The end of web utopia?

Gerry Mc Govern about the echo-chambers of the web and our diminishing attention-span;

They call it the World Wide Web. It may be worldwide in its physical reach, but is it leading to a worldwide culture, or a sense that we are citizens of the world? […] in many countries today […], we see the emergence of a new hyper-tribalism led by populist, strongman, authoritarian figures. It’s like we’re going back to the Nineteenth Century rather than advancing forward into the 21st. […] There are indications that the Web is a web of the like-minded. A Web where we search for what we’re interested in and ignore the rest. […] For a great many, the Web does not expand horizons, or change minds or attitudes. Instead, it reinforces existing attitudes and intentions.

This is a sad realization for those of us whom Stephen Fry described as “early netizens”;

I and millions of other early ‘netizens’ as we embarrassingly called ourselves, joined an online world that seemed to offer an alternative human space, to welcome in a friendly way (the word netiquette was used) all kinds of people with all kinds of views. We were outside the world of power and control. […] So we felt like an alternative culture; we were outsiders.

Pessimism is taking over, I must be getting old.

Is the web doomed?

Off course the web is not doomed, but despite the fact that web performance is immensely important (think impact on mobile experience, think impact on search engine ranking, think impact on conversion) the web keeps getting fatter, as witnessed by this graph from mobiforge;
Yup; your average web page now has the same size as the Doom installer. From the original mobiforge article;

Recall that Doom is a multi-level first person shooter that ships with an advanced 3D rendering engine and multiple levels, each comprised of maps, sprites and sound effects. By comparison, 2016’s web struggles to deliver a page of web content in the same size. If that doesn’t give you pause you’re missing something.

There’s some interesting follow-up remarks & hopeful conclusions in the original article, but still, over 2 Megabyte for a web page? Seriously? Think about what that does that do to your bounce-rate, esp. knowing that Google Analytics systematically underestimates bounce rate on slow pages because people leave before even being seen by your favorite webstats solution?
So, you might want to reconsider if you really should:

  • push high resolution images to all visitors because your CMO says so (“this hero image does not look nice on my iPad”)
  • push custom webfonts just because corporate communications say so (“our corporate identity requires the use of these fonts”)
  • use angular.js (or react.js or any other JS client-side framework for that matter) because the CTO says so (“We need MVC and the modularity and testibility are great for developers”)

Because on the web faster is always better and being slower will always cost you in the end, even if you might not (want to) know.

Why would you still be on PHP 5.2?

For Autoptimize 2.0.1 I declared a pretty complex regex to extract font-face’s from CSS using the nowdoc-syntax which is supported from PHP 5.3 onwards. Taking into account that the first PHP 5.2 release was over 9 years ago and support ended with the release of 5.2.17, over 5 years ago I assumed using a nowdoc would not be a problem for anyone. How naive I was; several people contacted me with this ugly error-message PHP 5.2 throws;

Parse error: syntax error, unexpected T_SL in /wp-content/plugins/autoptimize/classes/autoptimizeStyles.php on line 396

There is a workaround and even a more fundamental fix for that already, but who would still want to run PHP 5.2, which has this huge list of security issues? Moreover PHP 5.5 and 5.6 seem approximately twice as fast as 5.2 according to these test results and PHP 7.0 is even over three times as fast as 5.2! And still almost 9% of all WordPress sites are running on that old version (so I could have known this was coming really, bugger).
I you are one of those, do urge your hosting company to urgently provide you with an upgrade path to PHP 5.6 (or even 7.0)!

Firefox OS dead or just resting?

So Peter-Paul Koch (Quirksmode) declares Firefox OS dead. I’m afraid he’s right. A pity really, as I loved the idea of an entirely open web-based mobile OS. Mozillians don’t agree, saying they’re just not going offer Firefox OS phones through carriers any more.
Or maybe It’s just resting?

Customer: I wish to complain about this here fox what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.
Shopkeeper: Oh yes, uh, Firefox OS …What’s,uh…What’s wrong with it?
Customer: I’ll tell you what’s wrong with it, my lad. It’s dead, that’s what’s wrong with it!
Shopkeeper: No, no, ‘e’s uh,…it’s resting.
Customer: Look, matey, I know a dead fox when I see one, and I’m looking at one right now.
Shopkeeper: No no it’s not dead, it’s restin’! Remarkable software, Firefox OS, idn’it, ay? Beautiful openness!

Apple to start charging you for Apple Music unless …

Apparently you have to go through a less-then-obvious procedure if you don’t want Apple to automatically start charging you for access to Apple Music;

Back in June, Apple Music was born. […] It was free for the first three months […] Whether you’re loving the service or not, there’s good chance you may have forgotten that you entered your bank details when you signed up, ready for the paid subscription to start of 30 September. Here’s how to stop the automatic monthly payments. Only if you want to of course.
(source: BBC Newsbeat)

Isn’t it ironic (really) that a company that prides itself in the simplicity and usability of its products, requires users to jump through hoops to disable automatic payment?

Wordfeud, server maintenance & monetization

wordfeudSo I’m a Wordfeud-addict (you know, Scrabble without the TM infringement) and the game is down since this morning. Their Twitter-account reads;

#Wordfeud servers are going down for maintenance around 06:00 CET. We expect 2-3 hours of downtime.

This message is 9h old but still no Wordfeud, so they must be facing major problems. Which begs the question; is Bertheussen IT into server-technology? And wouldn’t they invest more if paying customers could simply stop paying if service-level became too bad instead of paying a one-time fee?

The broken smartphone sequel

It’s been a almost a year since I last listed all smartphones that passed through my clumsy hands, so surely I must have some items to add to that list, you might think? Indeed! So starting off where we ended last year;
  1. 2014: Google Galaxy Nexus; 2nd hand replacement (a steal for only €95) with Cyanogenmod 11. Missed 4G, but loved the phone really. It just died on me within a week.
  2. 2014: ZTE Vec Blade 4G: no 2nd hand, 4G and not ridiculously expensive was what I was aiming for, so I bought the ZTE for just €170 and it was a very decent handset really. I sent it in for repairs under warranty mid 2015 after the power-button broke.
  3. 2015: Samsung Galaxy Ace2: much like the Galaxy Gio I used before a useable but underpowered small smartphone with an aging 2.x Android. But once one is used to it, there’s not a lot one cannot do with it (I typically want Firefox Mobile, WordFeud and a music player).
  4. 2015: back to the ZTE which was repaired perfectly, until after approx. a month it fell out of my pocket onto the ground, shattering the glass. I tried finding a shop to replace the glass, but ZTE being not that common I didn’t find one. So …
  5. 2015: Samsung Galaxy Core Prime VE: So I wanted a not-too-expensive big-brand phone (i.e. LG, Sony, Samsung or HTC) to have a better chance of getting it repaired outside of warranty, with 4G and a very recent Android-version (i.e. Lollipop) and that’s what the Galaxy Core Prime is about. I added a 16Gb class 10 SD-card and I bought a flip wallet case. Just to be safe I’ll go and buy a screen protector as well, because I am, as this list proves, not only spoiled but also clumsy.

ALA about Angulars shortcoming: it’s the server, stupid!

In “Let links be links” at A List Apart Ross Penman discusses some of the dangers of building single-page-apps that entirely rely on client-side JavaScript (using e.g. AngularJS or Ember) and more importantly proposes a solution;

When dynamic web page content is rendered by a server, rendering code only has to be able to run on that one server. When it’s rendered on a client, the code now has to work with every client that could possibly visit the website. […] If framework developers could put in the effort (which, admittedly, seems large) to get apps running in Node just as they run in the browser, initial page rendering could be handled by the server, with all subsequent activity handled by the browser. […] If this effort could be made at the outset by a framework maintainer, then every developer using that framework could immediately transform an app that only worked on the latest web browsers into a progressively enhanced experience compatible with virtually any web client—past, present, or future. […]

iBert droomt; schaf de NMBS af!

een niet zelfrijdende peseroEen mens moet durven dromen! Bert Van Wassenhove deed dat ook en in zijn “Laat ons een begin maken met de ontmanteling van de NMBS” stelt hij dan ook voor om treinen te vervangen door -zoals een innovatie-minnende entrepreneur betaamt- zelfrijdende busjes van Google, Apple, BMW of Tesla.
De kern van zijn betoog (mijn samenvatting, lees het artikel vooral zelf):

De NMBS kost te veel en de reizigers zijn ontevreden door vertragingen en andere problemen. De trein kan onze mobiliteitsproblemen dus blijkbaar niet oplossen. De spoorwegen zijn immers een concept uit de industriële revolutie, want we rijden al lang niet meer met z’n allen naar één kantoorgebouw of fabriek naast een station in Brussel. Vandaag zijn er andere revoluties aan de orde die een oplossing kunnen brengen; zelfrijdende busjes die zoals de Pesero’s in Mexico-city volledig vrije-marktgestuurd reizigers oppikken waar het meeste vraag is.

Ik schreef (een deel van) deze blogpost op de vroege dubbeldekker tussen Lokeren en Brussel. De bezetting: pakweg 1.000 pendelaars. We zijn vanzelfsprekend niet de enige trein die van/ naar Brussel rijdt; cijfers van 2013 geven een dagelijks gemiddelde van 180.000 instappende reizigers in de Brusselse stations en het merendeel daarvan (120.000?) zal er ongetwijfeld tijdens de piekuren moeten op- en op de terugweg weer uitstappen. Volgens andere cijfers telt Brussel in totaal 330.000 pendelaars, die dus met openbaar vervoer of de auto komen. Je moet geen doordachte transport-economische analyses maken om hieruit te besluiten dat een héél grote groep mensen nog steeds en masse “naar één kantoorgebouw of fabriek naast een station in Brussel” moet en dat er zonder de trein dan ook bijna de helft meer auto’s in en rond Brussel zouden rijden. De trein vervoert volgens de cijfers van statbel overigens jaar na jaar meer reizigers, met tussen 1997 en 2010 een stijging van 144 naar 224 miljoen reizigers. Dat kan tellen, als (significante bijdrage aan) het verlichten van het mobiliteitsprobleem? Het nadeel; net zoals het wegverkeer, is de trein tijdens de piekuren oververzadigd en dat zorgt inderdaad voor heel wat problemen.
Met die cijfers van de benodigde (piek-)capaciteit in het achterhoofd lijkt inzetten van al dan niet zelfrijdende Pesero’s dan ook een utopie; 120.000 mensen in Brussel afzetten/ oppikken, gerekend aan een capaciteit van pakweg 10 passagiers per busje, dat geeft al snel 12.000 extra busjes in en rond Brussel tijdens de ochtend- en avondpiek. Indien we, zoals Bert voorstelt, één trein-traject als test zouden vervangen door een vloot aan Pesero’s en dat toepassen op “mijn” lijn (Sint-Niklaas -> Brussel -> Kortrijk), dan zouden alleen al voor het deel-traject tot en met Brussel 100 busjes moeten rijden om de 1.000 pendelaars op het piekuur tot in de hoofdstad te krijgen. Ik weet niet wat U, maar ik zou de impact daarvan op de mobiliteit liever niet in de praktijk testen.
Maar het artikel van Bert is niet zonder verdienste; terwijl 100 pesero’s met die ex-treinreizigers van Sint-Niklaas, Lokeren en Dendermonde het fileprobleem alleen maar erger zouden maken, kunnen diezelfde 100 zelfrijdende busje ook 1000 personenwagens vervangen en dus voor aanzienlijk minder drukte op de weg zorgen. Dat zou nog eens een bijdrage aan de oplossing van het mobiliteitsprobleem zijn!
Blijft het probleem van grote groepen mensen die op ongeveer hetzelfde moment op ongeveer dezelfde plaats moeten zijn en daar komen we bij de droom die Bert al als realiteit ziet; wat als we inderdaad niet meer met z’n allen naar één kantoorgebouw of fabriek naast een station in Brussel zouden moeten komen? Want (nog) meer thuis, decentraal of lokaal werken is inderdaad de enige fundamentele oplossing voor de capaciteitsproblemen tijdens de piekuren van zowel de auto- als spoorwegen. Hoe kunnen we grote en kleinere bedrijven en hun werknemers daarvan overtuigen? Misschien is dat juist Bert zijn ultieme bedoeling; het probleem erger maken door de spoorwegen af te schaffen om zo een mentaliteitswijziging af te dwingen? Een sluwe dromer, die iBert!