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Tweaking

Right now, I’m buried balls deep in the upcoming redesign of Dirty Feed. That, plus the beginning of the new year, has sparked ideas for a few more inward-looking pieces here, which won’t be to everyone’s taste. I’ll be back with some of my more usual stuff later in the month.

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I used to customise.

My computer, I mean. When I used to use RISC OS back in the 90s, I’d spend ages tweaking everything until it was just right. I’d spend hours obsessing over the settings in applications; I even used a program called !MenuBar to set up an entirely custom menu at the top of the screen, for easy access to all the programs and files I needed. This involved manually hacking a configuration file. That was how I spent my evenings, and jolly good fun it was too.

These days, I don’t bother. I make a point of having a nice desktop background, and I do take care to arrange folders in a vaguely neat fashion. But my taste for tweaking the OS and applications has mostly disappeared. With my iPhone and iPad, it’s even worse – my homescreens are in a bit of a mess, and apart from some sensible placing of most-used apps, I haven’t got round to sorting them yet. The years of tweaking my setups to within an inch of their lives have long gone.

…except that’s not entirely true.

Sure, I’ve stopped tweaking in terms of my own personal desktop. But that’s been replaced with a new form of tweaking. I absolutely cannot stand the vast majority of blog themes on the net; none of them look or work quite how I want them to, so I always end up hand-crafting my own. The current version of Dirty Feed was completely designed from scratch, as I just couldn’t find a theme I liked. So is the next version, for that matter, which is even more complicated as I’m implementing a responsive design. In fact, I’ve never used a pre-existing template for any website I’ve designed.

Hopefully most of them work well enough – there’s always things which could be better, but I’m happy with most of what I’ve done. And every single one of them are a reflection of the old me that I thought had disappeared completely… and then realised hadn’t. It’d just shifted elsewhere. It might be a different thing I’m tweaking1, but it’s exactly the same urge2.

It’s odd how the internet has taken aspects of my personality I used to project internally, and projects them externally instead. I used to care about something only I was staring at. Now I care about the part of me other people will be staring at. That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing. It just… is.

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On the topic of the current design of Dirty Feed, I want to talk a little about the ethos behind it. This design isn’t going to be around for much longer, and having served me well since June 2011 – bloody hell, over five years – it’s worth giving it a little bit of a send-off.

And the major thing to note about it is: how stripped down the design is, even compared to a lot of other simple sites out there. Too stripped down, in fact: I launched with the bare minimum possible, and always meant to add features once I’d decided I definitely wanted them. In the end, I never got round to doing so. By the time I really did get round to thinking about the site design again, I realised it needed a proper responsive design built from scratch, not just smearing cosmetic products on livestock.

Which means: I’ve run a blog for the past five years with no kind of normal navigation whatsoever, no about or contact pages, no tags, and no easy way of navigating by date without URL hacking. Ridiculous? Perhaps, and it’s definitely meant good articles have remained buried away in the archives, rather than having a better chance to be discovered again. On the other hand… it’s kinda been fun to see what the absolute bare minimum you can get away with for a site design. Sure, I’ve decided I now want all those features missing above with the upcoming relaunch, and a few more to boot – but it’s nice to discover that you actually want some of that stuff on its own terms, rather than just Because That’s What’s Done.

In the meantime, despite its faults, I think the site has benefited from its ultra-clean design, rather than being clogged with too much shit. I’m still proud of how well the footer works – cramming a lot of otherwise missing features into a very small space. The typography is the best I’ve ever managed for any site. And I’ll happily take a site which stripped down a tad too much, than something too far the other way. Hopefully the new design will have the best of both approaches.

Still. Five years without any kind of navigation. That must be some kind of record.

This is a revised and expanded version of something I posted on Tumblr back in June 2013.


  1. Not my penis. 

  2. I SAID NOT MY PENIS. 

■ Posted 11th January 2017 @ 8am in Internet, Meta. 5 Comments.

5 Comments

Jayenkai on 11 January 2017 @ 1pm

Can’t wait to see the results!
Good luck adding oodles of amazing features. :D


VMPhil on 12 January 2017 @ 1pm

Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask this, but as you’re currently redesigning Dirty Feed, I was wondering what your thoughts are on the new instant article formats from Facebook, Google AMP and Apple News, and whether you’ve considered using them for Dirty Feed. (Thought it was best to ask here than on Twitter with only 140 characters at a time!)

-Phil of @VM_Phil


John Hoare on 12 January 2017 @ 8pm

No worries Phil – perfect place to ask!

Short answer: no, I don’t think I’m going to do anything like that, at least not yet. I like the control that just having *everything* running on my own site gives me, with no outside services getting involved. Never say never, but if I can avoid it, I will.


VMPhil on 14 January 2017 @ 12pm

Thanks for the response! As a reader, it’s perhaps a little more convenient to tap/click on an article and get it instantly, but there are definitely downsides in terms of it contributing to the centralisation of the web, and publishers big and small having to play to the whims of Google and Facebook especially. And to link it back to this article, you wouldn’t have complete control over the look of your site either.


John Hoare on 14 January 2017 @ 9pm

The battle between usability and keeping control is always a tricky one. Ultimately, it’s easy for me to take a stand against centralisation here, as I’m not trying to make money and am actually willing to sacrifice clicks in order to make an ideological point.

I’m not saying I’ll never do anything like that, though. (Despite my oft-repeated antipathy towards Medium, I’ve considered revised some pieces I’ve published here and publishing them over there to see how they do…)


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