Making a better experience on the web

Today is December 42, 2020. That joke is getting old now, but it still seems relevant as I write this newsletter. If you’re like me, you’re caught in a vicious cycle of doomscrolling and voraciously consuming news. I don’t want to know, but I feel the need to know, so I look, can’t turn away, and then get sucked in.

I did exercise today, though. If you’re experiencing anything remotely like I am, then it’s the best medicine for your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. If you’re not experiencing any stress over the current events and you have every part of your life completely under control, then kudos to you. Perhaps you should write a book.

Anyway, this week’s newsletter isn’t about that. That was just my way of saying, “I know, and yes, I saw and experienced all of that too.” This week’s newsletter is about internet technologies that affect how we communicate, the ads we’re served, and the software we depend on.

A strong Signal

The privacy-focused messenger, Signal, is experiencing record growth, partly due to WhatsApp’s changes, its usage in the Hong Kong protests, and Elon Musk promoting it. To better engage with their users, many of whom are new, the Signal team held an AMA on Reddit to answer questions about the app. I thought there might be some interesting answers, and I wasn’t disappointed. Signal revealed future plans and discussed privacy, security, and how they’re funded, which I published on Coywolf News.

What they do with our data

While agencies prepare to adapt their Facebook advertising to Apple’s iOS 14 update, a more significant threat by the FTC may be looming for tech companies and data brokers. Tamara Scott published a detailed Coywolf News article on the impending FTC investigation into whether ad-tech like real-time bidding is too invasive with our data.

Open Prioritization

James Turner, a programmer and entrepreneur, recently published an article on Stack Overflow’s blog about the open-source funding problem. He stated it’s an unsustainable model that leaves most projects relying on unpaid developers’ goodwill and time.

One method to support the continued development of open-source projects is to donate to them. Donations are typically made through a service like GitHub Sponsors or Open Collective. For example, Coywolf has a recurring donation to YOURLS, an open-source URL shortener, via Open Collective. While that donation is meant to incentivize the core developer to continue work on the project, it doesn’t guarantee the developer will work on it or add desired features.

There are also open-source projects with corporate backing – they allocate developer resources to the project – but the company prioritizes the features their developers work on. An excellent example of that is Apple with WebKit. It took WebKit ten years to add support for WebP, and they will likely be the last to support AVIF too.

The development and feature-focus limitations of open-source projects are why an initiative called Open Prioritization caught my attention this past week. It’s an experiment by the open-source consultancy, Igalia, to crowdfund contributions for open-source projects for specific features. If the pledge goal is met, a developer or development company will commit to coding the feature.

Their first project is to add support for :focus-visible pseudo class in WebKit. Like AVIF and WebP before it, the WebKit team hasn’t prioritized this feature, even though every other major browser already supports it. The Open Prioritization project would direct funds to get this feature added to WebKit, which means it would then be available in Safari for macOS and iOS.

If this experiment works, we can expect to see this method of open-source development grow. It could also become a viable way to support software development companies in the future.

Interesting find of the week

The bird-shaped flowers of the Green birdflower plant

This past week I discovered a plant with flowers that look like hummingbirds. It immediately reminded me of the movie Annihilation. I won’t go into detail as to why for those who haven’t seen it, but for those who have, you know exactly what I’m talking about. The plant is called the Green birdflower, and it grows in Australia. Besides having flowers that look like birds, Aboriginal people use the sap from the leaves to treat eye infections. So if you’re ever wandering around Australia and you have an eye infection, and you can still see, and there aren’t any doctors around, look for the plant with bird-shaped flowers on it and put that sap in your eye!