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Linkbait 45

Tue, 06/23/2020 - 3:18am

Cleaning up my tabs.

  • So a performance.now() sponsor asked if there was any performance-centric publication. I did not know, asked around, and found that just about the only one is the perf email newsletter. So just so you know; it’s supposed to be worth the subscription.
    (BTW: we postponed performance.now() to 2021. This year it’s just not possible to run physical events.)
  • Speaking of events, Benedict Evans wrote an excellent article on the future of events. His experience is more with the huge trade shows than with our focused events, but he makes a few cogent points. Online events are quite different from physical ones (I already figured that out), but nobody yet knows how to do them properly. Instead of doing something truly online, most events just copy physical events while pointing a camera at the speaker and providing. That’s not the way forward. See also the early web that copied print. We slowly learned that it’s something quite different.
    Regardless, Krijn and I are not going to try online events. Instead we’ll wait until we can hold physical ones again; that’s where our strength lies.
    One more excellent point from the article: expensive, or even not-cheap, tickets, as well as organising and paying for your flight and hotel, serves as a selection filter, so that you end up with people who really value physical events.
    There is a lot of pent-up demand for phyiscal events, and that won’t go away, so physical events will return. Still, new forms of online events might also come out of this crisis.
  • A while ago I considered writing an article about the Apple/Google initiative for somewhat-privacy-protecting Covid-tracking, and I gathered some sources. I never wrote the article, but here are the sources anyway:
    • The press release
    • Google’s simple overview
    • Specifications
    • Initial Cnet overview article
    • A rather critical look at the privacy implications. I had the idea the author was too negative, or made some assumption somewhere that was not entirely warranted, but I never actually figured out what sort of problem I felt this article had.
    • A more moderate Wired article that acknowledges possible privacy problems, and gives practical examples, one creepy neighbour and one creepy ad firm, and runs through some other problems as well. As I see it, these problems are inherent to any form of smartphone-based mass surveillance scheme.
    (To be honest, to me contact tracing apps are a sneaky way to avoid the much more expensive contact tracing by actual humans, which I suspect works much better. Also, politicians desperately want to be seen to be tech-literate, so we need an app. Absolutely, positively need an app. I mean, it’s technology, you know ...)
  • A nice line of CSS Grid for you to study. I found out about auto-fill here.
  • Lea takes a look at hybrid positioning (ie. switching from a fixed-like to an absolute-like positioning) in CSS, and as usual I learned a lot here as well. I had this effect on my site since 2004 or so, and I switch from fixed to absolute with JavaScript, because that was the only possibility back then. Meanwhile it turns out you can do this mostly in CSS as well. Also teaches you how to change CSS custom properties in JavaScript.
    I’ve been thinking about it, and I don’t see a way of doing this in pure CSS, because at some point you have to switch from fixed to absolute, and that cannot be done in CSS alone.
  • Speaking of CSS custom properties, Lea’s article and this one taught me that they in fact contain strings that do not have to be valid CSS. It’s only interpreted when it’s actually used in a CSS expression. See also this conversation with Lea and Tab, as well as this article by Jeremy that actually pushed me in to this particular rabbit hole. Thing learned!
  • The Chrome team is preparing to do something about ultra-heavy ads; overview, technical details. Curious what comes of this. Something must be done on the browser side of things to clamp down on online junk; this may be a step in the right direction. Supposed to land somewhere in August.
  • I am probably going to write more about monetization of resources such as this one, or front-end tools, and had a good Twitter conversation (yes! they still exist!) with Scott Wilson in particular. I gathered a few articles, but an incident with my computer made me lose most of them. Here are the two surviving ones:
    • An excellent overview of OSS business models (which I think we should take as a template for web dev monetization)
    • A more critical look at several options. Money quote (pun not intended):

      We should remember that a big part of innovation comes from developers working at organizations adopting open source software [...]. It’s these organizations that should be tasked to sustain open source software [...], especially since they depend on open source software to survive as a business.

  • Very nice online presentation of excerpts from the diaries of captain DaCosta, a 16th century black Portuguese sea captain who ended up in Japan. Contains interesting details. The only thing I’m missing is bibliographical information about the full diary. If it’s translated into a language I can read I might actually pick it up.
  • Have a tip for the next Linkbait? Or a comment on this one? Let me know (or here or here).

Playing board games online

Thu, 04/09/2020 - 4:56am

One of the things that keeps me fairly upbeat these days is playing board games and D&D with my friends online. Since others might want to do the same, I thought I’d jot down some notes on how I do it.

I briefly tried Tabletopia but didn"t like it. I understand why they built the interface as they did, but I found it very hard and very confusing to use, and it took us about 45 minutes to even start understanding the system. Granted, we picked Teotihuacan for our test game, which may not have been the best of choices.

So I continued using my homebrew system, and it works great so far.

Technical set-up

I use Whereby (the former appear.in), a WebRTC service that works absolutely GREAT. I totally recommend it to everyone for your online communication needs. The greatest thing about it is that you just go to a URL, ask the people you want to communicate with to go to the same URL, give permissions, enter the room, and start talking. No sign-ups or logins or whatever.

I have a pro account (or whatever it’s called) that allows 12 simultaneous connections to my room. You can also just grab a room name, go there, and start communicating, but these free rooms have a maximum of four simultaneous connections. So I advise you to take a paid account; you will most likely need more than four connections for playing board games online.

Besides, fuck free. The free Internet is slowly coming to an end and you should pay for services you like and use, or they won’t survive (or sell your data; see also Zoom).

Whereby works on modern Chromium-based browsers, and also in Firefox (though I haven’t tried Firefox on Android yet). It does not work in Safari iOS, but an app is available that works as simply as the web client.

Then figure out how many devices you own that you can use. On the whole, I send out three streams: my 'social' stream (my face, basically) from my laptop, the main board stream from my iPad, and a secondary board stream from a Samsung S6 I happened to have lying around. I occasionally use my real Samsung phone (an S7) as a third cam, for instance to make sure that everyone has the same bits and pieces on mirrored player boards.

Plug in all devices you use, and make sure any phones are on at least 25% charge or so before starting. My Samsung phones, especially, tend to spend a lot of juice on keeping the streams running, and even though plugged in all the time they might end up with less battery charge after a gaming session.

Mute Whereby on all devices except for your social stream. One very annoying thing I noticed is that, both on the iPad and on the Samsungs, it is impossible to turn off the sound completely. Therefore you need to do two things:

  1. Disable sound input by clicking on the microphone icon in the bottom bar.
  2. Disable sound output of all connections by clicking the Mute option in the menu you get after clicking on the three bullets icon in the upper right corner. You must repeat this for every connection.

You can only mute the output once everyone else has joined the stream. If someone drops out and re-joins you must mute them again. This is annoying; but it’s caused by idiotic device vendors not allowing you to mute the sound completely by using the provided hardware buttons — don’t ask me why they took this stupid step.

Now ask the others to join you. If possible and necessary they can also add their own cameras, for instance to show their player boards.

Picking the game

With the technical set-up out of the way, you should pick your game. I found that there are two absolute necessities here:

  1. All players must own the game, so that they can copy the moves of the other players.
  2. The game should have little to no hidden information.

So you might need to buy the same game as your friends. If you are in the Amsterdam area, please support your friendly local game store Friends & Foes instead of the big online retailers. Friends & Foes deliver in Amsterdam (I just ordered Tzolkin from them).

The two games I played most often so far are Azul and Alchemists. I am currently gearing up to try Madeira, Istanbul and Tzolkin; they should work as well.

Azul, Madeira, and Tzolkin have no hidden information at all. They have a variable set-up (and in case of Azul this is repeated each round), but that should be no problem.

Appoint one player or group of players as the Master; the other ones have Copies. The Master players draw all the randoms and show them to the other players, who copy them on to their Copy boards. Having the Master set provide all random draws is very important, since usually quite a bit of design thought went in to deciding exactly how many of one type of card or tile are available. These distributions should not be disturbed!

Azul

With Azul it is very important that all players set up copies of all other players’ personal boards. Part of the game is figuring out which tiles other players are likely to want, and for that all players need an overview of who has which tiles in which position.

Wnen I stream Azul, the main camera is on the central part with the available tiles. Other players can copy that if they like, but it’s not really necessary if the stream is clear enough. My secondary camera is on my own player board, so that everyone can see what I’m doing.

During the game all players clearly state their moves; for instance “I take the two blues with the star, and I put them on my three row.” I take the tiles from the central part, and the other players see me doing that, so they can correct me. They don’t see my copy of their playing baords, but that has never been a problem yet, as long as everyone gives clear instructions.

After a round has ended but before scoring I start up my tertiary camera to stream my copies of everyone else’s player boards, just to make sure no mistakes were made. Then I score each player’s board while showing it on camera. We repeat our final scores orally, just to be sure, and then the Master player sets up for the next round by drawing random tiles from my Master bag.

Alchemists

Alchemists does have a little bit of hidden information: random ingredients drawn, and random helper cards we always call Friendly Friends. (I forget their official name.) The Master player draws these cards for me and shows them on their camera without looking. I take the corresponding cards from my own copy of the game. This works fine, and the distribution of ingredients and Friendly Friends remains intact.

Alchemists really only needs a Master main board stream and social streams; there is no reason to add more cameras.

Although Alchemists’ board is pretty big, it doesn’t contain all that much information, which is good for online gaming. I just need to see which artifacts and ingredients are drawn (and copy them to my own board), and where players place their action cubes (and copy them as well). If I can’t see it clearly I just ask, and that works fine.

Part of Alchemists becomes much easier. In real life every player needs a beautifully-designed but sometimes cumbersone player contraption to both visualise their research and hide it from the other players.


Credit: Karel_danek

Online, it’s not necessary, and I find that my research and thinking flows much easier. Other players cannot see my board, and that gives me a lot more space to work with.

Madeira, Istanbul and Tzolkin

I haven’t played Madeira, Istanbul and Tzolkin yet, but they do not contain hidden information; just start-of-game randoms, plus the random buildings that occasionally appear in Tzolkin and the bonus cards in Istanbul. I do not think these will cause a problem.

The bigger problem might be that their boards are much more involved, and there’s a lot of game state to track. I might need to use two cameras to stream them accurately; I’m not sure yet. We’ll figure that out once we do the first session.

Scatternotes

Tue, 03/24/2020 - 3:07am

Inspired by Brad’s recent post, here’s a scattering of thoughts I had about things other than conferences (I already wrote about those.)

***

Amsterdam runs in idle, but it runs. That is good to see. As far as I know all cities run in idle right now, but are still running.

Civilization, society, and probably the economy as well, will not collapse. This is no extinction event, just a very bad spell. We will recover.

***

We can give up on the rest of the school year. In Holland the central examinations are cancelled for the first time since 1945. I am in touch with a bunch of 15- and 16-year olds, children of friends and their friends, that I play D&D and board games with. I mainly think of them in this item. I also think of the students I’m currently teaching (online) at university, who are around 20 or so.

Once social distancing is over they will likely go into party mode for months on end. It will be very difficult to get them to pay attention to school or studies, and in my opinion we shouldn’t try. They’re right.

(Note to self: figure out how the people born around 1330 fared after the Black Death. Re-read Froissart.)

Also, I predict a slight uptick in teen abortions during summer.

***

I’m teaching at university right now, and it really goes remarkably well. Still, this is the web faculty, which is the one faculty that’s most likely to adapt seamlessly to the current situation, since not only the students, but also the teachers are well at home on the web. Other faculties might likely have more problems — think a classics professor who never clicked on anything because Aristotle and Cicero didn’t either.

***

Twitter is a cesspool. I don’t go there any more. I get very tired of all the enraged Americans in particular, who think that the specific problems of their country are the most important ones in the world. Not fair, maybe, but that’s how it is. Deal with your orange monkey yourself, we don’t have the time for it.

***

I am supposed to be writing a book. I am currently not writing a book. But last week was very hard (teaching while cancelling a conference for the first time is not my favourite mix of activities), this week will be moderately busy, and we’ll see next week.

***

Eric said websites should get static, because the React monstrosities that rule the web now are too fucking slow and expensive on mobile devices, and people need information right now.

We should rule that important government websites are not allowed to use JavaScript at all. That’ll solve the problem.

Sure, reality is more nuanced, good JavaScript use is possible yaddah yaddah, but right now is not the time for nuance. We need one simple rule that actually does away with the problem and that even idiots understand.

So skip the JavaScript entirely. It’s just fluff. Do away with it.

***

I stopped paying taxes for the first time in my freelance career. Without taxes, I can probably hold on to November or December even without any extra income beyond what I already invoiced. This is definitely better than I initially thought, when I had to say goodbye to 1/3 of my annual income.

***

My first online D&D session was an astounding success. I use Whereby and I swear by it. (Install app for iOS; rest just works in the browser.) I have a Pro account, so my room accepts 12 connections simultaneously.

I used two devices as cameras on the battle mat and the initiative tracker (I use a slightly modified version of this initiative system), and my laptop for an image of myself and to see the players. Rolz for die rolls, Whatsapp for private communication between DM and one player, and that’s it, really. I occasionally added a fourth hand cam with an extra phone, but I could do without if necessary.

The only problem is that it turns out to be impossible to turn off sound entirely on the iPad. There are online instructions that claim otherwise, but they don’t work. Still, just now I realised I should kill all video feeds to the iPad except for its own; I only use it as a glorified web cam.

***

A lot is being said about mental health, and it’s all true. I also suffer a little bit — on average I get Corona about three times per day, but when I forget about it for five minutes my symptoms mysteriously disappear. I assume others have the same problem.

Many good points have already been made, and I’m not going to repeat them. The historian in me wants to make another point entirely.

Once upon a time, not so long ago, this feeling of permanent stress and helplessness, multiplied by two, three, or even four, was the natural state of being of just about all humans. Plagues, wars, famines, too-high taxes, they could all arrive at your doorstep, and in an average year at least one (most likely taxes) did.

People lived like this all the time. They were not aware that it is possible to live in any other way. The stress you’re feeling now is about one-half to one-quarter of what everybody felt all the time during most of human history, and before. As a result, all of them had PTSD. All of them. That’s why assholery is so widespread during all of history (except, in some parts of the world, for most of the people, for the last sixty years or so).

This is what we’re fighting for. We fight for our children to have the chance to live as we did, without constant fear.

Remember that. It gives you a goal to shoot for.

***

Jeremy is right. Writing helps. I feel better already.

Conference organising in times of chaos

Thu, 03/19/2020 - 1:39am

To the surprise of exactly no one, we cancelled CSS Day 2020, originally slated for 11th and 12th of June. In this post I’d like to explain our reasoning, and call for a gesture of solidarity and support to small, independent conference organisers.

All CSS Day attendees received a mail with details about the reimbursement process. If you did not receive it we do not have your correct email address on file, and you should contact us.

Being a good attendee

If you want the independent web conference community to continue to exist in the future, there are a few things you can do for your friendly local conference organiser.

  1. Make sure they can reach you. Check your email address in their sales system.
  2. If the conference offers the option, and if you can afford it at all, allow them to move your ticket forward to the next edition. This will give them some financial breathing room. See it as an interest-free loan aimed at preserving the ecosystem all of us built.
  3. Be understanding of delays and uncertainties. All conference organisers must chart their own course, and some will be taking a wait-and-see approach, especially if their conferences are scheduled for late June or beyond.
  4. If conferences do run, be accepting of a sharply diminished experience. It is very likely that conferences sell way fewer tickets than usual, and the most obvious way of saving money is removing luxury items such as nice extra catering options, afterparties with free drinks, diversity tickets, captioning, possbily even wifi. Speakers may be asked to waive their speaking fee. The entire conference might be moved online. Be accepting of such occurrences, and remember that they’re aimed at allowing the organisers to support themselves and their families.

A good example of the last point is the perfmatters conference over in the US. It switched to an online conference, but offered no refunds for the sharp decline in experience because the money was already spent. As a partial recompense, all attendees were allowed to invite someone else to the online conference.

I fully support Estelle in this difficult decision, but at the same time I’m glad I don’t have to do the same.

More in general, the question is whether we want the independent web conference community to survive. (I do, but I’m biased.) If we stick together, and attendees are accepting of cancellations, sharp service level declines, and possibly even loss of money, we might survive.

If we don’t, in a few years we’ll only have corporate conferences with a corporate agenda to attend.

Your choice.

Being a good sponsor

As a sponsor, there are also a few things you can do:

  1. If you can afford it, and the sum is not too large, allow cancelled conferences to retain your sponsorship money, possibly as a down payment for a sponsorship next year.
  2. Be accepting of point 4 above. If you had earmarked your sponsorship for a specific purpose, be prepared to waive that purpose.
  3. That last point will likely remain true for the next year. Please do not earmark future sponsorships, but allow the organiser to spend it as they see fit — and that includes avoiding personal bankruptcy.
Conference finances

Just so you understand my perspective: with one stroke I lost 1/3rd of my annual income. The situation is dire, though fortunately not hopeless. Other conference organisers are hit even harder.

The real question for me personally is whether performance.now(2020), 12th anf 13th of November, will run. Right now we think it will, but if it doesn’t I lose another third of my annual income and I have a real problem.

CSS Day was still far removed from the break-even point. That was completely expected at this time of the year, and even ten days ago we didn’t worry about it. Now, however, we must work with a scenario where we will not sell any more tickets, and where some current ticket holders will ask for a reimbursement. Thus, the financial risk of running the conference has gone from fairly low to enormous. This informs all decisions we took.

A small, independent web conference of our type breaks even when about 60-75% of the tickets are sold. Any number below 60% means that the organisers will have to pay money out of their own pocket.

We try to keep prices relatively restrained, that’s why the break-even point is so high. Huge corporate IT conferences have quite different break-even points, especially if they use the sponsor money to actually pay for the conference and put the complete proceedings of the ticket sales in their own pockets.

June cancelled

It is possible that the de-facto travel ban will be rescinded by early June. The big question is when exactly that will happen. Even if we are absurdly positive and say that we’ll be out of the woods by late April or early May, people will still be understandably concerned about their health, and will not be amenable to booking a trip for the next month.

That means that, in practice, even in a fairy-tale positve scenario we will sell way fewer tickets than last year. It is quite likely we will stay below the magical 65% line that breaks us even. Remember: every single cent we’d pay would come from our own pocket, since we’re going to reimburse the tickets and lose that money. The risk is simply too big, and we decline to run it. The organisers of the XOXO festival explain this problem more clearly than I can.

An added benefit is that we have not yet made any large payments to the venue and the hotel, and if we cancel now we won’t have to. Our suppliers are understanding of the situation, and it appears that the only costs we have to pay is a single speaker flight. That’s manageable.

Online conference? Nope

So: no physical conference in June. But what about an online conference or a postponed one?

Moving conferences online is frequently suggested on Twitter — mostly by people who have no experience in organising conferences. Sure we could try to do that, but there are considerable downsides:

  1. Will our audience buy tickets for an online-only conference? Our mailing lists and past audience have self-selected for a desire to attend a physical conference, where not only the talks, but also the social gatherings in the hallways are very important. Some people don’t like that, but our audience very much does.
  2. The ticket price would have to be significantly lower than for a physical conference. Of course, the costs would also be significantly lower, but a much lower ticket price still means much less profit per ticket. Financially, it might work. Then again, it might not. We just don’t know.
  3. What about our current ticekt holders? Our ticketing system allows us to reimburse them (and we will do so), but it has no option to partially reimburse the tickets of those attendees who’d like to switch to the online conference. We’d have to go through a manual process of invoicing and reimbursing that is likely to take a LOT of time.
  4. Then we’d have to find suitable software for online conferences. No doubt there are quite a few good options, but since we have no experience it would take us a long time to pick one.
  5. The biggest problem with online conferencing software is that we cannot test it. If something goes wrong on the conference day itself, we essentially do not know what to do, attendees become dissatisfied, and our brand suffers. People might even ask for a reimbursement — and we can’t even tell them they’re wrong.
  6. The massive uncertainty that comes with the software will have caused us to live in a state of ultra-stress for weeks, and that is not conducive to reasoning and clarity of thought.
  7. Finally, all of this would take a lot of extra time that we cannot spend on other jobs. Although it’s possible we would make some money, it’s also possible that we won’t. The risk is too high.

So our huge time investment and stress load might not actually pay out, and I personally might still be left with a gaping hole of about 1/3rd of my annual income after spending way too many weeks on a solution that didn’t work, left everyone dissatisfied, and precluded me from doing other work while stressing me out so much that I have to take a few weeks’ break without having any money.

I will not go that route. The risk is too high.

Postponing? Nah

Postponing the conference is a more realistic approach. But to which dates? The venue was kind enough to offer us early September dates, but we doubt those are going to work.

Same problem as always: will people buy tickets? They might, but they might not. The risk is too high.

There are additional risks, as Niels Leenheer, who was recently forced to cancel the Fronteers 2020 conference, outlines in a recent article. If many conferences move to fall dates, they will compete not only with one another, but also with the regularly-scheduled conferences that would take place in fall anyway. It’s a lose-lose scenario for everyone.

Part of conference organising is the careful planning of the date. You do not want to be too close to similar conferences, and you’re bound to conference season anyway, which stretches from early March to late June and then from mid September to early December — at least in Europe.

Moreover, once you have a time slot that you have used for several years in a row, your attendees — and your competitors — adjust to that. Changing it is something not to be considered lightly, and will affect not only your own conference, but also other ones planned around the new dates. Solidarity requires us to stay away from the time slots of other independent web conferences.

Also, speakers may have other obligations by that time, or they might still decline to come due to health concerns. All this is entirely understandable, and while we have built up a great network of supportive former speakers who would probably be willing to help us out, it wouldn’t be the conference our attendees bought a ticket for. Besides, it would mean repeating speakers year over year, something we generally try to avoid.

Finally, this would cost us some extra time, though not nearly as much as moving the conference online. Is it the wisest course of action to spend that extra time on postponing the conference instead of looking for other jobs? I don’t think so.

The risk is too high. It’s far better to write off CSS Day 2020 entirely and use the freed-up time to make money in other ways.

***

So that’ where we stand right now. The independent web conference community is taking a severe hit, and we are no exception. Still, we aim to return.

There’s one silver lining: when all this is over there will be pent-up demand for conferences. Plenty of people enjoy going to them, and while skipping one is not a great hardship, skipping an entire conference season might be. So with a little bit of luck our conferences might return to normal in 2021.

If we stick together and show some solidarity we can survive this.

Stay healthy,

Linkbait 44

Mon, 03/16/2020 - 2:36am

Links in times of chaos.

  • Laura Schenck, whose thoughts on programming CSS are very interesting anyway, discusses a project where she had to battle specificity. Key thought:

    Specificity breeds, much like conditionals breed in imperative languages [...]. Adding specificity is adding conditional logic. Once you start adding that logic, the code-base snowballs and it becomes difficult to understand, and thus difficult to maintain.

    She also asks if anyone who writes CSS should understand specificity to this degree. My answer is a firm Yes, just like you're expected to understand if- and for-loops when programming in any other language.
  • Rachel Andrew ponders the pros and cons of CSS4. She is afraid that people will get confused by “CSS4” because several articles said there will never be a CSS4, and the version number 4 does not align with the version numbers of existing modules. Although both are true, I seriously doubt whether the people that “CSS4” is aimed at (those I call the torso and long tail of the CSS world) are aware or care. To me, this argument is overly legalistic, in the sense that it doesn’t matter in the real world.
    A much more important argument is that the announcement of “CSS4” will make people expect a list of new features that work in all browsers. In itself that’s great, and I think it would be really helpful, but the problem is that someone will have to decide what goes on the list and what does not — and the CSS WG is already stretched thin and cannot spare the time to do this. Maybe we need a community effort to help them? Worth thinking about.
  • Interesting Twitter thread on why CSS is perceived as simultaneously very simple and very complicated.

    Because we think it's a simple language, we don't dive deep into it like we do with "real" programming languages. background: blue; makes the background turn blue, why should we bother diving in?

    But then it's time to build a layout and suddenly the combination of user agent styles and a lack of understanding in the fundamentals of CSS makes things break, or not behave how we expect them to.

    Yup.
  • Mostly for myself: the difference between defer and async on script tags. Or, as Nicholas Zakas puts it:
    • Do it now: <script src>
    • Do it later: <script defer src>
    • I don’t care when you do it, just not now: <script async src>
  • Coil, the web monetization company, offers some interesting but too-much-under-the-radar thoughts on probabilistc revenue sharing. The idea is simple: if A, B, and C cooperate on a to-be-monetized article, and A is allotted 60% of the revenue, B 25% and C 15%, you simply add those probabilities to your payment pointers. Eventually a tool will draw a random and assign a specific payment to a specific author, but for now you can use a script to emulate that behaviour.
  • Google proposes to sunset the User Agent string by freezing its version number and removing device information. The purpose here is to make fingerprinting (combining UA string, IP address, TCP/IP settings, device information and a host of other bits and pieces to accuratenly identify a web user) more difficult.
    The UA string will be replaced by client hints that give web developers some information about the browser, device, and platform. These hints will likely be more generic than the UA string, and thus hamper fingerprinting.
    The second problem with UA strings is the eternal arms race between clueless web developers and browser vendors, where web devs start using a certain badly-written browser detect, which forces browsers who want to end up on the good side of it to adjust their UA string, so that it gathers more and more cruft. (This is the reason every single browser string out there still starts with Mozilla.) I do not see this arms race go away. For instance, if the new Flow browser wants to defeat new browser detects written with client hints by clueless web developers, it will most likely be forced to announce itself as Chrome. Worse: we lose the ability to accurately identify it as Flow. As a result, new browser stats will make it appear as if Chrome is even more dominant than it actually is.
    Maybe we need another field Sec-CH-RealUA or something, where the browser can use its true name. On the other hand, that will be more fodder for clueless web developers and will perpetuate the arms race.
    In any case, to me it seems that more-or-less-accurate browser statistics will be the most important casualty of this switch.

    Related links (mostly for myself): client hints as currently implemented; discussion on a previous Safari attempt to do something similar; Blink intent to ship
  • Mozilla and KaiOS Technologies are going to cooperate on future versions of KaiOS, the operating system for “smart feature phones” (read: cheap phones) that’s based on Firefox OS. Included in the article is a whole list of features Mozilla will work on, but they essentially boil down to keeping KaiOS updated for the ever-evolving web.

    Broadly speaking, these updates will mean many first-time internet users gain access to more of the web’s advanced digital services on devices that are affordable, reliable, and secure.

    Remember: KaiOS is aimed at not-so-rich people from emerging markets. As of May 2019 there were about 100 million devices out there. That’s piss poor compared to iOS and especially Android, but let’s see if their use explodes or not.
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