote to much of contemporary morality and wonkness.

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Imagine a world without ads targeted by personal information

Elephants wouldn’t be killed for their tusks if there wasn’t a demand for ivory. We can do all sorts of things to discourage poachers, but as long as the market is there, the killings will continue.

Likewise, the flood of privacy scandals involving Facebook, ad exchanges, and other privacy poachers all tie back to the same root cause: Personal information is valuable because we use it to target ads.

But what if you couldn’t do that? Then the personal information would cease to have value, and the flood of privacy scandals would stop (or at least greatly diminish).

The world of commerce spun around just fine in the era before ads could be targeted by personal information. When ad buyers would place their spots based on context. Got a new car to sell? Put an ad on a website that talks about cars. Maybe it wasn’t as efficient, or maybe it was. Either way: The societal price we pay for allowing ads to be targeted is far too high.

We’ve placed all sorts of other restrictions on advertisement, so it’s not like this is a new thing. You can’t advertise tobacco products in many places. Some countries restrict advertisement against children. Regulation like this works.

Just try to imagine that world without ad targeting. It’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t be a better one.

Signal v Noise post from the year 2000. The more things change, the more they stay the same 😂

Signal v Noise exits Medium

Three years ago we embraced an exciting new publishing platform called Medium. It felt like a new start for a writing community, and we benefitted immensely from the boost in reach and readership those early days brought. But alas it was not to last.

When we moved over, Medium was all about attracting big blogs and other publishers. This was going to be a new space for a new time where publishers could find a home. And it was. For a while.

These days Medium is focused on their membership offering, though. Trying to aggregate writing from many sources and sell a broad subscription on top of that. And it’s a neat model, and it’s wonderful to see Medium try something different. But it’s not for us, and it’s not for Signal v Noise.

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Every little bit helps

Quitting Facebook. Renouncing Uber. Avoiding Amazon. There have never been more or greater reasons for turning your back entirely on much of Big Tech.

The last few years have brought an endless stream of scandals and unflattering revelations. There aren’t many starry-eyed optimists left who still believe that Silicon Valley is just here to build a better world. We’ve almost all come to accept the fact that Big Tech is here less to help the world and more to devour it.

If you’ve reached a similar conclusion, the natural dichotomy is one of apathy vs revolt. And let’s face it, apathy is the far more common out. What am I, in my lonely being, able to do in the face of such power and abuse? Best not to think about it too much, and – will you look at that! – these companies are experts at helping you not think about the structure and stranglehold of their businesses.

Revolt: deleting your accounts, swearing off the services, advocating for alternatives, is draining and even isolating work. No wonder most people can’t fit in such a fight in their daily routines of anxiety. Quitting cold turkey ain’t no feast.

But these aren’t the only options! You don’t have to either resign yourself to your utter insignificance or don a cape while shouting in the wind. There’s power in the margins. Tremendous power.

Keep reading “Every little bit helps”

Become A Facebook-Free Business

If Facebook’s endless privacy scandals have shown one thing, it’s that the company has far too much data on its users, and that they can’t be trusted not to sell, barter, or abuse that data whether for profit, growth, or negligence.

While individuals have long been rallying around #DeleteFacebook, there hasn’t been a comparable campaign for business. Enter: The Facebook-Free Business.

Being a Facebook-Free Business means your customers can trust that you aren’t collaborators with the Facebook machine. That when you spend your money with a Facebook-Free Business, none of that money will find its way back to Facebook’s coffers.

The rules are pretty simple. Being Facebook Free means:

  1. We do not buy advertisement on Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp.
  2. We do not use Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, or WhatsApp to promote or represent our business or to communicate with our customers.
  3. We do not assist Facebook in its data collection regime through use of Facebook social Like buttons or by offering Facebook logins.

In short, that the business does not use Facebook or its subsidiaries in any way shape or form to operate, further, or conduct itself.

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How about fixing the workplace rather than avoiding it at 4am?

Oh those superhuman CEOs who get up at 4am for that killer start to the day! Aren’t they just amazing? Such sacrifice, such grit, such tenacity.

Such fucking bullshit.

If you’re the CEO, and you can’t get work done at work, you only have one person to blame for it: Yourself. There’s no law of nature that dictates that it should be impossible to get deep work done at 11am or 2pm, just habits, values, and policies.

It’s your job to fix the damn workplace, not run away from it. Stop playing calendar Tetris with a whole organization. Stop loading up on meetings. Stop demanding endless status reports. Stop interrupting everyone all the time with shit that can wait.

Organizational dysfunction, such as the inability to get work done at work during regular work hours, is a reflection of executive habits and beliefs. Work isn’t crazy because of the nature of its being. Work is crazy because you’re making it crazy!

But it’s hard to fix that which you don’t know is broken. So let me spell it out: Having to get up at 4am to get real work done is broken. Busted. Kaput.

And it isn’t any less broken because a fawning business media keeps exalting the virtues of your morning routine or strict regiment. Quite contraire.

You know what’s cool? Getting to work at 9, putting in eight solid hours, and then being done by 5. There’s nothing stodgy or uncool about having reasonable work day that allows for a workout at 7:30am or playing with your kids at 5:30pm.

There’s no prize for being the first to rise. You’re not a fucking bird and there ain’t no fucking worm. So chill. Set a good example for your organization. Make calm a mission. Start getting work done at work again.

All Basecamp policies are now on GitHub and licensed under creative commons

“Until The End of The Internet” is just one of the many policies we’ve decided to share

We try hard to write good policies at Basecamp. Make them plain and easy to understand. Without out all the dreaded legalese. By humans, for humans.

I particularly like our refund policy and our Until The End of The Internet policy.

But I’m sure we don’t always succeed. And sometimes our policies may decay over time. Terms that are or become unreasonable linger on. Ugh.

So that’s why we now invite our customers and anyone else who’s interested in reviewing our policies to collaborate on making them better, making them fairer. To this purpose, we’ve put all our Basecamp policies on GitHub!

This also means that every revision is tracked and date stamped. You can even subscribe to be updated whenever they change, if you care to follow along at that level.

Furthermore, since the spirit of this idea is to collaborate, we’ve also licensed all these policies under the Creative Commons Attribution license. If you’d like to use any of the policies for your own business, feel free! All we ask is that you give us a bit of credit, if you either copy them entirely or materially.

This act of sharing was inspired by the reception to opening up our Basecamp Employee Handbook. We’ve heard from so many business owners and employees that our handbook helped them put together their own. That they were inspired by some of our values or practices enough to adopt them as their own.

Our hope is that the same might happen with our policies. If more companies would adopt a no-nonsense refund policy, we’d all be better off. If more companies — AND YES I’M LOOKING AT YOU GOOGLE 😂 — would honor their legacy systems, and not willy-nilly kick users to the curb, we’d all gain from the level-up in trust.

Policies are part of the organizational code of a company. Not only should that code be open source, it should be tinkered with, improved, critiqued, forked, and refactored. Let’s do that.

The AI apocalypse is already here

Fight this shit if you want to live

We don’t need to wait for the singularity before artificial intelligence becomes capable of turning the world into a dystopian nightmare. AI-branded algorithms are already serving up new portions of fresh hell on a regular basis. But instead of worrying about run-away computers, we should be worrying about the entrepreneurs that feed them the algorithms, and the consumers who mindlessly execute them.

It’s not that Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, et al are wrong to ponder whether Skynet might one day decide that humankind is a bug in the code of the universe that should be eliminated. In much the same way that evangelicals aren’t necessarily wrong to believe that the rapture will at some point prove the end of history. Having faith in supernatural stories about vengeful deities condemning us all to an eternity of misery is a bedrock pastime since the cognitive revolution. Precisely because there’s no scope for refuting such a story today.

It’s just that such a preoccupation with the possible calamities of tomorrow might distract us from dealing with the actual disasters of today. And algorithmic disasters are not only already here, but growing in scale, impact, and regularity.

A growing body of work is taking the algorithms of social media to task for optimizing for addiction and despair. Whipping its users into the highest possible state of frenzy, anxiety, and envy. Because that’s the deepest well of engagement to draw from.

Keep reading “The AI apocalypse is already here”