Asynchronous conversations

It's not a mystery that I'm a fan of asynchronicity when it comes to online interactions. In a world where it is imperative to react and be first, the concept of doing things slowly at your own time and pace is refreshing. And it's even better when conversations are conducted this way through blog posts on personal sites.

And this is exactly what I'm going to do today. I stumbled on two blog posts in these past couple of days and I'm going to reply to both. The two posts are The Quiet Web by Brian Koberlein and Metaphors for Design by Thomas Wilson.


On the quiet web

I wrote about the idea of a quiet web almost three years ago and that blog post was a direct result of me being exposed to the idea of the slow web. That means this topics is already going back almost a decade. And that's not surprising as it is not surprising that the broader topic of creating something that tries to escape the attention economy is more and more present, at least in some circles. The web is getting noisier, that's just the reality. And there's not much we can do about it because the forces behind it are almost unstoppable. In his post, Brian writes:

When you remove the constant interruption and background noise of advertisements, your expectations about media resets. What was once normal is now annoying.

I'd push this further and say this is true for almost everything. This is definitely not limited to advertising on the web. I was discussing this very topic in the car just yesterday, while talking about background noise when living close to a city.

I was noticing how sensitive I've become to background noise and that's the result of spending the last 6 years in a very quiet place. We're a very adaptable species and we get used to discomfort, but once you reset your expectations it's hard to go back. I've been browsing the web with ad blockers at both the browser level and the network level and I'm now bothered by those very few ads that manage to creep in.

I can't even imagine what would it be like for me to browse the web without those. But I don't think the issue is just ads on the web. For the past six years I curated a site called the gallery and one thing I noticed is the constant increase in what can only be described as "Design Noise".
Pointless animations, fancy and totally useless custom cursors, overly complicated layouts. These things are everywhere. And they're making the web more and more noisy, at least for me.

In his post, Brian attempts to provide a definition for what the Quiet Web is. I think the "rules" he came up with are valid but they're also missing something important: intention.
The reasons behind sites are almost as important as the sites themselves. A site doesn't become quiet as a result of a technical decision. It becomes quiet as a result of a human one. You have a quiet site because you want to, because you believe and appreciate what a quiet site stands for. Or at least, that's how I see it.

Brian also touches on the topic of discoverability:

The biggest downside of the quiet web is that it can be difficult to find. You can’t simply Google topics of interest. Instead, you have to dig a bit. Go down rabbit holes until you come across an interesting quiet page.

As we all know, Google is the true gatekeeper here. My site ranks very high for some queries that have absolutely nothing to do with what I blog about most of the time. Why? No idea. That's just Google being Google I guess. But as a result of that, quite a few people discovered my content while looking for something completely unrelated. Now, that's obviously not a sustainable way to discover new content but it can happen.

I think the only true solution is to write more about things we find interesting and link to them. That's why this thing is called the web after all.


On Websites

There's a passage in Thomas' post that made me think about something. The passage is this one:

You can build a feature complete website with maybe a dozen html tags and a single CSS file. Does it even need JavaScript? It’d be heckin’ fast and SEO optimised to boot. It doesn’t matter what other people are doing. Your website probably won’t turn into the next Reddit or Tumblr. A website can be feature complete. A feature list can not grow.

This was very interesting to me in the context of my site and also sites I work on with friends. It was interesting because I don't think I have a feature list. I have needs. My site is a tool and as a tool it needs to do certain things. And with time those needs change. But—and this is why I think the two blog posts are somewhat connected—I always try to fulfil these new needs in a way that's the least intrusive as possible.

I don't think a site can be fully planned ahead. Especially not a personal one. We're constantly changing, constantly tweaking, constantly adding or subtracting. And our websites will inevitably reflect that. But this isn't to say that I disagree with the spirit of what Thomas is writing. A site can be feature complete. At some point you can be "done" with a site.
And since in his post he mentioned the garden metaphor I think this is another occasion to mention this post which is still one of my favourite posts.

What's even more interesting is that if you look at websites as ever evolving creations then we would have to also rethink the role of designers and developers. But maybe that's a topic for another time.


Thanks to both Thomas and Brian for writing these posts. You both have a new reader.