Jay Hoffmann

Books, movies, and code

#12: Web Components, Web Technologies and Things that Last

The magical moment of web components and design systems

There’s something in the air this holiday season that’s got everybody talking about web components. Scott Vandehey sums it up nicely: Web Components are Having a Moment. A lot of this was kicked by off by some reason posts about using “Light DOM” vs shadow DOM (which Eric Meyer concisely summed up for us). The basic difference being that, at the expense of losing some features of shadow DOM and greater encapsulation, you can very easily style a web component from outside the web component. And for a lot of people, that’s enough to make it click.

But for me, the light bulb moment came this week when I got around to reading Brad Frost’s recent deep dive into design systems, The Design System Ecosystem. This is the line that caught my eye:

We’ve helped organizations build design systems in a multitude of technologies over the years, but as time goes by we now heartily recommend one specific technology to build a core design system for the web: Web Components. Web Components are a standard, part of the web platform itself. That means they’re interoperable with any web framework or technology, they’re lightweight, they’re themeable, and they’re self-contained.

Brad has been doing this kind of work for a very, very long time. And he works with heavy hitters in the enterprise world with tons of legacy systems and tangled implementations to sort through. The kind of thing I find myself in each and every week as well.

And for that use case, Web Components fit like a glove. They can be layered on to just about any system and be fitted to adapt it. Combine that with some selective components that utilize Light DOM, and you may even be able to swap in pieces of a UI layer, ad-hoc and as needed, as time goes on, bundling in the JavaScript with the component, but without having to change any of the CSS or styling for a site.

All of this has prompted me to do a couple of experiments on my own, and so far I am quite enjoying the simplicity of web components, and the fact that they are just web technologies all the way down.

What it’s like to write on the web

Here’s a conundrum. We have a medium that’s been around for thirty years. It’s the major source of information around the world, and it’s the most prolific and vast streams of words, and media several orders of magnitude over. And yet it’s often still talked about as a proto-medium, something lesser than. Decades ago, authors like Steven Johnson (who wrote Interface Culture and is now working on NotebookLM over at Google) were trying to figure out how the medium of hypertext was going to separate itself from others and become a fully expressive new form.

And in some ways, it just never has. Megan Marz reflected on that very disconnect in her piece, Poets in the Machine. Lamenting the lack of critical recognition that online writers receive simply because they happen to be writing online, she writes:

The public record of literature in the 21st century is full of gaping holes where these things should be. The missing material is right there on our screens, but it slides past with little formal acknowledgement. While it’s become banal to observe that online life is fully enmeshed with the rest of the world, an imaginary curtain separates online writing from the rest of U.S. literature. It’s time to take that curtain down.

And yet, online writers helped to define a new voice, one that would be impossible without the web. It’s a style that Johnson participated in, and helped to define. And it’s one that has now made it’s way into other forms of popular culture. And so I don’t know if I agree with Marz that online writing even needs formal recognition, but I do think it’s a disservice to set it apart from “serious” writing so callously.

A Mindful Universe

I listened to an interview with Marcelo Gleiser on the Why is this Happening podcast, and they briefly talked about Gleiser’s book, The Dawn of a Mindful Universe: A Manifesto for Humanity’s Future.

I thought what Gleiser had to say on what a mindful universe means was one of the most poetic and clarifying ideas I have ever heard:

And if we weren’t here, with the narrative of creation or trying to figure out what the big bang is or what an atom is or what is democracy, the universe would not have a voice. And so one of the fundamental things that the only reason we have a voice is that we exist in this planet that allow us to be here…

… And so the mindfulness is that with the emergence of humans in this planet that started to ask fundamental questions about existence, the universe gained a mind, too. So in a sense, the universe is thinking about itself through us.

John O’Donohue on the light that lives within us all:

There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is wedded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as blessing.