Do we need an IMDB for websites?

Do we need an IMDB for websites? Over the course of my 15 year career as a web developer, I’ve had a hand in dozens (maybe hundreds) of websites. A handful of the top sites I’ve worked on are seen my millions of people; and much like the clapper loader, child wrangler or caterer on a big budget Hollywood film, no one would be the wiser.

Unlike an obscure Hollywood professional, the behind-the-scenes work of a web developer is rarely credited anywhere. Occasionally, our names will be buried on an “about us” or “team” page no one ever visits, sometimes we’ll leave fingerprints in an HTML comment. But the fact that’s there’s no generally recognized method for crediting the hard work that goes into web development (or other creative professions for that matter)… is a little weird and disheartening.

For coders — who don’t have pretty pictures and mockups to post in a fancy shiny portfolio — the de facto industry standard for building reputation and gaining attribution seems to be a github profile. In theory github can be a low friction source to evaluate the work of a potential hire. However, in practice there are many reasons an excellent, experienced developer might have a sparse github profile. For starters, github profiles are public and paid work is usually the intellectual property of the client paying for it, not open for public posting. Secondly, coming up with unique ideas for projects, or extra free time to contribute to existing projects can be a daunting task for a developer who’s busy balancing hobby projects against paying bills and having a life. A sparse github presence should not be seen as an indication of… anything, really.

The IMDB Model

IMDB has a lot of features, some of which might or might not make sense for website listings: user ratings, trivia, things like design and feature history, etc could be interesting for larger well known sites. But the feature I’m most interested in for the purposes of attribution is the “cast and crew” listings.

Essentially, listing every “crew” member of a web team would be a great way to present the type of recognition that I believe people in the industry deserve.

Potentially, more importantly though would be the ability to reference an individual across all the projects they’ve ever worked. On IMDB when you click through to a crew member’s profile you can quickly see all the projects they’ve ever been a part of. This could give employers and colleagues a unique view into someone’s body of work and career progression. A listing like this could fill the gaps between a resume and a github profile. If it works for Hollywood, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for Silicon Valley.

Humans.txt

In 2011, an organization formed promote the idea of a included a humans.txt file with all websites.

It’s an initiative for knowing the people behind a website. It’s a TXT file that contains information about the different people who have contributed to building the website.

I recall some minor buzz around this initiative and it looks like they had aspiration to make it a W3C standard. But the buzz seems to have died off very quickly, their website hasn’t changed much since mid-2011.

Humans.txt is the ideal vehicle for the type of information an “IMDB for websites” would need to know about the development team. The service could use humans.txt as a starting point to validate a website, then parse the file itself to suck in data for the listing. From there, unique individuals could be cross referenced using their twitter profile.

That’s it

I’m sure there are a tonne of challenges, as well as interesting directions and potential features, etc…this is admittedly not a fully formed idea.

What do you think?

(crossposted to medium)

Hei Opera!

Opera was the first web browser I truly loved. In the early days of the modern web, when we had 4 or 5 real legit competitors in the browser space, Opera was truly innovative. In the year 2000 it was the first browser to support tabbed browsing  (2 years before Mozilla, 3 years before Safari and 6 years before Internet Explorer!). It was also the first browser to implement a built-in pop-up blocker around the same time. Mouse gestures may have been my favourite feature of Opera back in the day. You could to navigate the web by drawing shapes with your mouse (“J” for back, “L” for forward). Might sounds a little silly in 2016, but in the early 2000s multi-button mice were not common-place and OS supported trackpad gestures were unheard of.

I can’t recall exactly how long I used Opera or when and why I left. I suspect it was around the time that Mozilla’s Phoenix became the shiny new Firefox.

Over the past few weeks Opera has been making some small ripples in the tech press. Opera is doing a few related interesting things. So I thought I’d give it a try again after all these years.

For the past two weeks, Opera has been my primary browser on desktop, I’ve also tried out their iOS browser and free VPN.

Briefly on the mobile experiences.

Opera Mini is fine. iOS browsers are somewhat limited by being forced to use Apple’s rendering engine, so I wasn’t really expecting much. Opera mini has a “turbo” boost feature. By routing media request through an Opera system, image and video file sizes and be optimizes, improving page load times. I can’t say that I noticed the feature. However I’m not a heavy mobile browser user.

Opera’s free mobile VPN (with build-in ad blocking) is a great step in the right direction, public wifi (especially in hotels) is sketchy AF! I had the prefect opportunity to test this out on a 5 day vacation last week. Unfortunately, it fell short, the internet was slower and my battery drained faster with the VPN enabled. I don’t know if Opera’s technology it to blame, if it’s just the nature of VPNs in general, or even if it might be my perception. I turned it off entirely after 1 day of usage.


My desktop experience on the other hand, has been great!

Opera dropped their own proprietary rendering engine in 2013, in favour of Google’s WebKit variant, Chorium. This means the developers tools, browser extension support and overall rendering is identical to Chrome. And this is a good thing!

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 8.08.28 PMUsing Chorium as a platform to build on allows Opera to focus on adding features. For now, their main feature is built-in ad block. It’s good, quite good. It’s not configurable like a dedicated ad block extension, but it get’s the job done.

Opera also plans to release their free VPN solution for the desktop browser. I’m not sure when I’d use this (my desktop sits behind a network I trust), but this is something you’re unlikely to ever see from Google, Microsoft or Apple.

Overall, Opera is great and I think I’ll continue to use it as my daily driver.

Give it a shot, if only for the nostalgia.

Dear WordPress Get Your 💩 Together

Dear WordPress.org,

Get your shit together!

It is 2016, there is no excuse for allowing any plugins with insecure code to make their way into the plugin directory. Full stop.

The story about Custom Content Type Management stealing admin credentials and other shenanigans, is utterly pathetic. I’d bet this incident is just the tip of the iceberg.

If there is a plugin review process, I have seen no evidence of it. In my experience, plugin updates are made live immediately after updating the repo, regardless of if the plugin has a site crashing bug or a security issue.

The plugin directory situation has gotten so bad that people are starting to avoid installing free plugins.

Fix it. Please.

Sincerely,
Everyone who loves WordPress

PS. I stole the emoji graphic from the great article on The Oral History of the Poop Emoji.

The Role of Developers in the WordPress Community

Earlier this week, influential British designer Sazzy wrote a blog post entitled The Elephant In The Room about the depressing state of freelance web design. While not directly related, her post got me thinking about the current plight of the back-end developer inside the WordPress universe.

Over the past 3 or 4 years I’ve focused my work around custom WordPress development. In that time, in spite of (or maybe because of) WordPress’ meteoric rise to popularity, I’ve found interesting backend development work in WordPress to have almost completely dried up.

I believe this is largely because WordPress is mature, stable and has little need for serious back-end developers.

Core Contributions

Earlier this year, I took it upon myself to get a patch into WordPress core. I logged into the WordPress slack daily, watched conversations and dug around TRAC to find something I could contribute back to the community.

In doing so, I came to learn that the core contribution team seems to be a well defined clique of developer who have been there a long time. Breaking into the little club is not easy. Based on my digging around in TRAC is looks like most feature requests are met with bureaucracy and bickering, as tends to happen in nerd forums. More serious issues are already adequately handled by long-time core contributions. The slack conversations are dominated by a few voices who really know what they’re talking about.

Don’t get my wrong, the core contribution community is not unfriendly and none of the things I encountered are bad, per se. I simply got the impression that there’s little room and little need for the average developer in the core contribution team. WordPress is mature and stable, so is the development team.

Plugins

Simply put, most common and many uncommon features/problems/use-cases have been solved by well-established, mature, stable plugins. Most of the more popular plugins are supported by businesses that have sprouted up around them. Not only that, but Automattic seems to be spending even more resources developing plugins — as saw just this week with their AMP plugin.

A few years ago it might have been possible to start a cottage business surrounding a custom developed plugin that solves a popular problem. Something you could implement on all your development client’s sites, while selling support or premium services to the general public.

Today, those unsolved problems are few and far between.

Themes

The theme marketplace is bananas. There… are… just… so… many… themes and a lot of them are technically quite bad. But all that clients need are pretty pictures, slick demos and a low price point. It’s very difficult to sell the average mom & pop on the merits of a custom designed theme. To be honest, a lot of the time there is little value to be gained.

At the end of the day, custom themes are a non-starter for a large portion of the potential clients-base that the average freelance developer could expect to encounter. There are certainly cases where a custom template could be part of an overall design/branding strategy or something to that affect.

WordPress as a CMS

WordPress has always been and still is a bad choice as a general purpose CMS. But that’s a post for another day.


So, what’s left?

In my experience over the past couple of years, there are two related roles being filled by professionals who make their living in the WordPress universe.

The Expert

The WordPress Expert is someone who stays up-to-date with WordPress. They know about key features in the latest release; they maintain a personal list of goto plugins to solve various problems; they have preferred theme vendors and know how to spot a bad theme just by looking at it and they’re just really good at using WordPress.

The WordPress Expert can set you up with a website from start to finish, without ever touching a line of CSS or a PHP template. They act as a liaison between a clue-less client and the confusing world of websites. They can troubleshoot most issues, if not, they’ll know who to call.

The Customizer

The WordPress Customizer has all the skills and knowledge of The Expert and on top of they are usually a skilled front-end developer, with some basic back-end knowledge. They know what a child-theme is and aren’t afraid to use one.

When an off-the-shelf template doesn’t quite fit a client’s needs, the client will end up hiring a Customizer. The Customizer is able to wrangle the theme, bending it to meet he needs and wishes of a particular client.

At the end of the day, this type of customization can often be hard to maintain. Being a good customizer is not always an easy task. But The WordPress Customizer can be a reasonable solution to provide budget conscious clients a more customized website.


 

Over the years, my roll has morphed into that of a customizer. I enjoy the work, but it doesn’t really scratch my programmer itch. Calling it “web development” seems like a stretch.

 

Peach Came From a Can

Social app Peach hit the interwebs over the weekend, harder than a late 1990s grunge-esque anthem skipping on a discman playing through a cassette tape adapter.

You could write off peach as another social networking app for tech groupies. But you’d be missing a very unique feature.

Chatbots.

(Sorta. They’re almost more like command-line keywords.)

Peach does this one little thing that I’ve never seen an app of this type do before. A series of text commands enable quick access device sensors and various other APIs. For example, `move` posts the number of footsteps the device has recorded today, `gif: keyword` returns a gif search, `here` posts your location, etc.

I’m not sure whether to call this innovative per se, chatbots have existed on IRC for decades and Slack does something similar with third party app integrations.

However, Peach is the first time I’ve seen this sort of thing implemented for purely entertainment purposes and I find it extremely interesting. Mostly likely, an early sign of things to come.

If you do check it out, add me, I’m ohryan.