Visibility Jam. July 19-21, 2024. Happening now.

July 2024: A new website, just in time for the Visibility Jam!

Ben Visness

Hey there, Handmade Network. Since you’re reading this on the website, you may have noticed that things look a little different around here. As I talked about in our last news post, we’ve been working for the last couple months to redesign the Handmade Network website. Today I’m pleased to finally roll it out!

The new site design comes courtesy of Jes Chuhta, a wonderful UX designer who we came to know through Handmade Boston and Handmade Seattle last year. The new website is designed to reflect the new shape of the Handmade Network as it has evolved over time. A quick summary of the changes:

  • Showing off activity from Discord. The website forums aren’t used much these days. The Discord, on the other hand, is thriving. With well over 7,000 users, thousands of messages sent per week, and a steady stream of #project-showcase posts, the Discord is the most active part of the community right now. The new website design puts that content front and center. The new feed-focused design prominently features the work being shared on Discord, right alongside the other content typical of the website.
  • Your own customized feed. If you’re logged in, you can now follow users and projects here on the website. The home page will show you a new Following feed of just the content that matters most to you. In the near future, we’ll add RSS support for this feed as well, enabling you to keep up with community activity in whatever way you prefer.
  • Tons of improvements to projects. Handmade Network projects have been overhauled, making important information much more prominent and totally redesigning the project-editing experience. The new link editor replaces the confusing old textual format, and the distinction between primary and secondary links enables project authors to highlight the actions that are most important. Plus, projects now support header images, allowing you once again to show off what your project is capable of outside the long description.

In addition, the new design is actually much simpler to work with! Programmers, trust me, you have no idea how valuable it is to work with a good designer. Our HTML is so simple now, our CSS is so simple now, we have a third of the variables we used to have. It is so easy to slap designs together and they look good because they are consistent and aesthetically pleasing and please programmers listen to me please

Because we needed to get this announcement out, the website is still a work in progress. Several pages are still somewhat broken or need a little more attention. But we hope that you all enjoy the new foundations, and we look forward to expanding the site to highlight even more of the great work the Handmade Network community is doing.

The Visibility Jam is just two weeks away!

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That’s right, just two weeks! Our second annual Visibility Jam is coming up on July 19, two weekends from the time of this posting.

The topic of “visibility” is critical to Handmade goals. To understand our systems we have to see our systems. The underlying realities of computers cannot be known unless programmers like us go to the effort of building tools, visualizations, and editors. Making systems visible is the first step toward improving those systems.

I covered this in my talk from Handmade Seattle last year. We don’t need to be stuck forever with the towering pile of complexity that is modern systems. We can learn how systems work, tear down the layers, and build new systems that are just as nice to use but have a fraction of the complexity. If we are going to build a new kind of “high-level” software, we first have to understand the low levels, and the Visibility Jam is your opportunity to take that first step.

Plus, we’ve now made tons of improvements to projects on the website, so submission should be much more pleasant this year. There’s no better time to join the community and try jamming with us! Check out the jam page for more details.

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Once again, the following will sound negative, but my intention is only to give feedback so that things might improve for me and hopefully others.

Showing off activity from Discord

The discord activity doesn't appear in the atom feed anymore. There is no mention that there is an atom feed anymore.

[EDIT] I remembered things wrong. There was a feed specifically for the showcase, and it doesn't exist anymore.

I think the new site is removing the balance that existed between the different parts of the site (forum, project, showcase).

If most people are on discord, then what's the point of focusing the main part of the site on displaying discord things in a twitter like form. We can't reply to discord things from the site, and people that are on discord will not use the site to browse what's on discord (I suppose).

I don't see the point of following users, there isn't enough things needing filtering for it to make sens.

For me the forum is the most valuable thing on the site. And now it's a sub section in the resource menu, making it even less likely that someone will use them. Projects pages were nice even if they weren't used a lot, but still they provided forums for the few somewhat active projects. Having the discord showcase was a good thing in addition so I could have a vague idea of what people where doing on discord. But the showcase was never (for me) the important part, mostly because there is no interaction possible (except by going to discord) and sometimes (often ?) things are without context so I don't know what I'm looking at.

The new project pages look weird. I assume that people will need to edit the settings for the links etc. It's weird to have 100 post for the recent activity. Wouldn't 10 suffice for "recent" ? Should the screenshot be above the recent activity ? How do we get to the project sub forum ? How do we get to blog posts ? Centering everything around a "feed" concept is, in my opinion, not a good thing. Could we have a blog post tab, a forum tab, and a feed tab ? The "Read more" link in the "description" isn't particularly well integrated in the page and looks like a link to some other resource while clicking it will just expend the description. For example https://handmade.network/p/538/daemon/.

The way I use the site on a day to day basis, is check the atom feed (from outside the site) and follow those link to the site, or go to the feed page (but it didn't contain the discord showcase). The previous version of the site already removed the link to get the feed page from the front page, but at least there was a "flawed" version the feed on the front page. Now, there is no way to get to that if you don't know it exists.

In addition, the new design is actually much simpler to work with! Programmers, trust me, you have no idea how valuable it is to work with a good designer. Our HTML is so simple now, our CSS is so simple now, we have a third of the variables we used to have. It is so easy to slap designs together and they look good because they are consistent and aesthetically pleasing and please programmers listen to me please

This paragraph is missing a period at the end.

I would like to know more about what the designer brings, what changed in the process ? It could be a blog post maybe ? Also I find the word "designer" to be ambiguous. Do you mean visual designer ? Or "architecture" designer ? Or something else ? I don't particularly like the new visual design. It's simple and clear (which I like a lot) but it doesn't have any personality, and just looks like all website that feature a feed as their main thing.

What makes things go into the "featured" section ? Is it just they contain a image or video ?

The drop down menus at the top right work in a weird way. If you click one, than the only way to discard the dropdown is to click it again. I would expect clicking anywhere it the page would discard it. Also it looks somewhat off for me but I don't know why, that's probably personal taste.

The fact that the part of the site for which I care about are not finished is also not a good feel for me. I understand that you wanted the new thing for the jam, but as most people that participate to the jam don't come here often (at least that's what I see), it appears that we are making a site for people that don't use the site, and make it worse for people that use the site. I know you streamed at least some part of the development of the site and are far more knowledgeable then me about the web and design "trends". I also understand that we can't please everyone or we won't get things done and that you're the lead and it's your vision that needs to be followed (I don't say that as a bad thing). But maybe, there could be discussions about the site on the site with people that use the site before pushing a new version.

One last thing, I know it's not the final design, but please, make the forum wider than the current size. We often need to look at code here, and having the width so small (~35% for code snippets) isn't good. And code snippets height shouldn't be bigger than the screen so that if we need to use the horizontal scrollbar it's in view.

Thanks for your concerns. Rather than go point-by-point, I just want to try and explain more of the motivation for our changes and the vision for what it will look like when it's totally done.

The purpose of the site is to show off the activities of the community, and serve as a permanent hub for its work. Services like Discord are invaluable, and without them we would have no community at all. But they are also inherently ephemeral, and limited, so we augment the community with a website of our own creation.

Ultimately the website exists to show the world who we are as a community. When someone hears about this "Handmade" thing, they visit the website. It is vital that it shows who we are, what we are about, and what we're doing. But the showcase is thriving, and the forums are dead. I know you wish the forums got more attention, but they simply don't. People don't use forums any more. It's just how it is.

So, we have built a design that shows what the community is actually doing.

The showcase content is the most prominent right now, but as we continue with our rework of the site, we'll be bringing back blog posts (for both projects and individuals) and adding other types of feed content, such as an RSS integration for projects with external websites. And we'll offer much richer RSS/Atom feed support on the site based on who you follow, enabling you to read whatever content you like wherever you like, with much more flexibility than any of our scattered feeds today.

But we have no plans to direct more attention to the forums. From the start, we have met the community where they are. Ten years ago, forums were still the norm. But things have changed in the last decade, and now chat servers like Discord are the norm. In fact, Discord specifically is the norm. Lots of people will just not go out of their way to participate in a community if doing so it cumbersome and out of their way.

(As an example: Abner has seen engagement on his Handmade Cities server skyrocket since moving from Matrix to Discord, and they're both chat services—imagine the difference if he insisted on old-school forums instead.)

Jes and I will continue to iterate on the design and make sure that it's comfortable for all the various ways the website is used. And we will always make sure that the rich history of the forums is preserved and accessible. We will never let the links break. Thanks for your specific feedback on various aspects of the design, and I hope that you enjoy the improvements that we build over the coming months.

And by the way—the period was intentional 🙂