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Superpowered site building

Make the web anew with Thimble, a DIY site constructor for total design control

Our tech editor Stephen Fortune will be sharing his reflections on the Webmaker tools for the next two weeks. In the final part of his Webmaker blog, Stephen uses media remixing tools to spotlight GIFs addition to the stock footage archive. You can read part one here and part two here

Through my use of the final Webmaker tool I want to tell you a story of Horse_ebooks' spiritual predecessor, a flesh-and-blood Orlov Trotter by the name of Hans. Hans the clever horse, as he became known, captivated his contemporaries' imaginations by solving his handler's maths problems by clip-clopping out the solution with his hooves. We're not talking differential equations here, but a horse that could do maths at the behest of his owner's voice was attention-grabbing news nonetheless.

But then it turned out that all was not as it seemed. In a 1907 follow up study Oskar Pfungst study deduced that Hans's handler had been subtly (and quite unintentionally) providing clues through his body language, intonation: all that extra linguistic communication we social animals are so good at relaying. It seemed that the horse has been puppeteered by his owner. 

All a bit familiar eh? That's what motivated me to mark the passing of horse_ebooks with a website made in Thimble. Nested within is an RSS feed of all the bots which continue (while they avoid being bladerunnered) to influence the Twittersphere, either subtly or overtly (with full credit to this Tumblr bestiary of bots).

It’s a first draft of something I’m quite keen to work more on. I've deliberately not spoken a great deal about the platform for two reasons: 1) I don't want to insult the intelligence of anyone who (through Tumblr, or Myspace even!) has dabbled with HTML and CSS before, and 2) Thimble the tool is far less important than Thimble the community.

Most of the good stuff on the WWW comes from engaged communities of makers. In its heyday 4chan spat out all the memes which are part of our internet vernacular. Twitter's recent IPO has begged the question of profiteering off the back of users who made the service the compelling site it is now. And totally new modes of visual expression are being articulated on Vine. Build it and they will come.

As noted at the outset of this blog, I'm a beginner when it comes to coding. So it was hard when approaching Thimble to not be drawn to how exotic HTML and CSS were. Get hung up on the tools and you risk making something that isn't that compelling. When pondering what to make, I glanced at Thimble's starter makes. I was genuinely surprised at the single-serving sites on offer: magazines, corkboards, comic strips, website meme templates. Having cut my teeth on websites through Wordpress, the notion of a website being anything other than a blog or themed portfolio was actually a little alien to me. 

HTML, the language to which we owe the web we know, is the broadest blank canvas you could wish for

So I set myself a challenge: see if Thimble was a user friendly way to make something, from my imagination to realisation. The website I linked to above took me an afternoon to knock up. It’s a rough prototype, but when finished I hope it will be an HTML testimony to automated equines. I managed to built the site as it stands by building atop work done by Webmaker community (shoutout to Chad Sansings public domain remix site, and to Tobias Leingruber GIF-laden Arrested Development homage!). The growing range of sites on Thimble both provide you with an idea of what can be done and give you code to copy-paste and tinker with to realise what you have in mind.

When things get tough, using the X-Ray Goggles can be a great aid to googling your way to a solution. It’s incredibly likely that what you want to do has been done before in some shape or form. The great impediment to finding what you want with google these days is possessing the right nomenclature. This is not just true of code: while searching for a horse with swagger sufficient to merit a "haters gonna hate" designation I had to learn far more about dressage and horseriding designations than I ever really wanted to know. But once I had them I found all manner of horse-y videos ripe for making into equine “haters gonna hate” memes.

Thimble is an exercise in craft, a different mode of creating to the hack and remix features of Goggles and Popcorn Maker respectively. HTML, the language to which we owe the web we know, is the broadest blank canvas you could wish for. If you want to make or learn Thimble as tool and community is a great destination to begin from.