Mark Boulton

My own firehose

When a big global event happens, I become very aware of my consumption bubbles. Particularly news media. Sometimes, I try and make a big effort to reach outside of those bubbles – such as last year when I spent a lot of time trying to understand the other side of the Brexit story. I listened to Nigel Farage on LBC, I read The Telegraph, I talked to people who voted to the leave the EU. But this conscious consumption – for whatever reason – is difficult to do digitally. I seem to be in a rut. This is a particular bother at the moment because of Coronavirus. I don't just want my bubble. With so much disinformation around, I want to consume the news broadly so I can form my own opinions. But news is terrible at that! Even the so-called impartial BBC leans one way or another depending on who you speak to or what editor you read.

To get away from the bias that curation introduces I decided to make a thing that aggregates content from all over the place showing no particular favouritism to any country, news outlet, or provider. I want a smallish, manageable firehose.

After a fair bit of looking around, the best place to get this for this little experiment was It's a commercial service, but for a small not-for-profit experiment, I get 500 requests a day. Ample for my needs.

I'd use Eleventy to request the latest topic-based headlines from English language sources, cache them, then spit them out onto a single page. I'd host this on Netlify (of course), and then I'd use Zapier to trigger a build every hour so I know that when I return, they'd probably be up to date.

I've also wanted an excuse to experiment with grid and variable fonts, so with the release of the new Google Fonts the timing couldn't be better.

So, here it is: Broadsheet. At the moment, it's just Coronavirus and Brexit, but I will add other topics as and when I want to. Design-wise, this will change. It's an exercise in restraint, typesetting, and sweating the details. It's for that reason, I've omitted the images that come with the content feed. I've also used the grid outlined in depth on CSS tricks which, by my reckoning, is the closest you can get to a generated masonry-esque layout at the moment using Grid.

One of the interesting things of this layout is the implied hierarchy by the modules that span columns when the content is entirely automatic. At first, I winced at this, but actually it's actually interesting. Implied curation, but automatically generated.

I've been using this all day and so far I'm pretty happy with it. But I keep having to remind myself that this is also a place to experiment and play. A place where I can try new things – horrible things, great things! – and, actually, the only user that matters is me. It's quite liberating.