Jack Yan
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The Persuader

My personal blog, started in 2006. No paid posts.



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22.07.2020

Have we stopped innovating in online publishing?

For a while, we’ve been thinking about how best to facelift the Lucire website templates, to bring them into the 2020s. The current look is many years old (I’ve a feeling it was 2016 when we last looked at it), which in internet terms puts this once-cutting edge site into old-school territory.
   But what’s the next step? When I surf the web these days, so many websites seem to be run off one of several templates, and there aren’t many others out there. After you scroll down past the header, everything more or less looks the same: a big single-column layout with large type.
   I know we have to make things responsive, and we haven’t done this properly, by any means. The CSS will have to be reprogrammed to suit 2020s requirements. But I am reminded of when we adopted many of the practices online publishers do today, except we did them nearly two decades ago.
   Those of you who have been with us a long time, and those who might want to venture into the Wayback Machine, might know that we provided “apps” for hand-held devices even then. We offered those using Palm Pilots and the like a small, downloadable version of the Lucire news pages. We had barely any takers.
   Then Bitstream (if I recall correctly) came out with tech that could reduce pages to a lower resolution and narrower pixel width so those browsing on smaller devices could do so, and those of us publishing for larger monitors no longer needed to do a special version.
   So that was the scene 20 years ago. Did apps, no one cared; and eventually tech came out that rendered it all unnecessary. It’s why I resisted making apps today, because I keep expecting history to repeat itself. I can’t be the only one with a memory of the first half of the 2000s. As a non-technical person, I expect there’d be something like that Bitstream technology today. Maybe there is. I guess some browsers have a reader mode, and that’s a great idea. And if we want to offer that to our readers, it can’t be too hard to find a service that we can point modern smartphone users to, and they can browse all sites to their hearts’ content.
   Except I know, as with so many tech things, that it isn’t that easy, that in fact it’s all so much harder. Server management hasn’t become easier in 2020 compared with 2005, all as the computing industry loses touch with everyday people like me who once really believed in the democratization of technology and bridging the digital divide.
   Back to the templates. I wrote on NewTumbl yesterday, ‘Remember when we could surf the web pretty easily and find amazing new sites, and creative web designs, as people figured out how best to exploit this medium? These days a lot of websites all look the same and there’s far less innovation. Have we settled into what this medium’s about and there’s no need for the same creativity? I’m no programmer, so I can’t answer that, but it wasn’t that long ago we could marvel at a lot of fresh web designs, rather than see yet another site driven by the same CMS with the same single-column responsive template. Or people just treat a Facebook page or an Instagram feed as their “website”, and to heck with making sure it’s hosted on something they have control over.’
   And that’s the thing: I haven’t visited any sites that really jumped out at me, that inspires me to go, ‘What a great layout idea. I must see if I can do something similar here.’ My very limited programming and CSS design skills aren’t being challenged. This is a medium that was supposed to be so creative, and when I surf, after finding a page via a search engine, those fun moments of accidental discovery don’t come any more. The web seems like a giant utilitarian information system, which I suppose is how its inventor conceived it, but I feel it could be so much more. Maybe the whole world could even get on board a fair, unbiased search engine, and a news spidering service that was current and didn’t prioritize corporate media, recognizing that stories can be broken by independents. Because such a thing doesn’t really exist in 2020, even though we had it in the early 2000s. It was called Google, and it actually worked fairly. No search engine with that brand name strikes me as fair today.
   I am, therefore, unsure if we can claim to have advanced this medium.

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Filed under: design, internet, New Zealand, publishing, technology, Wellington—Jack Yan @ 12.18

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