Tag: Tech

Tech Stacks and Website Longevity

Steren Giannini in “My stack will outlive yours”:

My stack requires no maintenance, has perfect Lighthouse scores, will never have any security vulnerability, is based on open standards, is portable, has an instant dev loop, has no build step and… will outlive any other stack.

Jeremy Keith in “npm ruin dev”:

Instead of reaching for all-singing all-dancing toolchain by default, I’m going to start with a boring baseline. If and when that becomes too painful or unwieldy, then I’ll throw in a task manager. But every time I add a dependency, I’ll be limiting the lifespan of the project.

I like both of those sentiments.

Steren’s “stack” is HTML and CSS only. Will HTML and CSS “last” in the sense of that website being online and working for a long time. I’d say certainly yes. HTML and CSS were around before I got here, are actively developed, and no other technologies are really even trying to unseat them. The closest threats are native platforms, but those are so fractured, closed, while lacking the worldwide utility of the URL and open standards, that it doesn’t look like that any native platform will unseat the web. It’s more likely (and we see this happening, even if it’s slow and fraught) that native platforms embrace the web.

Will an HTML and CSS website be perfectly functional in, say, 2041? I’d say certainly. I’ll bet ya a dollar.

Steren doesn’t mean that HTML and CSS is just the output, but there is still other tooling to get there. No build process either. No templating. Need to update the navigation?

So… if I don’t use any templating system, how do I update my header, footer or nav? Well, simply by using the “Replace in files” feature of any good text editor. They don’t need frequent updates anyway. The benefits of using a templating system is not worth the cost of introducing the tooling it requires.

I admit this is drawing the line further back than I would. This feels just like trading one kind of technical debt for another. Now you’ll need to write scripts or an elaborate find-and-replace RegEx to do what you want to do, rather than reach for some form of HTML include, which there are a ton of ways to handle lightly.

But I get it. Especially since once you do add that one templating language (or whatever), the temptation is strong to keep adding to the system, introducing more and more liabilities with less consideration on how they may be “limiting the lifespan” of the project.

I don’t actually think the stack matters that much.

In thinking about sites I work on (and have worked on), the longevity of the site doesn’t feel particularly related to the stack. Like, at all. The sites with the longest lifespans (like this one) have long lifespans because I care about them, and they have all sorts of moving parts in the stack.

I pick technology to help with what I want to do. If my needs change, I change the technology. I don’t just say, ooops, my stack is off, I guess I’ll shut down the website forever.

If we’re talking about website longevity, I think the breakdown of how much things matter is more like this:

  • 80% How much I care about the website
  • 10% The website isn’t a financial burden
  • 5% The website isn’t a mental burden (“the stack” being some small part of this)
  • 5% I have access to the registrant and didn’t forget to renew the domain name before a squatter nabs it

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Flash’s Web Tech Legacy

Tiffany B. Brown on how Flash paved the way for some things we might think of as fairly modern web technologies:

Flash wasn’t just good for playing multimedia. It was also good for manipulating it. Using ActionScript, you could pan audio, adjusting the input for the user’s left and right speakers, perhaps when they shifted their mouse from one side of the screen to the other. Now we can do that using the Web Audio API.

Web Storage and the localStoragesessionStorage APIs are conceptually similar to SharedObjects, or Flash cookies. And the demand for rich web typography enabled by Flash and sIFR, helped bring us @font-face, WOFF, and web-licensed fonts.

Flash also popularized the idea of the cross-domain policy file, an XML file that specifies whether one domain can read the content and data of another. It’s a precursor to cross-origin resource sharing (CORS), which uses HTTP headers instead of an XML configuration file.

Mike Davidson had some nostolgic thoughts as well:

Most technology is transitional if your window is long enough. Cassette tapes showed us that taking our music with us was possible. Tapes served their purpose until compact discs and then MP3s came along. Then they took their rightful place in history alongside other evolutionary technologies. Flash showed us where we could go, without ever promising that it would be the long-term solution once we got there.

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The Power of Web Development Outside Tech

In 2020, I learned about the power of web development for organizations and nonprofits outside of tech. I learned that you can leverage your skills to affect change and build long-lasting partnerships.

This year, I joined the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters San Francisco (LWVSF), which, despite its name, welcomes people of all genders. This century-old organization has over 800 branches that span cities and states across the United States and the world.

Before joining the Board, I helped lead the LWVSF Observer Corps (and still do), whose focus is increasing government transparency and protecting the public’s participation in government with an emphasis on policing practices. Eventually, my volunteer efforts hit a point where I needed to start editing our website myself.

The first thing I noticed was that every individual League has its own website, user interface, and content. Some use MyLo (a platform developed for Leagues by LWV California), some use SquareSpace, and we at LWVSF use GoDaddy’s “Website Builder”. I quickly learned that base-level HTML, CSS, and inline JavaScript skills with a sprinkling of PHP (for WordPress-based sites) will take one quite far in this realm.

In some ways, the bar outside of the tech industry is lower — for these blogs, and what are otherwise static websites, one doesn’t need much to get started. Coming in as a seasoned software developer, I often found myself frustrated by small things: a limit on the number of displayed events in the editor, the inability to customize PayPal integrations, and unpreserved tabbing and syntax highlighting. Big things too, like unintuitive user interface and information architecture. Imagine attempting to make sense of a website builder without a foundation built on years of tech literacy.

The risks are also super high. If we introduce a website bug, it could mean the loss of essential donations and grants, the failure to recruit potential key members, or the inability to share last-minute information about a government meeting where legislative changes affect marginalized populations.

For me, this points to the importance of partnership between those in tech and those outside of it. Our skills are valuable to the essential work of political organizing. Tools for those working for social good and the betterment of society should be the best. We can help!

Take Rideshare Drivers United (RDU). In 2017, a software developer, Ivan Pardo, and a driver who was also a former union organizer put their heads together and created an app to recruit drivers to RDU. Pardo and I met through the Tech Workers Coalition and RDU’s text banking drive, and we discussed the amazing work he put into the app.

This year, Pardo updated the app with phone and text banking capabilities to help spread the “No on Prop 22” message. This led to the texting of over one million voters, with some individual drivers texting over 50,000 people! The platform is simple, straightforward, and impactful, but most importantly, the platform fits the needs of RDU and supports their activism rather than overshadowing it.

What makes Pardo’s app so good, so effective? He says:

I’m there to serve the group in any capacity necessary. But I’m not a driver. Just because you know software doesn’t mean you understand organizing. I spent just as many hours learning about the industry and that allows me to build software [for RDU] more effectively.

And his advice for getting involved?

Attach yourself to an organization that is pro-people and pro-democracy. Then build software to serve that organization.

As demonstrated by Pardo and RDU, there are clear benefits and a massive impact that stems from the cooperation between tech workers and non-tech organizations. Using our technical know-how to amplify the work of others has stood out to me as a light in the dark, especially in a year like 2020.

Even simple websites and apps go on to make a huge difference politically and socially. We, as website builders, have the benefit that even in a global pandemic, we’re able to organize and operate online.

In the last year, as friends, acquaintances, and myself were laid off in the middle of a global pandemic, I learned about and was inspired by the initiative of so many. Despite being unable to organize in person, I saw my friend Amy working on VoteAmerica, Chris churning out Election Map SF, countless individuals promoting the team behind Native Land, and The Algorithmic Justice League cobbling together AI advocacy resources, just to name a few.


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