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I’ve got a new job!

TL;DR, I’m moving from Developer Relations to become Opera’s Deputy Chief Technology Officer. Or maybe Deputy Technology Officer, because “Deputy Chief” is almost oxymoronic. Anyway, call me “Bruce”; it’s more polite than what you usually call me.

Co-father of CSS Håkon Wium Lie continues to be CTO, and I’ll be working with him, the Communications Team, the product teams, and my lovely colleagues in devrel, to continue connecting the unconnected across the world.

In some ways, this is simply an evolution of what I’ve been doing for the last couple of years. In a more profound way it’s a return to basics.

My first real exposure to the Web came about working in Thailand in 1999, when I was convalescing after my diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Because M.S. is very rare in Asia, I could find no English language information to tell me how quickly or painfully I would die.

But I’d read about this new-fangled Web thing, and there was an Internet Café near my apartment, so I typed in “Multiple Sclerosis” into Alta Vista and found something extraordinary: a community of people around the world supporting each other through their shared diagnosis on something called a “website” – and I could participate, too, from a café in Pratunam, Bangkok. All strangers, across the globe, coming together around a common theme and helping each other.

I knew immediately that I’d stumbled upon something amazing, something revolutionary, an undreamed of way to communicate. As an English Literature graduate and ex-programmer, I was fascinated, by both the communicative potential and also the tech that drove it. By 2002, I was Brand Manager for a UK book company publishing on books for web professionals, and our first, flagship book was on Web Accessibility.

From accessibility, I began to advocate the general concept of open web standards on my blog and with various employers, so that everyone could access the web. Then, after being invited to join Opera in 2008, I started advocating HTML5, so people could connect to an open web that could compete with the proprietary silos of Flash and iOS. After that, I began beating the drum for Media Queries and Responsive Design so that the people in developing nations (like I was in ’99), using affordable hand-held devices, could connect and enjoy the full web. Then I proposed the <picture> element (more accurately: a very naive precursor to it) so that people with limited funds for bandwidth could connect economically, too. Then I agitated, inside Opera and outside, for Progressive Web Apps, so people could have a great experience on the open web, not those pesky walled gardens.

The common thread is people and getting them connected to each other. This matters to me because that happened to me, 17 years ago (spoiler: and I didn’t die).

A third of a billion people use Opera’s products to get them online, fast and affordably. I want to be part of making that half a billion, then a billion, then more; not by stealing customers from competitors, but by opening up the web to people and places that currently have no access. That’s a lot of people; there’s a lot to be done. It’s a big job. I’m a n00b and I’m gonna fuck up from time-to-time.

Bring it on.

(Yikes.)

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Reading List: geek Xmas advents

From the department of taking credit for other peoples’ work, here’s a list of geek admin calendars running from today (December 1st) to Xmas day, compiled from tweets by Rachel Andrew and Andy Davies.

Update: Adrian Roselli has a much better list than this.

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Guess I’m Falling In Love

Perhaps the funkiest, happiest song I’ve ever written. The tune and first verse were written while I was at university, and forgotten. Then a friend said two weeks ago “I guess I’m falling in love” while we were discussing her nasty bout of the unrequiteds. I remembered the song, wrote the rest, recorded it last weekend and mixed it yesterday with the help of Shez, my old friend and bass guitarist. A mere 27 years from conception to completion.

The bass was recorded in one straight take (the 57th take, to be precise). I wanted it tense and urgent, after Amy Lowell’s poem Vernal Equinox — “Why are you not here to overpower me with your tense and urgent love?”.

Progressive Web Apps: ready for primetime

Four and a half years ago I was moaning (me!) about the state of Installable web apps and interoperability (TL;DR: laughably crap). Everybody listened to me, and made them better. Well, actually, they didn’t, because I was wrong; I still believed in the notion that it was a good idea to download a static snapshot of a site, thereby losing all the immediacy and linkability of web publishing.

Recently, Progressive Web Apps have come on the scene. Alex Russell wrote an excellent explainer Progressive Web Apps: Escaping Tabs Without Losing Our Soul, or — if you prefer a video — here’s Alex and Andreas Bovens, Product Manager of Chromium-based Opera for Android, explaining why Progressive Web Apps Are the Future.

At their simplest, Progressive Web Apps are application-like things hosted on your web server. If you’re as old as me, you might call them “web sites”. They also point to a manifest file, which gives some light metadata about icons, default orientation and the like. In conforming browsers (currently, Opera for Android, Chrome for Android and, forthcoming, Firefox too) you can “save” the app to your homescreen. The relevant icon from the manifest is placed on the device’s homescreen which can then be tickled into life with your digit, indistinguishably from a native app: over HTTPS, if you so define it in the manifest, it can open in a default orientation and with no browser UI; with Service Worker, it can work offline.

Crucially, in browsers that don’t support it, you have a normal website. It’s perfect progressive enhancement.

There are differences in implementation; Opera and Chrome are working closely to see what works best. Opera’s implementation currently differs from Chrome’s in four main ways:

Opera is still experimenting with heuristics (and Chrome are tweaking, too). I’m convinced by Stuart Langridge’s argument that requiring “repeated engagememnt” may slow adoption:

Native apps get to say “install our app” without providing a link, a QR code, whatever: people know how to do that… [with Progressive Web Apps] I still can’t say it, because you have to come back twice over two days. How popular would Clash of Clans be if you couldn’t install it until the second day you played it, I wonder?

[Note that since Stuart wrote this, the criteria for “engagement” by a user in a site changed from twice in two days into twice, at least 5 minutes apart.]

I think there should be a mechanism for discreetly — unspammily — alerting a user that a site is a Progressive Web App on first visit. But I’m not King of Opera for Android; however, I know the man who is (Andreas Bovens).

But how good are Progressive Web Apps, anyway? Is it even possible to write a really good app using web technology without the Reactembengular Framework?

Yes.

Here’s the FlipKart Lite Progressive Web App (see their video at Chrome Dev Summit).

Nolan Lawson (great name, great guy) has written Pokedex.org: a progressive webapp for Pokémon fans and blogged about it in detail (it’s a fantastic blog post; I urge you to read it). Nolan writes

I am super excited about this app, because it demonstrates that you can build an offline, 60FPS mobile app using *only* web technologies. Of course it’s offline-first (PouchDB, LocalForage, ServiceWorker, Cloudant), so you can browse all your fav Pokémon without a connection.

I’m super excited, too. Soon, this will be possible on all three cross-platform browsers. It’s also possible to add tell an app to be homescreen-able in iOS. No news from Microsoft, but they’re doing good things with the W3C Manifest in their manifold.js.

Want some web standards retro fun? Go to this Inbox Attack game in Opera for Android, add it to homescreen (the + button in the URL bar) and then tap its homescreen icon. It’s made with manifest, SVG and the vibration API.

If you’re interested in making a Progressive Web App, here are some resources to get you started.

Go forth and make great apps that don’t require installs or updates, are of the web, with URLs and which are progressively enhanced. Hurray!

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