Whomst styles?

A set of ornately carved frames, all empty

Frames, 18th century, French

Truly too busy to be publishing even a short blog post at this moment; however, I just came across the loveliest thing, and I feel compelled!

Look, near the top of this post from Kicks Condor, at the place where he quotes Maya. I’ll just do the same here, and see if I can replicate the effect:

In the same way that one might ask "how would the Book of Kells have looked if Columban monks had had access to neon pigments", I like to use contemporary CSS options as my means toward ends that are a little anachronistic.

This is a “whostyle”: an attempt to carry the ~timbre~ of an author’s voice, in the form of their design sensibility, through into a quotation. It’s the author who defines their whostyle; the quoting site just honors it, a frame around their words.

I think the whostyle makes a few arguments. Among them:

  • Text is more than a string of character codes. Its design matters, typography and layout alike; these things support (or subvert!) its affect, argument, and more.

  • The web should be more colorful and chaotic, along nearly every dimension. The past five years have brought a flood of new capabilities, hugely expressive — let’s use them!

  • Quoting is touchy, and anything you can do to cushion it with respect and hospitality is a plus.

Here is an original-ish explanation of the whostyle “protocol”, which isn’t even a protocol, really, just… a sensibility? An invitation? To make the styled quotes on this page, I went looking for the appropriate CSS and jammed it in. Very brittle, not “scalable”: and I celebrate those properties.

I’ll add that even this glancing encounter with whostyles sharpens my annoyance with Twitter, the way it “smooshes” contributions into uniform, stackable blocks. But a timeline demands this, right? Maybe; I think a timeline of tweets brimming over with typographic variation would be tons of fun. Give us a miniature grid, let us play Müller-Brockmann!

Platforms built around video support variation; your video has to accept a particular frame, sure, but as it unspools, it can be as weird as it wants. It’s a shame that text on Twitter isn’t allowed even a faint suggestion of the same expressive latitude. It betrays a particular view of what text “is”—and while it’s not 100% wrong, I do think it’s… impoverished?

Anyway! Regarding whostyles, Kicks writes:

I think this shows a kind of middle ground of easy-to-reach protocols that should be more achievable to people. It gets you connected to our world of chatter enough that you're not alone out here — but also gives you your own iceberg to carve.

Here’s some more recent elaboration on whostyles from Jacob Hall. I don’t, honestly, think these are going to “catch on”—but what would that even mean on the web of 2021, anyway? And who cares? They are being used by an interesting coterie; they are open to everyone; they are gestures of respect, hospitality, conviviality. More than enough.

You can also see the logic of whostyles at work on Multiverse, the very interesting blogging platform engineered by Kicks along with Weiwei Hsu.

Kicks writes:

Maya gets it. I mean I don't even know if I get it as much as Maya does. Glad to sit back and learn at this point.

And of course, I don’t get it as much as Kicks gets it — so here we are, strung out in a line, each of us taking notes from the next, while the people out front, like Maya and Kicks, push into new (old) digital terrain, not to make money or “solve a problem” but… just to see what’s out there! Exploration and invention, not to mention fun. Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for whoever follows.

August 2021, Oakland


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