Brian Feeney

Craft CMS Going Strong

Brandon Kelly, a founder of Craft CMS, posted this to Mastodon on Jan 1st of this year:

Mind-blowing stat to kick off 2024: @craftcms is now the 7th most popular CMS among the top 5K domains worldwide, according to Cloudflare's 2023 trends report.

And Greg Storey added his commentary:

It is a remarkable achievement for the products they create, their product strategy (the products they don't create), and their obvious commitment to the thousands of people who create these top five thousand websites with Craft. [...] Folks, this is the Internet I signed up for! This is exactly the type of business story I want to see, read, and hear more of in the years to come. It's a great reminder that the independent web is still alive and kicking, and poised for a strong comeback.

I really like Craft. It's the CMS I've used for this site since maybe 2012? I'm pretty sure Craft was still at Version 1, and it remains, at Version 4, a very reliable and flexible CMS. Admittedly, I sometimes wonder if I should migrate to something else, but reading that Craft is flourishing is enough to convince me to stay. It's easy enough to develop for, and the community around it is friendly and helpful. They've really earned their success.

May 13, 2024


The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck

Dan Mall reminded me of Cap Watkins' great post, The Sliding Scale of Giving a Fuck. I hadn't thought of it in awhile, though it did become a fundamental aspect of my design process. The gist is that you should take into consideration how strongly another person feels about their position in an argument or discussion when deciding a way forward. It's a very useful factor to consider for maintaining healthy relationships with your coworkers.

Like I said, I had forgotten about Watkin's post, but reflecting on it now, I see I've internalized it. In meetings, I prefer to stay quiet and to watch how others stake their claims. The manner in which they take positions is often as revealing as the position they're taking. Are they annoyed? Animated? Angry? Disinterested? Confused? Understanding the moods in the room gives me extra information for how to proceed with my proposals. If most people seem lost or unsure, I feel more comfortable presenting an idea confidently. It's an opportunity to provide structure and momentum when both are lacking. Yet, if someone else in the meeting is passionately arguing for something, I'm likely to provide my opinions softly. I'll share a differing perspective, but in this situation, I'd let it sit on the table and wait for someone else to pick it up. Otherwise, the passionate colleague can have their way.

A lot of this depends on having a trustworthy team. A team that shares goals at a higher level. If we all know we're working towards the same success metrics, it's easier to relax about individual decisions. I'm lucky to be on a team like that now. There's never any doubt we're all looking to make the best products we can.

If you're on a team that's constantly skidding out when disagreements arise, maybe see if The Sliding Scale of Giving A Fuck could help smooth things out.

March 30, 2024


News Orgs on the Fediverse

Ben Werdmuller:

Subsequent conversations have convinced me that I'm right about the assertions I made about the Fediverse for media organizations. There's a huge need, a huge opportunity, and the underlying technology is there.
What if we had a great experience that ties together both short-form discussion and re-sharing and long-form reading, in a way that better showcases both kinds of content and realizes that the way we consume both is different? What if it had a beautiful, commercial-level design? And what if it remained tied to the open social web at its core, and pushed the capabilities of the protocols forward as it released new features and discovered new user needs?

I'm on the same page. Media companies and newspapers everywhere could really benefit from a first-class fediverse client built for their exact needs. Posting to social media could be much more functional than sending out a small bit of text and an unfurled URL. I haven't done any exploration on this myself, but I sense in my gut that Ben's correct.

Three immediate ideas. 1) Full control over what content is pushed out to the Fediverse and direct ownership of the conversation which takes place around it. 2) Reporters for a newsroom can post from accounts on that instance, essentially bringing their official social media presence into a verified and trustworthy location. 3) A more controlled environment for publishing breaking news or simple updates.

I'm particularly intrigued by the idea of reporters and editors having their own accounts on a newsroom's fediverse instance. You can't beat the kind of legitimacy that provides. It also greatly extends a paper's reportage, piggybacking off of the personalities they employ. Because of social media, tons of reporters have higher profiles these days. It only makes sense to offer them an official place to break and discuss news related to the coverage of their paper. Of course, plenty of reporters would still prefer to have social media accounts outside of their place of employment. I'm just imagining how fruitful this kind of collaborative opportunity could be.

March 14, 2024


Ideal Process versus Reality

Matej Latin provides good advice for young designers. Namely, that the ideal process learned from books is not true to life.

[T]he double diamond design process which has been often cited as the design process doesn't reflect reality. It's the perfect ideal that designers strive for but rarely achieve. Designers simply don't have that much control over the influencing factors so a design manager reading through a perfect, cookie-cutter case study, even if it uses the double diamond process, knows immediately that it's fake.

Frankly, I sometimes see advanced designers demanding excessive adherence to process from their reports. I suspect that comes from a lack of faith in their designers, and also anxiety from not knowing every detail of the project. Delegating work means trusting that your staff can handle the job. Overemphasizing a double diamond process (or the related documentation) for every single thing creates a classroom-like environment. It feels less than professional despite being by the book.

March 12, 2024


Duolingo and You, or Not

Dave Rupert made some smart comments on Duolingo.

Slowly you realize the truth about Duolingo; it's not a language learning platform, it's an engagement platform. And through that engagement you might pick up some language skills. Duolingo does little in explaining how rudimentary concepts like verbs or participles work and instead lets you piece it together solely from repetition and context clues. Repetition in learning is important but without ever addressing the fundamentals of a language Duolingo reveals it's prioritizing something else over language mechanics.

He's right in that Duolingo prioritizes repetition over language mechanics. I can't argue with that. Except to say that the repetition is what makes it work for me. I don't open Duolingo to learn the rules of a language (French, in my case). I use Duolingo as a reliable way to inject 10 to 20 minutes of French into my life everyday. And I reinforce that education with a twice-monthly one-on-one lesson with a private teacher.

If you're using Duolingo, I'd recommend ignoring every app mechanic but the streak. Keep the streak going, because it's the daily bit of language which keeps it alive in your brain. And don't expect to become fluent from the app, either. It won't do that for you (unless maybe you dedicate an hour or more a day?). For that reason, I think Rupert is right walk away, having read his explanation. If you don't have enough motivation to learn a language with other supportive practices, Duolingo is probably not going to provide much benefit to you in the long run.

I could replace Duolingo with daily reading in French. I have French books and I do read them, but I'm constantly going to the dictionary to look up words and conjugations. There are thousands of idioms and colloquialisms which need googling to understand. What makes Duolingo better, in my opinion, is that it keeps it simple. It grows the vocabulary slowly, repetitively, and the translations are always a click away, should you need it. And it's on my phone, which is with me all the time. I can do my daily 15min from anywhere at anytime.

So I'd agree with Dave that Duolingo is not the perfect way to learn a language on its own. If it's not working for you, let it drop. But for me, it's the exact kind of reinforcement which propels me forward into fluency. For anyone who truly does want to learn a language, my advice would be to take regular lessons or classes, but to support that with a daily Duolingo habit. Or maybe use Duolingo to find which language you truly want to learn. You might think it's Spanish, but maybe you find you really enjoy German? In any case. it's an excellent app. I've found it incredibly useful. Especially when my expectations for it are in line with what it provides.

February 26, 2024


The Gulf Between Design and Engineering

I couldn't agree more with Rune Madsen's article on the gulf between design and engineering in some organizations.

I believe the way most organizations produce digital products is fundamentally broken. The elephant in the room is a dated understanding of the role of both design and engineering, which in turn shapes how organizations hire, manage, and produce digital things. These companies invest billions of dollars building teams, processes, and tools on top of an immature discipline and an outdated waterfall model that ends up being detrimental to productivity, team happiness, and ultimately, the resulting experiences we bring to life.

I work at a company which is a nestled set of orgs within orgs. A sibling design department to mine has recently finalized their waterfall process with a very detailed document. It's really well done, and a big achievement for our Design Ops. I'm reading it, though, and realizing that it could not possibly work for my department without introducing bottlenecks from design and slowing down the rate with which we ship. That documentation clearly solves an org problem, albeit one out of my view — I suspect a political one concerned with executive reporting. That's fair. There are many acceptable reasons for leadership to prioritize what they choose. In a big org like the one I'm in, accountability can take precedence over product. Again, fair.

My team — as opposed to the others — operates as Madsen describes: integrated with engineering. Every week, we're shipping new features across multiple Publishing tools. And at various levels. Sometimes the feature is a new button in the UI for a new function. Sometimes the feature is a systems-wide capability which cuts multiple steps out of a newsroom workflow. The high speed with which we work depends on the tight partnership between design and engineering. Because of this, possible ship-sinking icebergs in the engineering phase can be avoided by steering design in the right direction from the very beginning. We move smoothly and quickly from concept to launch.

It's very worth reading Madsen's entire article. I started to clip quotes from it and couldn't stop. What I'm going to continue thinking about is the various reasons an org may choose to operate differently. What are the orthogonal complications which prevent a team from working this way? What other company priorities may be worth sacrificing this efficiency for? (via Brad Frost)

February 07, 2024


NYC Phil

Lincoln Center

Rob invited me out to the NYC Philharmoic on Saturday. We started the night with dinner at Jeju in the West Village, an excellent Korean place I'd return to. I had the gochu ramyun, Rob the donkatsu, and we split the fried chicken app. We had extra time, so we grabbed some scotch at the old Art Bar; place was still packed and going strong.

The performance was really nice. I don't have the words to appropriately describe the pieces, but I did learn plenty from Rob, not only about the music, but how orchestras and players work as an industry and career. 

The program:

  • Mozart: K.505 aria
  • Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 4

February 05, 2024


Beirut on AI

Michael Beirut with a great take on a benefit of AI:

"A majority of the world is boilerplate, and that's a good thing," Michael says. "Because all of us are motivated by two opposing kinds of needs. One is the need for predictability and comfort. And the other is the need for surprise and excitement. If you get that balance wrong and everything is just comfortable and predictable, you get bored. And that's not good. But on the other hand, the antidote to that isn't 100% unpredictability, surprise, and entertainment, because then you get too overstimulated and start to freak out. There's a certain reason why you wouldn't want every building on Fifth Avenue to look like the Guggenheim. It just would be too crazy in an unpleasant way. This architect was admiring some anonymous building somewhere in Manhattan, and they said, 'You know, what makes a city great is its ability to put up and maintain something like this, a perfectly good kind of background building that actually does its job well and isn't calling attention to itself.' But if you examine the details, you see that they're sound and built to last, and the tenants are satisfied. And then down the block and around the corner, there's something more special and showy that provides a great foil for that.”

So maybe ChatGPT, Midjourney, and all of those other new generative AI programs can be responsible for doing the boilerplate really well. Now, you've got time to do something a little more interesting. "Everyone dismisses boilerplate as crap that's not worth anyone's time," Bierut says. "You could argue boilerplate makes the world go round, whether it's in architecture, design, or writing. Boilerplate makes things that are special look and feel more appropriately special. Maybe that's an appropriate way to think about the promise of AI, but I don't know."

This tracks with how I've been thinking about AI with respect to design (or any creative profession). It's going to be a tool which helps with boring, rote elements of a process. It'll be able to recreate and fuse older iterations of a craft in order to more quickly produce what had come before. It's just not going to be reliably able to make something humanist and new. At some point, the boundaries of what AI can produce will be obvious, and human beings will bend culture back to what is more fully human.

You can't believe the tech bros about this. They're going to claim AI will be possible of anything — including self-awareness and then becoming our new god. Whatever AI creatures they do eventually create will look and act like them, because people are only able to create gods in their own image. In the case of AI, that god will also be white, male, and techno-centric.

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing how art and society eventually push back on the upcoming AI-obsessed culture. It should be really human. Really tactile and emotional. Think about how Grunge reset the table on music as we turned into the 1990s. AI stuff will always look clean and rich. It'll have a pristine quality to it, even when prompted to not. Because it's expensive. And it's run by rich people. The pushback to it is going to be a good time. It's going to be the Guggenheims on a street full of forgettable buildings.

January 28, 2024


Advice from Gaiman

Posted by Jennifer Grand on BlueSky.

[E]xquisite advice from [Neil Gaiman]
“When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

January 26, 2024


The End of Pitchfork?

Pitchfork magazine is being folded into GQ. I've been a reader for over twenty years now, and so this is a bummer. I read maybe one out of every 300 reviews, but it was still a good place to catch wind of new artists, or which older artists are putting out new material.

Kornhaber does a pretty good job of capturing my attitude towards it:

The irony of Pitchfork is that although it has long been thought of as a keeper of cool, the site itself has never been particularly cool; one admits sheepishly to reading it. This is not just because of its reputation for snobbery and its sometimes exasperating prose. It's also because to absorb the logic of Pitchfork is to believe in the authority of each individual's ears and brain. Saying you're a Pitchfork person can be mistaken for saying you take its opinions as your own, when ideally it just means that you want a discerning companion for making your own discoveries and judgments.

I never really cared what Pitchfork said about anyone. I'm able to have my own studied opinions. But if they cared to write about someone, I figured they were worth the attention, for good or bad.

This is probably the end of the site, but the real Pitchfork killer would be the sunsetting of its RSS feed. If I can't follow the music news without also getting posts about what watches movie stars wore on red carpets, then I'm out out.

Time to start looking for more places for independent music news.

January 18, 2024