I <3 Daring Fireball

mario-fireball2-pv Daring Fireball, piloted by John Gruber, is a blog that I read frequently and have read for over two years now. DF is the place for John’s insightful analysis on a variety of topics, including: Apple, HP, Nokia, Adobe, Google, Microsoft (etc. etc. etc.), UI, creative design, photography, the mobile computing industry, the journalism industry & reporting, fonts & typography, branding, software development, and tech punditry.

One reason I keep coming back to DF is that John is extremely blunt and amusingly acerbic in making his points. Here is his opinion on Web browsers’ compatibility with his site:

If Daring Fireball looks goofy in your browser, you’re likely using a shitty browser that doesn’t support web standards. Internet Explorer, I’m looking in your direction. If you complain about this, I will laugh at you, because I do not care. If, however, you are using a modern, standards-compliant browser and have trouble viewing or reading Daring Fireball, please do let me know.

I find this kind of tell-it-like-it-is style (complete with grown-up words) refreshing in a world where so many of us (well, those of us without cable talk shows or wide radio audiences) sugarcoat what we say to others for fear of reprimand. John might filter his thoughts before they get posted, but what he posts there is never filtered.

And the thing is – to me, he never comes across as an asshole. No, I’m sure he’s a nice guy in person. I believe John’s vitriol stems from his passionate, deeply-held beliefs about topics such as not adding extraneous junk to text that a user copies from a Web site (see here). His posts are reactions to seeing a product, company, or person either aligning with his own personal values or (perhaps more frequently) violating them. You or I might grumble about a piece of unusable software, but such a product personally offends John, which prompts a strong reaction.

All this to-hell-with-you writing would be for naught if John didn’t have such a sharp mind. I think what I enjoy the most about DF is just the degree to which John’s thoughts make sense to me. That’s the real meat of this blog. Of course I don’t agree with everything he says, but at first blush the vast majority of what he says, how he perceives industry trends, what he holds up as examples of good design, what he derides as malpractice by tech companies against customers … I just agree with it. It makes sense to me. I can’t put it any more simply than that. I can’t provide examples because it’s basically everything he writes. Just read his site for a few days; you’ll see examples of every aspect that I talk about here, and more.

In this analysis, John often obsesses over the details or ‘polish’ of a design, such as the design of the many sliders in a version of Photoshop, or links to a another blog post where said details are discussed. In my day job as a technical writer I focus on details a lot, and I have found a lot of inspiration in John’s posts because it shows me that people, not all people but some people, do pay attention to dotting-the-i’s-and-crossing-the-t’s that I do every day.

John doesn’t allow comments on Daring Fireball. This design goes against the trend of blogs in general – but John will just say “So then my site’s not a blog. Big deal.” The lack of comments recently caused some controversy. But so what? John doesn’t give a shit, nor does he give a shit that you or I might give a shit. (I personally don’t.) He maintains that he is creating a “curated conversation” on the Web. The word “curated” is a clue as to his intent. Do visitors to museums get to write on the artwork? DF is John’s private property and he does with it as he wishes. End of story. Quit yer bitchin’.

As befitting an admirer of Apple, John prefers a Web site with a sleek, minimalist aesthetic to the crowded, messy rush of many other blogs. I read his blog through Google Reader so I perhaps ruin his sense of control, but you will notice that not only does his blog eschew comments, it doesn’t employ any other "Web 2.0" tropes: tags or categories, links to related topics, one-click send to Twitter/FB/Digg, live Twitter stream, etc. These widgets might possibly theoretically MAYBE eventually help somebody navigate his site or share its information with others; however, in John’s mind the extra crap on the page would ruin the aesthetic of the site and detract from the value his prose provides. He clearly prioritizes look-n-feel/functionality above all else, which is a strategy that has paid off well for Apple, a company John admires and whose products spark pale imitations all over the globe.

Even links in his posts are rare. In an ingenious design, the heading of each of his posts links not to that post but to the source article. This design at once acknowledges that he does not provide the site’s content (although he does write opinion pieces occasionally) and cleans up the posts themselves, removing distracting, tempting, annoying hyperlinks that linger mid-post. Not to mention that you never have to guess about which words are hyperlinked to get to the original article. It’s a consistent user interaction experience.

I might not click the links anyway, because John also excels at pulling the most salient quotes out of the articles he links to. (Indeed, most of his posts are simply a link, a quote, and a couple sentences of commentary from John. Again — very minimalist.) When I read the quotes he picks, I feel like I’ve gotten maybe 80-90% of what the article is about. This fact further demonstrates that most writers write for themselves, which is not a bad practice in and of itself, but oftentimes serves only to drive up word count without adding to the meaning of their ideas or providing any illuminating details. As a technical writer, I appreciate John’s care to reduce the information conveyed down to the essential bits.

Another great thing about John’s blog is that through his posts I became exposed to a wider array of other bloggers, such as the aforementioned Jason Kottke, Jean-Louis Gassee, Neven Mrgan, Craig Hockenberry, and so on. John links to these peoples’ thoughts all the time, increasing their exposure. There’s a halo effect: because I trust & agree with so much of John’s analysis, the pinions of those to whom he links become far more important than if I’d stumbled across them myself. I haven’t felt the pull to subscribe to any of their blogs, but who knows, I might. Maybe I just trust John enough to bring me only the cream of that particular crop. At any rate, his goal of creating a curated conversation seems to be working, at least for me.

The only knock I have against John is that he’s a Yankees fan, and since I’m an Orioles fan, I feel just a little bit dirty every time I read his posts. (Tongue parked firmly in cheek here, my fellow Internetters.) But the content & overall reading experience is so wonderful, I can swallow my pride and enjoy what he has to say.

If you at all care about technology, do yourself a gigantic favor and check out Daring Fireball.

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