My fascination for web design, blogging and the graphical user interface

A beginning is a delicate time …

Restarting a blog isn’t as easy as it seems and this blog post gathered some dust before I actually posted it. Somehow social media, family and other occupations sucked up all my time for the last few years and only the recent past of contributing some open-source code made me want to blog again.

Last time around: Textpattern on an island

I started blogging very early on when after I discovered an early build of TextPattern by Dean Allen. It was such a great experience and allowed me to explore and contribute some ideas around plugins (Gallery, RunLevel etc.) at the time. I was living on Formentera, a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, at the time. After some exciting years in Berlin in mids of the DotCom-Era I need to get back to my roots. I ended up choosing to program again over my initial plan of focusing solely on sculpting with my stepdad. I bought the MacBook 17 inch and hooked it up to the internet. The connection to the internet was somewhat modern for the time using a radio beam antenna sending the signal across the sea directly to Ibiza as we had no landlines outback (“en el campo”). Dean Allen just moved to France and blogging was slowly becoming a thing. It was an exciting time and Dean Allen’s ideas around his projects certainly felt inspiring and ahead of their time. He did his crowdfunding (VC200 for TextDrive), had great ideas around blogging with TextPattern and based it on his markup-language (Textile).

What did I use blogging for?

I used blogging to publish some experiments I was conducting in Macromedia Flash, plugins I wrote for Textpattern and impressions of the Island I grew up on. Sadly, Textpattern missed the train in going open source at the right moment under GNU and Dean was very conservative about collaboration. As admitted by Matt Mullenweg this was partially the reason WordPress saw the light of day and then WordPress quickly picked up momentum and left TextPattern behind. It had some simple advantages like offering direct access to building templates with PHP rather than the regular expression heavy approach by TextPattern. Still, I considered it somewhat messy when I first looked at WordPress and stuck to Textpattern as I already was mentally invested in it and deemed it the more elegant solution.

What did I do from there on out?

History proved me wrong but it wasn’t that important to me as I quickly moved on building WYSIWYG CMS based on Flash. It offered Drag’n’Drop, a media library and in place text-editing. Also, I was using an object based JSON-like storage format. I remember how these storage formats were frowned upon as not being as clean and indexable as the very popular relation databases at the time. For me, it wasn’t a willingness for pioneering but just the sheer need to have a simple backend to focus on the editing experience and hence dismiss a full-blown Enitity-Realtionship-Model (ERM). Nowadays the NoSQL movement (like Mongo-DB) are an established data storage pattern but that wasn’t the case at the time. Long story short, the product was great but I never used it apart from running some of our project at the time with it. This was mainly the case because one of our projects using it became pretty successful in Berlin leaving me with only the time needed to maintain the CMS for our own immediate needs. Also, I always wanted to build that full-fledged ERM and was shy about my object storage. With the advent of mobile and death of Flash my version of a true WYSIWYG CMS was doomed and I apart from that I abandoned the project eventually because easy agency cash was flooding in.

My love for modern page editing in the browser

One thing remained, ever since I was hooked on page builders and very interested in any developments in the sector. I even started developing a standalone HTML-Version of my previous Flash-based solution some time later but “content editable” wasn’t a thing back then and the browser wars were still in full rage. This did make it any fun to develop cutting-edge ideas specially coming from Flash with it’s single editor and cross-platform plugin. The HTML-Version ended up being more like a RedDot CMS (it also had a little red dot beside each element that could be edited) with a window popup for editing and telling the main window to reload on “apply” showing an immediate in-place preview. I even used it on a couple of clients but now WordPress was exploding with plugins and clients demanded it. It even had some early visual page builders. Even though I didn’t like the shortcode-based nature of them like used in Visual Composer they were a step in the right direction of using the modern Graphical User Interface already so established in the Digital Publish Industry I was participating in through my agency work.

Features overkill or empowerment?

Fun fact I learned at the time: Many clients wanted a CMS but in the end didn’t use it much. But, more people trained on social media are expecting to be able to edit these days and Brizy, DIVI and Elementor are offering easy visual page builders to accommodate that need. In my opinion, Gutenberg is still struggling for acceptance with visual designers but for pure content creation it’s totally fine and probably the safes bet for blogging going forward at this point.

The future of creativity

Coming from Flash with it’s fixed stage, scenes and absolute positioning I adore the notion of precise layout, animation and playfulness. I compensated this by using Tumult Hype in the last few years and it has it’s shortcomings but overall it is a great environment with many hidden gems. Coming back to the modern web, for a while there I just hated it as it was moving towards the striped down rational minimalism induced by the need for responsive design and readability on small phone screens. Lately, the creativity is coming back and the technology is catching up with what Flash already afforded so many years ago. Even going far beyond it with the unification and standardization modern browsers are currently offering.

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