The Road to Oblivion (Thanks to Google)

Reading Henry Powderly’s editorial piece We’re turning off AMP pages at Search Engine Land proved enlightening, to me at least:

“Gasp! Think of the traffic!”

That’s a pretty accurate account of the more than two dozen conversations we’ve had about Search Engine Land’s support of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages in the past few years. At first, it was about the headache in managing the separate codebase AMP requires as well as the havoc AMP wreaks on analytics when a nice chunk of your audience’s time is spent on an external server not connected to your own site. But, Google’s decision to no longer require AMP for inclusion in the Top Stories carousels gave us a new reason to question the wisdom of supporting AMP.

So, this Friday, we’re turning it off.

I’ve read a lot of critique from the web development community about AMP, but this article is a summary of the view from the marketing side.

Publishers have been reluctant to remove AMP because of the unknown effect it may have on traffic. But what our data seemed to tell us was there was just as much risk on the other side. We could keep AMP pages, which we know have good experience by Google standards, and their visibility would fall anyway due to competition in Top Stories and waning support by social media platforms.

We know what a road to oblivion looks like, and our data suggests AMP visibility is on that path. Rather than ride that to nowhere, we decided to turn off AMP and take back control of our data.

Cynical old me would suggest that this reluctance from publishers serves Google well, as it means they can claim they’re moving away from AMP while still benefitting from it (at the expense of publishers, it would appear.)

And from reading the summary of what Search Engine Land have to do in order to decouple their site from AMP, that benefit could last for a long time.

I found the final two paragraphs particularly depressing:

The relationship between publishers and platforms is dysfunctional at best. The newsstands of old are today’s “news feeds” and publishers have been blindsided again and again when platforms change the rules. We probably knew allowing a search platform to host our content on its own servers was doomed to implode, but audience is our lifeblood so can you blame us for buying in?

We also know that tying our fates to third party platforms can be as risky as not participating in them at all. But when it comes to supporting AMP on Search Engine Land, we’re going to pass. We just want our content back.

I would argue that the biggest risk of all is that Google is in a position to control who can find your website, no matter who you are. AMP may be gone, but Core Web Vitals is just another hoop for publishers to jump through, primarily for Google’s pleasure.

The fact that the internet reliably breaks and disintegrates and swallows your memories means the act of stumbling upon something that remains feels unexpectedly human, as if you sifted this version of yourself from sand with other ancient artifacts. If this was an archeological dig, I’d gingerly lift this part of me from its resting place and find somewhere, like a museum or attic, to preserve it. Instead, all I can do is rebury it and hope it remains there for me to stumble upon again in a few years, surrounded by an entirely new internet.

The internet that disappears

I’ve been doing updates on the admin side of this blog. All YouTube and Vimeo embeds have been removed, and I’ve replaced more links with their counterparts over at the Internet Archive. The aim is to keep out external trackers, and ensure that the content here retains its context.

Tony Blair reconsidered

I found this section from today on John Naughton’s Memex 1.1 blog interesting:

I’ve been watching the re-run of the BBC documentary series on the history of New Labour (now on the BBC iPlayer, which means normally accessible only to people in the UK) and finding it gripping. It’s partly because it’s an opportunity to re-visit stories that I thought I knew — but now with the 20/20 vision of hindsight realise that I hadn’t known the half of it.

The second episode was particularly gripping. It open with the night of the 1997 election and New Labour’s landslide victory. And then it recounts how Blair and Brown set about governing.

Two things stood out. The first was how assured they were — especially given that none of them had ever served in government. The film shows Gordon Brown arriving at the Treasury, being greeted by the assembled staff and then meeting in his new office with the most senior officials, led by (Sir) Terry Burns.

The officials were clearly expecting a tea-and-biscuits getting-to-know-you sort of meeting. Instead, Brown says to Burns (the Permanent Secretary) that he has a draft letter with him, addressed to the Governor of the Bank of England, informing him that from now on the Bank would be responsible for setting interest Rates! Talk about hitting the ground running.

The other remarkable thing was that Blair came into office determined to sort out Northern Ireland. The senior officials were stunned by this level of ambition. How much did the Prime Minister know about NI asked the Cabinet Secretary. Blair replied primly that his mother was an Irish protestant. The Cabinet Office officials clearly thought that this idea of his was Mission Impossible. They didn’t twig at first that he was deadly serious, and the film did a brilliant job of conveying how determined he was to get a deal between the warring tribes.

And dammit, on Good Friday 1998 he got it. It was a stupendous achievement.

As Mr Naughton points out, if Tony Blair hadn’t taken the UK into the Iraq War in the face of public opposition he would today be hailed as one of the greatest British political leaders of this century, and perhaps the 20th too. As it is, not only did the Iraq War stain him forevermore, but it created a gaping wound within Labour that had never fully healed. And while Blair was able to win the 2005 General Election, that wound would ultimately see him resign a few years later, and then dog Gordon Brown until 2010.

On Safari (Again)

This past weekend, I did something I’ve not done in quite a while on my Mac — switch to using Safari 15.1 as my primary browser. For the last year or so I’ve used Vivaldi, which is Chromium-based but with a focus on customisation and flexibility, alongside better privacy protection. Before that I was using Firefox, but I’ve become uneasy about how Mozilla conduct themselves these days as well as their reliance on Google to keep the lights on.

Prior to this experiment, I’d only been using Safari occasionally for a few things, usually where it required logging into my Google account. I was aware of the hubbub over the changes to tabs in Safari 15, and I was interested to see what impact it would have on my browsing experience.

Thus far, I’ve not really had any issues with Safari. Initially I had the compact tabs system turned off, but after a day or so I turned it on to see what the difference was, and honestly it doesn’t bother me at all. Admittedly, I don’t tend to have many tabs open at once, as I’ll usually capture stuff I want to read later into DEVONthink.

One thing I do miss from Vivaldi is the ability to increase the size of the user interface. Web panels were also handy, and I wish that Safari’s sideboard included downloads and browsing history.

It will be interesting to see if there are any places where I notice degraded experience due to reliance on Chromium-only features, but for now everything seems to work just fine. I still have Vivaldi installed for comparison purposes.

Macs & Windows, never to meet again (on Apple Silicon, anyway)

Windows on ARM on Apple Silicon – An Open Conversation

Microsoft has never sustained Windows on any platform besides x86. What would make Windows on ARM succeed where others have failed?

I first wrote those words almost 11 years ago in Jan. 2011, and restated them then in May of 2012, before Windows RT (Oct. 2012-Jan. 2016) had even shipped.

The program to make Windows run on ARM (code-named “LongARM”) began in the Windows Core OS team… it must be nearing 20 years ago, when Longhorn was an overweight, out of control freight train overloaded with random features.

The belief that Windows could ever succeed on ARM was a moonshot that some within the org laughed off when the project was initially approved—but it was approved, and the team working on it did amazing work to make it happen – of course it didn’t see the light of day for quite some time.

I hadn’t realised that Microsoft had been trying to get Windows onto ARM processors for that long!

The article goes into detail on why Windows on ARM hasn’t worked out thus far, and why dreams of running Windows on ARM on Apple Silicon will remain just that, dreams, no matter what the makers of Parallels Desktop might claim.

The advice at the end is sobering:

For 15 years, the Mac and the world of Windows PCs ran on the same gauge track. A Mac could easily be a Windows PC. Between the death of Boot Camp and the move to Intel, and Microsoft’s multiple clarifications about not licensing and not supporting Windows on Apple silicon, Apple is running on a new gauge of track. It’s time to stop trying to make Macs run Windows. If you want to run Windows and run any app you want on it, buy an x64 PC.

If you want a Mac, buy an Apple silicon Mac. If you want to run Windows on ARM, buy a new Qualcomm-based Windows PC with it preinstalled. If you’re running either one and you need to run an old Windows app? Use Windows 365, VDI, or an older Windows PC to run it.

If you’ve been a fan of Boot Camp or making your Mac run Windows, this story doesn’t have a happy ending. It’s pretty clear that it’s over.

Use what you use and be happy

Heartily agree with this post from Greg Morris:

Now my tools mean very little to me. Sure, I have strong preferences towards iPhones and particularly macOS, but they are not part of me any longer. I love technology, and mainly stick to Apple products as I know them the best, but I can’t be as evangelical for them as I used to be able to. In many respects the tribalism we feel is natural, no one likes things they love receiving negativity but it gets a bit much after a point. Use what you use and be happy.

As someone who has used Windows, macOS, iOS / iPadOS and Android multiple times over the decades, I’m long past the point where I feel like evangelising for any of them. The ‘perfect’ system or environment will never exist, because we are all different and user our devices in different ways. Ideally, the device or OS should:

  1. Be reliable,
  2. Be as secure as possible,
  3. Keep my documents and data where I need them, without messing anything up,
  4. Keep out of the way until I need something from it.

That isn’t much to ask, is it?

Like Greg, I primarily use Apple devices these days, because for the most part they work well for me and don’t give me much trouble. But I don’t feel the need to defend Apple, because I can see that they fall short in several areas on the list above. My devices are tools, not fashion statements. As such, I choose to use them in ways that prioritise my needs over Apple’s.

Image File Formats of Yore

The title of this post over at Tedium, ‘10 Image File Formats That Didn’t Make It‘, isn’t strictly correct, as at least two of those file formats are still in use today. But the remainder form a nice little potted history of the development of computer graphics over the decades.

While I doubt I’ll ever encounter any of these in the near future, it’s reassuring to know that GraphicConverter will probably be able to open them. 🙂

One important takeaway from the Tedium post, which I was reminded about recently when opening some old Photoshop PSD files, is to beware of only saving copies of your work in an application-specific file format. Thankfully, I was able to extract the artwork by opening it in Affinity Designer then exporting as PNG.

Wherein Apple’s Music App Continues to Be a Huge Pile of Poop

It would seem that my Music woes weren’t over after finally cutting the cord to my Apple Music subscription and iCloud Music Library.

While hunting for duplicate tracks to remove, it became apparent that there were a lot of dead tracks in my library — in other words, tracks without a file attached to them.

Eventually I decided to bite the bullet, delete the Music library file in Finder on my Mac, then re-import my music library. In the process I lost all my playlists, but regained a load of tracks that I’d assumed lost.

I doubt that the mis-management of my library happened all at once, but rather slowly over a number of years, through both iTunes’s and now Music’s stewardship.

I would dearly love to switch to another music player/manager, but most of the alternatives out there haven’t been updated in a while and so aren’t future-proof.

I have a feeling that Apple haven’t designed Music to handle libraries as big as mine — currently over 50,000 tracks and 600GB — or have just stopped doing any testing on that side of the app, preferring to focus on the subscription and synching instead.