Posted on

047: The Web is Neither Good or Bad…nor is it Neutral. It’s an Amplifier with Jeremy Keith

User Defenders podcast
Web Design
047: The Web is Neither Good or Bad...nor is it Neutral. It's an Amplifier with Jeremy Keith

Jeremy Keith reveals how the web is neither good or bad, nor neutral, but an amplifier. He inspires us to not let the future be just something that happens to us, but rather something we make with the small things we do today. He encourages us to build software ethically with our users’ psychological vulnerabilities in mind. He motivates us to not build on rented land, but to publish using the superpower of our own URLs. He also shows us how looking to the past is just as important as looking to the future.

Jeremy Keith lives in Brighton, England where he makes websites with the splendid design agency Clearleft. You may know him from such books as DOM Scripting, Bulletproof Ajax, HTML5 For Web Designers, and most recently Resilient Web Design. He curated the dConstruct conference for a number of years as well as Brighton SF, and he organised the world’s first Science Hack Day. He also made the website Huffduffer to allow people to make podcasts of found sounds—it’s like Instapaper for audio files. Hailing from Erin’s green shores, Jeremy maintains his link to Irish traditional music running the community site The Session. He also indulges a darker side of his bouzouki-playing in the band Salter Cane. Jeremy spends most of his time goofing off on the internet, documenting his time-wasting on, where he has been writing for over fifteen years. A photograph he took appears in the film Iron Man.

  • Iron Man Photo Story (4:43)
  • On Net Neutrality (13:31)
  • What’s “Adactio”? (20:44)
  • Is the Internet Good or Evil? (24:41)
  • Hippocratic Oath for Software Designers (35:51)
  • Resilient Web Design (49:06)
  • Why do you Love the Web so Much? (54:26)
  • The Power and Generosity of the Community (63:05)
  • What Comes Next? (71:34)
  • Listener Question? (73:44)
  • Last Words to the Builders of the Web (74:18)
  • Contact Info (80:15)

Jeremy’s Twitter
Jeremy’s Website
Jeremy’s Band (Salter Cane)
Rocketman Episode
Humane Tech – Tristan Harris
Hi, I’m Jason…and I’m a dope-addict [ARTICLE]
The Binge Breaker [ARTICLE]
Evaluating Technology [VIDEO]
What Comes Next is the Future [VIDEO]


Resilient Web Design


Show transcript

Jason Ogle: Welcome to User Defenders. I’m super excited to have you on the show today.

Jeremy Keith: Oh thanks Jason. That’s really nice. What a lovely introduction. Thank you.

Jason Ogle: Well thank you. And I’m very curious and I’m sure our Defenders listening are as well about the photograph. Can you speak to that in Iron Man?

Jeremy Keith: Sure. I mean it’s part of a I’m not sure where to start with that. I mean what let’s begin with you actually and when we finally finally got to meet recently *independent *vendor Park Denver and I was saying how much I really really really enjoyed the episode you did with your dad where he talked about his life in rocketry right?

Jason Ogle: Yes.

Jeremy Keith: It’s so good. I mean anybody listening if you haven’t listened to that episode please go back and listen to it. It’s really good. And I’m a space nerd anyway so I really loved that. And I just love the inside of it.

Jason Ogle: Thank you so much.

Jeremy Keith: It’s really good. But as I was saying I’ve actually I’ve been down to the Cape and been shown around the place by another rocket scientist and this happened quite a few years ago. It was 2006 I was in Florida for an event it was in Orlando for a little it was a small conference, Refresh, I think it was Refresh Orlando. It was only about 60 people there. But I was there and my colleague Andy Bird was there and some other Brits who had been flown over. And Paul *Boag who does the *Boag’s World podcast, he was there and, Paul said to us listen I got this e-mail from this guy who says he works at NASA and he’s invited me to come along to this open day where we can look around. And Paul was like you know do you guys want to come with me because I’m a bit nervous about meeting a stranger off the internet. I was like sure you know that that sounds like fun. But we were thinking like OK one you know when he says he works at NASA obviously he means you must be doing something on the Web site for NASA. And this open day thing must be like something that happens every weekend and people pop along. But now it turned out, Benny was the guy, that he was literally a rocket scientist like he worked on the engines on the back of a space shuttle and was like doing you know Web and WordPress stuff on the side. And that’s why he was listening to Paul’s podcast, and that’s why he had been in touch. It was kind of nuts. You know he was like yeah I was thinking about getting into web design full time and we were like are you crazy you’re a rocket scientist. You should do the rocket stuff. And then this open day thing which we thought was maybe something that happened all the time but it turned out this was the first time it was happening since September 11, 2001. It had been pretty much a lockdown and the first time that people were allowed into a lot of these places and mostly it was you know family members of staff at NASA. So we were actually really really lucky and privileged to be there. And then when I got back my wife was so jealous. You know I was telling her I had been oh yes right up close to the space shuttle and it was really great. And one of the parts of getting shown around by a rocket scientist up there was we got to go into the VAB the Vehicle Assembly Building which normally you wouldn’t be able to go into right amazing right? Such a huge structure.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, it’s incredible.

Jeremy Keith: So obviously the whole time I’m there I’m snapping pictures right? I’m taking pictures and they’re fairly crappy pictures you know but there’s this one picture I take of my colleague inside of the VAB and I’m trying to get like the scale of the inside of this building. It really doesn’t come across in the photograph at all and the photograph’s kind of blurry and kind of rubbish. But anyway I take pictures I stick them up on Flicker. Now I’ve been putting stuff on Flicker for years and fairly early on I decided to license all my stuff Creative Commons Attribution. Right so anybody is free to use my pictures as long as they include the credit and part of the reason I did that was just sheer laziness because before that I’d get lots of requests from people you know can I use this picture for something and I will always say yeah sure but I have to you know the onus is on me to write that reply and say “Yeah, sure.” You know what by making the license like this I don’t have to reply to any of these e-mails anymore. People can just read the license and then they know they can do it. And so what was happening was people would still write to me saying “Hey is it OK I’m going to use this thing in this context.” And I just wouldn’t even bother replying because I’m like I’ve changed the license. You know occasionally I’ll get around to replying but generally I’d be like you know this isn’t the priority because the license covers that.

Jason Ogle: Sure.

Jeremy Keith: So a few years after that trip to Florida I remember I’d get you know an e-mail pops up through Flicker saying “Hey I’d like to use some picture of yours.” I didn’t even look to see which picture. “In a movie that’s been put together.” And I was like right OK so somebody is making like a home movie type thing so some kind of student project fine. And I’m like I’m not going to reply. I’ve set the license. They didn’t read the license. You know it’s not a priority for me. Maybe I’ll get around to it later. So I think I got a follow up e-mail. Yeah I guess I should probably have replied to that person and then I was traveling actually. I was in America for another event, the Microsoft event, that happened in Vegas . I’ve been invited over there by Microsoft. They were on the release of Internet Explorer 8. So that will probably date the event and my phone rang (my mobile phone) and who’s calling me on the phone like nobody calls me on the phone? And it was this person who emailed me who tracked me down by my contact details and she said “Oh yeah I wrote you through Flicker about using your photos.” And I was like OK. Right.

And I started going into this spiel about saying well look if you look at the license it says “attributions.” All you have to do is you know credit me for the picture and you can use it anywhere you like. That’s that. And she said, “Well you know I don’t think we can put you in the credits because normally that runs to quite a significant figure.” I think like hang on a minute because I was thinking still this is something like a home movie. What was this film you wanted to use this picture in? And she said, “We’re currently shooting Iron Man with Robert Downey Jr.” And I was like what? I mean I probably could have, you know, got money for it but I thought that this is just too cool I just said: “Yeah sure use the picture that’s fine.” My verbal agreement wasn’t enough and she had to get it in writing which involved her trying to fax things to the hotel. It got very complicated but at some point I had my signature on something saying yes go ahead use it whatever. I remember talking to her on the phone and saying like oh right that picture and it was the blurry picture of Andy inside the VAB and I thought I get it. Because normally you can’t have access to the VAB so there can’t be that many pictures you could use is why she wanted to use it. She said, “Oh no we just thought it was like a picture of a warehouse or something.” You know for all the troubles you go to track me down and you could have just taken the pictures another place and used that. My suspicion is what happened is that you know at this stage it was already in the film and it’s rights clearance rather than you know get the permission first and then put it in the film. It is more like OK somebody’s already done something with this picture and now we need to get that rights is probably what happened. I didn’t even get to see Iron Man in the cinema when it came out for some reason and it was later on I was on an airplane and the film came on and said, “Oh yeah. Iron Man. My picture is supposed to be in that.” And I thought you know it will be one of those things where it’s in the background for like a blurry half a shot there’s no way I’ll be able to recognize my picture in the film. I start watching it and in the opening two minutes to three minutes there’s my picture really clear and really like up front in the opening ceremony where Tony starts getting an award. And there’s a montage of magazine covers. And one of the magazine covers has you know Robert Downey Jr. and Jeff Bridges Photoshopped over my picture of the VAB. Just crazy. And it’s on screen for a good two seconds baby. You know it’s incredible. It was like, “Wow! That’s my picture.” That’s how a fairly crappy picture of mine ended up in Iron Man.

Jason Ogle: That’s amazing, Jeremy. What a great story to kick off the episode with. I mean that’s just so astonishing. Even like you said you probably could have gotten a few bucks for it but I think just the sheer joy of knowing that that’s there and it’s there forever you know?

Jeremy Keith: Exactly yeah yeah. You know in other situations they would have said yeah you know I’m going to get paid for this. With this one it’s like this is kind of cool. I’ve just used a picture. This will be a good story.

Jason Ogle: Your websites may not be here forever but your picture and Iron Man will be.

Jeremy Keith: Well it depends how long the films storage lasts. Digital preservation matters there as well. Better than celluloid probably. But yeah yeah. We’ll see.

Jason Ogle: What about net neutrality? If a certain group of people have their way which they kind of have, I know that that can be reversed. But if they have their way then we’re all gonna be paying like having to pay for Internet. Do you want to talk about that?

Jeremy Keith: Yeah. I mean it’s such a fundamental part of it. The technical structure of the Internet. But also I guess the philosophical underpinnings of the Internet really is. It’s just awful that it would be attempted to be reversed at this point. It was kind of the secret sauce when the Internet was coming together. That was a precursor to the Internet which was the *ARPANET which was mostly higher level educational institutions having a network together. And later on it was the *ARPANET and other networks so these networks need to be made to communicate and you need to have a network of networks which is what the internet work was. There were a couple of crucial sort of breakthroughs in the design of the Internet. One is this decentralized idea that we don’t have this hub and spoke model. You don’t have a centralized model that you can just keep adding to it. It’s scaled for you. You can just keep adding. You don’t have a centralized authority. And the other is this idea of packet switching. That you break down what you’re trying to deliver over the network. You break it down into packets and now all the network needs to do is deliver those packets via whatever route is most convenient at that moment. So that way you know *nodes can get knocked out of the network and the packets will find another route. And here’s the really crucial part of *TCPIP, the really sort of low level part of the way the Internet works, is that the contents of the packet don’t matter to the network. The network doesn’t care about what’s inside the packets. Nothing gets prioritized. Nothing gets de-prioritized either and that turns out to be absolutely genius because if you had tried at that point to, you know, at that point we’re into the 70’s heading towards the early 80’s, if you try to predict what to prioritize you would have got it completely wrong because you never would have foreseen that one day people will be sending video n a format that doesn’t exist yet by the Internet via these packets, right? Or some other format that didn’t even exist at the time. So it was kind of a genius decision on the part of the architects of the internet to say “Let’s not prioritize for a particular kind of content”. The content is irrelevant and it’s just about getting that content to where it needs to go as quickly as possible via packet switching. So it’s really really fundamentally baked in. And this is the funny thing with net neutrality is that’s the way it works by default. You have net neutrality by default. Then if you want to prioritize certain kinds of packets, certain kinds of content, or content from a particular domain, you have to work at that like you have to do more work to add on this extra level of complexity to say well we want to prioritize this sort of traffic and want to de-prioritize that traffic. So it actually ends up becoming a cost to you if you’re one of the people you know in charge of a part of the network. You’re an ISP or something. It actually takes more work to not have net neutrality. So just from an engineering perspective it seems kind of crazy. It’s like now you’re just making more work for yourself but also that fundamental problem is that okay well let’s say we lose net neutrality today and ISPs (or other companies) will choose to prioritize certain kinds of content over others who de-prioritize content. Well the decision of what content counts as important will be made today and then that can’t possibly predict what will be important in the future. Right? So the thing to do in that situation is don’t try to predict the future. Don’t try to anticipate what’s going to be important in the future. Just treat everything equally and that’s what we got with the Internet and it’s really really shortsighted to try and figure out – this is what’s important because it just happens to be important to certain people today. Right? We don’t know the future value of things. You know the thing with losing net neutrality in the States, because you know it’s under fire in lots of different places, in the United States it’s a particularly bad situation because of lack of competition. For all that the United States is built on the ideals of capitalism and free market economies where you have a level playing field in a free market and people compete on that free market – in certain areas you’ve got complete monopolies. And one of those areas is in Internet service providers. For a lot of people (and a lot of the United States) they don’t have any choice about where their Internet comes from. They have to get it from say Comcast or they have to get it from AT&T and they don’t have an opportunity to say “I don’t agree with what this company is doing so I’m going to take my business elsewhere.” which is sort of a fundamental tenet of capitalism is that you have the market decides. The market figures out. So what’s happening right now?

Jason Ogle: Right. And that’s why the *DOJ exists. Right? To kind of like eliminate monopolies.

Jeremy Keith: Exactly right. Like, stop. Get rid of monopolies and ensure a level playing field. And so this combination of losing net neutrality in combination with monopolies is a recipe for disaster because it takes away the consumer’s choice, the consumer’s right to say “I disagree with this decision so I’ll vote with my wallet.

Jason Ogle: Right.

Jeremy Keith: I’ll take my business elsewhere.” which is the time-honored way that the consumer expresses pleasure or displeasure with the marketplace by moving business around. So it’s particularly egregious I think in the United States. It would be great to see more players get into the ISP space. You know you can imagine ethical ISPs that all they do is provide the pipe and they don’t try to prioritize traffic. I mean you know the net neutrality debate has been going on for a long time, and I remember over 10 years ago at an event, and I wish I could remember who it was, maybe it was David Eisenberg, but he wrote this whole poem about it, and it had a refrain, and everyone joined in the refrain for what we want from the internet what you want from an ISP. And it was “fat pipe, always on, get out of my way”. That’s what you want from your internet service – fat pipe, always on, get out of my way. And none of those things are particularly hard to buy. Also we talk about things that people want to pay money for. Right? People are quite willing to fork over money for fat pipe, always on, get out of my way.

Jason Ogle: I think there’s I think Salter Cane could take those lyrics and write a song about it.

Jeremy Keith: Don’t know if it would fit our style, you know? I don’t know if we’ve ever done any overtly political songs. I don’t actually know what our songs are about anyway.

Jason Ogle: You guys are great. I’ve listened to some on iTunes. It’s good. You guys are really good and you know you could use the subtle approach and kind of like, you know how like there’s a lot of films that are really political but you don’t really know on the surface?

Jeremy Keith: Yeah, we’ll make it a metaphor. The river is the Internet, and the dam is… I don’t know. We’ll figure out some way of talking about net neutrality that’s actually a murder ballad.

Jason Ogle: What’s Adactio? What is that, Jeremy?

Jeremy Keith: Adactio is a word. Just a collection of characters strung together.

Jason Ogle: OK.

Jeremy Keith: It doesn’t. Well, it probably has a meaning in Latin I believe. If your real question is “Why Adactio?” then it goes back to at the time I started getting online and started to have my own Web presence I was living in Germany. And I wanted the website that wasn’t something in English but also wasn’t something in German, so I chose something that wasn’t either and was I think just taken at random from Latin. But it doesn’t mean anything. There’s no particular origin story there I’m afraid it’s just a bunch of characters that sounded good. You know in retrospect I should have gone for Jeremy Keith dot-com that would’ve that would have made sense right? But I think at the time it was like if you were beginning as a freelance web designer you always try to pass yourself off as being an agency even though it was just you. Right? We provide services blah, blah, blah and there’s no we it’s just one person making websites in their bedroom.

Jason Ogle: I’m so glad that writing has gotten more honest on the web and way better. Like you know if you’re an individual running your own freelance business just come from that angle. People trust you more.

Jeremy Keith: Well, I think in general this attitude to being online used to in the 90’s into the early 2000’s used to be thought of as literally like another place. And so in this other place, you could be another person. You know on the internet no one knows you’re a dog kind of thing. So people would have different personas. People would have a handle, a nickname that they use in your live journal account or whatever and that’s how you are known online. And that’s changed. I think that’s a good change that we no longer distinguish between online and offline identity at least. I mean there’s maybe other things that we do need to draw a clear line, but I think in terms of identity it’s good that we don’t draw a distinction because you know I remember trollish behavior being justified by people saying, “Oh that’s not what I’m like in real life. That’s just me on the Internet”. You know, I’m like that on the Internet. And you couldn’t imagine anyone saying like, “I’m just I’m just like that on the telephone. No that’s not me. I’m just a [00:18:26]*SHAZAM!!! [0.0s] on the telephone”. But for some reason at the beginning, it was like, “Oh yes I have this internet persona where this is my handle, and I behave in this way, and it’s very different how I behave offline.” It’s funny I was talking to a friend of mine who used to work at Linden Lab who built Second Life. He’s worked in a lot of interesting places where they have this idea of a separate sort of space you go to . Second Life being an interesting one. Now he works in you know virtual reality stuff. And what he’s come to realize over time is that you give people this alternate world where they can be anything and they can do anything and they could create a whole new identity that actually what people tend to do is want to be themselves over a long enough time period they might begin by saying, “Oh yes and in life I am a 40-year-old male, but I’m going to be you know a 20-year-old woman in this other space.” But actually, no. Over time people end up just wanting to be themselves in some altered space. And I’m glad that in general, that’s the way the Internet has gone. It has its downsides that we’re all being more honest and open. Saying “Look! This is who I am” makes it a lot easier for nefarious surveillance capitalist companies to more easily associate who you are on this site and on this site and on this site and put all that information together and get this great picture of you so we can track you across those sites and advertise to you. You know part of that is made possible kind of by having a more honest identity which is a real shame. Like that those people are literally exploiting the fact that we’re being more open and honest about our identities.

Jason Ogle: Yeah, that’s fascinating. And I feel like the Internet like any tool really can be used for good or evil. I think there’s, you know, unfortunately, I think that there are, there’s always going to be folks who maybe aren’t satisfied with their lives and maybe just are you know sad and just want to kind of be somebody else. And I think the Internet sadly can afford them that. And unfortunately, there’s the dark side of the web as well which as you know it’s not talked about that much, but it’s, you know, it’s not a good thing. What are your thoughts?

Jeremy Keith: You know I think you’re right there. As the famous *Melvin *Kranzberg quote that “Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.” I think to a certain extent you’re right and that the Internet I would say, and most technologies, are an amplifier. What it amplifies are our existing structures. What tends to happen is that whenever there’s a new powerful technology that comes along people think this won’t be an amplifier this will be a game changer. This will change the existing power structures and there’s this quite utopian viewpoint towards the new technology. And then over time it turns out no. What we ended up doing was solidifying existing structures even more because we’ve amplified them more. So this has happened time and time again. You know when the telegram came along that truly world changing technology people thought that’s the end of wars. You know why would we go to war with a country when we can communicate instantly and solve our disagreements over telegraph? Radio began as this medium to connect people at an amateur level and then ended up being used for propaganda purposes. And you know amplifying existing structures and becoming a broadcast medium you know that broadcast to the masses. And sure enough it’s happened with the Internet where there’s a lot of utopian thinking this will change everything this will change how governments work this will change how societies are structured this will change how economies work and change yes sure but not fundamentally altered, you know, the ground rules. It’s funny I was looking back at some things that Tim *Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, said very early on. He’s actually got a page on his website where he answers questions from kids. This is from about 20 years ago and actually really well written because he’s writing back to kids it’s really clearly explained. And one of the questions he would get a lot was “Is the Web a force for good or is it a force for evil?” And he was under no illusions that it was like this great thing that’s automatically good. He said “It’s a technology it amplifies.” And so it amplifies the bad as well as the good. So when we see the technology being used in a destructive way or in a way that reinforces a power structure we don’t like, such as surveillance as being one example of that, often I think what we try to do immediately is think the problem is the technology and we need to fix the technology. But no. Fixing technology isn’t that hard a problem to solve. The really hard problem is that there’s a fundamental power imbalance below the technology and that’s what needs to be addressed. That turns out to be a really hard problem because you’re generally going back, often centuries, to try and get to the root of where this imbalance came from, and it’s messy, and it’s not as clean cut as just shipping a patch for this thing. That involves people rather than technology, and people are messy. On the one hand, I agree it’s not that the Internet is inherently bad or technology is inherently bad, but it’s also not that the Internet is inherently good or technology is inherently good. It’s an amplifier that doesn’t absolve us of responsibility to make sure that we build things in a responsible way. And part of that is when we’re building something that uses technology we ask “What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the worst use that someone could put this technology to?” And we don’t just wash our hands and say well “I’m just building technology. What people do with it isn’t any of my concern.” I think that’s a bit of a cop-out. You have to actually address those concerns and then decide if you’re going to take any actions to try and mitigate that. Maybe you can’t fully prevent the technology from being used for nefarious purposes. But what can you do to mitigate that? And it gets into very gray areas. If you’re building something with end-to-end encryption that’s very good for privacy. I would say that it’s not going to subvert power structures, but it’s at least a way for people to communicate you know off the grid effectively. But people who want to communicate off the grid may want to do some very nefarious things too. Is the solution there to ban end-to-end encryption? Absolutely not. It’s a vital technology. But there’s certainly moral grey areas. Generally, the solution has very rarely been to ban the technology. That generally doesn’t work. However, the solution can often be to regulate the technology which is anathema to a lot of people I think in the technology world this idea of regulation. That’s so 20th century that we’d have the slow-moving government deciding to regulate things. But frankly I’d rather that we didn’t have to regulate if we didn’t have to, but this is why we can’t have nice things. You’ve been given free rein to do what you want on the Internet. And boy it’s turned into a mess. OK. I’m sorry. We tried. Time for some regulation.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. And I think you said it it’s a very gray area. It’s a very fine line. But I do think I agree with you. I think that there is some onus on the creators of these products. Especially ones that maybe people are forming unhealthy addictions to perhaps? There could be a little bit of room for being that sort of nonjudgmental but “Hey. I know you’ve been on the gambling product for a while. Maybe you want to go outside for a little bit?”

Jeremy Keith: Absolutely. Yeah, that is a design decision. What we described there is a design decision. The problem is what you’re measuring, right? Or how are you going to decide whether a design decision is quote-unquote good or quote-unquote bad? Well to do that you need to have some metric you’re measuring and if that metric goes up it was a good design decision if the metric goes down it’s bad design decision. That sounds very crude but that’s actually the way a lot of design decisions get made. You do something like A/B testing and you say “This design decision did better than that design decision.” And by better you mean that was higher engagement. More people stuck around. More people completed a transaction. Now if that’s the metric you’re looking at that’s not the same metric as is it doing good for people or is it good for the particular person? You know just recently there was a lot of travel agent sites here in Europe got slapped with some fines because they were using all sorts of what I would describe as dark patterns to kind of hassle a user to complete transactions. Like oh four other people are looking at this hotel room or you’ve only got five minutes left to complete this transaction. Now you bet if you A/B tested those patterns you’d find that they convert better. That, you know, it lit a fire under people and they were like “Oh. I better do this.” But it would also make people really stressed out. One of my friends tweeted “My heart rate was going up!” while he was trying to book a hotel room. It was like “Oh! You better complete it soon.” So the measurements you’re measuring are simply the numbers on a spreadsheet of something like more profit this month. Or you got more engagement. Or the classic one – stakeholder value. Then there’s no incentive in the design process to add in the kind of patterns that you’re talking about where it would be better for the user if at this point we asked them to maybe take a break or be better for the user if at this point we suggested that they don’t use our product for a while. There are very few incentives for that. Now I personally think there are good profitability reasons to do those kinds of patterns. That you end up with better goodwill from the user in the long-term. That they will tell their friends that this is something that happened and it’s really unusual. To have a bit of a first move or advantage to do stuff ethically can absolutely be a competitive advantage there. But the tricky thing is measuring that. Well-being is a tricky thing to measure. It can’t be measured in the same way that clicks or hits or any of that kind of stuff can be measured and it’s generally not what’s being tested against. So the metrics lie at the heart of this spiral where design decisions that kind of do harm or can do harm get implemented through no malice on the part of the designer. They’re not trying to make the user’s life worse. If anything, they might think they’re doing something good, but because they’re looking at the wrong metrics or incomplete metrics, then it gets judged as being a good decision when actually it could be downright harmful. I’m kind of talking vague generalities. But it’s a pattern I kind of see over and over again. At some point, we stop asking the why. Why? Because it will increase revenue. OK. That’s all we need to know. If this will increase revenue, do it. And we don’t keep asking what’s the knock-on effect? What happens then? What happens to the user after they’ve bought this product, but they’ve been through this nerve-racking process to do it? Then it is incumbent on designers I feel to be the proxy voice for the user in that situation. To say yes to the metric of profitability or something else that’s an important one but hey here’s this other metric over here and it’s for the well-being of the user and this is something we need to consider, and we need to balance it. They are not in conflict. It’s absolutely possible to have a design that’s doing a job well and is profitable, and people are completing and not stressing people out at the same time or not do things that over the long term would make the user feel worse and worse. It might be idealistic of me, but I don’t think they conflict. I don’t think it’s either you have a cut-throat approach to this stuff or you have to slice hippy-dippy feely attitude to things. No, I think you can absolutely combine the two together and have a balanced approach to the design.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. I like that. I like that philosophy a lot, Jeremy. I think about Tristan Harris’s work. He founded Time Well Spent. He’s a former googler, and he’s done some other stuff in tech. He’s sort of defected, so to speak, in a way from a lot of what software is doing now especially a lot of these addictive apps. There’s an article in The Atlantic that I haven’t read yet but it’s been in my tabs for about three months. One of these days I’ll get to it. One of the poll quotes is he says A Hippocratic oath for software designers would stop the exploitation of people’s psychological vulnerabilities.” And I think that’s a really interesting and quite challenging and controversial thing to put out there, but I just feel like there is a value to that. And I think, as you touched on, I think software companies and developers and designers even would benefit a lot if they would think about this a little more. Especially if they’re designing something to be addictive for that purpose. What are your thoughts?

Jeremy Keith: Yeah. I agree with that analogy of the Hippocratic oath. I think it’s very valid when in fact Jonathan Harris, no relation to Tristan Harris, he wrote about this specifically a while back. We compared software to medicine in terms of the impact it has on people and people’s lives. Like in a day-to-day person’s life they’re going to interact with software in order to live their life and get stuff done. Get from A to B. Buy something. Do something. Communicate. It may involve software, so the responsibility of the people who make that software (the people who design and develop it) is actually really big. And I think what’s happened is that as a society our mental model of software engineers is still stuck somewhere back in the past whereas it’s a nerdy thing that’s done. It’s kind of a hobby. It’s kind of maybe something that’s a harmless thing you indulge in, and a certain kind of person does it. It’s not for everyone. Right? I think that’s very harmful one to the industry and we want as many different kinds of people as possible making software, but two there’s a real mismatch there in power because you couldn’t imagine people talking about doctors that way and saying it’s kind of a hobby thing and when you need to get checked out it doesn’t really matter who you see . No. For medicine we have strict guidelines and as you say a Hippocratic oath. I could absolutely see something like that being required for software development because the impact we have is so impactful on people’s lives. I don’t think it’s to the same extent as say doctors, teachers, or people like that but still, it makes a big impact on people’s lives and so that requires a big responsibility. But what you get in other industries is you get a situation where there’s a baseline agreed standard or a red line we won’t cross. Like, you can ask us to do stuff, but we all agree we’ll never do X. Now getting agreement on what that line is is going to be really hard. Right? And maybe it’s different for every person. Maybe it’s different for every company. I definitely have talked to people who’ve worked at places that have done; I don’t know, maybe not black-hat practices, but gray-hat practices. And usually whenever somebody brings up the mortgage defense you know that they’re basically doing something they’re not proud of. I press them by saying “You know what you’re doing there that seems really dodgy.” and they say, “Well, it pays the bills, and I’ve got a mortgage to pay.” That can literally justify anything. You can do that if you’re an arms manufacturer. You can tell yourself that as well. If you’re making electric chairs, you can tell yourself you’ve got a mortgage to pay. Right? Now the tricky thing is drawing that line we won’t cross collectively as an industry and across countries – that’s going to be really hard. But what you do get in other areas is people having each other’s back within a discipline within an industry. This is pretty much what trade unions are about. To prevent exploitation. Just knowing that somebody has got your back. Now I’m not saying that we need to have literally the same structures as traditional trade unions, but some kind of way that when the boss says they want you to do this thing that you would feel, if not comfortable, you’re at least in a position to say you’re not going to do that or you refuse to do that. Now, as it is today, you can do that, and the boss goes “OK. Good for you.” It’s always a test of the principles, right? If your principles are never tested how valuable are they really? But if you do that, I mean, a lot of people, if they do that at their workplace and they say “I can’t do that. I refuse to do that.” They’ll say “OK. Fine. You’re fired, and we’ll bring in another developer who will do that.” So the idea of the union in that situation would ensure that you can’t fire the person for that reason. And there are consequences to that. I’m not saying a union model is the way to go, but just some kind of way of having each other’s back. So I feel like the Hippocratic oath idea is an interesting one because an employer would know full well when you join that this employee is signed up to this oath and there are certain things they will and won’t do. It just seems to make sense from a practical point of view of culpability as well. In the Volkswagen case of rigging test results of emissions tests the engineers who wrote the code have been found legally culpable for that. So it’s not just “I was only doing what I was told. I was only obeying orders.” part of it. It’s the people making the decisions who are at fault. There is now a legal precedent that the code you write can be used against you in a court of law. The code you write can be used against you in a court of law. Maybe we should all get read our rights when we when we start a new project? But where do you draw that line is the interesting thing because that’s fairly clear being asked rig an emissions tests. I mean everyone would agree that’s pretty dodgy, but you know, when you’re asked to add the 20th tracking script to a page is that the straw that breaks the camel’s back when you say “No. This is going too far.” Or is it the first one? Is it being asked to add any kind of surveillance JavaScript to a web page? Is that the point to say “I’m not going to do that”? Very tricky. And of course I realize I’m in a position of privilege to be able to say where I would draw the line here, and I would refuse, and I would get by if I got fired for refusing to do something. I’d be able to get another job to support myself. I’m sure I wouldn’t be risking everything whereas other people in that situation they would. They really would be risking everything to stand up and say “No! I’m not going to do that.” Hence why I feel like we need to have each other’s back. But I have no specific suggestions as to how to do it, but I’m definitely paying attention to people like Tristan Harris and what he’s talking about. In particular, because I find he’s really not that militant. You know? He’s not talking about really extreme stuff. He’s actually being very evenhanded and balanced about stuff. I know some people in this field who can get very militant – either you’re with us or against us when it comes to this kind of stuff. I don’t think that helps. Tristan is just talking about small things. Small interface things.

Jason Ogle: He’s starting a conversation. He’s started a conversation, and he’s offering solutions. That’s what I like. He’s not just saying “Here’s a problem.” he’s saying “Here’s some solutions. Why aren’t we doing this?” And so I guess that would be kind of my, and you kind of mentioned it, I don’t know what the answer is and I bet if you could say something, if you could say something to software developers, to designers listening to this right now that are maybe part of this creating addictive products for profit and not really thinking about the moral implications or the ethics behind it. Like what would you say to those folks?

Jeremy Keith: I guess just being aware of it and just having it in your mind is a big step. Even realizing the problem exists is a huge part of it. I’ve noticed this and other areas too. I talk about digital preservation and longevity and just even having that in your mind can change then how you would approach building something or architecting something. I think just being aware of the problem is part of it. You can try to live like Tristan. He’s set these very practical guidelines for anyone, no matter what your role is in life, to just avoid the nasty side effects and then if you can pass that on to other people. One of the ones he talked about turned out I was doing anyway, but I hadn’t phrased it the way that he put it which I thought was really smart. He said that you get notifications on your mobile device. He said, “Try only enabling notifications to come from humans.” And I thought that’s what I’m doing because I’ll get notified if there’s a text message or whatever. I’ll get notified I think if I got a direct message on Twitter, but everything else got switched off. Any app that wants to send me a notification that a new thing just happened or somebody posted a new picture or somebody did blah blah blah, I’m like no. I’m not going to enable notifications for that. And I hadn’t been thinking about it in those terms but when I read what he wrote that’s exactly what I’m doing. For these other things, I want to be able to go to the app and then see what’s happened. Now I want you to show me who’s posted what on this social network, but I don’t want you to be impinging on my life by telling me that stuff. Now here’s the interesting thing – as an example, I do have notifications for DMs on Twitter but not for Twitter in general. I definitely don’t want to be notified every time someone likes or re-tweets or just says something. But let’s say I use Swarm and I use Instagram. I’ve switched off notifications completely. The problem is when I do open up those apps, and I go in, rather than them pulling me in, and I open them up to see what’s happened, they always do this persistent thing saying you should enable notifications. I dismiss it, and then it just comes back the next time I open it.

Jason Ogle: Don’t remind me again. OK. I won’t until three more sessions.

Jeremy Keith: Right. It’s like I’m trying to do good here. I’ve made a decision. OK, so I’m going to live my life. I’m not going to not enable notifications. To have the the app going like “You should enable notifications.” it’s kind of like if you’re trying to quit something and you’ve got a friend who keeps going “Go on. Have one. Just one. It won’t do you any harm.” And that is a design decision. Now, in that case, I submitted a bug report in the hope that the behavior I was seeing was not by design but like “Oh. I don’t know if you realize, but no matter how many times I dismissed this notification asking me to enable it, it keeps coming back. I’m sure this is a bug. So I just want you to be aware of it.” But the cynical side of me will say that’s not a bug. That is absolutely a designed feature because, again, if the metric they’re looking for is engagement then I’m sure engagement is higher if people have notifications turned on for everything. But the other metric of, you know, people’s well-being and their health, that metric is probably not doing so good. But that’s a hard one to measure.

Jason Ogle: I absolutely agree, and I appreciate this conversation because I am going to talk about Web design, Jeremy, but I really appreciate hearing your input on this. I think it’s an important issue. It is certainly not one that’s talked about that much.

Jeremy Keith: Well I see it happening more and more. I have to say. I would say a few years ago it wasn’t talked about at all. And then you had Eric Meyer, and Sara *Wachter-Boettcher wrote their book together. The Book Apart which is fantastic. Mike *Monteiro talks about this stuff. He’s kind of like the old testament preacher. Tristan Harrison’s doing some practical things while Monteiro is banging on a table saying “Enough is enough!” *Maciej *Ceglowski on Idle Words. He runs Pinboard. He’s doing a lot of really good work in this area again and just gets people to think about this stuff and just realize it’s an issue. *Kenneth Bolds, who used to work at ClearLeft, he’s currently writing a book on the stuff I’m speaking about at conferences. *Laura Kalabagh, another person who you know, talks about this kind of stuff. So more and more I have to say I see it happening. So, again, it’s kind of a hot topic if you want to be on trend in Web design and development then ethics in design is a hot topic.

Jason Ogle: I fully agree. So designers, developers, CEOs, just anybody building software or building products, please just think about that. Think about that next time or even now in the midst of your project. Think about what can you do. Think about your users. Here’s my last thing I’ll say on this, and I guess my ultimate takeaway on this is – have more empathy. Put yourself in your users’ shoes and isn’t that kind of what this feels about anyway? We’re building software and products for other people primarily. So, think about that. Build your empathy up and allow yourself to be in their shoes. I think that’s going to make a really big difference when it comes to ethics and software things.

Jeremy Keith: I agree.

Jason Ogle: You wrote a book. Another one. It’s incredible. It’s called Resilient Web Design. I just finished the book, and it’s amazing. And guess what, Defenders? It’s at the incredible price of free. Why did you do that Jeremy?

Jeremy Keith: You know? I didn’t put that much thought into it. I had this book inside me I guess. I was doing lots of conference talks on these topics, and I need to tie these strands together and put them into a book form. But instead of going to a publisher and saying “Here’s an idea for a book. Should we do this together?”, I’ll write it first and then see if somebody wants to publish it. And I was thinking it could be A Book Apart because size-wise it’s very, very short. So I wrote it first and then said to Jeffrey “I’ve written this book. What do you think?” He replied, “It doesn’t really fit with the Book Apart style or a topic done really in-depth.” I thought that was true and what will I do with this? I then thought I could just put the thing online. I didn’t think that much about it. And again, if I wanted to charge for it, it’s actually going to take a lot of work. I have to figure out how am I going to do that? How am I going to take the money? You know? It would just be very simple if I literally just put it out there. I was asking myself what I wanted to get out of it and, in this case, monetary gain? I have nothing against making money. I like making money a lot. But it wasn’t

the reason I wrote the book and I thought, OK, for this one, I’ll just put it out there for free. And if I’m doing that, I thought the licensing should be as liberal as possible so Creative Commons. And I thought it would also be kind of fun to do that. To have a book that’s not just like “Oh. There’s a Web version.” but the Web version is the book. The version that you get by visiting the URL resilient Web design dot-com is the book. And there are other versions available. You can download the PDF. Somebody made an EPUB version, which is great. And because of licensing somebody could do that, which is just wonderful. But the canonical version is at this URL, and that was really fun to do. And then to think about how that influences the building of the Web site? Knowing that this is for a book that’s also a Web site. I had a lot of fun building the Web site/book. Designing it and building it. That was a lot of fun. It was certainly more fun doing that than doing the actual writing, I would say, because writing takes a long time and it’s hard. And then I’m going to play around with CSS and HTML and JavaScript. Okay. This is this is fun again!

So there wasn’t too much of a thought process behind it. Just I’m going to try this. I’m going to try throwing one out there for free and experiment.

Jason Ogle: I think it’s great and Defenders check it out. I’m going to be sure to link to it in the show notes, of course. But it is an entire history lesson on the World Wide [00:46:46]Web.[0.0s]

Jeremy Keith: I just started writing because I knew there were ideas in there that I wanted to get across about how you make resilient web designed websites. A way of thinking about building for the web. But I wasn’t sure how to get there. The more I was writing; I started just getting a lot of my own interests. Things that fascinate me. I realized a lot of the things that fascinate me are historical. It’s about remembering when we were doing websites like this, and we can learn from the past. So there’s a lot of looking at the past to learn from it. Looking at lessons that we’ve learned over and over again and seeing cycles repeat. But it’s funny; I didn’t intend it to be that kind of a People’s History of web design. It just turned into it.

Jason Ogle: It totally is. And the thing I love about that, and the reason I love sharing that is that there’s a lot of Defenders listening right now who are really new in the craft and just finding their way and figuring out what area they really like in this field. There’s just so many different things you could do to build products and to build great web sites. But I think that’s what I love about it. That’s why I would encourage you, Defenders, listening to go to the URL and grab the EPUB or the Android version. And you can just read it right on the website too which is totally in character for Jeremy because it’s all about the URLs and being able to access it from anywhere. So check it out, Defenders. It is an entire history of the Web. But he did it in a really succinct way but he gave you just enough. And I just I love that. Jeremy, great job on this. Thank you for doing it.

Jeremy Keith: Well, thank you very much. Actually, if you visit the URL on a device with a browser that supports service workers than just visiting you URL pretty much installs the book on your device. So you can be on an airplane with no internet connection and still be reading the online version of the book because it’s all working offline.

Jason Ogle: Oh. I love that man. That’s so true to form with you. You preach what you practice. You know what I mean?

Jeremy Keith: Yeah. It’s also something I’m fascinated by. Right now I’m like obsessed with service workers. It’s really a fascinating technology, and I just want to play with them. So it was a really nice opportunity to play around.

Jason Ogle: I don’t know many people more passionate about the Web than you, Jeremy. Why do you love the web so much?

Jeremy Keith: Gosh! That’s a good question. It’s funny because we were talking earlier about how the technology in a medium like the Web. It’s not good or bad, it just amplifies, and that’s absolutely true. Having said that, I’ve seen it amplify so many good things . It goes back to where it came from. It is about getting people to collaborate together. Initially, it’s at CERN, and it’s a bunch of scientists trying to collaborate together. Do you scale that up and it still works?

People can exchange information across the country and across the world. That’s quite amazing. Then I think about the implications on somebody who’s maybe, historically, would’ve been trapped by geography. Let’s say you’re living in a little village in a country and you’re different to other people in the village, for whatever reason, and you don’t feel like you’ve got someone you can relate to or talk to. And in the past, that would have been kind of tough luck. You would have been able to find refuge in books and reading things other people have written in the past but to suddenly have this medium where you could connect with people on the other side of the world who are, like you, are going through what you’re going through. And you’re able to communicate with them. To communicate to people who you can express something. You can put your thoughts out there on a URL and then have somebody else find that URL, read your thoughts, and respond to you. That’s really powerful. It’s still really powerful today. Whether it’s about this cool thing I’ve built, or whether it’s a thought I’ve had about something, or whether it’s how I’m feeling. The Web is just very good at that combination. There are lots of technologies on the Internet. The Web is just one technology running on the Internet. There are lots of technologies that are very good at instant communication . The Web can do that, but there are other technologies that are better – FaceTime or SMS. All these other technologies that basically run over the Internet.

And the Web can kind of do a bit of everything. Which is where the strength is. So it can do that, more or less, real-time chat if you want to do it but then once you bring your URLs into it, that’s the Web’s super power. That you can put something at this address. If you take care of it, it can last through time and be there not just for the instant communication, say writing this thing just now and someone can read it right now, but someone could read that in five years time or 10 years time or 15 years time. And that could influence them, and then they could put something online. Maybe it’s not words. Maybe it’s video images. Maybe it’s audio. But once something has a URL – something about that is very powerful to me.

I kind of wish I got more excited about other technologies, but I just don’t get as excited about things if they don’t have URLs. I remember when the iPhone came along and a year later the App Store. People became very excited, and I wished I could get as excited about building native apps because it looks similar to Web design in a lot of ways, but it’s got different constraints. I’m just not that into it because there are no URLs so what’s the point? In a way, I feel like a real old-fashioned fuddy-duddy when I put it like that. If it doesn’t have a URL, it ain’t worth nothing. [00:52:36]*Jason: Get off my lawn! [0.2s] Jeremy: That’s not the way I mean it. I’m saying I think the problem lies with me. Why have I got this thing for the Web, in particular? To me the Web is URLs. So when we talk about the Web, we could be talking about the Web technologies – HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. But I also think those could evolve and change and even go away. And the Web would still be the Web because of URLs. That’s what the Web has that other technologies don’t. And I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it is about that that’s so powerful to me.

In fact, I’m spending a lot of my time questioning myself these days and figuring out why I get excited about some things and don’t get excited about other things. Like, what’s wrong with me? You read these articles about you Web developers. Every Web developer should be really excited about: and there’s a list of ten new tools or frameworks or libraries or something. I don’t think I’m excited about any of those things. What’s wrong with me? But then I will find something I do get excited about. I was mentioning service workers. So wait. No. I do still have this capacity to get really into something and want to talk about it and want to share. But I’ve been trying to analyze myself and figure out why do some things fall into the first category and others into the second category? I haven’t figured it out yet.

Jason Ogle: Yeah. I just think about the community, and I wonder, and it may be so bold as to assume, that perhaps the answer is just that it’s about people for you. The Web is for everybody. Right? There are no gatekeepers really. They’re trying to be, but like you say you can put your stake in the ground, put your SOLD real estate sign in the ground of your Web site and you own that. You own that content. And anywhere else you publish, and we all love to publish on a Medium or Facebook or Twitter or whatever. That’s not really our content. Somebody else owns that.

Jeremy Keith: That’s absolutely true. I’m very much about the owning your content and having your place on the Web. Now to be fair, you never really own a domain. We’re talking about centralization and decentralization, and the ICANN domain name system does mean that we rent domain names. We don’t actually own them.

Jason Ogle: It’s like owning a house. You don’t really own it until the last mortgage payment. I’ll probably be dead before I pay off my house .

Jeremy Keith: But still, there’s an order of magnitude difference between that and publishing directly to somebody else’s Web site like Mark Zuckerberg’s website or Ed Williams’s website or Jack Dorsey’s website. There’s a difference. It’s kind of a difference in feeling. It feels good to publish on your own site. It feels different to publish on somebody else’s. It’s easy to publish in somebody else’s and that’s something we need to work on for publishing on your own website is how do make it as easy as it is to publish on somebody else’s. But there’s a feeling where they can change the rules from one day to the next, and you’re at the mercy of those rules. So when Twitter decides they’re going to change what tweets you see. Or Instagram says “Yeah. We decided that timeline is going to be ordered by a secret algorithm that you don’t know.” There’s nothing you can do about that because you’ve pitched your tent in their backyard. [00:55:47]*Jason: Here you’re building on rented land. [0.9s] Jeremy: Yeah. There’s a nice feeling to doing it on your own site. What I tend to do is, it’s not like I hoard everything on my own site and I don’t let anybody else at it. I publish things to my own site first, and then I syndicate out to these places. Syndicate to Medium and Twitter and Facebook or whatever. Kind of like with the book. The canonical thing is the URL. But hey. You want it in MOBI, EPUB or whatever? Sure.

There you go. I kind of think of it like RSS. Years ago we’d syndicate RSS. And you can read that wherever you want to, how ever you want to. It’s kind of the same. Do whatever you want. However, the canonical URL, and it goes back to the power of URLs, the URL is something that I’ve decided. And how long that URL will exist when I put something online at URL? That’s my decision now. I’m not saying everything will be online forever, that I publish, but at least I’ll be able to decide when I want to take it offline rather than having that decision made for me. The history of the Web is littered with sites where people poured their heart out and gave their hearts and souls to these Web sites, and then those Web sites get bought up by a bigger player and they say “Oh. Great news! We’re shutting down and deleting all your data.” Right? And that’s a terribly disempowering feeling when that happens. So there is absolutely something about having a place of your own on the web that you published. I wish more people would do it and I understand that there’s a friction to it. Trying to work on ways to bring that friction down and part of that is sharing. You talk about the Web being people, and you’re absolutely right. When Tim Berners-Lee created the Web, himself and his colleague Robert Cailliau, they kind of had a publicity campaign for it within CERN to convince people to use it.

You know. This is a good idea. You should use it. And part of that is making sure that technologies were easy enough to use and familiar enough to use. But also it was literally like a PR push for the Web, and they had stickers, and they had a slogan, and the slogan was “Let’s share what we know.” Which I think is perfect for a scientific institution and frankly, it’s a pretty good thing to scale up and apply to the whole world. Let’s share what we know. And the best of the Web is people sharing what they know. You know, when I got into web design the Web had already been around for a few years, and I thought “How am I going to learn how to make websites?” Well, it turns out lots of people were sharing what they knew. They were publishing on the Web. Jeffrey Zeldman had Ask Dr. Web, and he shared what he knew about building websites. There was a web design mailing list run by Steve Champion. Eric Meyer with the CSS mailing list. And people were just writing on their blogs.

Yeah. Back when it was literally a mailing list. And so people were sharing. And when I began to learn, and I would figure something out and get better at something it just felt natural that what I should do is share that. Put it out there and say “Here’s something I figured out!” or “Here’s something I’m thinking about.” or “Here’s something I’m interested in.”

And it feels like it’s the default setting for the Web is to share. If you figure something out you share it. And that was even back in the day just before we had you know GitHub where you could fork other people’s code or CodePen where you can make a reduced test case and just put something up. It’s easier than ever these days to share what you know. Long may it continue that people share.

Jason Ogle: Love it. I couldn’t agree more, Jeremy. That’s why I started this podcast, and I’m a little late to the party. I absorbed other people’s content like a lot of the folks you mentioned. I’ve absorbed their content for many years, and that was really a stepping-stone for my career. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for these generous people sharing what they know. And putting out all the things that they’ve learned. Thank God for Google too. Google has made this quest a lot easier for us to find exactly what we need. But you’re right. I don’t know of any other community that is so eager to share and to their peers to grow and to do better. I was just thinking I’m trying to replace a toilet right now in my house and I’m having the hardest time. It’s not just like the wax ring is, you know, it’s not just that. It’s that the stinking flange broke and it’s glued like super welded to the actual pipe and everything. Sorry if you guys are getting grossed out by this, but I’m going somewhere with this. And so here I am. I’m not a craftsman of home repairs. I’m not. I wish I were. But for one, it gave me empathy for those folks doing this. The plumbers that have spent many years apprenticing and journeyman and becoming a master at this stuff where it’s a walk in the park for those guys.

But then I realized about our craft too. We need to not undervalue our skills, because we are the craftspeople of this trade and we’ve spent many years. There’s a story about Pablo Picasso where somebody noticed him in a park and asked him “Hey. Can you paint a picture of my son?” and he’s like “Sure!” And he spent like five minutes; he painted it, and then he handed it to the lady, and he said: “That will be fifty thousand dollars.” And she said “What? You only spent five minutes.” and he said “No. My dear. I’ve spent 50 years doing this.”

So it’s kind of that idea about being a craftsperson. But coming back to the Web and the generosity.

[01:01:02]Well. You know I have to say, Jason, that’s probably not the first time that Web design has been compared to fixing toilets and it probably won’t be the last. [9.6s]

Jason Ogle: But here’s where I’m going with [01:01:13]that. [0.0s]

Jeremy Keith: [01:01:14]I’m glad you brought it back to the… you know what? Go with the Pablo Picasso analogy. [3.9s]

It sounds way nobler when you put it like that than the toilet [01:01:23]analogy. [0.0s]

Jason Ogle: [01:01:24]But the end of my toilet story I do have an ending to this about the Web. And I’m sorry folks. Stay tuned. I’m going to continue here. It’s going to get better. When a plumber learns something new, I don’t know if there’s a community. I’m sure there is, but I just feel it’s one of those things where when we learn something new on the Web we get out there and share it. I doubt that when a plumber learns a new thing, he immediately goes to the Web and shares and brings a community of plumbers together to try to make things better. I don’t know, maybe that’s an assumption? But I just feel like that’s one of the things I love about the Web so much is that it is such a generous community. I’ve learned that over two years of doing this show and talking to wonderful guests, like you, that come on and are just so generous to share. You have a free book that we can learn so much from as well. [55.2s]

Jeremy Keith: I do think if the Web were only good for people who are building websites to share stuff, I think it would have failed. But the fact that people can share anything on the Web kind of makes it great. If plumbers do want to share tips with other plumbers, the Web is the perfect place to do that. Whether it’s in video form or art or text or audio or images – you need to bake a cake? Somebody who is really into baking cakes has shared all this information. To be honest, that kind of excites me more than just web designers and web developers sharing tips. You’d almost expect that the Web is going to be used for that purpose by people who build the Web. The obvious medium for sharing this stuff is the Web. It’s more interesting when you find really, really, really obscure things that there’s a whole subcommunity about. Like people who are really into fixing toilets, and they’ve got this whole social network about fixing toilets and it’s on the Web, and it’s this whole community. That’s when I think the Web sort of comes into its own. When it’s the niche stuff. We tend to concentrate on the big success stories on the Web, like the Facebooks, the Googles, the big players.

But I get much more excited by the small things. You know? The smaller communities. The things that have been ticking along for years and people are very happy there, and they’re sharing. Yeah. That’s what really excites me.

Jason Ogle: That’s awesome. I’m so glad you said that, Jeremy. I’m going to go back and retract what I’ve said about plumbers because you can go on YouTube and you can learn how to do pretty much any repair you need to by typing in a few keywords. And there are very generous craftspeople who are sharing what they know and showing you how to do it. Some, of course, are a lot better than others with cameras and lighting and all that, but just the fact that they take the time and share, I think that’s what makes the Web so incredible.

Jeremy Keith: Right. I remember the first time I was getting on the Web and getting lost going down these rabbit holes of websites that people have put together. They weren’t very professional, but that didn’t matter. Somebody’s GeoCities page, somebody’s fan page, it didn’t matter. And I remember showing this to my friend, Chris, who is the singer in Salter Cane, and somebody made a fan page for that band you really like. And look at all the information on it and the images and the stuff you can you can get for free on this website. And his question was – but why? Why are they doing this? There is no monetary gain to be had for doing this. Why would somebody spend the time to build this thing? It was interesting because I hadn’t even thought of that question. Why would somebody do that?

Oh. Well, it’s because they really like that band and they’re sharing their enthusiasm. There is a reward that comes from just connecting with people who share your interests. And I think the more obscure and niche your interest is the greater the reward when you make that connection with somebody you know in another country or another part of the world who shares your connection. It’s like “Oh! I’m really into that thing too!” That’s when the Web really shines.

Jason Ogle: We’re getting closer to the end of our time, sadly. I could talk to you for hours more, Jeremy, and I felt the same way when we had our Event Apart lunch where we got to sit at the same table, and that was so awesome. It was all of a sudden like “Oh! Shoot! We gotta go. We get to hear Derek Featherstone! ” Derek Featherstone was an incredible talk.

Jeremy Keith: Well, I do believe I said: “You don’t want to miss this one.”

Jason Ogle: Yeah. And Derek’s going to be a future guest. I’m really excited about that. He’ll be speaking about making a Web for everybody, and I love that he’s really championed the accessibility side of that as well. I had a former super guest, Matt Griffin, and he made a terrific film about the Web. I believe you were in Germany. It’s called What Comes Next Is the Future, which is also free. Another generous soul. Jeremy, what do you think does come next?

Jeremy Keith: Oh. This is interesting because I’ve been thinking about the topic of prediction, in general, because I think looking to the past is as important as looking to the future, which is why we were talking about the resilient web design. The reason why it became a history of web design book is because of those lessons we can learn from the past. So whenever we are asking this question about what comes next or what’s in the future, it really pays to look at past narratives that have happened with different technologies with different people in different times. I don’t know. Prediction is kind of a mug’s game. I’m not sure. If you get it wrong, you ‘ re an idiot, and if you get it right, you just got lucky. So I’m not even even going to try.

I will say that the important thing is I do firmly believe that the future is something that we make. It’s not something that just happens to us. Even small effects that we do can influence the future. I think the worst situation is when we assume that there’s nothing we can do and these things will happen no matter what. And we just have to either get on board with it or get out of the way. Again, I’m talking very vague generalities and this is kind of a philosophical viewpoint, but I think what’s more important than asking what comes next, well, what are we going to do next? What are we going to make next? What are we going to nudge, maybe? Maybe you can’t you rip everything out and start from scratch with everything you disagree with and everything you think should be better. You can’t have a clean slate. But what are you going to do today that could nudge things for the future? Maybe there’s a small thing you could do today that could have a small effect today that grows into a bigger factor if other people do it and if more people agree to do things the same way. So I don’t know. It’s less about trying to predict what the future will be and more about deciding what’s the future you want and how can we work towards building that together?

Jason Ogle: So good. Before my last question, I do have a listener question. It’s from a Brad Frost.

He’d like to know what’s your favorite Daft Punk album?

Jeremy Keith: Very funny, Brad. Very funny. Well, Jason, if you listened to Salter Cane, you will know that our musical styles are somewhat different. Let me put it that way. So I refuse to answer the question.

Jason Ogle: Pleading the Fifth? Very good. Very fine and well. My last question, Jeremy, it’s a little deep. It’s kind of deep. If today was your last day on earth what would your final words be to the current and future builders of the Web?

Jeremy Keith: That’s that’s an interesting one. Well, this is an interesting philosophical one because I’ve been putting words online now for quite a while. Over 15 years on my own website and the occasional book, which is on the website now. So one of the nice things about that is it’s cumulative. Right? As long as I can take some steps to ensure that those URLs stick around my website is still accessible. Well, into the future, what my last words are don’t really matter. It’s not really important.

It would be nice to have something pithy to wrap it up with. Maybe it’s: “That’s all folks!” I don’t know, but maybe my last words are “Do a search through the archives on whatever interests you.” Because, basically, my website is all my last words. Right? And when I’m no longer here, hopefully, the website could still be there.

And all of it accessible is something I wrote in 2011 and something I wrote in 2002 and something I wrote last week. Still accessible, which again, gets to the superpower of the Web. So I’m sort of dodging the question because I’m saying it’s not important. I’m saying the latest entry isn’t as important as the cumulative effect of the previous entries. But maybe I should make every update to my website, every little tweet, like, no t e, link or every blog post; maybe I should write as if they are my last words? But I don’t think it would make any difference to the way I write and share and put things out there. So I’m totally dodging the question. My last words to the community of people building websites out there will be: “”

Jason Ogle: Ah! I’m just sitting in this moment, Jeremy.

That was so good man. I like that.

Jeremy Keith: [01:11:02]That’s was a total cop-out. Such a great question with a cop-out answer. [5.0s]

Jason Ogle: No. I think your answer couldn’t have been deeper my friend. Your life’s work is your final words. God willing and I hope they’ll be around for future generations. It would be really fascinating if somebody is listening to this one-hundred years from now and is still intact. I found my old portfolio from 2000 recently when searching through some old files. I put it in the browser, and it still works, and it still looks the same as it did it. My Dreamweaver JavaScript still works even, and it’s built in frames, and it still looks identical to how it was. It’s really, kind of, I don’t know, there’s something there.

There’s a lesson there I guess.

Jeremy Keith: [01:11:57]If you found other files from 2000 was it you said? If you found other files from that time period and you tried to open them on the computer today I think you’d find you’d have a hard time. [13.0s]

Jason Ogle: And that, Defenders, I think is the biggest takeaway from our whole time.

Build for the future and let your life’s work be your legacy. Let it be your cannon. Let it be your magnum opus, just like Jeremy does, and all of that generosity that he shared.

Jeremy Keith: Okay. You’re making it sound so much more grandiose than it is. Like, my website is just this place where I dump my brain farts. So let’s not build it up into something that it’s not. But it does represent me. So there’s that.

Jason Ogle: And I love your humility, Jeremy, and I think that’s one thing that I just love about you is that you’re going to write no matter who’s reading it. If nobody’s reading it, you’re still going to write. And I think that’s what a true writer is. You just have so much to express, and you’ve done that. And you write for the joy of it. You write for the joy of building the community up and sharing what you know. Sharing your life. And, again, another beautiful thing about the Web and I just want to close with saying your talk it’s so fresh in my mind still, but I just was able to find it on YouTube recently that you did at Event Apart Denver. I’ll be honest with you; you are gifted in how you share your knowledge and how you draw from past advances. I’ve learned so much from you about pioneers of technology, and it was so neat to see most of the folks in your presentation were all women that shaped a lot of tech and the space program. Margaret Hamilton and Nicola Pello you mentioned in Resilient Web Design. I hadn’t heard of these folks, and I just think it’s so incredible. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house,

I don’t think, at the end of your talk. I’m probably giving you a huge head man. Don’t let it go to your head.

Jeremy Keith: You’re totally inflating my ego.

Jason Ogle: Oh man. No. I’ll be honest with you. I had an interaction with a gal that I got to know during the event. And she said “Is it just me?” and I said “No. It’s not just you.” And your last words on the talk were, you probably know because you’ve memorized it. Can you give us those last words on the talk?

Jeremy Keith: Well. I was kind of referencing this sort of meme that goes back to talking about the future where this attitude: It’s the future – take it. You know. Like the future is something that happens to you. And I was saying more you should get out there and make sure: It’s the future – make it. I’m always genuinely curious to see what people make.

Jason Ogle: That’s it right there. Jeremy, what’s the best way to connect and keep up with you for our Defenders?

Jeremy Keith: That is the canonical representation of me on the Web. And from there you can find links out to other representations of me on Twitter or Medium or these other places, but anything that you see on those other places would have started life on my own website, and I send the copies out there. So, yeah. My own website. You can get in touch with me through there. You can subscribe to RSS feeds if you want

to keep track me that way, or follow the Twitter account which syndicates from my website. However people want to do it but go to my website a few if you want to know me.

Jason Ogle: Jeremy, thank you so much for being here today. This has been an incredibly deep and insightful, and I’m a little emotional, to be honest with you, conversation. I don’t know how to wrap this up other than just keep doing what you’re doing. Your work is making a greater impact than I think you realize and maybe that you ever will realize. Maybe even far past when you’re not here anymore, but just keep doing what you’re doing my friend. And I just want to say “Fight on my friend!” Thank you so much.

Hide transcript

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Pandora | Amazon Music | Stitcher | Android | Google Podcasts | RSS Feed

Here’s your chance to use your superpower of support. Don’t rely on telepathy alone! If you’re enjoying the show, would you take two minutes and leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts? I’d also be willing to remove my cloak of invisibility from your inbox if you’d subscribe to the newsletter for superguest announcements and more, occasionally.

  • User Defenders supported by InVision Studio. Get Access.
  • This episode is brought to you by InVision Studio

    Get Access