Reading Notes, October 2020

Article: “The Power of a Link” by Bryan Braun

I loved this little thought on the power of an <a> link. People are literally employed to write emails asking domain owners for an <a> link to their site in exchange for $$$.

A link, on the open internet, is a vote. It’s your way of saying, “this is great, and more people should know about it.” We talk about how much power the search engines have, but if you think about it, the search engines listen to us. They see what we link to, what we click, and how long we stay. At the end of the day, we are the curators of what gets surfaced on the internet.

This is, at least unconsciously, part of the reason why I indexed my blog’s links: it’s a reminder of the votes I’ve cast on the internet.

I continue to occasionally get emails from marketers asking me to link to their stuff. And while it’s annoying to receive spam, it’s also a reminder of the power I wield, just by having an independent website where I can link to whatever I want.

The power of links! Independent websites: seize the means of search rankings!

Article: “Why does this design crit hurt?” by Robin Rendle

When someone says “hey, this design doesn’t make sense” it’s so very difficult for that not spiral into “wow, I’m a terrible person huh!”

I feel this. Less so now than when I was younger, but still. And not even just in design critique, just life critique. But even knowing that it’s a constructive critique doesn’t always help with processing it. As Robin says, “I know design critiques aren’t about me, so why do they still hurt?”

Article: “Six Lessons from Six Months at Shopify” by Alex Danco

First, there’s this note on Conway’s Law (“You ship your org chart”):

The original wording from Melvin Conway goes: “Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication system.”...

Think about any complex product you like – it could be your phone, your car, a public transit system; whatever. That product is composed of many different parts, and sub parts, all the way down to tiny little atomic units that feel like indivisible “chunks” of product. Conway’s law is an observation about the contours of those chunks of product....boundaries between chunks of product mirror communication boundaries inside the org.

Then there’s this point about software saturation:

there is so much software...I forget who said this – someone smart on Twitter – but your mental idea of the software business changes when you realize that the primary customer of software is becoming other software.

This stuck out to me because just a couple days before I had seen GitLab’s “Tech Stack Details” where they openly enumerate (all?) of the software they use. The list is huge, over 160 pieces of software.

Article: “Now” by Frank Chimero

An interesting observation on how our digitally-saturated lives continue to favor and connect to physical world representations. Of dust we truly art I suppose:

It’s so interesting that we designers are all using these mockup templates to sell work through. Big agencies do it. Individual practices (like me) use the same files. Yet nothing ever gets physically produced. The work stays digital, but we need the mystique of physical production to get the kind of alignment necessary for clients to say yes. Nobody ever fell in love with a logo by seeing it mocked up in an email signature. We still emotionally favor the material world even if our branding strategies and marketing budgets shit-canned it ages ago.

Article: “Missing” by Tim Kadlec

Data can blind you:

As Andy Davies puts it, “Site analytics only show the behaviour of those visitors who’ll tolerate the experience being delivered.” Sessions like this are extremely unlikely to ever show up in your data. Far more often than not, folks are going to jump away before analytics ever has a chance to note that they existed.

And later:

We build an experience that is completely unsuable for them, and is completely invisible to our data...we look at the data and think, “Well, we don’t get any of those low-end Android devices so I guess we don’t have to worry about that.” A self-fulfilling prophecy.

Video: “The web we left behind” by Kyle Jacobson (ESNEXT 2020)

Observations from someone who has been building for the web for 20 years.

We keep engineering more complexity and then using complex solutions to abstract it away for a while until we build new complexity on top of the new abstractions. If we zoom out enough, the overall pictures looks less like overall simplification.

Screenshot of a slide from Kyle Jacobson’s talk at ESNEXT 2020 depicting a line graph climbing up and to the right, illustrating an ever accreting “complexity mountain” of technology.

It’s interesting to view “progress” through this lens: a pile of abstractions, each hiding the previous layer’s complexity. Either way, Kyle’s sentiment resonates with me quite often:

I'm not tired of building products for the web. I'm tired of being a modern JavaScript developer...Most days, I don't seem to be very good at my job.