Category Archives: Web

WIX Website Code

I recently took on a new client who had an existing WIX website. The initial plan was that I would update the WIX site. I’ve never used WIX so I told the client I’d have a look and expected it would not be a problem to update. Then I took a look and discovered that WIX is a visual editor, the sort you might get with a page layout application like Affinity Publisher or Apple Pages. I knew the code from that sort of application would not be efficient or anything close to semantic but it was far worse than I expected.

To set the context, a normal page from one of my websites might be 5 to 6 printed pages of html, code and actual content. The text content is easily readable by a human. Add to that another 1 to 2 pages of code in a linked css file. About 35 kb for the html and css combined. On the html page the metadata is right a the top followed by the content. I printed the code for one page of the WIX site to a pdf document and the result was 136 pages. The metadata description appears at page 101. The first actual text content of the page finally appears at page 116. The file was 480 kb.

Other visual website layout apps produce the same kind of code. One aspect of this is that the visual editors are supposed to make creating and updating websites easier for users who may not have the experience to build a website. In my brief use I didn’t find that to be the case at all. In the bit of time I spent in the WIX page editor I found it clumsy to use. Perhaps given enough time it would get easier but I didn’t like the feel of it at all. Of course, if someone needs a website and has no website building skills this would indeed allow them to build and update a website that mostly works.

While visual page layout for websites might provide a certain freedom to the designing of a page and visual placement of elements in a more free form process, I don’t think the ultimate rendered page works nearly as well. Certainly this client’s site was not working as well on my devices as it should have and there were a few errors on the various pages. Obviously a well coded page displays content exactly as intended.

I’ve now got the client’s website moved over to a properly coded website and have come away from the experience with a newfound appreciation for the difference beteen the approaches. No surprises or new information here, just a reminder of the quality differences. And if I’m being honest, I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve been hand coding websites with a respect for file sizes, usability and standards for 20+ years.

Thinking about Internet publishing

In my last post complaining about the complexity of posting and especially editing WordPress posts, I had a reply from Pete which led me down a rabbit hole. I tapped Pete‘s name to view his profile… I get so few comments here that I usually do this to see if commenters have their own blog which I might follow. I ended up on Pete‘s Micro.blog which found me reading through a conversation over there and an hour later I was checking out TiddlyWiki. Funny how easy it is to fall down these rabbit holes! I‘m not going to delve into TiddlyWiki here though I might in a future post. My interest in this post is frictionless posting, internet community, and publishing silos.

In my reply to Pete I wrote this bit which I‘m just going to paste with a bit of minor editing:

I’m just longing for an interface that is more simple! I’ve got my other blog tied into micro.blog and have used that app for posting on occasion. Actually, I think the micro.blog app and platform is a step in the direction that I’m looking for.

Thinking about micro.blog, as a specific platform and kind of community, it hasn’t been sticky for me. I visit and engage a little every so often but then stop. I think, in part, because it feels secluded. In a strange way, I both like and do not like that feeling of seclusion. Every time I pop over and try to use it I end up feeling like I’m in a kind of gated community. I suppose I’m longing for some sort of internet home that is connected in a more meaningful way to my analog life where I use Messages for family communications and Slack for local friends.

So, in total, my current internet experience, in terms of sharing with others, is this blog you‘re reading, my less tech focused Beardy Star Stuff, Twitter, Instagram, Apple Messages and Slack. In short, I have lots of silos, none of which are connected. Actually, some of my friends and family are also on Instagram so that is one connection. To my knowledge none of my friends or family read either of my blogs. For many people Facebook is a primary internet home but I quit it long ago and even back then it never felt like an internet home.

So, I come back to my desire for a different internet where more people post to a timeline of their own which they can share. Something as easy to use as Facebook but without all the ugly. Or alternatively, a version of Messages but which posts to a timeline rather than to a private chat. Thinking about Messages as it is and I can imagine a “My Timeline“ tab where I could just tap or click that tab to post. To see others that I follow, just tap another “Timeline“ tab. Well, at least it‘s easy to imagine!

I don‘t really know what the answer is. In so many ways it would seem to be a syntheses of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Messages and Slack. The danger of course is that such an integrated experience, is difficult or impossible to bring under one umbrella. Or possibly not desirable. The internet is meant to be decentralized.

In thinking about it I can see how Facebook has become so dominant as it offers much of this experience as a very easy to use portal. Of course we can see the danger of this as it has manifested in the practices of Facebook (the company) and the manifestation of Facebook the website/platform. Would it be possible to have a more ethical version of Facebook both in terms of the company and the created platform? Could a company like Apple build such a thing? I think, technically, yes. But, it would come with it‘s own set of problems. Apple already faces accusations of being too big and having too much control. So, perhaps not Apple.

But I can imagine some sort of standards-based consortium. A cooperative effort to build a new platform. Safer, more ethical, less susceptible to the propagation of misinformation but still valuable as a place for free expression. Is such a thing possible or is it too contradictory? And what about some sort of verification to cut back on unaccountability and anonymous posting? It would seem that there should be some way to create a standard of verified user that might serve as a filter to remove bots or accounts created with fraud/spam or other mis-use as the intent.

I doubt it would be easy but it would seem that it is doable.

Publishing to WordPress is too messy

I published a post this morning and was reminded that this is too messy. Depending on the app I‘m using, it may not be too difficult to push the text, as html or markdown to WordPress via the WordPress share extension. But where It really falls down is in any editing I have to do in either the WordPress app or WordPress websites. The new editor, which comes in different flavors: Rich Text, Blocks, or HTML is just… eeeewwwwwwwwwww. Too complex, too messy. I sometimes think I‘d post more often if it were easier. Perhaps.

Also, I long for a day when there is some sort of easy timeline solution… easy for anyone. I sort of imagine an Apple service and app, call it iCloud Diary or something. Make it fun with a few custom themes. But easy to post to, something like Mail in terms of composing… super easy to post and edit, for non-techies. And like Messages for following friends, family… a sort of simple presentation of RSS, also for non techies. The point is safe, secure, trusted sharing. I guess a sort of Apple-based Twitter/Facebook. And perhaps make it easy to share from Apple services… Music, News, etc. And an easy to use, safe, secure alternative to Facebook.

The Micro.blog experience and a few thoughts on the open web

This post started as a response to a thread on the Macpowerusers forum asking any users of the forum to share if they were users of micro.blog. As users chimed in with user names some also offered opinion and critique of micro.blog. It was something I’d thought about quite a bit myself and as I typed this I realized it should be a blog post rather than a forum post.

So, about Micro.blog I’ll start with a few specifics but then I’ve got a few things about the larger “open web” context that I want to begin working out.

I’ll start with the micro.blog interface! Yikes. Too clean, too simple. And somewhat dysfunctional. The official iOS app and website seem so devoid of personality. Some like a simple white page and I understand that appeal. It’s much better that than the cluttered mess of ads and wasted space on FB and Twitter. In fact, much better than most websites generally. I think this nice tidy look is at least in part due to the fact that micro.blog is a paid service and so, no ads! Also, as it’s been built from scratch I’ve seen in mentioned by it’s creator, Manton Reese, that he’s been very intentional and careful about adding new features. A good move I think.

But the iOS app is just too plain and, on the iPad, somewhat dysfunctional. When in full screen or split screen there are two columns, and the left column is mostly wasted space. In split screen the results are terrible unless it is made to be the smallest portion of the split screen, the iPhone pane size, in which case it’s not bad. But at 50% split screen the left pane persists and takes up far too much space leaving too little space for content. Another weird behavior is scrolling through posts, one has to be careful not to accidentally tap into a post as it stops further scrolling until tapped again. Tapping into the post is necessary to interact with a reply or to view a conversation, favorite or share. It’s a choice that keeps the interface clean but can make actual use a bit frustrating. Also, anytime I leave and return to the app I’m back at the top of my feed. Also frustrating.

A third party iOS app, Icro, is much better in its use of space. BUT, the website and both apps limit the reading of the “Discover” feed to 50 posts. That’s it. It just stops. The “timeline” of people I follow allows for unlimited scrolling. But it’s an smaller pool of people. It’s hard to discover new people when the discover feed is so limited. Why not an unlimited discover feed. Let me scroll for days if I so choose.

The community is, er, intimate? From what I can tell, it’s very small. TINY. I pop in every so often and near as I can tell, it seems like the same 30 users on my discover feed. It feels like a club or a big Slack channel. That’s not a bad thing but it feels like the opposite of the “open web”. The upside is that it always feels very polite, positive and affirming. There’s little to no snark. I love that. The overall result is that it feels like good, interesting, healthy sharing but really limited in diversity and because it’s such a small pool of people it doesn’t feel real. It feels too curated, controlled. Again, it feels the opposite of the open web.

My understanding of the open web is that, contrary to social media like Twitter and FB, it is meant to be something that is owned by creators and more openly accessible from anywhere on the web. And it’s true that in the case of micro.blog, posts can be viewed outside of the micro.blog website or apps. If I find a user that that I want to add to my RSS reader to follow via an RSS app I can do that. Or, I can just bookmark accounts. But RSS is something I do as an individual reader. It’s my RSS feed. But a part of the point (I think?) of the micro.blog experience is to help create a cohesive, connected community for source material that is both within the officially hosted micro.blogs as well as those from outside. It creates a community commenting system that sort of ties the sources together. And really, it seems to work very well. But did I mention how few people seem to be there?

People go to twitter and FB because it’s a convenient place to go where they can easily connect with a larger group of friends, family, etc. Micro.blog feels like a place to go to connect to a small group of strangers that are polite and have good taste. And I think micro.blog really lacks a certain stickiness for this reason. It seems many users set-up accounts and try it out for a few weeks and then disappear. Once set-up micro.blog is pretty easy to use. Creating a post, commenting on posts are easy. But the mass of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram seems to pull most most people away. Certainly something is missing as the user base of micro.blog seems stagnant. At least from my own observation which is, to be sure, very limited.

Put another way, when I’m browsing Micro.blog I am keenly aware that I am in a very tiny subset of humanity. If I’m browsing Twitter or Instagram there is the sense that I am tapped into all of humanity. Yes, of course it is a subset, but it is a very large subset and it feels expansive, open. That said, big is not necessarily better.I quit Facebook 4 years ago and have never regretted it. I’m still on Instagram though I spend very little time there and I’d like to quit and probably will at some point. I’m on Twitter and would also like to quit that and probably will at some point though I actually do spend a good bit of time there. I’m not satisfied with any of these options as it seems they are opposite extremes with no middle ground.

So, what is to be done? I don’t know. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have quite a bit of gravity on the web and they have a role that many people consider important. Not only that but they are perceived to be “free”. Those users are not likely to leave because they have nowhere to go that is as easy to use and equally important, no perceived cost. Those that I know and with whom I have talked about all of the many negatives have expressed little interest in leaving the services even with those known negatives.

As a builder of the web dating back to 1998 and a blogger dating back to 2002 I’m forced to conclude that as of this moment there are no viable, meaningful alternatives for the less technical, “average” users of the internet. . In recent days we’ve seen the sale of Tumblr to Automatic, the makers of WordPress. Many hold out hope that this might develop into something meaningful for the open web and perhaps it will. I’m far from being an expert and am not an active part of the open or Indy web communities. But the sense that I have is that ultimately the solution is growing the plurality of “open” options for users as creators and consumers. Perhaps, if viewed as an ecosystem, the outlook might be more hopeful? That is, after all, the original ideal is it not? Open and wide access to the web to everyone? There will be no one answer, no one challenger to the gravity wells created by big social media entities.

I write this and mull it over from the perspective of a creator and as a longer-term user of the “old web”. I have, at least, a basic grasp of the ideal (and importance of) the open web, ownership and access. I write it as someone frustrated with the nastiness of the business practices of the corporate entities that own the big social media as well as the lack of moderation on those sites making them potentially dangerous places. But even amongst the relatively tech fluent (and likely, financially affluent) community of tech/apple oriented users that I follow on Twitter, there is little impulse to move to alternatives such as Micro.blog or Mastodon. I’ve seen evidence of an almost complete lack of interest.

My hope is that more in the tech community might begin to take an interest and make more of a consistent effort to slowly fill in these alternative spaces. Additionally there are old-fashioned websites and moderated forums. These spaces already exist but they need to be consistently inhabited and expanded. Over time, technical capacity and mind/user share have to be consistently grown and grown in such a way that they are also an ethical improvement that is also sustainable.